–by Pema Chödrön (Apr 7, 2016)
Our Awakened Heart has three qualities: (1) it is soft and gentle, which is compassion; (2) at the same time, it is clear and sharp; and (3) it is open (emptiness). Emptiness sounds cold. However, an Awakened Heart isn’t cold at all, because there’s a heart quality–the warmth of compassion–that pervades the space and the clarity. Compassion and openness and clarity are all one thing, and this thing is called our Awakened Heart, our wounded, softened heart.
Now, if you look for that soft heart that we guard so carefully—if you decide that you’re going to do a scientific exploration under the microscope and try to find that heart—you won’t find it. You can look, but all you’ll find is some kind of tenderness. There isn’t anything that you can cut out and put under the microscope. There isn’t anything that you can dissect or grasp. The more you look, the more you find just a feeling of tenderness tinged with some kind of sadness.
This sadness is not about somebody mistreating us. This is inherent sadness, unconditioned sadness. It is part of our birthright, a family heirloom. It’s been called the genuine heart of sadness. Sometimes we emphasize the compassionate (relative)aspect of our genuine heart; sometimes we emphasize the open, unfindable (absolute)aspect of our heart, this genuine heart that is just waiting to be discovered. […]
Have you ever been caught in the heavy-duty scenario of feeling defeated and hurt, and then somehow, for no particular reason, you just drop it? It just goes, and you wonder why you made “Much ado about nothing.” What was that all about? It also happens when you fall in love with somebody; you’re so completely into thinking about the person twenty-four hours a day. You are haunted and you want him or her so badly. Then a little while later, “I don’t know where we went wrong, but the feeling’s gone and I just can’t get it back.” We all know this feeling of how we make things a big deal and then realize that we’re making a lot out of nothing.
I’d like to encourage us all to lighten up, to practice with a lot of gentleness… Gentleness in our practice and in our life helps to awaken the heart. It is like remembering something. This compassion, this clarity, this openness are like something we’ve forgotten. Sitting here being gentle with ourselves, we’re rediscovering something. It’s like a mother reuniting with her child; having been lost to each other for a long, long time, they reunite. The way to reunite with an Awakened Heart is to lighten up in your practice and in your whole life…That’s the essential meaning of the absolute Awakened Heart – to connect with the open, spacious quality of your mind, so that you can see that there’s no need to shut down and make such a big deal about everything. Then when you do make a big deal, you can give that a lot of space and let it go. […]
Spiritual awakening is frequently described as a journey to the top of a mountain. We leave our attachments and our worldliness behind and slowly make our way to the top. At the peak we have transcended all pain. The only problem with this metaphor is that we leave all others behind. Their suffering continues, unrelieved by our personal escape.
On the journey of the love-warrior*, the path goes down, not up as if the mountain pointed toward the earth instead of the sky. Instead of transcending the suffering of all creatures, we move toward turbulence and doubt however we can. We explore the reality and unpredictability of insecurity and pain, and we try not to push it away. If it takes years, if it takes lifetimes, we let it be as it is. At our own pace, without speed or aggression, we move down and down and down. With us move millions of others, our companions in awakening from fear. At the bottom we discover water, the healing water of the Awakened Heart – our wounded, softened heart. Right down there in the thick of things we discover the love that will not die. This love is the Awakened Heart of loving-kindness and compassion. It is gentle and warm; it is clear and sharp; it is open and spacious. The Awakened Heart is the basic goodness of all beings.
–Pema Chödrön excerpt adapted from the books Start Where You Are : A Guide to Compassionate Living and Comfortable with Uncertainty. [Illustration offered as an anonymous gift :-)]
* One who aspires to act from the awakened heart for the benefit of others.