The Present Heart

I grew up into my young woman self believing that love meant getting your way. Today I am excited about how wrong that was. I thought that love was an agreement. I thought the heart was breakable or able to be held by another.

I do not really know about the heart, but I am learning. I have been a servant to it. I have been a servant to the thing I perceive as a heart. When I was younger my love was conditioned and full of fear. It robbed me of my dignity on so many occasions with its cruel demands. This love was an idea, romantic love, violently stitched into the hearts of little girls, so that as adolescents or teens when life reaches in, its tears at the stitches

A crisp apple is delicious

I felt unsafe as an adolescent, even though I was more comfortable than most and loved as much as any. I mediated all my pleasure and pain. I felt, in my heart like there was a danger so I learned to carry a knife that never actually provided any protection. I tasted nothing for the first time.

Love to me meant possession and possessing. “To have and to hold”.

Love meant that someone would feel my pain for me.

The heart doesn’t need any food. I don’t need to do anything. The heart can make food from anything when it is healthy.


The heart I know now began to emerge during an Insight Meditation Retreat last summer and following many months of a somewhat daily meditation practice. At times, I felt it flutter. At times it was a tree trunk both grounding and painfully present. I was quiet. I began to notice shifts; I felt things open. The heart opened into quiet and then it was like a sense, connected to the sixth sense, the mind.


I am a loud person. I am a curvy person with big hair, dangly earrings and an abundance of colorful clothing. I clean my plate with my fingers and I enjoy speaking to a room of 50 people. So when I tell you about this quiet, please understand that to me, quiet had just meant not talking or sleeping. While on this short retreat, I traversed various levels of it.

After a few days in silence, being with the breath, practicing Loving Kindness meditation for others two times a day, walking alone in the woods and remaining present for some tidal waves of exhaustion and sadness, I became quiet. This quiet was small and fragile.

My mental chatter was at an all time low and I felt this thing, my heart, sort of tilt and show its face. It was not painful. It was not exuberant. It held doubt and fear and contentment like children.

I experienced it several times in the meditation hall at IMS.

Returning from this retreat was a bit intense. We stopped at a drug store, which felt like leaving your house while peeking on acid. I could sense violence in things. When I got back to NYC, I went to see a good friend, with whom I have a difficult relationship. I sensed subtle violence from him, which I realized was always there, being passively condoned by me. The neurotic energy of our relationship was clear to me. My heart sensed it and had no room for it. This happened two other times during my summer travels with good friends.

Recently I have been able to perceive small openings and closings of the heart.  Reactions to fear or joy. The good thing about sensing this is that I have some space to decide how to react.

Fortify the armor or float a bit in the spasm?

A few weeks ago I participated in the Metta/Tonglen retreat at The IDP. These are meditation practices where we open our hearts, send love to ourselves and others and also breath in the suffering of others.  I experienced a space for lots of feelings and thoughts to arise without a lot of judgment. Basically, compassion for myself. I have felt unsafe in my skin and unworthy of love. This perceived lack of safety, the feeling that there is not enough love makes me crazy, makes me hold on for dear life, squeezing so tightly that things begin to burst.

Klesha is a Sanskrit word for the mental states that make us act out. According to Wikipedia kleshas are “mental states which temporarily cloud the mind and manifest in unskillful actions.” On the retreat, Ethan, the teacher suggested that our kleshas are worthy of great respect. It is difficult to have respect for the things that make us act crazy. Our desire. Our fear. Our cruelty. Our obsessions. Our stubbornness. Our violence. All the forms of armor we use to fortify our hearts. Generally we cherish them, by building them into the great art of our living or deny them through repression, stoicism. What does the middle ground look like?

I try to accept imperfection, vulnerably, without a mask. This state of presence allows for a new perspective on love. It’s peeking out at me. I can sense it.


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