May 4 Meditation - Hridaya 102
Updated: May 19
I am almost halfway through a ten-day Hridaya retreat. I spent the first three days in silence, which I have now broken, in part so that I can be here with you. But I find the teachings so moving that I’m continuing as long as possible. As I’ve been sitting and absorbing all these beautiful words there are so many that I’ve wanted to share with you! So many techniques I’ve hoped to convey to you. So this afternoon I went through my notes and I was contemplating what to share and I want to talk about something fundamental, but very difficult, which is the move from the head to the heart.
The root of this practice, in the Advaita Vedanta tradition, is the Hridaya, the sacred heart. We talk about centering ourselves in the sacred heart as a meditation technique, bringing our consciousness from the ever present mind into this space just to the right of the center of the chest, and resting there. We learn to rest in the heart, to simply exist in the heart space, without doing or proving or expressing. These are the objectives of the ego, of the mind, but they are not the objectives of your essence.
In this practice we aim to live with an open heart, after years of building walls around our hearts and avoiding the tender, vulnerable space there. We aim to live lives of love—and not just to give and receive love, but to be love. This is our nature, this is our essence, but we lose sight of it, especially as we build those walls around the heart and we forget who we really are. So we come here to sit to remember who we are.
What can feel like an obstacle in this quest to inhabit the heart, to inhabit love, is the mind. The mind’s job is to solve problems. It addresses the world through a binary—right and wrong, this or that, you and me. When the mind works this way, it isn’t wrong, or bad. It’s just doing what minds do. Minds think. And when there is stillness, when there are no problems, the mind panics. Now it doesn’t have a job! Then the mind makes up problems to solve. So it gives itself a job, it provides a distraction from the stillness.
The mind also attaches to labels as a means of identification. You are a daughter, or a mother, or a social worker, or a nurse. You like ice cream and dislike traffic. This is not who you really are. You are so much more expansive than this.
So we set out to detach from the mind, to experience ourselves as more than the volatile, capricious, frenetic gymnastics of the mind. And as we engage in this process we start judging ourselves! We are here to connect more deeply with our essence, and our mind instantly intervenes and tells us what’s wrong, rather than embracing what is. There it goes again, giving itself a job. We berate ourselves for not having a still mind, we bemoan our mental agitations, we criticize our tendency towards distraction. We think all of this is a reflection of who we really are, which means we are failures. We are weak. We are just not any good at this.
Don’t confuse who you are with your mind, your thoughts, or your emotions. You are so much more than all of that. You are deserving of a love that is not conditional. You are that love.
Most of you know I’m pretty obsessed with the Enneagram, and incidentally I think a lot of that work dovetails so beautifully with these teachings, especially the idea that you have an Essence beyond your personality and that Essence is your true Self. There’s a proverb I learned in the context of my own Enneagram exploration that really speaks to tonight’s theme: it says, “The longest journey you’ll ever take is from your head to your heart.”
Ironically, it feels safer to be in our heads than in our hearts. It is less painful to be wrong than it is to be unloved. It is less painful to berate yourself constantly than it is to risk the vulnerability of an open heart.
But there are no problems from the heart. All your problems come from your mind.
So we practice taking that journey, from the head to the heart. We practice witnessing our thoughts and feelings rather than identifying with them. I’m struck by how we are always practicing something in our lives. Lately I’ve been practicing watching Killing Eve, which is part of why I enrolled in this retreat. Most of us spend a lot of time practicing thinking. We practice judging. We practice creating problems to solve. What are you practicing?
Watch your thoughts; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become stories.
Watch your stories; they become excuses.
Watch your excuses; they become relapses.
Watch your relapses; they become dis-eases.
Watch your dis-eases; they become vicious cycles.
Watch your vicious cycles; they become your wheel of life.