Imagine, for a moment, that you wanted to get in better shape. You’d know what you’re in for right? More or less, the formula is to challenge your body in various ways that a) burn fat that isn’t serving you, b) build strength, and c) stress your muscles in order to produce growth. The results certainly won’t be immediate, but over time, we start to see where the grind is paying off. We engage with a stress point, knowing that a better version of ourselves is on the other side of the discomfort.
There’s an interesting parallel here between the process of physical transformation and that of an emotional or spiritual one. In shifting my attention to one particular muscle—the heart that beats life throughout the entire holy vessel of my body—the methods of change and growth are in fact the same.
There are a great many of us who know how it feels to have a heart that’s a bit (or more than a bit) out of shape.
Traumas of all kinds can leave this tender part of our energetic anatomy invisibly injured. Perhaps the superficial wound heals, but the cut was deep enough to leave a lasting mark.
We spend a lifetime subconsciously modifying ourselves to work around this injury, rather than working with the trauma and learning how to strengthen the muscle again. In ways too plentiful to list, this keeps us stuck in that space of fragility, and we avoid whatever might cause further discomfort or injury.
But how does this interfere with our capacity for intimacy and closeness? I wonder what would happen if we hauled our weakened hearts into the proverbial gym and got to work. I wonder how we could heal by leaning into the particular stressor of connection and relationship.
Let’s just cut to the chase: It is damn scary to be close to someone. Truly letting someone in means that you agree to be seen and leave yourself perpetually vulnerable.
Real connection means that when you reach your fist into my chest and grip my beating heart, I surrender the secret password and permit your grasp. This is, indeed, f*cking terrifying. Showing up for this kind of seeing and being seen is one of the more gut-wrenching parts of being human.
We begin to approach intimacy, and our inner critics start to chime in and ask: “What if I’m not good enough? What if they’re not good enough? What if they lie? What if I change my mind? What if there’s something better out there? What if I get stuck? What if it hurts? What if I lose them entirely? What if they leave?”
We craft stories about why it’s not worth it, stories that allow us to baby our tender hearts and seek to prevent further impairment.
Our egos can be so convincing this way. In these moments of unrelenting exposure, our old injuries start screaming at us, “Pain! Avoid this!”
But, just like the discomfort I feel in my leg muscles when they’re lit up from a challenging run or a gruelling squat workout, maybe I can show up to the discomfort in my heart muscle with the same perseverance. Maybe I can shed layers of armour that don’t serve me, building strength and endurance by stressing this muscle, knowing that all of this equals emotional and spiritual growth.
More often than not, we choose the path of ease, even if it keeps us in patterns of the smaller self—the self that is untrue. But it is our very nature to expand. And the reality of this means that we will inevitably encounter resistance, breakdowns that give way to breakthroughs.
So the question I ask is, “Is it worth the risk?” And if the answer is “yes” (heads up, that’s always the answer), then how do we ready ourselves for that great unveiling—and subsequent rising?
We begin by cultivating an awareness around the fear of the risk itself. If we’re feeling averse to leaning into this closeness, we observe ourselves as we run from anything “too close” or “too real” and let there be some radical honesty around the pattern of retreating we fall into.
Then, we ask ourselves why. We study the traumas that could have programmed the cycle of flight from the deep end of the pool, illuminating our shadows and working diligently and with great compassion to bring them into the light.
We can carefully honour our needs as we grow into the capacity to create space for true closeness, without giving life to the story that we aren’t scared. It’s okay to be scared—but how long will you let that keep you from ascending? From being seen? From growing?
It is no small feat, to let someone show up to see you, and to show up for them in return. The investment is one we make knowing that there is a chance that it will feel like we’ve been burst open. Times where that hand around your heart feels like its constricting your breath and where there is pain at the point of entry.
What that also means, though, is that there will be the feeling of a loving embrace around the very centre of your being. Both will be true as the muscle contracts, tears, and grows. Both will lead you to a further expanded self, ascending higher and higher still by way of this allowing.
Recently, a friend of mine shared with me two questions he asks himself when he feels like running away. If you are in the work of fitness of the heart, I offer it to you in unconditional compassion:
“What would I do out of fear? What would I do out of love?”