Learning & Practice

Heartfulness Drop-In: Opening, Protecting, and Growing.

This lesson is an excerpt from a Monday HeartfulnessDrop-In. You can find the related meditation here.

Talk Transcript (word-for-word from the recording):

Our wisdom, our understanding: our self-understanding, our understanding of the world, understanding of how our heart and mind work, how we work in relationship with other people. When we look closely at how we are in this moment as it relates to what we're trying to do, our intention. When we look closely and we show up, and we have insight, and this insight grows our wisdom. Our wisdom and our understanding is in service of protecting, cultivating, opening us to our loving nature. Our understanding is manifested through the heart of kindness, of compassion that we have.

If you're looking for good spiritual friendships, if you're looking for health in yourself, health in teachers and whatever, you want to look and see if there is a relatively mature kindness there. In yourself and in others, and if you notice that there is a kindness and a compassion, there's probably enough wisdom there to recognize what's important. These heartfulness practices aren't only these nice things, they're also a reflection of understanding.

There's three kind of focuses that we can bring to our heartfulness practice. And the one is recognizing and strengthening our capacity to make space for the quality of heart and mind that we're trying to cultivate. For example, loving kindness, compassion, equanimity and appreciative joy depend on an openness of heart. If we can make space for our heart to become Open, if we can make space for our heart to be tender, kind, and compassionate, our intelligence recognizes the need to create that space.

Our intelligence recognizes the second part, which is we want to Protect that openness of heart. We protect that openness of heart when we recognize that we have feelings of indifference, of distraction, of not caring, of going off into the kind of mental proliferation, or maybe we're offering loving kindness to someone and we just notice how mad we are at that person or how difficult it is. Our intelligence tells us to open our heart, and the degree that we have realized an open heart, we want to protect that openness, to see thoughts of anger, to see thoughts of blame, to see thoughts of other stuff. So we want to protect it.

And then the last part in these heart cultivations is Grow, and so once we notice that our heart is open, once we're able to guard it from the kinds of thoughts that interfere with the kindness or compassion or that openness, we want to strengthen and grow and be present with these qualities of warmth, openness, tenderness.

For example, in this category of growing, some of us might become satisfied with doing heartfulness practice, and, say we pick a person in our meditation practice, and we have a moment where we really connect. We feel, "Ah, this is...I'm really feeling this goodwill toward this person, this kindness and this compassion and this openness," and then we start to think about something else, right? It's not enough in this practice to just visit these mental mind states or just to be satisfied when they show up for a moment.

It's like breath practice. First, you aim your attention onto the sensations of the body breathing, which we know is relatively difficult, but then we want to sustain our attention on the sensations of the body breathing. And we sustain through our whole in-breath, and all of these thoughts and all of that stuff come out the whole out-breath. We're able to be with it. In the cultivation of this kindness, maybe we feel this kindness for a moment, this compassion for a moment. It's open. It came. The difficult part and the cultivation part is growing it, is sustaining it, is how I feel this kindness for this person. Alright, I'm going to continue feeling this kindness for this person. I'm going to notice all kinds of other areas with this person, and now not only this person, but other people that I come into contact with. Not only these people, everyone that I come into contact with. I'm going to try to have this continuity and this consistency of paying attention to this open-heart quality.

One of the near enemies of all of this heartfulness practice is that we become satisfied with fleeting moments of it. We can become satisfied with, "Oh, I was able to be concerned for this moment," and then we move on. We think that sometimes, because we intended it and we touched it for a moment or two, that's enough. Often, when we touch into the love and the warmth and the heartfulness in one moment, it's because we've been conditioned to be able to make that easier to arrive. That's why in loving-kindness practice, we sometimes start with the person who's easy to cultivate that to, someone who's just it's easy to have these feelings, they've been primed like that, but it's harder to keep that application of heart and mind. What's when we start to keep that application of heart and mind is when we start to push into how our mind has been conditioned and start to recondition it, to be able to strengthen and incline that loving kindness.

Please don't - please celebrate and appreciate when we're able to offer the kindness when it comes up. But let that be a little mindfulness bell to say, "How can I protect this? And how can I grow this? How can I make this more consistent?"

Sometimes in this interesting position, being someone who's like lucky enough to be able to share the Dharma together with people who care about it, sometimes it can feel like our practice is so repetitive. It can feel like we're saying the same thing over and over again, and sometimes this practice - and this is actually a beautiful thing - it's obvious: we want to be good, we want to be kind, we want to understand, we want to have the wherewithal to be able to do that in a consistent way. We want to have the resilience and the strength and the resources to be able to direct our heart and mind where it's beneficial and reduce the direction of our heart and mind when it's not beneficial.

It's so simple. It's so simple, and sometimes when sharing this practice, we can think, I can think to myself, "Gosh, am I just like speaking platitudes to everyone? This is something that everyone knows already." Cause we do, and that's one of the beautiful parts of this practice.

But then we look out in the world and see how much is going on out there. How much pain, how much suffering, and then we look in - not really - but we look in the windows of people's houses, and we look in our own house. We look in our own friendships, we look in our own close relationships, and we see how often these simple truths that are fundamental to us as human beings are lacking so much.

So it doesn't take long to remember just how important all of this stuff is to say and to practice and do repetitively; and so that's why I'm really stressing don't take for granted when we remember to be kind. It's wonderful when we actually feel like this quality of heart and mind. Wonderful, wonderful, but don't take that for granted. We need to also strengthen and grow it and allow it to be more consistent.

We're all kind where it's easy. We're all kind where it's comfortable. We're all kind where we've been habituated, and it's safe to be like that, but sometimes in that cultivation, it's meeting the challenges of those distractions that prevent us from consistently applying ourselves in that way.

And so with this loving-kindness practice that we'll do today, we'll just really approach it with this intention to be open to it, to feel it, to realize it, to guard it, and to grow it. So for example, when we bring the first person to mind, we really try to open our heart, we really try to feel it. We try to feel that opening. We really try to be sincere in the warmth that we're trying to bring to this person, the kindness and all of that, and then when we're opening up, we want to guard it. It's precious. It's precious that we're even able to open to this person and connect in this way. Then we just want to grow it. We want to grow it, we want to keep applying ourselves and giving ourselves to this person, this quality of heart and mind.

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