Note: I initially wrote a post on The Heart's Embrace in 2015. In the intervening years, as my practice has deepened, this practice has evolved into something even more powerful. And so I have written a new post that reflects my current practice.
All of our suffering stems from our memory of past experiences. There is no end to our storehouse of bad memories about the past, whether it involves our interaction with parents and siblings, peers, or the larger world. And these memories impact us here and now by affecting how we respond to situations we encounter in the present and how we think about our future.
Most of us certainly have good memories as well, but somehow those are of less interest to the mind, and it’s the bad ones that surface with regularity to torture us in the present.
Perhaps this is because from an evolutionary standpoint, the bad memories are what we needed to learn from; those dangers were real. But today’s bad memories have to do mostly with things which are life or soul threatening because of our mind’s reaction to them, not because of the events themselves, regardless how bad or unpleasant they may be.
If you want to end your suffering, what I’ve described is clearly a harmful dynamic. How to change that dynamic? That’s what The Heart’s Embrace is all about. It’s amazing what we can endure and even thrive in the face of if we have the right attitude.
First let me give you a bit of background. While my spiritual practice had freed me from many of my emotions, including for the most part from the biggest one - fear - I didn’t feel happy. I was more or less calm, at peace, nothing really pushed my buttons anymore, but I felt that there was a gray cloud always hanging over me. I was definitely worried or better put concerned about all aspects of the future. The endless “what if’s” that the ego-mind throws at us.
Then one day several years ago, a friend told me about a teaching he had come across that encouraged opening your heart to embrace all aspects of yourself. He noted that I often seemed caught up in trying to free myself from various “problems” and that I should try this practice of embracing them instead. I knew this was certainly consistent with the teaching of Pema Chodron and others.
And so when I next meditated, I sat with my heart and I felt it embrace all aspects of my being, including my trauma, my weaknesses, my wounded inner child. As I did this I hugged myself. The experience was cathartic, with tears streaming down my face.
Notice that I did not say that “I” embraced all aspects of my being, instead my heart, my true self, did this. My mind would never embrace all aspects of my being. Only my heart, my true self, will do that and free me.
An important part of changing how we react to things, to opening up our heart, is to increase our identification with our heart, to turn our will and our lives over to its care, as discussed in my video, “Your True Self = Your Heart.” To let go our ego’s desire to control everything. This is difficult for us because the ego is so strong and it is our habitual way of life.
For example, the Sufi developed a chart of nine personality types (called the enneagram) and the “false core beliefs” that underlie each of the nine. “These beliefs reflect the conclusions about ourselves we came to as the result of our early childhood traumas or experiences,” and these are engraved on our mind.
When I read the nine false core beliefs, I knew which one was mine, “There must be something wrong with me.” In one way, this was not a revelation to me because I had been aware for many years that this belief had a major negative impact on my childhood and life. But it was a revelation in that I now understood why I did not feel happy despite all the progress I had made on the path. I had not “connected the dots.”
This false core belief was so deeply embedded in my mind that no matter how far my spiritual practice had come, it still controlled the overall ambiance of my persona. Thus I always felt there was some grayness surrounding me. When I was fighting my perpetual frown and trying to rid myself of it, it only made this false core belief stronger. As the ancient Chinese poem "Affirming Faith in Mind" says, "seek rest and no rest comes instead."
But opening up my heart to embrace all aspects of my being took this aspect of my psyche which was so deep it was in my bones and removed all internal struggle. It in effect smothered these negative feelings with love. I was made whole.
A further development in this practice over time was that I specifically embraced all aspects of my being and experience … and not just past, but past, present, and future. I felt this was critical. Embracing the past and present is an essential part of accepting my life as it is at this moment, without which there is no peace. This is one of those things where one doesn’t ask how do you do it; you just do it. It’s amazing when you say things to yourself repeatedly … whether it’s affirmations or self-criticism … the power those things have to change your life, either for good or bad.
One important note about embracing the trauma in your past. Because trauma is so hurtful, the idea of embracing it does not sit well with many. But think of it this way. The trauma you experienced as a child, or as an adult, has made you the person you are today. You would not have the character you have, were it not for the trauma. You would not have the connection with your soul, were it not for your trauma. You're familiar with the phrase, "No pain, no gain." This is related.
Trauma, regardless how horrific and hurtful it is, can provide a catalyst for inner growth at the same time that it's impact on the mind is one of fear and anxiety. The point of embracing our trauma is to touch that aspect that has given us strength, instead of being consumed with the fear and anxiety brought on by the trauma.
As for the future, this is a matter of faith. You may ask, “Faith in what?” As I have said in other videos, not faith that things will change the way you would like; nor faith in your fellow man. Rather, faith in yourself. In the sense that you know that things are the way they are because it’s just the way it is and that you will be ok, safe, regardless what life throws at you, like the title of the 50s song, Que sera sera, what will be will be, because you have returned home and will always return home to your true Buddha nature, to your heart, and so be at peace and happy.
When you have that faith, because you know you will be at peace and happy regardless, nothing offends and all internal and external struggles cease to be.
How do you know that? As a further result of opening my heart to embrace all aspects of my being and experience, I for the first time knew from within myself the truth of Pema Chodron’s teaching that we have everything we need inside ourselves to be at peace and happy. Because we don’t need anything to be a specific way to be at peace and happy; I had embraced everything, regardless what comes to be. Free of internal struggle I felt at peace and happy; that is my natural state.
Only we can take that state away from ourselves. And by implication, we have the power to give it back to ourselves. I felt an undefined faith and trust. And because I was one with my heart, I felt strong. And I smiled.
Please note that, as with all practices, this is not a once and done thing. You need to come back to and implement the heart’s embrace regularly, if not daily. It will be a fundamental underpinning for your inner peace.
It has certainly become a foundation of my daily mantra practice. As an example, here is what I recite every day:
“Loving myself unconditionally, my true buddha self opens my heart to embrace all aspects of my being and experience … past, present, and future. Regarding the past, my heart embraces all past trauma (as I say this I visualize key moment of my trauma), opens my throat chakra and allows the pain to rise up and express itself, and so my trauma is being healed. Regarding the present, my heart accepts that my life is the way it is right now at this moment because it's just the way it is. It's all ok and will work itself out. Regarding the future, my heart’s attitude is que sera sera, what will be will be, I have faith that whatever life throws my way I will be ok, safe, because I have returned home and will always return home to my true Buddha nature and be at peace and happy.
And so nothing offends. All internal and external struggle cease to be. I know I have everything I need inside myself to be at peace and happy. And I will allow nothing to interfere with that peace and happiness."
Why all this detail? As with other areas of practice, I found that the more specific one is as to what you are addressing, the better. When I used to say, “I embrace all aspects of my being and experience,” it was almost too easy to say and although it was a global statement it did not reach into all the corners of my samsara. Even when I added, “past, present, and future,” it still did not direct me to where I needed to go. When I recite the practice in its current version, when I embrace my trauma I visualize various key moment of my trauma, not just from childhood but as an adult as well, and so my heart is directed to the key moments that the heart needs to embrace in order for me to be truly free of my mind and thus at peace and happy.
My life has truly been transformed by this meditation. Nothing that I have experienced since has agitated me, has pushed my buttons. I am aware and experience things directly and dispassionately, free of labels. And because I know I have everything I need inside myself to be at peace and happy, I do not allow my mind to engage in its endless “what-if’s” about the future. I know that I will be spiritually safe, regardless, and allow nothing to interfere with my peace and happiness.
May you find peace and happiness.