Amidst the rapid change and widespread uncertainty of today’s world, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by all that is happening. I often hear people say, “I can’t take in any more—it’s too much.” Some might even say, “My heart can’t take it.” Which brings the question: How much can you hold in your heart?
The longer than this uncertainty goes on, I’m learning that the heart can hold more than we think.
The word think is key here. Because it is often what we think about what we feel—in other words, the stories we spin about our feelings—that actually leads to overwhelm.
What is the worry or concern that occupies your mind today? If you have more than one, that’s OK. I admit that I do! Let them all be there. Your heart can hold them all. Let’s explore together how you can get past spinning thoughts and stories, learn how to navigate challenge and confusion, and respond to what is happening in a way that feels right for you.
The Alchemy of the Heart
Ancient wisdom teachings from many traditions speak of the alchemical nature of the heart. Some traditions describe the solar plexus as the “fire in the belly” and the heart energy center as the “healing cauldron”. The ancient mystics taught that whatever you put into the cauldron of the heart will be healed or made whole. They understood that as alchemy occurs, the cauldron breaks open, and love, clarity, understanding, compassion, and appropriate action flows out.
In a similar way, the Judeo-Christian tradition speak of taking our troubles to God or taking them into prayer. Eastern traditions teach us to meditate on our concerns.
Bottom line, they are all steering us to the power of the heart, and letting the heart guide us in next steps.
Going a little further, the ancient traditions actually spoke of three intelligences within us—head and belly in addition to the heart. The study of neuroscience now helps us understand these three intelligences even more.
Before we go on, let’s pause to make sure that you are engaging all three of these intelligences within you.
A Simple Breathing Practice Gets You Started
Begin by breathing deep into your belly. If you are sitting, breathe all the way down into the chair. You might even imagine that you are actually breathing into the chair. If you are standing, bend over to touch your toes, and breathe into the bottom of your body. Then slowly return to an upright stance, continuing to breathe into the bottom of your body. It can help to imagine that you are breathing into the floor beneath your feet.
And breathe deeply again. And then once more.
Breathing in this way can help you tap into your belly intelligence, the intelligence within you that lives totally right here, right now. The belly recognizes what is real in this moment and what isn’t. It puts you in touch with your primal wisdom. It speaks in basic feelings. Fundamentally, those feelings will be grounded in fear or in love.
What about your feeling right now? Is it rooted in fear or love? No judgement; it’s just important information.
Whether your current feelings are rooted in fear or love, choose love. Don’t worry about how to do that. Trust that some part of you knows how. Deep in your belly, choose love. Deep in your belly, ground yourself in love.
Take another moment to let this feeling sink in.
Grounded in love in your belly, now expand your breath into your heart center. I’m not talking about the heart muscle, but rather the heart energy center in the middle of your chest. Now breathe again deep into your belly and then expand into your heart. And then once more.
It’s a simple practice—breathe first into the belly for grounding and stability, and then expand that breath into your heart center.
Give yourself a little time to let your energy settle, for your breathing to slow down to its natural, steady, even pace and rhythm, and for your breath to naturally become deeper and deeper. Then as you read on, read from your belly and heart intelligences more than from your intellect. Trust that your intellect will remain fully engaged and keep your focus on your belly and heart.
The Heart Is a Gracefully Supple Field of Energy
As you continue this practice, imagine your heart as a gracefully supple energy field rather than as a fixed container—an energy field that can expand or contract as needed. Through that energy field, your heart intelligence reads the signals and messages within the situation to guide you. It senses and navigates, finding each next turn as it comes. It partners with what is happening, working with everything that shows up rather than pushing against what it doesn’t want or like. This pro-active leadership of the heart allows the intellect to step back from having to be in charge and “fix it.” The intellect can then more fully utilize its abilities to analyze, organize, strategize, and manage in coordination with awareness of the heart.
Taking Your Concern to Your Heart
So, back to the concern that occupies your mind today. Keep breathing deep into your belly, and from that grounding, expand your breath into your heart. Then take your concern into your heart. Let yourself be fully present in your heart with your feelings and your thoughts. If at first that feels overwhelming, again, it’s OK. Stay with it. Within a few breaths, the overwhelm will begin to soften.
Give it time and stay with it. You can do this. As the energy softens, the capacity of your heart will expand further, stretching as far as needed to wrap itself around your concern. Insights and understanding may begin to emerge.
There is one last important step. As you continue holding your concern in your heart, also imagine that you are holding it in your hands. What does it feel like in your hands? Is it heavy or light? Is the texture rough or smooth? Does it take on a fixed form or is it an energy that keeps changing?
As you hold your concern in your heart and in your hands, sense what is important to pay attention to right now. As that comes into focus, let it show you the next step that is waiting to be taken. Who is this situation asking you to be right now? How is it asking you to show up? And what step is it asking you to take?
Notice that these questions are not about who the other players in your situation are asking you to be or what they are asking you to do. The key is to ask the situation itself. As you hold it in your heart and in your hands, listen, sense, and feel. Let the situation talk to you.
How much can you hold in your heart? More than you think.
Your heart has capacity far beyond what you might have imagined. Capacity for understanding, perceiving the truth of the moment, and navigating the moment through informed next steps. Holding your concern in your hands as well as your heart helps you respond to what is happening in a pro-active way. You can choose your relationship to what is happening—how you will show up in the situation. That can be a first step in making a difference.
Breathe deep into your belly, and from that grounding, breathe into your heart. Take your concern into your heart. As your energy settles, imagine that you are holding your situation in your hands as well. Listen, sense, feel. Let it talk to you. Let it show you a next step you can take to make a difference. It doesn’t have to big. Simply choosing to be present with what is happening and engage with it will already shift your relationship to the situation.
It’s a process. It’s a practice. And it’s worth it.
~ ~ ~
Related Blog Posts: