My advice to you is not to undertake the spiritual path. It is too difficult, too long, and is too demanding. I suggest you ask for your money back, and go home. This is not a picnic. It is really going to ask everything of you. So, it is best not to begin. However, if you do begin, it is best to finish.” ~ Chögyam Trungpa
In my previous article, I shared about the experience of opening onto the Path of the Heart. You can read Part I here <https://www.soulplay.co/post/the-path-of-the-heart>. In this article, I’m going to discuss how to walk the Path of the Heart.
There’s a Tibetan saying that goes something like, “1,000 monks, 1,000 paths.” meaning everyone’s path is unique. My intention here is to share some of the cornerstones of the path as I see it, but not to be proscriptive.
What is the Path of the Heart?
The path of the heart is a way of fully inhabiting our human lives. It is not about transcending our existence, nor is it about achieving enlightenment. It is about living in the present moment to receive the totality of our experience. Through that orientation, we come to discover who we truly are and what we’re here to do in the world.
Whatever happened in our lives that opened us to the path has given us a glimpse of a new way of living that’s possible. After that opening, it becomes painfully clear that it’s up to us to walk the path, and as Chögyam Trungpa says, it really is going to ask everything of you.
Two Ways of Knowing
There are two ways of knowing. The first is through thinking. Neurologically, this happens in left hemisphere of the neo-cortex in the brain. Everything that we conceptually think is based on the filtering, processing, and meaning-making that happens mostly unconsciously as sensory input moves through our system to the neo-cortex. Everything that we know through thinking is second-order information, meaning it has been processed. Thinking is our interpretive picture of the world. Thinking helps us make sense of past events and predict future scenarios, with the unfortunate side-effect of taking us out of the present.
The second way of knowing is through direct perception. It includes the right-brain, the spinal chord, the 100-million neurons in our bellies, all the sensory organs including our skin, and ultimately each of the 37.2 trillion cells in our body – every one, a tiny point of awareness. The knowing that comes from from perception is unfiltered, direct awareness. This type of knowing only happens in the present moment. The second way of knowing, based on raw perception is always true and brings us closer to reality. By contrast, our discursive thought is filled with fantasy, scenarios, and opinions about how things should be or how we want them to be. And because discursive thinking is necessarily filtered, there’s a bias that’s baked into what we think – the bias for comfort and to confirm what we already believe about ourselves and the world.
That taste of something different that opened us to the path – it’s usually as simple as a moment of experiencing how Awesome and True reality is without all our habitual, conceptual overlays. We taste raw, naked reality as it without our wishful thinking and we realize that the life we’ve been longing for can only be found here – through direct perception in the present.
Get into the Body and out of the Head
Because real life happens in the present moment, we have to get out of our heads and into our bodies. The word for this is “interoception”, which means feeling the body from the inside. Interoception can be practiced and our capacity can strengthen. So every second that we spend feeling our bodies instead of thinking is stimulating our neurological capacity to stay in our body.
For me, it was learning to be radically present during sex that first gave me this experience. Neo-Tantra opened the door. As I got the memo about getting out of my head, my practice came to include yoga – not as a workout, but as a path to inhabit my body from the inside. After a few years of maturing in my yoga practice, I then dove into the Somatic Meditation taught by Reggie Ray which is all about bringing our awareness into the body through meditation.
I’m sure this isn’t news to you, but it’s no so easy to stay present and feeling in the body. Try it right now – see if you can just take five breaths of feeling without popping back into discursive thought. Now imagine living your life from this place – a very tall order indeed!
But day by day we begin to practice. First on the meditation/yoga mat, and then out in the world having conversations, eating food, while sleeping – literally every moment of our life starts getting a makeover.
Develop the Capacity to Feel
As we strengthen our practice of coming into our bodies, we are quickly confronted with a backlog of everything that we haven’t been present to feel. Our bodies, on a cellular level, remember every experience we’ve ever been through. Anything from our past that we avoided or that was too intense to experience fully at the time is going to come back up to be felt. Spiritually, you could call this karma; physiologically, you could call this trauma.
Trauma, broadly speaking, is the tensing and shutting down of feeling that we do to protect ourselves from threatening experiences. Trauma healing involves opening up to feel the emotions that got trapped in the past and that have remained frozen in our bodies. Every single one of us has trauma by this definition. Trauma healing is an unavoidable part of the Path of the Heart that’s both excruciating and liberating.
Little by little, we learn to stay in our bodies longer and develop the capacity to remain present for more challenging emotions and sensations to arise.
Discursive thought is another way that we avoid feeling and fully experiencing the present moment. It’s a distraction from what’s really happening right now. Once we start to realize how much we avoid ourselves by going into thought, this path starts to get pretty gnarly.
There’s less and less space to hide out from ourselves. We start to see that the judgments, the stories we perpetuate, being a victim, being witty, being outraged, having nuanced opinions about politics, and on and on… are all games we play with ourselves to guarantee that we don’t have to feel what’s really happening for us right now. We’re all individually bought into this massive collusion to ensure that nothing actually changes – that we can stay safe and comfortable in our world of concepts.
Get a Sense of Humor
What we do to ourselves is all so horrifying that it becomes absolutely necessary to develop a sense of humor. Humor means being able to let go of the seriousness of it all, to loosen up and let go of the rigidity of walking this path. Mostly, we need to learn how to laugh at ourselves.
Personally, I’m 100% full of shit with how bought into myself I am. I’m completely devoted to the concept of the path and I love looking for the path conceptually instead of actually experiencing it. I am a ridiculous human being and I think the trips I put myself through are hilarious. If I couldn’t take a step back and laugh about myself, I’d be banging my head against a wall going crazy right now.
Be light, be flexible, and get out of the right/wrong dichotomy.
Practice Letting Go
On this Path of the Heart, we start to see that it’s not about doing, but about letting go and simply being. We let go of our beliefs about ourselves and the world. We let go of our habitual thinking addiction. We let go of trying to “be spiritual”. We even let go of the idea that if we practice long enough or hard enough, that we’ll eventually escape or transcend this human predicament with all its pain.
And what do we let go into? Remember at the beginning of Part I where I said the fundamental problem we have today is disconnection? As we let go of our concepts, traumas, and beliefs, we open into connection, profoundly. We let go into the infinite tapestry of life that we’re a part of. We begin to cultivate our relationship with the Earth. We discover what true intimacy is and what compassion feels like. We re-connect to everyone and everything around us and most of all, to ourselves.
Paradoxically, the more we let go, the more truly our self we become. We discover who we really are – from the heart. And we discover the life that we’re here to lead, which is a million times more vibrant that anything we could possibly have imagined. As we connect with ourselves, we find a place that feels like home that’s always available here in the center of our hearts.
On my path, plant medicine has been an amazing teacher to help me practice letting go and surrendering. There are many ways to use medicine that are not useful on the path, but for teaching us how to let go, it’s one of the best tools we have.
Open to the Infinite Love that You Are
On the Path of the Heart, we discover what love is. It’s not a romantic infatuation and it’s not a feel-good sensation. Rather, it is this infinite field of empty open warmth that we’re being held by. As we bring our awareness deeper into our hearts, we discover that our essence is love. When we have the direct experience of this love, we find that it is truly awesome, that it has no edges or boundaries, that it is timeless, and infinitely connected to everyone and everything. We discover that we’re ok, have always been ok, and that there’s nothing really to fear – not even death, but that it’s ok to be afraid because love still has us, completely, 100%. Opening into this big love is what we’re up to on the Path of the Heart.
It feels important here for me to acknowledge my heart-teachers, for both pointing out the path and helping me walk it: Daniella Ambika Cotreau with Body Temple Yoga, Reggie Ray with Dharma Ocean, Adam Gainsburg with Open Human Heart, and my consort, Caity Flanagan.
“May I develop complete acceptance and openness to all situations and emotions, and to all people
May I experience everything nakedly, completely, without mental reservation or blockages
May I never withdraw from life or centralize onto myself
May my heart be laid bare and open to the fire of all that is”~ Reggie Ray