I grew up in a family that saw feelings as a foreign language. We didn’t talk about them. We didn’t express them. We usually pretended we didn’t feel them. We loved each other, of course, but we weren’t that comfortable saying so. In our tribe, the path to recognition was paved with achievement. Talking about the heart? Not really a thing.
But if we don’t talk about the heart – the very core of who we are – we’re not living fully. This is how it was for me, at least. I spent my young adulthood in the corporate world – the world where doing and thinking count for a lot – and always knew something was missing. I longed for deeper connections with people. I realize now that I wanted a life of meaning, purpose and feeling. I sometimes feel grateful for my near-drowning experience while whitewater rafting at age 35. The moment woke me up. Soon after, I quit my job and began studying theology.
What was I looking for after quitting my job? A sense of wholeness, I suppose. An understanding of what it means to be a human being and what it means to live from the heart. But, while I knew what I was seeking intellectually, I couldn’t feel it. In truth, I didn’t know my heart very well. My lifelong habit of steering clear of feelings stood in the way.
I wanted a kick-start, so I embarked on a month-long adventure of meditating. Night after night, I laid in bed and imagined crossing a field toward a shimmering castle and opening its door to meet my heart. It was a tender moment: There was my heart bound with chains, beating against a cold plank. Each night I visited my heart and envisioned warmth and light streaming in. Each night I watched as it slowly softened and opened.
One afternoon, near the month’s end, I felt my heart pounding in my chest. I took a few breaths to calm it down and carried on, only to feel its surging beat rise again. This pattern went on for days until confusion gave way to epiphany. For weeks, I’d been struggling to feel my heart, and now I had no choice but to feel it–literally. I came to understand that my heart, body, and mind are all connected. I learned that living well requires listening to my heart, body, and mind. That living from the heart means loving myself first. It’s the essential prerequisite to loving others.
Do you want to live more from your heart? Don’t worry, you don’t have to quit your job to do it. Here are a few simple ways to get in the habit:
- Breathe. Spend five minutes observing your breath and how it feels in your body. Feel the breath enter, expand and soften your heart center.
- Visualize someone or something you love unconditionally and hold this being in your heart. Let the feeling of love radiate throughout your body.
- Look at yourself in the mirror and speak to yourself by name: “I love you. I really love you.” Repeat it 10 times in a row. Learn more about this practice from holistic healer Louise Hay
- Resolve to be as kind to yourself as you are to others. Replace negative self-talk with loving messages. Learn more from Kristin Neff, one of the leading experts on self-compassion.
These are first steps toward living from the heart, but not the last. Caring for your spiritual health – connecting with what is beautiful and sacred in yourself and others – is both a daily practice and a lifelong journey.
In my work as a hospice chaplain, I’ve learned how to live from the heart from some of the world’s best teachers: people at the end of their lives. In their final days, many people spoke with a glow and warmth in their eyes: “Love is all I want, nothing else matters.” This is what the end looks like. But you don’t have to wait until your last days to embrace this truth. It’s here for you right now.