Compassion for self and others is the great work for a peaceful world.
(Note: The terms “worker” and “co-worker” most accurately reflect the roles and functions of the two people involved in Heartwork. For simplicity, however, we use the conventional terms “client” and “counselor. “)
Looking inward is the heart of our work on ourselves. Support often is needed as we gain the courage to venture into unknown territory. Perhaps the most important aspect of this support is the creation of a safe space within which the inward-looking process may flourish. Such an environment is created when the counselor is gentle, supportive, and unafraid to look at whatever presents itself. The counselor must be willing to go along with the client on his/her journey, and to be fully with the client in whatever s/he may discover. The process often is an intriguing, compelling adventure.
Heartwork enables an individual to find his/her own unique way of looking into him/herself. However, the following sequence of stages generally unfolds during the course of a Heartwork session:
Settling: The client relaxes as much as s/he can. If there is difficulty relaxing, ways may be suggested to allow the body/mind to let go of some of the surface-level tensions. The client then is asked to adopt an open, friendly, and curious attitude toward whatever s/he may encounter on the inward journey. This welcoming attitude enables the client to nonjudgmentally “witness” the process, with an aware and less “attached” mind-state.
Defining: Once some awareness has been engaged, the client identifies and establishes the scope of the problem on which s/he wishes to work. This definition may take the form of allowing the issue needing attention to “choose itself,” or to come to the foreground.
Looking: In the “witness” state-of-mind, the client now “looks around” in the body to find the area where the problem is centered, and experienced as blocked energy, tension, or pain. (“Body” refers to that place where one not only experiences physical sensations, but also senses in a more subtle way.) Some people work directly with thoughts or feelings, rather than focusing in the body.
Clarifying: While keeping the attention focused in this area of the body or inner feeling space, the client then describes, in as much detail as possible, what s/he senses. Vivid visual imagery, memories, and/or intense feelings often arise at this stage of the inward-looking process.
Some people work with thoughts or “mental metaphors” (word pictures) the way others use visual images or deep feelings. For yet others, the process is almost exclusively body-centered, with the person working through ‘“unnamed” bodily sensations to arrive at the heart of the conflict.
Focusing: Next, the client is asked to ‘“move” his/her awareness into the most central point of the area where the tension is felt, while continuing to describe in detail what s/he is experiencing. In order for a client to reach the core of this new space, s/he usually has to go through a succession of (self-imposed) internal barriers. In passing through these barriers, the client often gains insight into one or more aspects of the problem.
Penetrating: The client focuses into the center of each new barrier as it arises until, eventually, a final barrier presents itself. Often, a client will pause at this point, in order to decide whether or not to go on. In some cases, the client will choose to abort the process altogether. Or s/he may hesitate at this barrier to get to know it better, perhaps returning at a later time when the barrier can be faced more confidently.
Usually, however, the client decides to proceed by finding a way through the barrier, such as by: plunging into, embracing, merging with, being filled by, looking directly at or into, caring about, or surrendering to the “barrier.” Ultimately, it makes no difference which means the person uses; the moment the decision is made to face the barrier directly, the barrier begins to open by itself.
Discovery: When the person passes through this last barrier, s/he usually enters into a “wide-open” space–experiencing a deep sense of peace, and oneness with the Universe. From this open space, the person may see into the source of his/her suffering, and one or more of the following five “manifestations of ease” may occur:
- The person may glimpse his/her inherent wholeness and, thereby, open to some understanding of the nature of being human.
- The mental/emotional turmoil may dissolve.
- The life situation that brought the person to this work may be seen from a clearer perspective, so that resolution may occur. The person may see how the problem was self-created from the very beginning, and that the internal and behavioral responses to external circumstances were self-limiting, pain producing, and ineffective. From this space of clarity, alternative responses can be discovered and chosen.
- Symptoms on the physical level may improve or disappear altogether.
- In the case of terminal illness, the person may make peace with his/her dying.
Closure: At this point, the client is given the space to say, do and feel whatever s/he needs to in order to complete the experience. The client may need to express feelings, integrate and assimilate insights that have been uncovered during the session, and/or simply be quiet.
I was reborn on October 21, 2013. . . I let go. In a room full of angels, some of the deepest, darkest rotting pain was extracted my soul. And in those worn out and tired places, love was replenished. I won’t ever forget that feeling.
I am more open to feeling fully. I have been tearful at various times. I have experienced unrestrained joy and celebration more. I feel more relaxed — both physically and emotionally. I am more patient and compassionate. I have been able to listen more intently and quietly and from that listening, I have heard things I previously would not have heard. Everything is good — even the painful stuff.
Have you ever had a day when nothing seemed to bother you? Not that everything was going perfectly, just that when things went wrong they didn’t seem to get to you the way they usually do? That tells us one very important thing about the nature of stress: it is not, as we usually think, caused by the events in our lives, rather by our reactions to those events. Most of what happens to us we can’t control (although we certainly try our best to), but we can always do something about our responses to the stressors in our daily lives.
Not mentioning the things we can do to prevent stress from occuring (like eating a healthy diet, exercising, living the life you want to live, etc.), there are three levels on which we can control our reactions to stressors:
- When one becomes aware that one is holding tension in our body, there are numerous techniques (like stretching, taking a deep breath, etc.) that can be used to temporarily relieve the build-up of stress in the body;
- One can look into the underlying beliefs, thoughts, and feelings that are creating the reaction to the stressors in one’s life (by becoming conscious of these factors, they lose their power over one); and,
- One can develop an awareness (through meditative exercises) of the mechanisms of consciousness that create the chain reaction that ultimately produces stress.
I found my little boy inside my heart. I had locked him away to protect him from getting hurt. I found that I created the separation from myself and that if I allow people to come in and out of my life without attaching to them then there is peace and balance. I am a gentle man with peace in my heart.
What has changed in my life since spending 7 days in an intensive with Dale and my significant-other? Basically, I learned to use ordinary experiences and relationships and create extraordinary life experiences that have such depth that for the first time in my life I am feeling/receiving the love I have always craved but did not know how to get.
In my primary relationship I had either shut down without expecting to get my needs met sacrificing my “self” or became embittered and locked into a power struggle. I was the queen of abandoning both self and other in relationship. When the going got tough, I got going – gone.
I have learned to know myself in an ongoing discovery process that allows me to explore what is happening inside me. I notice now when I am uncomfortable within myself and ask the right questions which lead me home. I have learned to speak authentically, with compassion for other much of the time. I have learned to listen without owning my “other’s” stuff and to notice what belongs to me without trying to force him to wear my stuff, fix it, etc. This discovery process has removed the separation within my partnership while also giving me myself on a more full time basis. The surrender to inner peace and love is mine for the first time. Finally, I know I have found the truest way for me to be and give back to the world.
Since I did this with my significant other/partner I want to say that this is the deepest, most direct path to having intimate relationships. It was my crash course (after having a lifetime of less than wonderful relationships, reading tons of self-help books, therapy, etc.) to getting what I have always wanted: love.
I had a spiritual experience that I believe was genuine. No opening has ever occured for me as completely, as consciously as this one. I experienced my longing for the Beloved, my yearning for connection with Source, and it was met with complete acceptance and favor. My life is different. And it was clearly the support of the group, their undivided attention, their willingness, that allowed me to be willing to accept the unknown beyond the frontier of my knowing.
We are multi-dimensional beings. We are at-once both spiritual beings and egoful beings. By ego, I mean the persona – the set of beliefs about who and what we are – we adopt at an early age. By spiritual, I mean our inherent wholeness and interconnectedness/ non-separateness from all existence – the vastness of being which is our True Nature.
Usually, when we think of free will – at least in this culture – we think it means that God-given human quality that allows us to choose to do whatever we choose to do, that our lives are not pre-determined and that we are not driven entirely by instinct. We have both a discriminating and reflective consciousness and the ability to make decisions based on that consciousness.
One summer in the early 1970’s, I participated in an intensive yoga training in Ann Arbor, Michigan. While I was there, I took advantage of the opportunity to have an astrological reading with Michael Erlewine, a world-renowned astrologer. Michael took my astrological chart, looked up a couple of things in a book, made a couple of notes on my chart, and then said the following to me: “You know, astrology is a very accurate science. For example, I can tell you that right around your 24th birthday you had a life-changing experience. [Actually, it was on my 24th birthday that I had a “peak experience” (where I felt completely alive again for the first time since I was nine years old), which marked the beginning my conscious spiritual quest.] And then, about a year-and-a-half later, you had an even more powerful, spiritual experience. [It was one year, four-and-a-half months later that I had what I refer to as a “religious experience,” where I experienced for the first time the “oneness of being.”] And I could tell you about your future, but what’s really important is what’s happening right now.” Michael then proceeded to counsel me for the next hour-and-a-half about what I was dealing with my life at that time.
The following morning, as I was riding my bike to my first yoga class of the day, I asked myself, “Why did I go see Michael, anyway?” The answer came immediately: “To make sure my life was on the right track.” I was so struck with the absurdity of it all, that I started laughing so hysterically that I had to pull over to the side of the road and get off my bike until I could regain my composure. Of course my life was on the right track! What other track could it possibly be on? Given everything that had happened in my life, I could only be exactly where I was at any given moment. All the causes and conditions, all the experiences, all the prior conclusions and beliefs I had chosen to adopt as a result of all my experiences had gotten me to exactly this place in this time. I couldn’t possibly be anywhere else other than where I was. And this is always the truth. Writing this article, I am sharing with you the understanding of free will that I have come to as a result of all of my past experiences and the conclusions I have drawn from them. If you had had these same experiences, you might have drawn different conclusions based on your beliefs created by your responses to your previous life experiences. But I can only be writing this article.
Now, that is not to say that I couldn’t write a different article. Indeed I could. And that is an expression of what we usually think of as free will. But even that article would be conditioned by my past experiences and the beliefs I had adopted from them. I would never write the article that a Catholic theologian or African medicine man would write.
The self must be destroyed, brought down to nothing, in order for self-transcendence to begin. Then the self can begin to relate to powers beyond itself. It has to trash around in its finitude, it has to “die,” in order to question that finitude, in order to see beyond it. – Ernest Becker
So, from the point of view of the ego/personality my will is only free to the extent that it operates within the limitations of my conditioning. But there is a truly Free Will that exists beyond the ego. Paradoxically, this true Free Will opens up for me when I give up my ego-driven free will. Ego-based “free will” is driven by fear – the fear created by belief that there is an “I,” a self that is separate from the Universe/God. This ego-I feels very small and insignificant in relation to the immensity of the All, suffers pain, and stands to lose everything at the moment of death. We try to compensate for this underlying fear by becoming greedy. All of our addictions are our unskillful attempts to deny the fear created by the sense of an ego-I.
True Free Will exists when I surrender my ego-based will – when I let go into the vastness of being that is my True Nature. This is the place of “Not my will, but Thine be done.” And in this place of openness and vulnerability, my personal will is freed to be able to be truly responsive to whatever needs to be done. Because I am not operating from my ego-based conditioned responses, I am able to see clearly the nature of the situation I am in and am able to do exactly the right and best thing in that circumstance. There is no fear to interfere. There is just a simple joy, purity of purpose, and unconditional love for all that is.
Is it possible to live in this state of grace? I’m not sure. But I do know one can experience this state of being. If you’d like to dis(un)cover it for yourself, and are willing to invest some time to “arrive” there (here), simply do the following:
Get into a comfortable sitting (preferably with back erect) or lying posture. Relax as much as you possibly can. Then scan your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes, without excluding any part, to feel what is happening in every part of your body. Now go back and find the place in your body that is most strongly asking for your attention (experienced as pain, tension, intense sensation, etc.), and let go into/ explore/ inquire into/ surrender into this inner space until it dissolves or shifts to the point where some other part of your body is asking more strongly for your attention. Continue this process until there is no more tension anywhere in your body, and you are aware of your whole body all at once. At this point, just be with whatever is happening within and without until you are moved to do whatever you need to do next. Notice where the impulse to action arises from: is it from your fear-based ego-I or from something larger than your little self – my will or thine? If it feels like ego, keep letting go some more until you sense something else – the All – moving in and through you.
People most often come to see me wanting a quick fix. Sometimes, quick fixes are possible – that is, if a person is interested only in getting rid of the current discomfort in his or her life, that person may be able to find temporary relief. But usually, true healing of the source of one’s suffering takes a lot of work and a lot of time.
Often, in the process of uncovering the roots of our discomfort, we begin to see the depths of the source of that discomfort, and we realize that there is much more to see than we had suspected. We realize, in fact, that we are on a spiritual journey – the journey home – and that the journey is a long one. At this point, we are faced with a decision: “Do I venture forth on this journey, ‘I know not where, by a path I know not how’? Or do I retreat back into the (false) security of the suffering I’m familiar with?”
The first big corner one has to turn on the inner journey is to commit to do whatever it takes for however long it takes. When one truly commits to the path in this way, much of one’s suffering falls away. That is, one gives up the resistance to the deepest drive within oneself – the drive to re-member one’s True Nature – and then the inner journey becomes what I call the Great Adventure.
Sadly, in my experience, very few people ever turn that first corner and embark on the Great Adventure. The spiritual quest requires a level of dedication, effort and determination that is beyond the ordinary. On that journey, one must face tremendous difficulty – terror, rage, excruciating pain, existential angst…. If one is fortunate, one may find friends – spiritual brothers and sisters – to share the journey with. But, ultimately, it is a solitary journey. One has to face one’s demons alone. And the challenges and opportunities for opening more and more deeply to the Truth of one’s Being are endless!