Opening The Heart For Dummies - Heart Open - Opening My Heart - Heart Surgery - Heart Attack - Closed Emotional State - Depression - How To Live Freely And Lovingly

Presents "K" with an "opening the heart for dummies" -- "how to" suggestions for "opening the heart" and for living in a state of happiness and freedom.

Describes how K wishes to live with the "heart open" in order that he may "reverse the damage" that he believes he has caused his wife and children.

Argues that living freely and lovingly requires that you be honest, have relationships that you care about, take care of your body, and find and do things that spark your love and passion.

Describes how depression and a sense of loss often follow heart surgery. Presents a flyer from the National Institute for Mental Health (pdf) that discusses the relationship between depression and heart disease, as well as a related article from NIMH published at (pdf).

Describes the importance of seeking healing and therapy -- when necessary -- to avoid the depression and closed emotional states that often trigger heart attacks.

Argues that not everyone will have spiritual "attainments" on the level of a Gautama Buddha or a Jesus of Nazareth. Argues that it is essential that we accept our current imperfect conditions and move forward from there. Argues that only a path that is dedicated to the relief of suffering will bring any lasting peace.

Website Correspondence - March 14, 2005

2005.3.14. Monday.

"K" emailed me a few days ago. It was really a heartfelt letter. He described his family, how he felt that his cold or "closed" emotional state had short-changed his children's development. He described how he had undergone heart surgery and had consulted with alternative healers to facilitate his post-operation recovery. He described how one healer had told him that if he didn't begin to be more free with his emotions -- and "open his heart" -- that he might easily have another heart attack, one that could be fatal.

K requested an "Opening the Heart for Dummies," and wanted to know whether the phrases "heart open," "opening my heart," and "open heart chakra" all meant the same thing.

K described his belief that he lives "almost totally in my head" and that "until recently, I haven't even been aware of how dead I really am!"

K asked me if there was anything I could share with him that would help him to live freely and lovingly, and with an "open heart."

K described his meditation practice, how sometimes he would enter "the zone" and meditate effortlessly, feeling "energy flowing through me" or a "deep stillness," while at other times he would feel "nothing at all." He appreciated my descriptions of meditation, including those where I was lying down with my feet elevated, feeling warmth and pressure in my head and chest.

He told me of his participation in various forms of psychotherapy and bodywork to heal himself. He described how he was "learning to express my emotions" and that the various therapists had told him that he was "clearing," "unloading," "shifting," and "making progress."

One healer told K that "there was no point in doing any physical healing" until he was able to "open his heart" and "be willing to change, even to the point of death." This made K feel rather desperate. He stated that "change won't come until I'm truly ready for it, until I desire it as a drowning man desires a breath of air."

K was doing his best, but doubted his ability to "muster that intensity of desire." Reflecting on how "closed" he felt, K exclaimed, "God, I'm fucking dead!"

He quoted a few lines from a page describing my kundalini awakening [make link to commentary] where I state that "an emotional openness" and "a yearning for love" are essential for a full spiritual opening. He worried about whether he had been shortchanged as a child and that therefore his prospects for healing and awakening would be bleak. K quoted me: "The problem here is that the capacity to meet a child's spiritual needs depends on the fulfillment of a relationship -- and a developmental period -- over which children have no control. You can't simply decide, at age twenty, that you wish to cultivate self-esteem. For the most part, like your native life force, either you have it or you don't. Which all goes back to the quality of the physical and emotional environment you had growing up. I figure that ninety-eight percent of people have been raised in a situation that handicaps them for the rest of their lives. Which isn't to say that people can't improve and heal. They do and they can. But you just can't ever truly make up for being abused or neglected as a child."

Though I doubt that K was an abusive husband and father -- in the classic sense -- he was distraught over how much damage his family may have incurred as a result of his "closed" and "unawakened" state. He wondered whether his situation was a lost cause, given how his life probably fell into the "ninety-eight percent" of damaged people that I describe above. He wanted very much to find the deep love of himself that I argue is necessary for awakening.

K ended his email by sharing his hope that he could "reverse some of the damage" in his life, and bring some "healing," "opening" and happiness to himself and his family.

I responded to "K:"

Hello K!

Thank you for the honest, heart-felt message! Your voice and point-of-view are so refreshing to hear!

All I can say is that wherever we are at, that's where we need to proceed from.

You sound like a very caring, open, and loving father. I think that if you spend time with your children, support their interests, and are open to criticism yourself that your children ought to do very well by you.

The main point at my site is that this world needs to be a better place so that we can support the kind of idealism, faith, and trust in one another -- and in the world as a whole -- that we need to have in order for people to go as far as they can, personally and spiritually.

I share a lot of my pain at my site. Pain and disillusionment are part of what being human and alive are about. Try as we may, this world will not be perfect. But it's our job to pick up the pieces and do whatever we can to move forward.

It doesn't matter whether your heart chakra is radically opened from some higher power. Everyone is alive by virtue of God's grace, and if you remember that -- always remember that -- then that should be sufficient to live a fulfilling life -- a life that is filled with spiritual truth, dedicated to the alleviation of suffering wherever it is found.

I know I talk a lot of about being passionate, of finding some kind of explosive level of emotional relationship with the world. I suggest doing whatever you can in your life to support that. There are a lot of things you can do, for example: being honest; having relationships that you care about; taking care of your body; finding and doing things that spark your love and passion; etc. That is really all you can do. There is no magical cure for being depressed and feeling "closed." In my view, if enough things are going right in your life a sense of optimism and hope -- and passion -- should begin to take root in you.

As well, if you are truly despondent, you may wish to consider bringing your family to see a loving, "divine mother" type of teacher like Ammachi [pdf]. She does give a good hug, and the hoopla attending her visits is kind of exciting. Plus, the food is good and there are interesting people to converse with. Your children ought to find plenty of other kids to play with, too.

Wow! Congratulations on all the therapy, bodywork, and so forth that you are pursuing. You are one dedicated guy! I think that all of what you are doing will benefit you. But, in my view, for those healing modalities to really "work," they have to be good -- pleasurable -- in and of themselves. That is, if you are attached to some emotional state that you hope to attain at a "later" date, and are not enjoying the present moment's "therapy," the benefits of that therapy will be reduced. Find healing activities that are rewarding to you in the here and now, and go more deeply into THAT! Another way to describe what I am saying is that, in my experience, practices that are painful, irritating, or boring to your body and emotions only teach you those three limiting qualities. It's best, in my opinion, to find a path that holds as much joy and spontaneous interest for you as possible, and stay with that!

Meditation is of course a time-tested method for spiritual awakening. It has also been shown to reduce blood pressure and other risk factors associated with heart attacks. So good luck with that!

I do believe that the healer was right about the relationship between your emotional state -- your degree of openness and fluidity -- and the health of your heart.

Not everyone is going to be a Jesus or a Buddha, okay? I fell short. Most people fall short. But don't despair! Try to accept and love yourself no matter what happens! If you don't have that self-love and self-forgiveness you are very likely not going to find Self-Realization. So just do your best, and FORGIVE yourself when it doesn't seem good enough. Have faith, give your troubles to God. Believe me, God is doing the best he/she can with the body, mind, and heart that you've got and the less than perfect world that you must live in. You have to accept and love yourself and your world in order to transcend them. Which isn't to say that criticism of things in this world is unwarranted, for it most definitely is. Though we must all work to improve ourselves and the world around us, we must understand that nothing that manifests will ever be "perfect." Just like one's own mundane life, and one's relationship to spirit or kundalini, it's an unending process -- not a specific, static attainment.

K, when I pontificate about the importance of childhood, I am not so much preaching to people like you who think that they are limited or "closed;" rather, I am talking to parents -- and other concerned adults -- about the importance of doing what's best for the children of this world NOW so that the spiritual quests they embark upon in adolescence and young adulthood will be met with more success. In other words, I want people to know that everything we can do to make this world a safer, healthier, happier, and more tolerant place will improve us spiritually. Even if this is not tangibly realized by the adult in question, his/her work will bear fruit via the rising passion, intensity, and idealism of generations to come.

From Bernadette Roberts (pdf): "I think there are more people in the state of oneness than we realize. For everyone we hear about there are thousands we will never hear about. Believing this state to be a rare achievement can be an impediment in itself. Unfortunately, those who write about it have a way of making it sound more extraordinary and blissful that it commonly is, and so false expectations are another impediment - we keep waiting and looking for an experience or state that never comes."

So, K, don't wait for God to come knocking on your door! Live your life to the fullest NOW!

As well, I want to assure you that there will always be hope and opportunity for spiritual growth, no matter what setbacks you may have experienced in the past. God/Grace/Spirit can intervene, inexplicably, at any time, regardless of circumstances. You just have to be "open" to it! :-) What I mean is that some people are "saved" -- see the "light," have that "opening" -- at the most unexpected times, and in the most difficult of situations. You can do what you can to prepare for those moments; but, ultimately, none of "this" is up to "you:" It is all in God's hands.

A note about depression and heart surgery: My father had open heart surgery, and it is my understanding that depression and a sense of emotional loss are experienced afterwards for some time, perhaps years. My dad found himself crying a lot, and even took medication for a short time to help with his depression. (See the excerpt below from regarding the relationship between depression and heart disease.)

I wish you and your family the best of luck. Unfortunately, sometimes one person is willing to grow while other family members are not. It might be the case that you will need some space from loved ones in order to heal. (That's just a thought.)

I do believe that you are completely sincere in your desire to grow and to heal. In my view, it is our degree of sincerity that determines whether our paths will bear fruit.

Take care, and please write again as need arises.

To you and your family's health!



I forgot to answer K's question about whether "heart open," "opening my heart," and "open heart chakra" are synonymous.

In my view, they are not.

The opening of the heart chakra and kundalini awakening [make link] are profound spiritual events with irreversible effects upon the body. Both set into motion developmental processes that are aimed at our total physiological and spiritual liberation. The events represent massive physical and perceptual shifts.

The phrases "heart open" and "opening my heart" are less well-defined and point to smaller, less dramatic changes in the spiritual functioning of the body-mind.

Prior to my heart chakra opening, I had quite an "open heart:" that is, I was spontaneous, emotional, empathetic, and so forth. Though these qualities of being were certainly useful in most circumstances, they can't compare to the supercharged aspects of the same after undergoing the above two events.

Is having an "open heart" necessary as a precursor to having a "heart chakra opening?" I would say, emphatically, "Yes!" Not that there is a one-to-one relationship, but I do think that living more with an open heart -- that is, engaging those activities that bring more joy and passion into your life -- does set the stage where God is more likely to intervene in a dramatic way.

More from (pdf) (sourced from the National Institute for Mental Health)

Depression Can Break Your Heart

A brief overview of the relationship between depression and heart disease, 2001

Research over the past two decades has shown that depression and heart disease are common companions and, what is worse, each can lead to the other. It appears now that depression is an important risk factor for heart disease along with high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure. A study conducted in Baltimore, MD found that of 1,551 people who were free of heart disease, those who had a history of depression were four times more likely than those who did not to suffer a heart attack in the next 14 years. In addition, researchers in Montreal, Canada found that heart patients who were depressed were four times as likely to die in the next 6 months as those who were not depressed.

Depression may make it harder to take the medications needed and to carry out the treatment for heart disease. Depression also may result in chronically elevated levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, and the activation of the sympathetic nervous system (part of the "fight or flight" response), which can have deleterious effects on the heart.

The first studies of heart disease and depression found that people with heart disease were more likely to suffer from depression than otherwise healthy people. While about 1 in 20 American adults experience major depression in a given year, the number goes to about one in three for people who have survived a heart attack. Furthermore, other researchers have found that most heart patients with depression do not receive appropriate treatment. Cardiologists and primary care physicians tend to miss the diagnosis of depression; and even when they do recognize it, they often do not treat it adequately.

The public health impact of depression and heart disease, both separately and together, is enormous. Depression is the estimated leading cause of disability worldwide, and heart disease is by far the leading cause of death in the United States. Approximately one in three Americans will die of some form of heart disease.

Studies indicate that depression can appear after heart disease and/or heart disease surgery. In one investigation, nearly half of the patients studied one week after cardiopulmonary bypass surgery experienced serious cognitive problems, which may contribute to clinical depression in some individuals.

There are also multiple studies indicating that heart disease can follow depression. Psychological distress may cause rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, and faster blood clotting. It can also lead to elevated insulin and cholesterol levels. These risk factors, with obesity, form a constellation of symptoms and often serve as a predictor of and a response to heart disease. People with depression may feel slowed down and still have high levels of stress hormones. This can increase the work of the heart. As high levels of stress hormones are signaling a "fight or flight" reaction, the body's metabolism is diverted away from the type of tissue repair needed in heart disease.

Regardless of cause, the combination of depression and heart disease is associated with increased sickness and death, making effective treatment of depression imperative. Pharmacological and cognitive-behavioral therapy treatments for depression are relatively well developed and play an important role in reducing the adverse impact of depression.4 With the advent of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors to treat depression, more medically ill patients can be treated without the complicating cardiovascular side effects of the previous drugs available. Ongoing research is investigating whether these treatments also reduce the associated risk of a second heart attack. Furthermore, preventive interventions based on cognitive-behavior theories of depression also merit attention as approaches for avoiding adverse outcomes associated with both disorders. These interventions may help promote adherence and behavior change that may increase the impact of available pharmacological and behavioral approaches to both diseases.

Exercise is another potential pathway to reducing both depression and risk of heart disease. A recent study found that participation in an exercise training program was comparable to treatment with an antidepressant medication (a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) for improving depressive symptoms in older adults diagnosed with major depression. Exercise, of course, is a major protective factor against heart disease as well.

The NIMH and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute are invested in uncovering the complicated relationship between depression and heart disease. They support research on the basic mechanisms and processes linking co-occurring mental and medical disorders to identify potent, modifiable risk factors and protective processes amenable to medical and behavioral interventions that will reduce the adverse outcomes associated with both types of disorders.

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