Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Opening the Ribcage

When I recently came across the quote below, by Thich Nhat Hanh, posted by the Thich Nhat Hanh Quote Collective on Facebook, my heart was greatly moved. Twice in the last couple of years I have come to see very clearly my own shut door, by having it opened slightly to the greater world, for a little while. Without this experience it is really hard to understand or see what I will try to point at in this post, but perhaps by reading the beautiful lines below we can begin to imagine an opening of the soul.

Since I learned how to love you,
the door of my soul has been left wide open
to the winds of the four directions.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

When we think of ourselves as separate individuals moving through a world apart from us, there arises a great need for physical and mental protection. The fear generated by such a perspective results inevitably in the construction of a mental armor – a closed gate. I believe most of us never reflect upon this part of our psyche, and we are therefore largely unaware of it. I, at least, was almost fully unaware of mine before I was fortunate enough to have it opened for a while, which gave some perspective.

As we grow up we become reserved (mildly put), and suspicious of everything we encounter. We keep things at a distance, and only rarely do we somewhat dare open the gates to our hearts and souls. Thus, as we meet new people, and even nature itself, we do so in a halfheartedly and protective fashion, inviting them barely to the edge of our inner gates. This mainly happens on an unconscious and automatic level, but if we pay close attention to how we approach the world, we may come to notice this to some extent.

My first experience of having this armor opened, was at a Sesshin (Zazen meditation retreat), while doing outdoor walking meditation, and just like expressed in the Thich Nhat Hanh quote, I felt as if the wind was suddenly allowed inside of me, and the whole scenery could then enter through a great gate consisting of my chest. The sense of separation between subject (myself) and object (the world) was thereby substantially lessened.

Since these experiences I have tried to remember the feeling of those moments when I meet people, whether friends or new acquaintances, and to be aware of how I approach them. Doing my best with being as fearless as possible, I welcome them with my chest and body straight towards them and as mentally naked as I can manage.

A great part of the spiritual path is walked by learning how to receive. It is about welcoming the places, events, and people we come across and to acknowledge was is. While we might be busy with making an impression, acting, judging, and labeling what we see, the secret is to receive what comes before us, without disturbing its revelation, with the noise of our own self-portrayal. Even when we act, it is vital that we listen in this way, so that we can become aware of what we're really doing. Life is free though, and that is true even of the most profound dimensions of it. Therefore, if we can learn to keep the bowls of our selves empty and welcoming, Heaven will provide the wisdom, joy, and compass for further travels. If we can muster the courage, to slightly open our ribcages, and let the sharpness of life touch our sensitive hearts just a little bit, then we will also open ourselves to the winds of the Lord, and from their whispers, steadfastness and an even greater courage will grow.

I really recommend everyone to study how we welcome and relate to situations and people. How do we approach them physically (posture, direction, facial expression)? What happens on the mental level? (emotions, thoughts). If possible, are there changes we can make, for a more inviting, and less protective stance? Do we welcome the world to enter at all, or do we still prefer to keep it at a distance?

That Mystery, which brought us about, supplies us with food, keeps us warm, and in a great other number of ways sustains our being, have we learned how to trust it yet? To what extent do we dare bare our hearts to its immensity?

Love, they say, is best done naked.

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