“My prayers are prayers of earth’s own clumsily striving (finding and losing and laughing and crying) children whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness.”
— from i am a little church by e.e. cummings
As I explored in my previous post, opening yourself to resonate with another’s pain is a risky endeavor—when you stop avoiding or fixing, and really open your heart to someone’s pain, you’re going to feel it.
You’re going to hurt too. But as you courageously open yourself to resonate with another’s pain, your humanity, your emotional presence becomes an empathic space where you can hold another who is in doubt, grief, or pain. This open-hearted courage to just be emotionally present with someone in a dark place is often the very best balm you can offer. Opening your heart to another is a holy work, and all of us are needed to do it.
So, yes, opening your heart does mean that your heart is going to hurt—and even break—from time to time. You know this to be true, as a parent, a lover, or as a friend. Loving your children means you will feel some pain when they experience rejection or disappointment. Loving your spouse or a friend means that you’ll carry some of the heaviness when he or she is shouldering a burden.
Open hearts grow stronger
Here’s a beautiful truth: opening your heart to resonate with another’s pain also opens your heart to healing, joy, and expansion.
Sitting with someone in suffering offers the opportunity to tear down walls and to really commune with your fellow sojourners in life. As you allow yourself to connect in this deep way, you’ll feel humbled and grateful for the privilege of being trusted, for the honor of listening and connecting. You’ll feel joy as you experience yourself becoming a true friend—one who is willing not only to celebrate successes and good times, but also to remain close and loyal during times of heaviness. With an open heart, you’ll feel your own capacity for love and life expand. Having extended compassion to others, you’ll be more able to extend that same loving kindness to yourself when difficult times come. You’ll remember more easily that you’re not alone. Open hearts grow stronger—because open hearts grow together.
If you’d like to increase your courage to be open-hearted with others in pain, you can access a reservoir of strength by remembering times when you’ve received that same sort of gracious presence. Take a moment to remember an instance when someone was there for you, at a time when you really needed help.
Recalling your own experiences of having felt someone’s support, care, and solidarity can give you courage to pay it forward.
I’ve been on the receiving end of this open-hearted courage just recently. Although I’ve always been a deeply spiritual person, in my adult life I’ve been startled by a decade-long struggle with parts of my faith. Surrounded by a family of very devout believers, I’ve sometimes felt a little isolated. While on a recent trip to visit one of my brothers and my parents, I shared some of my struggles with them. Although their experiences with belief are quite different from mine, both my brother and my parents had tears in their eyes, and each of them expressed their love for me, and their desire to support me, no matter where my honest searching leads. They opened their hearts to me, even though they don’t struggle in just the same way. They allowed their own hearts to break with my own. And although their loving response didn’t erase the poignancy of my pain or answer my questions (which I didn’t expect from them), their open hearts were big enough to take me in. And in taking me in, my hope grew a little brighter. As Neil Maxwell has expressed, “Small lights have a way of being seen in a dark world.”
Who could benefit from the light of your emotional presence? Who could be comforted by your emotional responsiveness and empathy? As you open your heart to others, you’ll experience your life expanding.