Growth demands a temporary surrender of security. It may mean giving up familiar but limiting patterns, safe but unrewarding work, values no longer believed in, and relationships that have lost their meaning. ~ John C. Maxwell
Since I last wrote this blog, Summer has ripened to its fullest, most expansive form and I have once again blossomed into my most feral, free and fervent self. This happens to me each year during the sensual season of long, adventurous days and warm, starry nights. I thrive among the garden bounties, cold swimming holes, monsoons and rainbows. My thirst for life increases along with the heat, and by the Dog Days’ Moon I am intoxicated by the beatific world we live in. This is also the season in which I (almost) always fall in love. My ecstatic and enraptured heart attracts it, I guess. What’s new to me this year, though, is that along with the excitement I feel by the prospect of new love, I am also experiencing underlying tremors of terror and dread.
There was once a time when I would recklessly cannonball into love and relationship, without a second thought. My heart was so wide open and free; I just loved to love. But now I’ve had many cycles of love/loss under my belt, including my traumatic break-up last year. I see now, with some surprise, that I’ve started constructing a wall around my tender heart. This is no mighty fortress but rather a patched-up picket fence, missing some boards here and there, but present nonetheless. During this past year I noticed similar protective barriers around the hearts of men I’ve dated and even mentioned them in a few of my heart-themed yoga classes. What I didn’t see clearly then was my own protective structure arising from my own (almost) paralyzing fear of heartbreak.
It is said that fear and anxiety are, at their core, simply a distorted relationship to time. We project what has happened in the past onto our future and then feel anxious. The strategies of the sympathetic nervous system, namely fight or flight, may have been appropriate once-upon-a-time yet we continue to use them even when no longer necessary. In fact, we often get deeply stuck in this function of the nervous system, never able to rest in the parasympathetic mode. An incredible and important gift of yoga and bodywork is that they enable a shift from sympathetic to parasympathetic modes, a change that often takes much time and attention.
This Summer, as I have dipped my toes into a new relationship, I witness my own anxiety percolating. I see how these emotions are based in past and future and have (almost) nothing to do with what’s happening in the present. And so I wonder about the usefulness of my heart’s fence and whether I should deconstruct it, or continue to mend and fortify it?
With this question in mind, and mostly just for the fun of it, I visited a palm reader. Amongst other potent ideas, this wise woman introduced me to the notion of “appropriate surrender.” She suggested to me that not all men deserve my whole heart given with wild abandon, and to choose carefully whom I let in. This was the first time I thought about heart opening as a grey-area issue; the heart doesn’t have to be either wide open or totally shut down, but it could actually have small, swinging doors installed into its protective picket fence.
I’m willing to try on this middle way and see how it lands. Of course we need some discernment and wisdom in our heart opening, but not with the sole intention of protecting against feeling uncomfortable emotions. Ultimately, I believe that our yogic practice lies in ceaselessly cracking the heart wide open, even after it’s been shattered. In the words of my yoga teacher Jessica Patterson,”the truest measure of practice isn’t your success in avoiding feeling pain, sadness, fear, or doubt. Rather, it’s demonstrated by a capacity to face it all and feel it all, without confusing the fluctuations for your center.” Geesh, does this practice ever take enormous courage, vulnerability and risk! It involves trusting in a higher good, and surrendering of not only control but also security. This is the distilled meaning of yoga sutra 1.23, Ishvara Pranidhana, which I recently tattooed on my right wrist. (Explore other writers’ thoughts on this sutra here and here.)
You’ve been in this position too, right? On the edge of the cliff where you are faced with the decision to run, jump and experience growth and change, or retreat into the safety of what’s comfortable and predictable? Have you chosen to fortify the structures around your heart after it breaks, or continue to re-break it again and again? Although scary, I am plunging into this Summer’s opportunity for love and growth, even with its inherent risks of heartbreak and loss. This time, though, I chose to forgo the reckless cannonball for a hopefully more graceful swan-dive.
“Love has come to rule and transform, stay awake my heart, stay awake.” ~ Rumi