Strong Back, Open Heart
Sometimes staying open is the last thing we want to do. Instead we’d rather pull down our armadillo armor and ward off any more attacks, any more feelings, any more of what is already enough—too much if we’re being honest.
I’ve been there; my word have I been there.
But that’s when the cultivation of strength and a willingness to stay open comes into play.
Strong back, open heart—I didn’t come up with that, but I loved it the moment I heard it and I’ve heard the message expressed in different words for years.
Yet, the question for me always remained, but how?
How do you be strong and supple?
Brave and soft?
Courageous and empathic?
How do you keep your heart open when circumstances around you feel like bedlam and what you’d really like to do is to pull on a personal bomb shelter and wear it for as long as it takes to feel safe again?
Joan of Arc, Mother Teresa, Jesus, Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, Michelle Obama—I am certain the circumstances of their lives—heartbreaking and hard as they were—at one time (or many), had them searching for an iron curtain to draw about themselves.
But we have the mentors we do today because they did not.
They stood a little taller, leaning on the conviction of their purpose. They opened their hearts a little more because to close them even a fraction would be to cut someone off who needed to hear them, to know them, to feel them.
They allowed the brutality of circumstance flow through them and placed their focus on the light, the change, the possibility, the good.
They had (and have) backs of steel and liquid hearts.
But you don’t have to be an icon to make open heart, strong back a practice.
And it is an every day practice.
For me, the practice is the combination of feeling and remembering.
Feeling the hot slice of circumstance and remembering who I am, why I’m here, and what I am doing. Remembering that there is a reason to get up, to keep going, to choose to stay open.
My why supports me, and my gratitude opens me.
So when I want to shut down, I do whatever it takes to stay open—sometimes it’s the surf, a book, the beach, the sky, meditation, a phone call, a hug or a cry.
When I want to close, instead I feel. It’s not always comfortable—in fact, it rarely is.
I look for the beauty—it’s everywhere.
I let it move through me, and I remember why I’m here.
I nod to the feeling as it shatters its closing power on the strength of my conviction.
Because I cannot serve anyone if I’m closed, and I cannot be a light if I let my strength slump.
And we are, each of us, here to serve.
Whatever you have to do to stay open, do that, and do it often.
Because, if you save one person’s life, isn’t it all worth it?
Love and courage,
P.S. — I very literally mean save a life. Because you can be a florist, a dancer, a voice teacher, a realtor, a waitress, a boat captain, a mom, a wife and have an effect on someone that saves their life because you stayed open enough to show them it’s worth being here, trying a little more, having a little faith, believing a bit bigger. YOU have that power. We all do.