Making Your Heart a Safe Place
Shared Heart Column
Heartfulness December 2019
with Joyce and Barry Vissell
“Making Your Heart a Safe Place”
With the New Year almost upon us, we tend to put our attention upon changes and resolutions that will help us live a better life. Have you ever noticed that most New Year’s resolutions have to do with cleaning something or more discipline around maintaining the body? When Barry and I were in our thirties, we had a New Year’s gathering and about fifty people came. During this gathering, each person stood up and proclaimed their New Year’s resolution. Of those fifty people, forty, or 80% vowed to floss their teeth each night (perhaps the first person inspired all the others). Other popular vows were to lose weight, exercise more, and clear the clutter in the garage (we could use that one). All of these New Year’s vows are great, and my dentist would heartily agree. But have you ever heard someone say to you, “My New Year’s vow this year is to clear my heart and make it a safe place for all beings.”
One of my favorite quotes is, “If you have room in your heart for one enemy, your heart is an unsafe place for a friend.” I do not know who originally spoke or wrote that statement, but I do know it contains a volume of wisdom. The act of holding a resentment, anger or even hatred towards another human being, makes the entire space of the heart unsafe for friends and family. If you can hold that space of negativity for one person, then you are also capable of holding that space for others, even someone you love very much. Negativity has trouble staying confined to just one person.
For this New Year, perhaps add a vow of clearing your heart of negativity towards other human beings. This one vow is perhaps the healthiest thing you could ever do for your body, mind and soul.
From the time I was eighteen and heading off to college, my mother ordered a subscription to Guideposts magazine for me. She kept up this gift for the rest of her life and now I order it myself. At least once a year the magazine will run an article about a person who has healed an enormous hatred in their heart, and the positive result in their life. One time it was the story of a young woman who was attacked in a parking lot, beaten up and left on the concrete to die. She miraculously recovered and the attacker was found and imprisoned. She regained her health, but her heart suffered. She had so much anger towards this man that over time she developed a serious illness. While lying in a hospital bed one night in tremendous pain, she realized the only way she could recover was to go to the prison and speak to her attacker and forgive him. Her husband and friends thought this was a terrible idea, but she was determined and felt it was the only way she could ever have her health and peace back again.
She set up a visit with the prison officials to see this man. When he walked in to see her, she saw a very little man who had been so humbled by his time in prison. He cried when he saw her, and begged her to forgive him, saying he had been under the influence of drugs when he did that horrible thing to her. All of her hatred melted away and she felt so much compassion for the terrible mistake he had made and the consequences that he was now forced to endure. She reached out her hand and he took it. They looked into each other’s eyes for a minute and forgiveness flowed from heart to heart. The man thanked her for coming and allowing him to apologize. She thanked him for allowing her to see him.
As she walked out of the prison, she realized that, for the first time since the attack, she was free of the anger that had been in her heart. She felt peaceful once again. Her health also gradually returned. She and this man wrote each other from time to time and a connection was formed. She sent him books and other things that helped him in prison.
If you feel anger in your heart towards someone, perhaps it’s not as extreme as this previous example. And yet anger, hatred and resentment in any form are still a poison to the body and soul, and make the heart an unsafe place for others.
How does a person clear their heart? What do we do with the anger, resentment and even hatred that we might feel towards another person?
I use two practices to “clear my heart.” Since I know this is so important, I do this every day. I look inside my heart to feel if there is any person with whom I am holding resentment or look upon with negativity. Often there is not, but sometimes there is and I then make myself feel grateful for something about that person. Now I must admit that sometimes I don’t want to do this. But I make myself, just like every night no matter how tired I am, I get out the dental floss. Feeling something I can be grateful for about this person usually allows me to let go of the negativity. However, if the feelings are really intense for me and the gratitude does not work, then I ask that the person be blessed and have a good life. Sometimes I have to do this with the same person every single day over a period of time, but eventually I am left with compassion and a feeling of having a safe and loving heart.
I do this practice because I cherish my family and friends and I want my heart to be a safe place for them. I want my heart to be a safe and loving place for all beings. I do this practice because it is one of the most important things I can do in this life.