Shared Transformation Issue 4
The Open Heart
by El Collie
In many spiritual traditions, it's considered the greatest blessing when the heart chakra awakens.
Many regard this the most important energy center of the human psyche. The heart -- or fourth -- chakra is located
at the center of the chest. When this chakra begins to awaken, a variety of sensations and physical symptoms can
arise. Often there is a pronounced pressure or heaviness in the chest. This can sometimes interfere with breathing.
All kinds of discomfort can riddle this area. The milder disturbances may take the form of fleeting, shooting pains;
muscle tensions or the feeling of having wrenched a muscle in the front or back of the chest; dull aching; chest
congestion; stabbing pains; vibrating sensations; heart palpitations; irregular or rapid heartbeat and so forth.
There can also be more severe pain: a feeling of being impaled by a stake through the center of the chest; a sense
of the heart area being ripped open; or even symptoms that convincingly mimic a heart attack. Often there is heat
focused in this area when the chakra is awakening. This may feel like a warm, glowing sensation or a feeling of
incandescence, with the chest blazing hot as a furnace. After my heart chakra awakened, I discovered that whenever
I was in the presence of anyone who felt sad, I would feel a dark weight on my chest. And when I was with anyone
who was directing love toward me, my chest would become very warm. Alan Arkin noticed this same heat in his chest
when reading inspirational literature or poetry (Halfway Through The Door: An Actor's Journey Toward the Self).
As the heart awakens, profound emotional changes frequently occur. The heart seems to both literally and figuratively
break, releasing torrents of sadness and grief. For about six months prior to my acute "illness," I was
having periodic bouts of labored breathing (my chest felt very constricted). During this same period, I was often
overcome with intense compassion for people. I would be easily moved to tears upon hearing of any adversity in
my friends' lives. This was not maudlin pity, but a deep sadness at the spiritual opaqueness of the world. Everyone
evoked sweet-sad, deeply affectionate and reverent feelings in me; I felt such innocence and beauty in them all.
There are many transcendent states that can accompany the heart awakening. Numinous beings of love and light may
appear. Deep feelings of gratitude, joy and bliss may arise. A sense of the incredible beauty of all creation can
be staggering. Tears of rapture can flow as easily and uncontrollably as tears of sorrow. Realization of unity
with the divine and/or with all existing beings is dramatic at this time. Tremendous feelings of appreciation and
compassion arise. Every sentient being is felt as precious. Often, the suffering of all living beings can be acutely
felt. At this stage, people may find that they cannot eat meat or even pick a flower, so exquisite is their awareness
of the suffering of other living things. Along with this heightened empathy is often an obsessive desire to do
something to raise the consciousness of others and to bring about healing for all. At this point, many people become
ardently involved in causes or other concrete actions to benefit others. Much good can come of this. But in the
early stages, the compelling urge to help can become evangelical zeal: instead of offering assistance to others,
we may try to force our aid and insights upon them. Even with the best intentions, this tactic is counterproductive.
As perilous and urgent as the situation seems, it's not within our capacity or our responsibility to save the world
(or anyone in it) single-handedly. In The Ultimate Transforma- tion, Dr. R.P. Kaushik says that those who are ready
to receive what we have to give (or to teach) will be magnetically drawn to us when the time is right. "So
never be in a hurry to uplift other people," he advises. Of course, when one is aflame in a proselytizing
frenzy, such wisdom falls on deaf ears. Usually, we have to knock ourselves out (and suffer many head-on collisions)
before we learn to detach from the compulsion to do good. In my own experience, and that of others who have spoken
to me about this, the heart doesn't remain in this heightened condition for the duration of the transformational
process. Rather, it seems to move through cycles of recognizable peaks and plateaus. To those who have experienced
the super sensitivity of the wide open heart, these plateaus may seem regressive. Sri Chinmoy compares the chakras
to windows which may open for awhile, then shut down. "Sometimes," he says, "[the heart] opens for
a few seconds, a few minutes, or a few days; then it may close again." (Kundalini: The Mother-Power) Although
the chakras may open suddenly, they generally take a long time to be fully activated. This gradual processs allows
us to acclimate to these extraordinary energies. What appears to be periods of relapse or regression are more likely
periods of refinement and harmonizing. As powerful and "saintly" as the newly awakened heart consciousness
can be, it is simply too overwhelming for most of us to sustain this heightened state indefinitely. We need to
assimilate these experiences, and to be able to move from them back into our ordinary human concerns again. To
me, it seems that the entire transformational process is not merely an elevator that delivers us to a "higher"
level of awareness. Evolution is a continuum, though we rarely progress in a linear fashion. Even if we seem to
be at a standstill or moving backwards, in actuality, it's a long, intricate process of expansion and balance.
© El Collie 1995