To Be a Heartian (Learning Love)

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

~ Khalil Gibran

From the Riverbed of Hearts it isn’t far to Heart Hill.

I’ve lingered here, and made the trek a few times now, though any way you look at it, I’m just not a Heartian.

The Heartians are green and soft, and rain droplets perch for long, pregnant moments on them before making their pudgy descent to the ground, which is itself soft and green.

I repeat, sadly, reluctantly: I’m not a Heartian (not yet!).

But I’m delighted to have come into contact with the Land of Hearts – I gave it its name while ambling around a stunning retreat compound I’d only just arrived at a few days earlier.

 

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

It had just rained and I’d been sitting with my increasingly uncomfortable self since before dawn. I was instructed to walk extra slow and with mindfulness, to be aware of the foot as it rose, moved forward, and fell. First the right foot, and then the left foot, over and over like this.

I was trying to fix my gaze on the ground a little bit ahead of me so as to keep my balance, to follow the minutia of my movements with the attention of an enlightened being.

I failed; I was distracted by everything from the exotic leaves nearby that reminded me of art nouveau paintings, to the itchiness of my skin, dampened by the humidity and swollen with mosquito love.

Also, just hours earlier, I had what felt like an epiphany, but the bad kind, about how I really didn’t know why I was here – not only here on the retreat, but here here – and in fact, I didn’t really know the reason for anything I’d ever done my whole life.

Now, I not only had to live with this morbid feeling that was planting poison in my stomach, but I had to do this so-called mindfully, as I noticed my breath rise and fall and tended to my legs as they went through the agonizingly slow motions of meditative walking.

How do I choose the lucky recipient of my attention? My thoughts were spinning. Will it be my shallow breath, my rough, travel-worn heels, this incipient feeling of doom? How can I be mindful of everything at once?

In the midst of all this, something made me look over to my right. What I saw took my breath away.

Jutting out from a tree branch rooted in a thick, ragged stump was a big green heart, almost dancing in the air, a quiet greeting to a land far beyond my own.

I looked around to see if anyone else was bearing witness. I couldn’t see anyone. It was like the whole retreat disappeared the very instant I laid eyes on what I immediately started calling The Land of Hearts. Like this encounter was destiny.

A pathway unfolded. I’d never seen anything so inviting, so naturally, I took it.

I felt like I was walking on Earth’s last, richest and most precious of moments, because as Robert Frost knew, nothing gold can stay; such was the dewy feast below my feet, leaves of all kinds strewn upon the sandy ground.

At the end of the aisle I found the tiny, flowing Riverbed of Hearts.

 

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

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A Treat for Eyes and Soul: Candle Meditation

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

“Of all the senses, sight must be the most delightful.” ~ Helen Keller 

Eyes invite people in, giving others a glimpse into the deepest parts of ourselves.

It also works the other way around; eyes are our window out onto the visual world. For those of us with functioning vision, it’s estimated that 80% of our sensory information about the world comes through our sense of sight.

Looking into the eyes of those we love, feels like magic.

Really looking at people in the eye can help us connect with them and understand them better.

A whole realm of empathy can form around the simple act of people looking at each other.

In other words, we’re very dependent on seeing, for building our identity and wellbeing. Look how many expressions exist in the English language based on eye metaphors or analogies:

Do you see? Try to look at it through my eyes. An eye for an eye. Do we see eye to eye? To see with the naked eye. Wide-eyed.

It goes on.

Our eyes are very complex mechanisms that link our brains and minds to the visual field. They do incredibly uncanny things, such as helping us to distinguish objects, perceive depth and experience color. It’s almost impossible to fathom that these little pieces of matter, lodged in our heads, can do so much.

It’s very important to consider how and why we make sense of the world the way we do, and why we’re so dependent on our sense of sight (try practicing navigating through the house blindfolded or listening to movies rather than watching them, for example).

It’s also a really good idea to take care of our eyes.

“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead; I lift my eyes and all is born again.”

~ Sylvia Plath

We know this intuitively. We ‘look inward’ when we meditate, turning ourselves over to our inner eye, and washing, purifying and strengthening the powers of our ajna chakras, or  third eye.

We can only complement this process of inner seeing by nurturing our physical eyes. One of the basic yoga kriyas, or cleansing techniques, you can do every morning, involves cupping your hands, filling them with water and thoroughly rinsing your eyes in it.

A more comprehensive kriya for cleansing the eyes, is Trataka—a Sanskrit word meaning ‘to gaze upon’ or ‘to look.’ Trataka is a fixed-gaze meditation that I like to think of as a natural wonder drug for the eyes.

On a physical level, looking unwaveringly at one object for a substantial duration strengthens the eye muscles and is known to help those with insomnia. It can facilitate improvement in vision, making it an excellent tool for avid readers and chronic computer-users.

Trataka also triggers or prompts physical and emotional release—the idea is that by stilling ourselves, we can allow that proverbial ‘stuff’ to come up and wash away.

Yogis use Trataka to stimulate the third eye and develop concentration skills, considered integral in their own right. This enables them to move into more advanced meditations that would be impossible without an ability to tame distraction and cultivate an ability to focus.

 

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How Trataka works

Note: Trataka can be done using virtually any unmoving object, such as a dot on the wall. I find using the flame of a candle, to be very powerful and intimate.

1: Light a candle; place on the floor, or table, in front of you.

2: Sit in a comfortable position, preferably with your spine straight, and surround yourself with anything you might normally use in meditation or relaxation practices to create a peaceful, conducive atmosphere.

3: Take a few deep breaths; allow your body to relax for a moment and slowly become aware of it.

4: Look at the wick inside the flame—if using a candle—as the centring point, and perform the following movements:

–       Move your eyes from left to right several times.

–       Look up and then down several times.

–       Look diagonally up to the left and down to the right several times.

–       Look diagonally up to the right and down to the left several times.

5: Rest your eyes on the wick of the flame and keep your eyes open. Fix your gaze, remaining fully aware of the flame until your eyes grow very tired or start to water.

6: Close your eyes and concentrate on the image of the flame between your eyes in the center of your forehead. Try to keep the image stable. When the image begins to fade, try to bring it back.

7: Open your eyes and repeat steps five and six, one or two more times. 

In the beginning, you can concentrate on the flame for one—two minutes, increasing this amount of time with practice. Observe any emotions that arising without thinking about, or judging, them.

You might also notice that this exercise helps you learn to “open your eyes” to your environment in a new and more vibrant way, and the benefits of seeing things anew are, of course, innumerable.

Enjoy!

“Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.”

~ Albert Einstein

* This article first appeared in elephant journal.