Updated: Nov 29, 2021
For many of us, we equate the notion of achieving the life (love, dream) we want with aggressively pursuing it. We shape it in our minds, we formulate a plan, and we go after some notion of what it will look and feel like when we’ve “got it.” We have convinced ourselves that what we want isn’t going to happen until we hunt it down and drag it back to us. Which, in part, is certainly true…dreams require action. However, getting the life or love that we desire requires a certain openness; a soft receptiveness.
When a farmer plants a crop, there is a certain amount of planning and action required to plant, tend, and harvest... and the farmer needs to establish safety precautions to protect the seedlings from the elements or predators. However just as important as all those steps is softening the soil and making it healthy and receptive to supporting the growing life that will be tendered unto it.
I enjoy this analogy because that’s exactly what we need to do with our hearts. If we want to attract love into our lives, we need to first soften ourselves to it. We need to soften the rocky landscape to make it ready and capable of supporting life. When it comes to matters of the love, I, like many of you, have at times walked through life somewhat on the defense. As a result of past injuries, I have developed a few walls and a tough outer-shell to protect my tender heart. At times, these defenses made sense (and many times still do) to keep me safe, but they also kept out a lot of the good stuff I really crave: true intimacy and love.
Self-doubt, fear, feelings of unworthiness, and difficulty being soft serve to keep out exactly what it is I want most in life.
I have come to learn that without a solid practice of self-love and a willingness to practice softening, all of that good stuff cannot flow. When the heart is softened, we are gentle and compassionate with ourselves, therefore opening ourselves to being those things for and with others in our lives. In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown noted that “love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow; a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists in each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.” This, feels right – but how do we begin the process of loving ourselves? How do we begin the process of softening our hearts?
“Trust hangs somewhere between knowing what your heart longs for and trying to dictate the shape or timing or outcome of your heart’s desire. It lies in the willingness to accept the particulars of how and when and where God chooses to intervene. It waits in the cool shade of surrender.” – Paula Rinehart, Strong Women, Soft Hearts
As one who not long ago suffered an unexpected, early-life heart attack, I often reflect on the state of my own heart. From a physical standpoint, the heart is a set of powerful muscles that pump life through my body via a set of rhythmic contractions. If the heart is overtaxed, abused, or not well-cared for it will cease to work according to its elegant plan and can threaten to interrupt or halt a life instantly, or over a slow path of destruction. Much is the same for emotional hearts. Symbolically, the heart is the center of our emotional and spiritual life. It is the fount from which feelings of love, joy, generosity, understanding, compassion and respect flow. It is also the tenderest, most vulnerable part of us. The heart is the center of positive energy in the body, and when it is open and connected, these feelings course throughout the body. When the heart is softened, we can sense the divine in all beings, and most importantly, in ourselves.
To begin softening, you need not do anything more than maintain a simple awareness. As we become aware of the state of our heart, breathing in a willingness to be vulnerable, we open it a bit wider, allowing the light to penetrate. As we breathe, relax, and surrender our need to control and protect, the hardness that blocks us from experiencing caring, loving relationships will begin to dissolve.
And then….love will take root and grow.