“It takes courage to open our hearts to others and to expose our vulnerability.”
-Thupten Jinpa, PhD
In 2016 I received teachings from Lama Lena on a retreat at the Rime Center. At that time she would come visit us in Kansas City every year and give teachings, so I’ve been on retreats with her a few times. At that event she taught us something called “The Practice That Takes the Open Heart as the Path to Awakening.”
At that time I really didn’t want to receive that kind of teaching. I just wanted to go on retreat with a teacher. I was still feeling inspired to try to be a Zen Buddhist then and these kinds of practices weren’t what I wanted to explore. I thought I could work on opening my mind and not worry about my heart so much. My thoughts on the subject have evolved. This is not to say that there isn’t emphasis on opening the heart in the Zen tradition. I don’t want to suggest there is no heart-centered practice in Zen. But to my mind compassion isn’t nearly as central as it may be in some other traditions.
Anyway, when she was giving this teaching she said something that stuck with me and still sticks with me now.
She said, “It can be hard to open our hearts because we’ve all been kicked in the heart in the past. This causes us to want to have closed hearts for protection.”
This was such a big revelation to me. We have all been kicked in the heart. Everyone on this planet has. Most of us have many times. I like that line so much I use it in my own talks and writings.
I’m telling you that because opening our hearts is brave. Kindness is courage and vulnerability is strength. Sometimes people seem to imply that kindness is bad, that sensitivity is a weakness.
Opening your heart helps others feel empowered to open theirs. In ‘A Fearless Heart’ Thupten Jinpa says, “When people understand the reasons why we chose to do something, when they get the basic message that we don’t want to hurt them, they tend to be more accepting of our decisions and compassionate toward us. This is human nature.”
He goes on to say that we are afraid of opening our hearts and showing compassion because “These fears stem from confusing compassion with submissiveness, weakness, or sentimentality.”
We are afraid people could hurt us, but there is more than that to it. We are taught sometimes that compassion isn’t cool. People have been throwing around terms like “bleeding heart” and “snowflake” to describe someone with an open heart in a negative way.
The thing is that opening our hearts empowers others to open theirs. AND armoring our hearts doesn’t work. Compassion is in our nature. Closing our hearts will not make us happy. We can dare to be compassionate instead. We can try to protect ourselves against all the suffering and pain in life, but we can’t do it, not really. It’s like trying to cover the world with leather instead of putting on shoes. We can’t really do that.
If we open our hearts our hearts can be stronger. We can develop an inner strength that we don’t have now. We can become more patient, wiser, and more motivated to do the work of helping ourselves and others.
An open heart brings connection with other people. And we should connect with others even when we’re afraid of being hurt. One thing we’ve learned in a the last few years is that isolation can be really hard on us.
Jinpa goes on to say, “Through training we can make compassion our basic stance, the very outlook with which we perceive ourselves and the world around us, so that we engage with the world from that place.”
What if we can open our hearts and change our way of thinking?
Kindness, Compassion, and Open-heartedness are virtues. We should be cultivating these things.
Open up your heart.
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Below is a teaching like the one I received from Lama Lena. Highly recommended: