In much of Western Society, there tends to be two main modes of being with our hearts: being open to everything or being closed down to everything. Obviously, there are plenty of shades of gray because life doesn’t actually operate in these two distinctions. But it seems like people tend to go that way. To gender it, men tend to be closed down and women tend to be overly-emotional. This, of course, is a ridiculous gender stereotype, but they play out a lot. As women have moved into the business sphere, those women who have become harder and closed hearted (aka the “bitches get things done” mentality) have found some monetary and business success, which has encouraged women to shut down their hearts further. This is, in essence, following the paradigm of “male-centric” culture, which ultimately has nothing to do with being manly, but it is more often considered the “stronger” way to be with our hearts.

In writing all of that, you can see that we’re in a pickle. We’ve created two really unhealthy extremes, and neither is appropriate for becoming an emotional adult. So let’s talk about what it means to come into authentic ownership of our hearts and to become heart strong.

Throwing Out the Old Ways

If you want to stay a juvenile emotional child on the inside, then you can continue to follow along with what society is teaching us. It tends to teach us to stay closed more than to stay wildly open. Both are fraught with misunderstanding, and some people will ebb back and forth between being wildly open (often in a newly budding romance) to being completely shut down (especially if a romance is ending). This is not how adults in emotional maturity respond to life, but since there are two few of us and we are not idolized in popular media or conversations, we are rarely seen and probably even more rarely appreciated. Our current ways idolize emotional drama on the one hand and emotional control on the other. But trying to control everything is impossible and that includes our hearts.

In coming into ownership of your heart, you are going to have to throw out the old ways. Of course to do that, you need to turn inwards to understand what ways you are acting out. If you don’t know the program you are running, how do you know how to delete it? Here are a couple ways you can start to determine your emotional operating system:

  • When you meet someone new, do you immediately open your heart or hold back?
  • When you are facing a difficult situation, do you close up and try to control things or do you spew emotionally at someone? Or do you do something else?
  • Is it easy for you to drop into a deep emotional connection with a partner? Do you hold back? A lot, a little, or not at all?

This should help get you started noticing how you handle your emotions.

Breaking Down Emotional Patterning

Much like the mind, the emotional body or heart is a creature of patterns. It simply runs in the same types of emotional loops it’s been doing for probably most of your life. You get a compliment, and you respond by feeling good. You get yelled at, and you respond emotionally to feel bad. The above questions and others that you can develop on your own are critical to understand your patterning, and it’s important that you really go deeply into your assumptions around what it means to be open-hearted and how you emotionally respond to many situations in your life.

Being open-hearted is commonly misunderstood. People think it means being open all the time to everything. But in winter when snowstorms come, we close the doors. We don’t leave them open to let all the snow blow in and suck the warmth right out of us. Nor do we leave the whole house constantly barred and gated when the fresh fragrance of spring is in the air. This is the importance of knowing ourselves and how to open and receive fully as well as when to set appropriate boundaries. But right now, most people have no idea what they’re doing, so it tends to be premature to talk about boundaries at this juncture. For most of you, I encourage you to not settle with your current level of self-awareness. It’s too easy for the mind to run in and say, “But Jim, I’ve done all that, and people still suck the life out of me.” Well, I encourage you to look again. The more you understand the core belief structures and emotional patterns you running on, the more you’ll be able to see the truth about your emotions and your heart.

Opening Your Love to the World

Many moons and a few years ago, I wrote a blog post about “Falling Love with the World.” It came after another post about “Falling in Love with Yourself.” The too are ultimately the same. In awakening, the breaking down of emotional barriers and patterns can be one of the most jarring experiences of all for some of you, especially if you’ve had a closed heart. In opening the heart, a rush of unfelt and unexpressed emotions rises up, and it truly feels like you feel EVERYTHING. This is a passing phase, however, but it will require a lot of your attention so that you can fully be with it and release it. It is not fun work. However, it is deeply rewarding because you’re clearing space for your heart to begin to grow and express itself in greater maturity.

Most of the rest of you will not break it all apart like that. You’ll shave off little pieces, and this is just fine. All roads lead to the same place, and we all must honor our unique spiritual paths. But I can only continue to encourage you to learn to love and accept all of yourself. The more you do that, the more you can love and accept all of this world. There’s no need to try and love the unrepentant murderer just yet. Just start by loving your body. Start by loving your perceived mistakes or anyway that you have not served your greatest good and highest truth. Start by seeing every thought as part of your beautiful unique inner tapestry. While everything may not be to your preference, the more you see things with love, the more natural and kind you can be in making changes and coming into the deeper love that embraces all.

Dropping Anchor in Turbulent Emotional Seas

For those of you who have always been lost in emotions, it’s time to drop anchor. In dropping anchor into deeper levels of being, we stop getting tossed about on the seas of ever-changing emotions. I often like to equate the mind to wind and air. In that space, there are always new winds and shifts going on. It can be very erratic, but it is also the least dense space, meaning it’s often the easiest to change and the easiest to understand. Consider how easy it is to learn that we are all love versus to understand that we are all love in our hearts. However, as we drop into our hearts and take ownership of this space, the waters of love are powerful and don’t change quite so rapidly as the winds of the mind. (By the time we get into knowing we are love in our bodies, this is a whole other level of grounded and centeredness).

To begin to own the seas of inner emotions and develop your heart strength, you must learn to watch your emotions. This is particularly important for those of you who already feel in touch with your emotions, but are totally out of control. This isn’t how you are; this is how you’ve learned to act. How you are is something else, and the more you bring awareness to your heart space, the more you can be with any emotion without being upset by it.

Consider that some of you will be helping the homeless as part of your spiritual work. The ungrounded emotional person will feel his/her heart being sucked out of him/her by the suffering that they are involved with. The person could end up crying all the time because of their emotional responses and their unconscious habit of projecting their ideas of how life should be onto the homeless. And if the person is also energetically sensitive, the person could be further traumatized and debilitated, unable to serve in the way that they are called to serve. This kind of lack of awareness and boundary-lessness is unhealthy, and in this example, it’s untenable. So the individual must learn to see how they’re projecting their ideas about how life should be and see their emotional triggers at work. You don’t become cold-hearted. You become compassionate and deep, learning where your boundaries need to be and how to open and close appropriately. This is the nature of dropping anchor into the inner space that sees with unconditional love and does not need to react.

Emotional Defense Mechanisms

Closed-hearted people tend to use their minds as emotional defense mechanisms. I feel like I’ve discussed the mind enough on this blog that you should have more than a few tools at hand in disarming the mind’s fears around being open. Overly-emotional people often use their emotions as the defense mechanism to hide from their spiritual work and emotional grounding. Suddenly, the tears are flowing, and everything is impossible. To outsiders at times, this looks like emotional processing, but it’s not. It’s just a way to get other people to step away from upsetting topics so that the individual doesn’t need to deal with it. Next up past this defense mechanism may be anger. An individual may try yelling and screaming as a way to warn people offer from touching something sensitive, so as anger arises, we learn to be deft. We learn to say, “I see my anger trying to divert my own attention and the attention of others.” So we follow anger inwards to see what it’s story is. Fear is involved here too. Anger can be used to induce fear in others, and sometimes those who have been emotionally unstable, use fear to simply freeze up. In these moments, the illusion of open-heartedness is exposed, and we can see that the individual did in fact have levels of closed heartedness after all. 

A lot of people are much more closed than they realize, and that includes people who seem to be open. You may often notice that you can only go so deep with a particular “open” person, and then suddenly there’s a barbed wire fence. So undoubtedly, fear will be one of the many gatekeepers met in the process of becoming heart strong, but it is not insurmountable. It is just a part of you, and you can dissolve it at any time you so wish.

An Emotional Messiness Is to be Expected

The emotional messiness of healing is different than the emotional mess that some people live in. There’s a whole other quality. It doesn’t come from the “poor me” victim attitude or out-of-control, lost mentality that many people have with their hearts. It comes with other triggers–often fear–and a deeper sense that something is moving or clearing out. As I’ve mentioned many times before, when we release any issue, it is unmistakable. There’s a sense of greater openness and clarity, and in the space of the heart, it becomes a little more effortless to simply love without conditions. In bigger heart openings, you can find yourself walking around smiling and feeling in love for days, and as we continue our journeys, that space of awareness naturally grows deeper and develops stronger roots. In rooting deeper into love, you are finding an anchor amidst all the other emotions. )Please remember, I am not talking about just the romantic, pleasurable feeling of love. I am using the term of love as that which embraces all and that includes all emotions.)

So with deeper roots, more gets stirred up. Your heart starts to grow and mature, and it shows you where you have been small or limited by being closed or emotionally out-of-control. More messiness arises. This can ebb and flow for sometime. The bigger difference is that when we move through an issue, greater calm, clarity, and peace fills the new space. If you’re just emotionally out-of-control, things settle back to “normal”–whatever that may feel like to you–after the messiness.

The Grounded Emotional Spiritual Adult

As I said, not too many of emotionally mature adults are given prominence in our society. So many emotional issues are never touched in people’s lifetimes, but you do not need to be one of them. Depending where you are on your path, you have an opportunity today and right now to look within and notice the emotional landscape. There are sure to be plenty of mental stories involved; we tend to be a big ball of intertwined unhappiness and karma inside. So it can take some time, discipline, and patience to unfurl the ball of stories, ideas, and emotions. But do not be discouraged. As you grow more conscious about yourself, the process naturally unveils itself. It will take you to new spaces and challenge core fears about the unknown, but do not let these defense mechanism dishearten you. They were put there by you, and you can dissolve them at any time. You don’t need this to be a long process, but it can be if you need it. You are so much more powerful than you know, and your heart is so much more powerful than you know. Don’t you think it’s time to find out what heart strength really is?


I'm a spiritual teacher who helps people find freedom from suffering.

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