How to Tone a Flabby Heart
The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people are so full of doubts. ~Bertrand Russell
We live in a world that is often difficult, sometimes magical, and always changing. This is a world that needs strong voices, women and men who are willing to stand up and speak up, whether it's responding to a hugely powerful government system or to a friend who never calls you back. I got the above quotation from a fellow yoga studio owner (of Maya Whole Health) through a conversation about feeling held back by worrying about what other people think, and taking the courageous step into change and evolution. A simple piece of advice that has stuck with me through many moments of wondering whether or not I should speak up is this:
You teach people how to treat you.
When you don't speak up, when you let things pass, you are teaching the person who hurt or disrespected you that it's okay to hurt and disrespect you that way. This is not an easy thing to practice. When you are in an uncomfortable position, especially with people that you like and care about (or, worse, people you are professionally connected to), it can be so hard to speak up and simply say, "That's not okay." Ana Forrest calls this practice Speaking Truth. And she insists that it makes us better people. We get stronger and more able to navigate the troubles of the world when we become truth speakers. She writes,
There's a difference between an open heart, which can feel, process, and stay steady, versus a stuck-open window heart, which lets all sorts of crap fly in.
Sometimes us yogis focus so much on compassion and love that we melt down all our boundaries, trust everyone and everything, and get ourselves into bucketloads of trouble. Forrest calls this a "flabby heart." She writes,
Most people's hearts are flabby—atrophied and weak. Something comes in—love, hate—and the flabby heart energetically folds around it and encapsulates it. When we curl around the pain, that's when it embeds.
I've had a lot of lessons coming up for me recently around this issue. Without going into too much detail, the gist is that I've put some opinions out there into the internet ether, and said to myself, "I'm ready! Let the firestorm come! Anyone can disagree with me, I'm cool with it!" Which sounded good, but then when those mean comments start coming in, and worse, when people I'm close to started questioning my integrity, it landed in my heart like arrows into a cupcake. But this is the part where you get stronger. Every time I speak up this way, every time I take a breath and react with compassion and an open mind to those that disagree with me, I'm strengthening my warrior heart. And I'll be honest, it hurts. It is a practice, it's a real form of yoga to stand up for yourself, but it's always worth it; it's game-changing. Again from Forrest:
I encourage you to develop a Warrior's Heart—an open heart that is responsive and reflexive, meaning that when something comes in and touches it, the heart responds and bounces right back. A heart has to be healthy to feel, respond, and flex.
So when there is something bubbling up in your throat and trying to come out, you've gotta go back to the source. The place before ego, before your message is even out on the page/stage/text message. The question you have to ask is, does this action align with my core values? (More on core values here). Do I stand by this message regardless of what happens? If the answer is yes, you must speak out. Even if you are terrified. Even if it doesn't work out the way you wanted.
What I've come to realize is that regardless of the reaction you get from people—if they yell at you, call you a jerk, call you stupid (and for some reason anonymous online commenters always know how to root out your deepest insecurities and step on them), you've been heard. Especially if someone takes the time to react negatively to what you've spoken, they've heard you, and will sit with what you've said and probably talk to other people about it and it may make a difference in their lives and it may not. You have no control over what happens once you put something out there. As Ghandi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." In other words, you want to change the world? Change yourself.
And even when you do your best, sometimes you still screw up. You make mistakes, you apologize, if you need to, and most importantly, you forgive yourself and go on evolving as best as you can.
It's not just the speaking up part, but the fallout, the aftermath, that makes our hearts stronger, more open, warrior hearts. And the surprise of it is, too, that often even through the mess of this stuff, you discover new friendships forged, new possibilities, and new strength. You may not have changed anyone out there, but you changed yourself, inevitably for the better.
So go, speak up! I believe in you.
~~~~~ Julie will be teaching a 20 hour Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training in Vancouver BC this March: http://eastsideyogastudio.com/studio/Teacher_Training.html
She will also be in Renton, WA (near Seattle) at Maya Whole Health for a weekend of Creative Flow: poetry and yoga. More information here.