J. Randall Ory
23 - Energy in the Center - Part 2: Energy in the Heart
I realize, at this point, that we’re neck deep in a lot of ideas about personal transformation that may still seem disjunct and separate, and that you may be having trouble understanding how they all fit together. I assure you; they do. I also understand that I’ve probably not done a very good job helping you see how they all fit together. I am still working all this out for myself as well. But I am working towards that point, to show how all these things fit together under the single pursuit of becoming who we’re meant to be. What personal transformation through modern contemplation looks like is reconnecting our Centers back to God. The personal part is better understanding ourselves (the three Centers of Being and Knowing). The modern contemplation part is reconnecting with God in our every day lives. This whole thing entails learning how to listen to ourselves as we’re learning to listen to God. We are always all of who we are. Even where we may disconnect to certain parts of ourselves and God, those disconnected parts don’t actually get severed from our self. The disconnection doesn’t equal dismemberment. What it does equal is darkness. When parts of our selves are disconnected into this darkness, they don’t cease to operate or exist, they just begin to operate from that darkness. If I decide to detach from my emotions, because I see them as a problem, I don’t stop being an emotional person, I just stop paying attention in ways that allow them to operate apart from my conscious self. That may not seem like a big deal. It is. When I decide to stop paying attention to my emotions, I don’t get rid of my emotional part, I just put it in a place to operate independently, in opposition instead of integration with how I am trying to exist. I will still be bombarded by an emotional world, which will continue to register in my emotions. The difference is that my own emotions will become a foreign object, hitting me from outside instead of inside my conscious self. In other words, what I can’t see has a much greater potential for harm than what I can. Deciding to integrate with all my parts doesn’t make them easier to handle, but it prepares me to be able to deal with them in much healthier ways. I’ll be honest, what I’ve realized through the process of this integration is that being more fully aware and engaged in my parts can be overwhelming. Simply put, it’s not something I have the strength to manage on my own. That’s why full self-integration requires full God-integration. We were not designed to be able to handle the sensitivity of our being by ourselves, in our own power. We simply don’t have the power to do that. What happens, when we try to fully engage in all our parts apart from God, is a breakdown. It’s simply too overwhelming. Without God we have to numb our sensitivity or it will kill us. I don’t mean that metaphorically, or lightly. I’ve felt the power of that sensitivity in every part, and it will always drive us to God for help or away from our truest self. Let me just put it this way. To experience the largeness of the energy of the universe, which is God, apart from knowing that we are fully held and protected by God, will push us over the edge. It’s just too much. We must know that we are contained within the larger container of God, before we are able to approach such a process of learning to become fully engaged with all of our parts. So, I want to take some time to explain the process and problems entailed in this reengagement, part by part. I could really start anywhere, but I think it makes the most sense to start with the three Knowing Centers, and of those to start with the heart.
The Heart Center is a good place to start because it is grounded in a space which overlaps the mind and body, and so will help us when we launch into understand those two through our understanding of the heart. The heart has a more tangible side, like our body, and a more abstract side, like our mind. It’s interesting, we can literally feel the emotions of the heart pulse in both our body and mind. Emotional sadness can pull our thoughts towards sad ideas, and our bodies towards depressive postures, even negative chemical processes. Of course, all our Knowing Centers naturally bleed into each other, but the goal is to learn how to separate them in order to better help them work together. The Heart Knowing Center is rooted in emotion. We could say that the Heart Center is in charge of our emotional life. It is the organ of emotion. But remember, it is not the organ which produces emotion, but that which registers emotion, like the ear registers sound. Emotion comes from the energy behind it, and is not the emotion itself. In other words, our emotions are registering something emotional about the energy of God, others, and ourselves. The emotion is not the energy. It is telling us something about the energy. When we can’t differentiate our emotional response from the emotional stimulus, the result is confusion and dysfunction. Emotional response is simply data about reality. It is not the substance of reality itself. As we begin to make this separation, we begin to have space to view our emotions from a safer distance, which gives us greater ability to use them as the helpful tool they are, instead of always reacting mindlessly to them as if they were the essence of reality itself. You are not your emotions. The world is not always true to how you feel it. What you feel is telling you something about the world, but you have to be able to step back and view your emotions more subjectively in order to really understand them. Trust me, I spent most of my life simply taking my emotions at face value. The heart is my dominate Knowing Center, so I was very controlled and overwhelmed by my emotions much of the time. If my emotions were telling me to be freaked out, I got freaked out. If my emotions told me I should be sad, I got extremely sad. I just believed everything my emotions were telling me about reality as if they were reality. But they are not. They are a reaction to reality. As we begin to step back from our emotions as reality, and understand them as an input center which is registering raw emotional data, we can more easily begin to sort through, inspect, and question that data instead of just reacting to it.
I understand how hard it can be to gain perspective and distant from our emotions. Emotions can be very powerful. The energy they are reacting to is strong, and can feel very overwhelming. I am extremely empathic. I feel emotions very strongly. I also started out as a young child having to face some very powerful emotions in the anger and abuse of my dad. It was a crushing experience for a child who did not have the emotional understanding or development to handle such things. That’s why childhood abuse is so devastating. Children haven’t developed the adult filters in order to deal with strong emotional power. They feel everything more intensely. But learning to filter emotional energy is a dysfunction, and the way children interact with the world is how we're all meant to. It’s just that parents are meant to foster an environment where children are safe to grow into these emotional filters over time, in a way that makes them less extreme and easier to tear down later in the process of learning to surrender to God. We all must develop some filters to help protect us from a broken world, until we can learn, through spiritual progress, how to let them go again. But children usually learn these filters under the protection of their parents, not in protection from their parents. It’s much easier to feel safe enough to let down our guard to a good, heavenly father and mother when we’ve already learned something about that as kids, under a good earthly mother and father. Because of my own childhood trauma, I had to develop stronger defenses, which later in life because much harder to let go of. All this is due to the reality that emotion energy is powerful, and we have to learn how to deal with it in one way or another. The end goal is to learn how to experience it unfiltered, as God does, so that we are as fully engaged in the reality it reveals. But the problem still remains; how do we slowly back out of those protective coping mechanisms we’ve developed to help carry us along until we’re ready to learn how to deal with emotional energy in a healthier way? The answer isn’t pretty.
As I’ve already tried to illustrate, the process of tearing down these emotional filters comes through suffering and death. Fun stuff, huh! There’s a reason why we feel the need to protect from the reality of an emotionally powerful world. The helpful caveat in all this is something Brene Brown (and others) have done a lot of work to uncover. When we numb to the negative, we also tune out the positive. We cannot desensitize the heart selectively. There’s only one volume knob for our emotions. When we turn down sadness, anger, and fear, we also turn down joy, passion, and love. It kinda sucks, but that’s just the way it is. There’s a couple of helpful truths here, which give us a worthy goal in pursuing heart transformation. The first is the joy of reengaging with our positive emotions, the second is realizing that our “negative” emotions also serve a positive purpose. There really is no such thing as a good or bad emotion, there are only emotions we prefer and ones we don’t. The entire spectrum of our emotional range has been given to us by God for a good purpose. But the feeling of some emotions seems better to us than others, so we can naturally tend to embrace some emotions and shun others. But that is a relative perspective, and speaks to the need of looking deeper than the emotions themselves to the reality they are pointing to. When we really begin to face all our emotions, we can see that even the negatively felt emotions are pointing to something which, when dealt with, will point us back towards positively felt emotions. In the process we can also learn that our negatively felt emotions can feel less oppressive when we learn what they mean, how to work with them, and how they can bring us to more positive ones. Much of the work of getting healthier in our hearts is learning to sit with these negatively felt emotions in order to see what they are trying to tell us. That’s why transformation can feel like suffering and dying, because we have to suffer through the pain of letting our negative emotions have space to be felt. That in turn helps us uncover the things they are pointing to that need our attention, in order to deal with and see those things healed. It is in the healing that these negative emotions begin to point back to more positive ones. Anger, fear, depression, anxiety, stress, doubt, loneliness, frustration, are all telling us a story about the reality of what’s going on in our world, both inside and outside of us. Remember my three helpful questions? These can help us in approaching our emotions as we ask; 1. Where is this coming from 2. What does it mean, and 3. What should I do about it? All these speak to a healthier view of all our emotions, which entails seeing them as data about the world, instead of the shape of the world itself. When we can face our emotions long enough to ask and answer these three questions, we begin to see and experience the deeper energy of God in the world. Then we are able to hear the deeper song of the world, singing to our deepest heart about a beauty that transcends and saturates all creation with the eternal goodness of a God who is renewing all things, even bringing life through the very death we thought would kill us.
The goal of heart transformation is learning to feel everything unfiltered within a new connectedness to God. That God-connection enables us to handle powerful feelings in a more powerful way. The power we gain in this process actually comes through our weakness, in surrender to God’s ability to hold and help us. Remember the electrical circuit illustration? God’s power can only flow into us as we allow it to flow out of us. It’s in the letting go that we get filled. It’s by opening up in vulnerable ways that we can become strong enough to handle such powerful emotions. Trying to control our emotional input (or output) is part of the problem. Our common method of control is bottling, which is a by product of numbing. What we are numb to, we do not deal with, address, and let pass through us. It necessarily tends to stay in us, stagnate, and build a pressure that will eventually find a way out, one way or another. When we are in the flow of this God energy, we will feel everything coming to us more clearly, and be able to sort through, understand, and let it all flow back out without getting trapped inside us. The reason we must give up our attempt to be in control of our emotional input and output, is that we are never truly in control of that energy to begin with. Remember, emotions are data coming to us from reality. We cannot control the data flow. We cannot control reality. We can only learn how to become more surrendered to God as our divine guide in the process of sorting through our emotions. To try and control the data is to shut down and close off again. That does not prevent the data flow, it just separates us from a conscious awareness of the data, and from the process of God helping us deal with it. The only real choice we have is to increase or decrease our emotional awareness. Granted, it’s hard to allow more of something into our consciousness over which we have no control. But it is no better to create the illusion of control through isolation from our heart. To tamp down any emotion for the sake of comfort is to tamp down every emotion, and numbing is no real solution. To surrender to the process and the experience, trusting God to hold and lead us through it, is the best we can do. To open up again is painful. When we’ve narrowed the scope of our emotions, and dulled the organ of our heart in a protective stance in order to cope, it can be very scary letting go and feeling everything more fully again. There’s a reason anti-anxiety and anti-depression meds are at an all time high. It’s not only evidence of just how emotionally unhealthy we’ve become, but also just how hard it is to be vulnerable and surrendered in the face of such powerful energy. I can tell you, the process of awakening is hard, painful, and scary. But I can also tell you that it’s worth it, because it gives us back our life.
Learning to live emotionally connected to ourselves and the world around us is a hard journey to take, but the fruits of that journey are far better than the growing pains we must endure. Don’t get lost in the grave, or overly focused on the dying. It’s the resurrection that leads us on, as new life gives way to more and more emotional freedom, which always leads us out of ourselves and into greater love. It connects us at the heart level with all things, through a foundational connectivity to God. And it allows us to hear, see, and understand the world in ways we never thought possible as we learn to listen with our hearts to the heartbeat of all things around us. To become more emotionally intuitive is a blessing, but we will have to fight through a lot of difficult experiences, because it will put us in contact with a lot of negatively felt emotions we would have run away from in the past. There is a tidal wave of emotional content always flowing around us, the biggest wave of which is the presence of God. When we are able to feel more openly, then we will begin to hear the heart of God speaking not just to us, but all around us to and through the whole world. But what will it sound like? You’d think it would sound deafening, but what it really sounds like is peace. When our emotions can come and go easily, we find we are not longer wrestling with or against them, but just letting them be what they are and speak what they have to speak. We will also find that we are always learning so much from what they are telling us, a learning which produces a greater connectedness to ourselves, God and others. And we will also find that we are no longer afraid of our emotions, or being overcome by them. We have finally mastered a stance towards our emotions that doesn’t imprison us in them, or enslave us to them, but allows them to fulfill their proper function without trying to control or change them. There is an indescribable rest that comes when we are no longer fighting against our emotions, or trying to get away from them. Greater emotional awareness leads to greater emotional peace, and peace is the wisdom of a heart that knows the value of every emotion, good or bad.
There’s nothing I value more, far into this process of emotional healing and awakening, than the quiet confidence that I don’t have to be afraid of my emotions any more. Ironically, the more I’ve surrendered them to God, the less they’ve had any control over me. I look back on how I used to react to my emotions, and react out of them. I know I was very much asleep to myself, my own pain, and the pain I was causing others. But I can also laugh at myself, and some of the crazy ways I used to act. I used to get so manic in large crowd, because I didn’t understand how they overloaded me emotionally. For me, it was like an emotional drowning. There was just too much emotional stimulus, especially since I was trying to handle it on my own. Now I understand my giftedness, and my protectedness in God, which doesn’t mean I don’t experience the same full onslaught of emotions, but that I know what it is, where it’s coming from, and what to do about it. And that makes all the difference in the world. Now I can actually sit back and catch glimpses of what the overall emotional atmosphere is like in any given space. I can begin to take in the data, and hear the overall themes those spaces are speaking. And what do I do with that? Sometimes nothing, but sometimes I’m able to address certain climates through prayer, which is just another way of saying that I invite the positive energy of God to come in and change what might be a negative climate. Instead of being a thermometer, I can become a thermostat, effecting and infecting crowds and individuals with the hope of love. That’s the ultimate focus of becoming more emotionally in tune; that is, being able to know when others are struggling, and also being able to help them in very specific ways. Love and connectedness are always the result of our greater connectedness to the love-energy of God. How else are we going to move towards greater love together if we cannot find the connection that binds us all together? That connection is already inside us, even as it also surrounds and sustains the whole universe in one inclusive energy we can call God. It’s our work to get in touch with that energy, and one way we can do that is through our heart knowing center. I hope you can see the light and goodness of that goal, and I hope you will keep striving for that with me, as we walk that way together.