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Heart-Centered Practice (a love note from your online Abbess)

Heart leaf

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Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,

“Return to me with your whole heart.”  This is the image and invitation with which we are resting for Lent at the Abbey (see our community lectio divina and this week’s invitation to photography).

Lent is an invitation toward whole-heartedness.  The heart is an ancient metaphor for the seat of our whole being – to be whole-hearted means to bring our entire selves before God, our intellect, our emotional life, our dreams and intuitions, our deepest longings.

Many of us feel divided, in internal conflict between what we most desire and how we live our lives.  The ancient monks described the “cave of the heart” as that inner place where we encounter God and wrestle with our inner voices.  Instead of resisting these voices, and dividing ourselves, the desert mothers and fathers invite us to be fully present to them, to create a welcoming space within.

All of our “negative” feelings have something to teach us about ourselves and even about God when we stop running and create room in the cave of our hearts to tend to what is really happening in us. We become aware of our interior dynamics and slowly becoming attuned to the promptings of our inner wisdom and respond to life through this lens, discovering God in each moment both within and without.

Lent is a time when we consider the commitments we want to make to cultivate our whole-heartedness and the things we want to let go of to make more room for presence to God.  The desert journey is one where our comforts are stripped away so we can see more clearly.

What are the things which numb your heart from really feeling life?

How do we make space in the midst of busy lives to experience this whole-heartedness?

I invite you into a very simple Heart-Centered Practice which only takes about 5-10 minutes and can be done almost anywhere, but can completely shift your grounding and awareness so you respond to the world from a more heart-centered place:

  • Begin by becoming aware of your body. Notice how your body is feeling, simply being present to sensations you are experiencing, welcoming in both the body’s delight and discomfort.
  • Connect to your breath, deepening it gently.  As you inhale, imagine God breathing life into you.  As you exhale, allow yourself to experience a moment of release and surrender into this time and place, becoming fully present.  Take a couple cycles of breath to simply notice this life-sustaining rhythm which continues moment by moment even when you are unaware of it.
  • In your imagination, gently allow your breath to carry your awareness from your head (which is your thinking, analyzing, judging center) down to your heart center (where you experience life from a place of greater integration, feeling, and intuition).  Consider placing your hand on your heart to experience a physical connection with your heart center and draw your awareness to this place.
  • Breathe into your heart center and begin to notice what you are feeling right now in this moment without judging or trying to change it.  Take a few moments to simply be present to whatever it is you are feeling and making some room within yourself to experience this without pushing away (this alone can be revolutionary for many of us – to just allow ourselves to have the experience we are having without judgment).
  • Call to mind the spark of God which the ancient monks and mystics tell us dwells in your heart.  Bring the compassion of God to however you are feeling right now, not trying to change anything, but just gently holding yourself in this space.
  • As you experience yourself filling with compassion for your own experience, imagine breathing that compassion out into the world and connecting to other hearts – both human and animal – beating across the world in a rhythm of love.
  • Gently allow your breath to bring your awareness back to the room and take a moment to name what you noticed in this experience.

This practice is especially powerful when we find ourselves feeling tenderhearted, anxious, sad, or any emotion which feels uncomfortable or confusing.  The idea is not to resolve the emotion or figure it out, but to simply allow it to have a moment of space within us without pushing it away.  Resistance is a powerful and often subtle force in our lives.

Try pausing once or twice a day for this practice in the next few days and see if you discover anything. What do you discover about returning with your whole heart?

I offer you here a recorded version of this meditation (you can listen to it online or download it)

If you missed my post last week for Ash Wednesday on “A different kind of fasting” you can find it here.

We have a new Invitation to Photography posted on the theme of “Return to me with your whole heart” and another fabulous Monk in the World guest post by fellow monk Liz Rasmussen.

With great and growing love,


Photo by Christine: Heart Leaf

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