Mindfulness and Heartfulness: Two Wings of a Bird
Upon hearing that I’m mindfulness teacher, many people say, “I tried meditation but it’s too hard, I can’t do it!” This response always used to confuse me a little. Then I noticed the overemphasis many of us place on mind to the exclusion of the heart. To train the mind without the heart is like trying to learn to fly with one wing.
Mindfulness and Heartfulness are like two wings of a bird. One without the other just doesn’t support flight. Truly, all of us are meditating on something all the time. We often just aren’t in touch with what is in our awareness moment to moment. A fish is not aware of being in water, a bird is unaware of what air is, and we humans are not aware of our involuntary breathing or heart beats or even inner monologue. It’s like living along a highway and becoming so acclimated to the noise that you no longer hear it. It takes effort to tune in again. I remember vividly being able to hear my heartbeat swoosh in my ears as a child and now it takes a LOT of effort to tune into it ~ and yet, of course, I know my heartbeat is there.
Similarly, it takes effort to tune into our thoughts and our heart center. It takes effort to tune into our values for responses to life that are heartful and not fearful. Our automatic responses are wired in an evolutionary way to attenuate to fear. Many of our knee-jerk reactions to people and things in our lives are based in this fear-orientation. The very best way that I have found to support this effort to live in a heartful way is a daily mindfulness practice that is alive for you. It will be unique to you. It won’t necessarily look like anyone else’s practice. It will be private and comforting and challenging and rewarding. The effort needs guidance and persistence.
I tell all my students that the point of meditation isn’t so that we can sit longer and sit more still any more than playing scales on an instrument is to be able to play scales better. We practice scales on our instrument so that we can play with fluidity and connection to the music. We rest assuredly that we have practiced the technical aspects of our craft enough to let go and be able to flow in time with the music’s magic. So, too, the point of sitting in meditation is to gain insight into our minds and hearts so that when off our cushions we can rest assuredly in the true nature of ourselves and life in a heartful, open way.
Meditation and the practice of mindfulness and heartfulness helps us to soften and meet life with grace, confidence, and love even as we carry with us knowledge of our fears, judgments, and habitual patterns. To be free of these things is not to experience the absence of them, but to hold them in a heartspace as wide as the sky and to have the freedom to choose love even whilst feeling fear. This is a very real benefit of the practice.
There is great overlap between mindfulness and heartfulness as two wings of a bird would suggest. They are not at all mutually exclusive of each other. It should be hard to talk about one without the other. Sadly, the over-emphasis on mindfulness and training the mind may have missed the supremely supportive energy of heartfulness needed to persevere in the contemplative practices. While simple, they are certainly not easy. Recent studies conducted by researcher Kristin Neff and her team have found that the heartfulness practices of self-compassion has as strong if not stronger outcomes in health and wellbeing when emphasized explicitly in comtemplative practices. And it is my opinion that self-compassion when emphasized has less of the drop-out problem I hear so frequently. This makes sense because the whole premise of self-compassion is one of softening to our suffering, our inner critic, and our perceived failures.
So, if you are someone who when they hear about meditation exclaims: “I tried meditation but it’s too hard, I can’t do it!” and you happened to have approached your attempts to learn mindfulness without the emphasis on heartfulness, I invite you to retry your approach using heartfulness first. It really is as subtle as starting off on the wrong foot, a slight switch in your launching off point may make all the difference in giving you access to this amazing life skill. And practice is just that, practice. You live the practice and at some point down the road, after practicing being awake and fearless in daily living, that effort becomes more and more effortless. In addition to becoming a state that you work hard to cultivate, it gradually becomes more and more a part of you, a trait that is all yours.
If you are interested in my mindfulness classes or mindfulness and self-compassion therapy group, please do reach out. I’d love to answer any questions you might have.