– – –
See the author’s TEDx Talk on Creating Extraordinary Intimacy in a Shut Down World
– – –
How does one go from being totally shut-down most of their adult life to living fully heart open and connected? For me, it requires doing one simple daily exercise to keep me in my heart. And, as a side benefit, it also opens the hearts of others –all in 10 seconds or less. This is so simple you might be tempted to think it couldn’t possibly be that easy. Trust me on this one, if it works for me (a real hard case) it will for you too.
“Can’t You Be Human Just Once in Your Life!”
That was the refrain shouted at me by my wife as she was about to go into labor with our second child at the hospital. Instead of paying attention and comforting my wife, I was arguing with our four year old daughter about something not very important. Her rebuke wasn’t just labor pain rage. It was also a reflection of my typical lack of empathy which is not uncommon for people who are shut down and disconnected.
Her anger stung quite deeply because I knew there was more than an element of truth to it. Despite being successful in business and a high-energy extrovert, I always felt something was amiss in my life. I just couldn’t seem to deeply connect with anyone, including my own wife and kids.
I always felt something was amiss in my life. I just couldn’t seem to deeply connect with anyone, including my own wife and kids.
Oh don’t get me wrong, I could hold a conversation with the best of them and make people laugh –all while avoiding any semblance of vulnerability. Even after years of therapy I was no closer to figuring it out, which just made me feel more frustrated and shut down. That is, until I couldn’t take it anymore.
A Line in the Sand
One day I said “enough is enough” and I pulled the trigger on changing my life forever. With the help of someone who could see the real me (despite my attempts to hide it) the source of my disconnect became abundantly clear. It was simply my fierce unwillingness to show my heart, be completely vulnerable and feel everything, including things that are uncomfortable or even painful. Thanks to life and childhood wounds, I had placed a ton of armor around my heart to protect it from ever being hurt. All it really did was prevent me from feeling *anything* and connecting with anyone.
This insight was perhaps the biggest “Aha!” of my life. From that point on I drew a line in the sand and stepped over vowing to always remain heart open and vulnerable. The impact of that choice is difficult to overstate. My face softened, my eyes sparkled with joy and I literally felt giddy feeling truly alive for the first time. People have told me I now look 20 years younger. Imagine the transformation of Scrooge after his visit with the Spirit of Christmas Future. That was me. This probably explains why I would always burst out sobbing at that point in the book when I read it to my kids every Christmas. My heart ached for that possibility, which only required me to have the courage to allow it to happen.
From that point on I drew a line in the sand and stepped over vowing to always remain heart open and vulnerable.
However, old habits die hard and life continues to throw challenges our way making it easy to put those defenses back up. So I knew I needed a way to keep me in this state of being fully heart open otherwise I’d risk falling back to my old disconnected and shut-down ways.
The 10 Second Heart Opener
So what I do now, almost on a daily basis, is carry these little glass hearts with me everywhere. They are nothing special, just cheap iridized glass from China. Yet the impact they have when I give them out to people would make you think they were made out of diamond.
I never know with whom I will share them. I let my intuition / heart guide me which of course means I need to be fairly present to even be aware of that guidance. I’ve given them to men, women and children of all ages and mostly to people I have never met before.
It typically starts out with me handing them a glass heart and saying “This is for you because you have such big, beautiful heart.” And yes, I even say that to the guys I give them to as well. Most people who receive them are deeply touched and appreciative. I remember one older lady in the grocery store checkout line weeping after I gave her one –somehow it soothed her troubled soul.
Another time I gave one to a guy who I approached in a parking lot because he was riding a Ducatti motorcycle (I’m into bikes big time). After talking about his bike for a while something just urged me to give him one of the hearts –he was deeply touched. The next day I ran into him again at a coffee shop. He said “Do you remember me?” At first I didn’t but then a smile of recognition came across my face as I said “You’re the Ducatti guy!” He said “That’s right. You know that heart you gave me yesterday? Well, I went to the beach afterwards and met someone and I gave it to her. I think there may be something there.” That was nearly two years ago and they are still together.
This simple act of connecting hearts by giving them away has another, even more important purpose than touching the lives of others. You see, I’ve discovered that I can’t give these away without my heart being open. And if I’m feeling shut down (which I do from time to time) the mere act of giving these little hearts away will immediately open mine.
Ten seconds is all it takes yet the impact it has on you and the ones you give it to can last a life time. I have not found a more simple or sure way than this for me to stay fully present, heart open and vulnerable. And if it works every time for someone who was as shut down as I was, imagine what it will do for you.