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.
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.
What’s important is the reminder from Eckhart that these thick hides cover the soul. It'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.
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.
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.