Open Heart

"Open Heart"In conversational Cantonese, the characters for “happiness” are “open heart.” To say “I want happiness” in Cantonese is literally “I want open heart.” In other words, to be happy is to keep our heart open.

Our heart is the energy center for giving and receiving love. So, if happiness is keeping our heart open, then happiness is also being open to giving and receiving love. This connection between happiness and love is well underscored by two of my favorite sayings transcending time—one by a modern day spiritual psychologist and another by a 13th century poet and mystic:

To be happy, love must mean more to you than anything. ~ Robert Holden

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. ~ Rumi

Unhappiness results from withdrawing behind our internal walls and closing off our heart to protect it. This need to retreat and shut down could be due to any number of reasons. All of us, at one point or another, have felt threatened and vulnerable. In those instances, our survival instincts automatically kicked in and put up a protective shield to save us from being hurt (further).

Unless we learn to recognize our ego-based protective instincts and not let them run our lives, we don’t know that we ourselves close our own heart and cut off our own happiness. Instead, we erroneously believe that circumstances and others make us unhappy. In reality, when we feel unhappy, it’s because we choose it, even if we may not be aware of doing so. Recognizing that happiness is up to us—not something that comes and goes with possessions or the whims of others—is very empowering, don’t you think?

Choosing Happiness and Love

With all that said, if we want to be happy come what may, what do we need to do? When times are tough, circumstances are threatening, how do we keep our heart open? When we feel let down by others, how do we curtail our instincts to build a fortress around our heart to protect it? This is a big topic, but here are some ideas:

thumbs upCount your blessings, not woes. Whenever we focus on what’s wrong or lacking, we identify with the fear of not enough. When we’re in fear, we cut off love. By actively focusing on who we are independent of circumstances, what we have and/or are able to do, we aren’t denying the presence of challenges, if any. Rather, it’s about shifting our consciousness to abundance, which connects us to the vibration of love. When we shift away from being in fear, we open our heart to love and happiness, which are intrinsic qualities of our true essence.

Don’t match others. Our automatic subconscious reaction is to match others’ energy and mimic their behavior. That’s why we reflexively commiserate with others, pull back when others do, and fight when feeling attacked. In any situation, we can choose a different reaction than one matching what comes at us. By cultivating this consciousness, we can keep our heart open to allow happiness to flow, love to circulate, even when others’ behavior doesn’t objectively encourage it.

Mind your expectations. Think about how often you’re unhappy because things didn’t turn out the way you expected, or people didn’t behave the way you wanted? When we don’t feel happy, it’s because we’ve introduced “should’s” and rules by which life and others must abide. When we drop ego expectations, we restore the natural flow of happiness and love in our consciousness.

Cultivate compassion and understanding. Nothing shuts down our heart faster than judgments. As long as we’re human beings, we will judge. However, we don’t have to react automatically to judgments. Instead, we can filter them through compassion and understanding. This allows us to see the limitations behind offenses and the fact that, by virtue of being human, we are all fallible. Compassion and understanding help keep our heart open by softening judgments.

Practice forgiveness. Forgiveness frees us from our internal prison of suffering, by letting go of anger, resentment and bitterness—and self-loathing when forgiveness of self is necessary. Forgiveness keeps our heart open for happiness and love to be expressed and felt. It doesn’t excuse an objective offense and make it right. It just helps us to end the suffering within ourselves and to open our heart again to the natural flow of happiness and love that seeks us always.

HappinessRecognize your inner resources. We all have courage, resilience and other amazing inner resources with which to pick ourselves back up after falling. We can all cultivate our trust in life and believe that we can absorb and bounce back from any setback or loss. Many world-renowned figures failed many times before finally succeeding in the objective eye. For instance, Walt Disney filed for bankruptcy multiple times before finally building the empire we see today. They are no more special than any of us. More importantly, we deserve to be happy and loved as much as anyone.

Ask for and accept support. When times are tough, our instincts will have us withdrawing. That further feeds our feelings of separation and aloneness, and challenges us to keep our heart open. During one of these times, dig deep and access the humility within yourself to ask for help and support—and graciously accept it when offered. This world is filled with well-intended brothers and sisters who love to lend support. Can you think of a better way to invite happiness and love to flow in your heart than to accept an extended hand that wishes to help lift you up when you feel down?

Be here now. Young children are happy because they haven’t built internal barriers to block the flow of love and happiness. There are no past upsets to get over, nor future worries to fend off, only the perfection of the present moment to savor fully. We can’t be children again, but we can certainly practice returning to the present moment. It can be as simple as taking a few deep breaths to ground ourselves in the now and consciously keeping our heart open in the process.

To sum it all up, it is always, always a matter of choice whether we open or close our heart. By extension, it’s up to us to allow or cut off the flow of happiness and love in our human experience.

What do you think about the idea of happiness being an open heart and love? What other ideas may you have on how to keep our heart open? Would love for you to share below in the comment box!

___________________

Photo credit:
Thumbs up: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net
Bottom happiness character: http://www.tiptopsigns.com/images/T/chinese_happiness_tn.jpg

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About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

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16 comments
Suzie Carr
Suzie Carr

Love this Alice! I especially loved this: To be happy, love must mean more to you than anything. ~ Robert Holden

Wow that is so true. IF we set out to love everything that comes inour path, the results can be astounding. We set ourselves on a frequency where we attract that love back into our hearts.

itstartswithme
itstartswithme

Thank you, Alice. This message came just at the right moment for me.  Don't match others, practice forgiveness and cultivate compassion speak to me right now.  I have a friend who is often very negative and for some reason unknown to me has stopped speaking to me. I find it sad she has chosen to shut herself away. I was very hurt for some time and blamed myself as I know I have complained about her negative behavior. I felt guilt, shame and self loathing. I even believed  I deserved the cold treatment.  I've worked hard on cultivating compassion for the both of us. I forgive her. I am still working on completely forgiving myself. I don't match her  behavior.  I smile when I see her and say a quick "HI". I suspect she will confront me one of these days about whatever wrong she feels I committed. I want to be conscious of choosing my reaction when that time comes. My heart tells me to say only "I am sorry to hear you feel that way". I find it sad but I truly believe it is best for me  to wish her peace and separate myself from her. She has chosen to close her heart. I want to keep mine open. 

letmemoveyou
letmemoveyou

My dear friend, your posts ALWAYS speak right to my heart. Your words and thought seem to come from inside me. I know that all that you write is Truth. And I am always thankful for the reaffirmations. Always sending you Love & Light. xo

ThinDifference
ThinDifference

Opening ourselves up means also serving others. Just as we need to be open to others, we need to open up by helping others. Recognizing our inner resources is such an important step to take, Alice. We need to recognize that talent and desire from within and then use it, sharing it with others. By doing this, we will lead with an open heart! Thanks. Jon

Deone_Higgs
Deone_Higgs

This is beautiful, Alice. I think it makes a lot of sense. Since we can't truly experience life closed or partly open, what the Cantonese translate as happiness is perfectly aligned with staying open to love. The two (happiness and love) are synonymous in my opinion. I'm sure Webster would dispute this claim, but in my experience those times I have been the most filled with joyous emotions, has usually been while in the presence of love. I would have to say that my favorite part of the post is "Don't match others." So often, human nature tries to compare personal experiences with those being had by others. It's the worst discretion we could ever do to ourselves. Accepting the uniqueness of our own experience is a fantabulous way to keep our hearts open. Great post, beloved. I really enjoyed the read. :)

AlliPolin
AlliPolin

Absolutely fantastic, Alice.  To have love and happiness in our lives, we have to be open to it and not close ourselves off to it because we let fear and self doubt rule the day.  A few years ago we would watch our children as they would get angry with each other and noticed that their hands would clench in anger squeezing out all of the love, happiness and compassion that existed in the relationship just moments before.  We asked them to open their hands and be open to love.  Now, when we tell them to open to love their fingers fly out and there is more room for happiness and connection to flow back in.  Love this post, Alice. 

Lori
Lori

Hi Alice,

This has SO been my focus today and it goes hand in hand with dealing with fear and that survival instinct of building a fortress to protect oneself. I think my favourte of all you wonderful suggestions is "Be here now" and the reference to children. Maybe accessing the inner child when fear arises to keep the heart open..?

Thanks for this!

Lori

Hiten Vyas
Hiten Vyas

Hi Alice,


This was a brilliant post about the principle of increasing our happiness through keeping our heart open. I've never looked at it this way and I've learnt something new, so thank you for that.


As I was reading down your post and absorbing your words, it made me realise that we do suffer when we close our hearts. It made me wonder about how strange the ego really is. It tries to shield us by doing things like those you mentioned, such as judge, be angry and bitter. However, the approaches it uses to protect us are those very ones, which continue to close off our heart, when in fact we need to take opposite actions to the ego, such as those you also described in your post (forgive, be mindful etc), in order to open up our heart, as true happiness will emerge from there.

Thank you for your thought provoking post, Alice.

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@Suzie Carr Yes, Suzie, keeping opening our heart to keep love flowing consciously is what it's all about ultimately. We aren't blocking love, and therefore, it looks like we're attracting it when it seeks us constantly. The Robert Holden quote is one of my all-time favorite, which also inspired my personal mantra of "Do it for Love," which I wrote about at the beginning of this year.

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@itstartswithme You have a tremendous amount of consciousness about the situation you're in with your friend--please pad yourself on the back for that! It's such a normal part of the human experience to feel the things you're feeling when someone you care for so deeply is in discord with you. Please know that you're approaching this situation very well, i.e., cultivating compassion and forgiveness for yourself and your friend. We don't have to "throw people away" or be unkind to them when they are negative, but at the same time honor our own desires to be surrounded by people with similar outlooks. Keep sending your friend loving thoughts, and keep loving yourself through this experience--and be proud of yourself for choosing to keep your heart open, knowing that keeping your heart open doesn't mean you feel no pain for the situation you're in; rather, you allow it, and honor the human experience you're having. Thank you so much for adding your story to enrich this discussion!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@letmemoveyou Thank you, Shelley. We're all united by the same Truth, aren't we? Thank you for your loving words and sentiments, which are gratefully reciprocated!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@ThinDifference Absolutely, Jon, giving love graciously without expecting anything in return is the essence of being in service. It's good to remind ourselves to be of service with the talents and gifts we have. This reminder will help keep our heart open to lead with love. Thank you for adding your insight, Jon!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@Deone_Higgs Thanks, Deone! It really doesn't matter what Webster may have to say, we don't live our lives by the dictionary. :-) Yes, happiness and love are interchangeable when it comes to connecting to the truth of who we are and allow that to be expressed through and as us. As for the point about not matching others, it really has many levels, one of which you pointed out in terms of not comparing ourselves to others. Even just in every single encounter and exchange we have with people, we can be conscious of not matching their energy if we don't want to close up our hearts. Thank you very much for appreciating this piece and for adding your insights! Appreciate you!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@AlliPolin Many thanks, Alli, for the great visual of opening our fingers/hands to literally tell ourselves to be open to love! Sometimes when I meditate, I deliberately keep my palms open to feel the energy flow. It's for similar reasons to feel open to connecting to universal energy and love. So, thank you for adding this very helpful visual to the discussion!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@LoriMany thanks for your comment, Lori! I almost wrote a point about reconnecting to childlike wonder. So, it's very much in line with what you said about the inner child. I decided against that because the point really is about being the present, instead of being a child. Didn't want folks to get hung up on how to do that. As for dealing with the survival instinct of building a fortress, I think I can honestly say that you and the rest of us are in the same camp in various levels of intensity - because it's called being human! :-) Thank you for joining in the conversation here, Lori!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@Hiten Vyas Thank you so much for your thoughtful response, Hiten! I have been studying happiness for the last 8 to 9 months, and the Chinese characters for happiness came to me seemingly out of the blue this past Sunday - first time in my life, even though Cantonese is my mother tongue. So, it got me contemplating what it means to keep an open heart - and brought to bear much of what I've learned over the past several years about living consciously. So, I'm grateful to be able to share in this blog and to have such great response like yours. Thank you!

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  1. […] of the book, I See Your Soul Mate. When I read that line, I felt prickles throughout my body, as open heart, vulnerability and fearlessness were only the subject of 3 of my recent articles on this very blog! […]

  2. […] In the past, I’ve written about what I learned from his books, including Shift Happens, Be Happy and Loveability. His work has had profound impact on my life, with the following being a […]

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