A question came up recently which got me thinking. How does one keep an open heart? What does that mean? Especially in times when world events can make us feel like humanity is letting us down and we’d rather live on another planet. I hope my answers to these questions will give you something to think about, and maybe just give you some comfort in difficult times.
The first thing that comes to mind regarding “keeping an open heart” is vulnerability. Opening your heart and letting others in, good and bad. I don’t think this necessarily has to be the case though. At least to an extent. Certainly to care about what goes on in the world, and the people in it, means being aware of hurtful as well as heartwarming events. However, as with many things, a lot comes down to where you choose to put your focus, your time, and your energy.
First and foremost, keeping an open heart is about compassion. Keeping this sentiment at the forefront of your attention will sometimes involve directing it outward, and sometimes in at yourself. Only you can decide which type of attention will best serve your needs. We may want to be there for everyone all of the time, and to pour as much love and attention into the world as possible, but we cannot do that when our own energy is depleted. Understanding when to put self-care first, even if that means paying less attention to externals, is a crucial part of keeping an open heart.
When you direct your energy outward, it doesn’t have to mean loving everyone. Keeping an open heart doesn’t have to correspond with being sympathetic to those who are doing the things that break your heart in the first place. Having an open heart can simply mean keeping an open mind. This requires looking deeper before passing judgment. Digging for the truth rather than jumping to conclusions, while realizing that truth is always more complex than we assume it to be. It entails keeping a perspective that you might not know everything there is to know about a person or event. It involves a willingness to learn. To be wrong. To have your mind changed and expanded. It means listening. An open heart embraces compassion before cynicism while respecting boundaries. Harsh and judgmental opinions are often born from a lack of these very things. Encounters with these viewpoints can be great reminders of your values rather than just depressing occurrences.
Focus your attention on the good in the world. Just as being compassionate and understanding doesn’t have to mean sympathy toward all parties, focusing on the good in the world doesn’t have to mean ignoring the bad. There have been a lot of scary things happening in our world lately. Racism. Conflict. Loss. On the surface you’ll see a lot of people doing and saying some pretty hurtful things. If you look though, you’ll also see a lot of people campaigning for change. You’ll see a lot of people working for understanding, empathy, and goodwill.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”― Fred Rogers
To me, an open heart should mean all of these things, but above all you must take care of yourself. There must be a place for self-care in that open heart of yours, for without that, you cannot expect to care for the world.
*Photo by Dominik Martin via Unsplash