What Hides Your Heart?

I’ve been revisiting the writings of Meister Eckhardt, the 13th century Dominican Order philosopher, theologian, and mystic. I found the following quote which holds timeless and timely wisdom, and points to what I believe is the essential work of our time.

A human being has so many skins inside, covering the depths of the heart. We know so many things, but we don’t know ourselves! Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, as thick and hard as an ox’s or bear’s, cover the soul. Go into your own ground and learn to know yourself there.
— Meister Eckhardt

There are as many reasons for thick skins to form over our heart as there are people. This includes tasting the bitterness of injustice, growing up with a challenging family of origin story, suffering emotional wounding, witnessing environmental devastation, and so on. 

Open Hearted Tribe. Tree Branch collars / Brody Hartman

Open Hearted Tribe. Tree Branch collars / Brody Hartman

What’s important is the reminder from Eckhart that these thick hides cover the soulIt's not possible to connect with the deepest truth within us—our soul level brilliance—if our heart is heavy, calloused, or shuttered from potential storms that may or may not arrive.

I read Eckhardt’s statement as an invitation for us to be vulnerable. To do the noble work of examining and removing these thick hides.

This may seem counterintuitive in light of the daily barrage of challenging events that we see/read in the media. Especially at a time when people appear to be layering on more hides, hardening themselves for what’s to come. This is understandable, but it’s a losing strategy. 

When we harden our hearts, we lose the ability to be affected by the suffering (and beauty, creativity, abundance) around us, and then we burrow deeper under the weight of fear into our concrete bunkers of linear black and white thinking.

Being affected—to be utterly heart broken—is how we let in and out the light of imagination, possibility and love. This is how we access our deepest authentic wisdom, and generative insights. This is how we step into the world with better questions, soul-full imagination, flexibility, adaptability, openness, and compassion.

The work starts in the heart of our own story. Eckhardt encourages “go into your own ground and know yourself there.” What’s the ground he’s speaking of? I see it as soul work—a diving in and down to the depths of our essence, and reconnecting to the very ground of our being. In our purpose guiding work we use a variety of heart encounter practices to help clients reveal their inherent gifts. I've included a few at the end of the blog.

When we open our eyes to what is happening, even when it breaks our hearts, we discover our true size; for our heart, when it breaks open, can hold the whole universe. We discover how speaking the truth of our anguish for the world brings down the walls between us, drawing us into deep solidarity. That solidarity, with our neighbors and all that lives, is all the more real for the uncertainty we face.
— Joanna Macy

I believe we are our own best teachers. But we can’t do this work alone. The world’s problems are too complex. We need each other— teachers, guides, elders, healers, mirrors, and allies with whom we can stand shoulder-to-shoulder, brother-to-sister, to co-evolve a new story. 

piecing my heart back together: SRCAP WOOD & SPRAY PAINT / brody hartman

piecing my heart back together: SRCAP WOOD & SPRAY PAINT / brody hartman








Revealing our tender-heartedness requires that we balance vulnerability with self-compassion. Here are a few practices to reflect on.

Practice1. The Medicine of Stillness & Silence

It’s important to find a source of stability. To be physically grounded in our body, on a chair/cushion, and on the earth. Stillness is not only the antidote to our multi-tasking modern life, it’s a prerequisite for reconnecting with silence. And silence is the very ground of our being. 

Everything emerges from, and returns to silence—our thoughts, words, ideas, and actions. In silence wisdom rises, and our truth beyond words can be experienced. Listen from there. Speak from there once you rise from your seat.

Take 15 minutes a day to return home to the sacred ground of silence and stillness. Sit with no intention other than being with what is. No grasping. No aversion. Just awareness of what arises and passes.

Over time you may notice a softening of your heart, or less contraction when turning your attention down into your own ground and out into the world.

Practice 2. Name the Hides

Here is a creative practice to do in a supportive community or on your own.

Give words (or movement, voice, poetry, dance, paint, clay) to the subtle energies and stories that shield your heart. Try an automatic writing exercise (or other from of free flowing expression) starting with one of these prompts that speak to you. Write or express yourself for at least 15 minutes without stopping—just let it flow. No judgment, no perfection.

...for our heart, when it breaks open, can hold the whole universe. 


My heart breaks for...

My heart longs for...

I'm afraid to be vulnerable because...

This thick hide over my heart is called...

Our children should be able to...

The earth says...

My greatest fear for my family/community/country/world/earth is...

My greatest hope for my family/community/country/world/earth is...


Pay attention to the sensations in your body. Notice where you feel tension or release. Let your body express what needs expressing. 

Practice self-compassion and self-care in this work. 

If you are doing this with a group, give each person an opportunity to share. Then let the group's wisdom guide you in honoring one another.

Practice 3. Metta Lovingkindness Meditation

Practicing Metta Lovingkindness meditation is another way to soften our heart and release the grip of our mind. It’s a way to offer the generosity of warmth, kindness and love for our self and for others.

This is a perfect exercise to do after practice #2.




Here is a wonderful audio series by James Finley, PhD. James lived as a monk at the  Trappist monastery of the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, where the renowned monk and author, Thomas Merton, was his spiritual director.

Meister Eckhart's Living Wisdom: Indestructible Joy and the Path of Letting Go