Monday, May 31, 2010

Some good reasons for keeping your heart open

Imagine that an extraterrestrial lands on Earth and tries to make sense of us human beings from our pop music. It would probably conclude that we regard love (whatever that might be!) as infinitely more precious than everything else combined. But once the ET figures out how to measure love, it might be surprised to discover how little of the invaluable substance actually flows between us most of the time. Love, the ET would no doubt deduce, is not only precious, it’s incredibly hard to find.
For creatures who want to be loved, appreciated, even adored, we certainly go about fulfilling our desire in a curiously unfulfilling way. Instead of manufacturing it ourselves in the little love machine inside our chests, we complain about not getting enough of it, search frantically for someone else to give it to us, and try to make ourselves more lovable by improving our looks or earning more money. But the truth is, the Beatles song has it right: The love you take is equal to the love you make. In other words, the most effective way to get love is to generate it yourself.
By cultivating caring, loving feelings, you can actually provide yourself with the nourishment you seek. At the same time, by radiating those feelings outward to others, you can touch their tender hearts and naturally elicit the same feelings in them, creating a flow of love that keeps circulating between you and building on itself.
If you’ve never experienced this kind of flow with someone yourself, you’ve perhaps met people who live this way. Their eyes sparkle with positive regard, their words speak well of everyone, and they elicit love wherever they go. Through the practices described here, you, too, can begin to generate a flow of loving feelings. It all depends on you.
Here are a few of the innumerable benefits of learning how to love:
_ Energy and expansiveness: If you’ve ever been in love (maybe you are right now!), you know how vital and alive you can feel when your heart is wide open. Instead of the usual sense of limitation you ordinarily experience, you feel like you have no boundaries, as though you can’t really tell where you leave off and the outside world (or your beloved) begins.
_ Peace and well-being: When your heart is filled with love, you feel happy and peaceful for no external reason. In fact, love, happiness, joy, peace, and well-being are just different names and versions of the same basic energy — the loving, life-giving energy of the heart.
_ Good health: Yes, love is life-giving and life-enhancing. For one thing, it brings people together to create babies, and, in general, love contributes to optimal health by providing an immeasurable vital spark that not only nourishes the internal organs but also provides the body (and the person) with a reason to live. Dean Ornish, M.D., author of Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease, found that love is more important than any other factor in the healing process, including diet and exercise. To heal your heart, he discovered, you need to open your heart.
_ Belonging and interconnectedness: As another old song puts it, love makes the world go round — and it certainly draws people together and keeps them connected. When you open your heart to others, you naturally feel joined with them in a meaningful way. In the deepest sense, love is the source of all meaning and belonging.
_ Spiritual awakening: As they gradually erode your sense of separateness from others, loving feelings can eventually reveal the essential nature of life, which is, paradoxically, also love. Ultimately, the Sufis teach, we are simply love searching for itself.

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