When I first saw the picture of my father’s guru I was repulsed. I turned away abruptly. Later that day, while at lunch, I aggressively peppered my dad with questions about following her: What was he doing? That was thirty years ago.
My dad had a lot of patience. He also had a lot of humor, lucky for me! I realize in hindsight that after studying meditation with his guru for only several years, he’d already been granted the boon of equanimity. So, while I was judging him, doubting him, and critiquing him, he kindly and gently offered a steady stream of answers that would eventually begin to unfold in my own experience two decades later.
Today when I share satsang (company of devotees or sacred gathering) with others, whether with friends casually or teaching in a formal yoga studio, I am reminded of the eternal truth, first witnessed by me in my dad, of sacred virtues: humility, steadfastness, selfless service, respect, and, most of all, purity of the heart. For without this last one, our lives are sure to veer astray.
What my dad’s meditation master taught him is, in my estimation, the highest teaching there is. She taught him how to remain seated within his heart center, regardless of what he was seeing, hearing, doing, and experiencing. It is within this space that we recognize the ever-present love from which we came into being and the love to which we return. It is also the Source from which everything arises and subsides, despite its surface appearances.
But how do we touch into our heart center? How do we taste its nectar? The answer is practice. Where do we practice? Anywhere! You do not need to go to an exotic temple or a fancy yoga studio to practice. You don’t need to find a guru or even the perfect teacher, although lineage does matter. You simply need to develop the discipline to regularly observe your thoughts and drop into your heart center.
Connecting with the anāhata (heart chakra, energy center of the soundless sound) needn’t be complicated. Try this: Close your eyes and take a deep breath, count to three as you inhale and then again as you exhale. Do this three times, then pause. Sense what shifts. Immediately you have given yourself permission to listen within yourself rather than take in external opinions, images, and other material influences.
Try this next time you notice yourself unconsciously reacting to something you see or hear, or something unsettling you’ve done or experienced. These reactions are most often not who you are; they are samskaras (impressions of past actions stored in your nervous system). How instantaneously they arise and occur without any careful consideration of what is best in a moment is your cue that they are samskaric eruptions, not mindful decisions.
Perhaps you’re having a disagreement with someone, or reading a news article that really upsets you. If a reaction erupts, feel into its emotional quality first. Is it fiery, heavy, prickly? Be curious. Then observe it. Name it as such, “Eruption.” Accept your reaction like a skilled, patient mother does when her child melts down.
Now close your eyes—to withdraw from external stimulus—and deepen your breath, counting to three as you inhale, and then again as you exhale. Do this three times. Pause.
What is your heart whisper? Instead of letting your anger or hurt take over, take a moment and locate the quiet underneath the emotion within the anāhata. Seek the unchanging sky behind the storm. If you can master this one skill, you will become a great being and of benefit to many.
The Path of the Heart is the wisest teacher you will ever encounter. It is your highest teacher. The day I finally discovered it was the day I could fully encounter the photograph of my dad’s very strong guru, which now hangs on my walls. She is me. All the beauty, wisdom, and power I had rejected forthright that first time my gaze landed on her image was simply a reflection of the qualities I’d lost touch with in my own being.
My main yogic practice looks very nontraditional to the common western yoga practitioner. I turn my attention internally through formal meditation and then carry those reflections and “heart whispers” into my open-eyed everyday interactions.
I practice discipline with my Mātrikā Shakti (power of words, the Divine Mother). I observe my thoughts and reactions all day long, as often as I remember, and try to drop those that bring tension and angst within my body.
The next time you feel physically uncomfortable, ask yourself, What am I thinking right now? When you isolate the thought, ask yourself, Is this true? You can even smile at how your mind makes up untrue thoughts all day long while your heart remains true, pure. Successful interventions that stop our unconscious reactions to thoughts prevent us from passing our tensions along to others.
None of these practices are necessarily easy, but they are doable! And they are free, effective, and immediately available to you. They are our own life. The Path of the Heart is your path. It is also the royal road to everything you’ve been looking for, a secret treasure within.
I hope you accept the invitation to walk your Path of the Heart. That you find the courage to discover it. That the ever-present undercurrent of love existing within you reigns supreme blessings throughout your life and the lives of those you love and hold dear.
Remember. Soften your gaze. Take three deep breaths, 1…2…3…Shhh. Listen.
Image Credit: Johannes Plenio