I originally wrote this last spring following a six week period of Tonglen (compassion) meditation. The practice left me incredibly open to myself and others, which at times translated to feeling raw and vulnerable. Recent conversations with friends who are struggling with various aspects of their own lives inspired me to revisit this with a renewed appreciation for the way in which our tender, soft spots - the ones we most want to hide from the world - are in fact also the ones most ripe for connection.
When your heart feels the most closed down, go in the opposite direction — 180 degrees. Take it out and touch as many people as possible. The more fragile and broken your heart, the more connection will be necessary. Go broad. Canvas the walks of your daily life. Say hello to the person parked next to you, instead of merely mumbling “sorry” when your car door brushes theirs. Kibitz with the school crossing guards. Talk to the other parents on the playground. Even the one who gets on your nerves. Especially that one. Look her in the eyes and ask her how her day is going. Ask for details and pay attention. Because even though the the heart may feel like it is frozen, like it wants to retract, it still beats, and the pulsation is in but also out again. When you want to armor your heart, high five the custodian, wave to the principal, share a soup recipe with the school nurse. Play on the playground — get into the fray of a game of zombie tag, swing on the swings and dare a first grader to jump off when they hit the peak of their arc. Because even if you are certain you will die at any moment, you are alive today, right here and right now. And your heart is still beating, even if it is also bleeding. The deeper the wound, the more minutiae is required. Stare meaningfully into the braces in your son’s friend’s mouth and inventory the food trapped inside. Salt and vinegar potato chips, a carrot chunk. Catalog it, because that is all there is in this moment. Chips and chunks on metal. And then it is gone. Open, open and open some more. Discover that nine year-old Dana T. shares your uncanny love of the numbers two and four. The way the twos fold evenly inside the four, like a pocket. Hug your children, your friends — the ones you have forgotten to talk with ever since you started texting them instead. Because you can say that in the end, we are fundamentally alone in this world, but in between, so many others’ lives cross our own that it would be a shame, a waste not to at least pay attention as you touch them. Even when your tender heart thinks it cannot bear to be seen, be gentle, be kind — do what you need to do to catch your breath — but then take it out and teach it how to love courageously.