“I’ve got an elastic heart….” - Sia
Just the other day, my mother’s cousin was visiting from North Carolina, where she has retired after living most of her life between the DR and NYC. She’s my mother’s “prima hermana” or cousin-sister, as they grew up together, and like a second mother to me since I spent a year of my very young life in her care in Santiago, and bonded so much with her that apparently I started calling her Mami. She was a support system to my mother during the last, very stressful, very sad year of my grandmother’s life. I share this to drive home the point that she is a beloved member of my very small family, a wonderful woman, and someone I appreciate deeply.
She is also a conservative. During dinner, despite best efforts, our conversation inevitably turned to the upcoming election, and all the issues that are on the table for our collective consideration. Our view on all of them were polar opposite- and that was not new, but the intensity of the opinions expressed was so much harsher. As things intensified, my heart beat furiously in my chest, every thud aching with disappointment and sadness. This is a common story these days.
Our heart is the hardest working organ in our body, on average pumping 6000 liters of blood through our veins and beats about 100,000 beats a day. Metaphysically, it is the keeper of our most intimate emotions, the home of our soul.
And as such…sometimes it aches and breaks.
We are living in particularly heart-achy times, our minds in disturbia, spinning from the constant barrage of twitter feeds, strongly divided opinions, newly licensed hate and bigotry, and so much self righteousness on all sides.
How do we love in these times?
The reality is, despite all the rose colored, Instagram worthy quotes about love being the answer, love is also some real work. It’s easy to love those who think like us, and are good to us, but how do we love people that we don’t agree with, or even dislike? And if you want to really get deep with it, how do we love ourselves in the face of our shortcomings, mistakes and regrets? I’m convinced cultivating this kind of love, the hardest kind, is the answer to every existential question about life. We are here to love: beyond the romantic and easy kind too- we are here to love it all back into love.
I’m also convinced that now more than ever, there is an urgency, you might even say a pressure to explore this loving business. We are being put to the test, I feel. And I know one thing to be true, every heartbreak and loss I’ve ever experienced has left a scar and a crack, but has expanded my heart, given it the super power of elasticity to hold more.
So as I sat there at dinner, considering how someone I loved, someone who lived with so much love in so many areas of her life, could see things so differently, in my opinion, so love-lessly, I practiced something I like to call compassionate indifference. I listened to the degree that I could, and I stated my feelings and views and drew boundaries around what I would tolerate, and then agreed to disagree, respectfully. That’s the indifference part- not getting caught up and torn up by the differences and staying connected to the compassion.
It was awkward. It was messy. But it was my best expression of love in that moment.
It isn’t always rainbows and hearts. Tough love is love too. Speaking your truth. Not backing down but not putting down either. This business of being human is a life’s work and love is its teacher and its main practice.
And I think that’s why I believe in other lives, because I don’t know that we get there in one lifetime…but the point is to keep striving.
Even when I look at the place we are in history, we’ve been here before, and each time we expose the shadows that are still lurking around our collective psyche (fear, bigotry, otherness, mysogyny), that will always lurk because we are light and we are dark, but if we don’t look and have that awareness we can’t act from our more loving, higher selves. So in many ways, we’re in a time of reexamination, which is necessary.
What I love about yoga practice is that basically: at its heart, is this act of cultivating awareness through examination be that asana or meditation or practicing the yamas and niyamas. Beyond these shapes we make, often over and over again on our mats, we’re being asked to examine them each time, honestly and lovingly, and sometimes they aren’t pretty or smooth, but if we’re in that work, we’re expanding our capacities physically and metaphysically. And an expansion of that capacity to build awareness, to be mindful, often spills into other areas of our life and beyond into the world. It is not about perfection, or achieving the pose, but about that striving with awareness. Same for everything else we’re holding in these times: it doesn’t have to look perfect, we don’t have to agree, but can we strive for unity and mutual respect?
We may get there, or we may come very close. Either way, we’re developing elastic hearts, integrated souls, and embodied existences. And that’s how we grow collectively beyond this place and time, which will shift. That’s how we keep moving the needle towards the real hope and prize: universal love.