A few nights ago, I had a dream in which a man I work with threw a ball to me as I walked towards him. I watched the ball come towards me and did nothing, so it fell on the ground and rolled away. As I watched it arc towards me, I thought, Why are you throwing a ball at me? It made no sense. He did it again, bouncing the ball once in front of me. This time I put out a half-hearted pair of hands which did not catch the ball. Again, he rolled the ball to me and again I missed it. Such freedom, I felt, to not catch a ball that is thrown to (at?) me. The next day while napping, I had another dream in which I picked up a box and it slid through my hands onto the floor. No grip. We used to call this butterfingers – I call it freedom.
We are such a hand-driven species and so proud of it. We pull, push, squeeze, hold, grasp, feel, twist, ask, make, break, catch, stir, emphasize, empathize, all with our hands. Lately, I have been very aware of what my hands are doing – when I listen, for instance – or when I am doing “nothing.” Can they be quiet?
As a child grows, one of the developmental markers we notice is hand-eye coordination. We are even more an eye-driven species: relying completely on our eyes to feed us information that we turn into fact and “knowledge.” The eye sees only color and line, so our understanding is wholly informed by color and line. We run our eyes over surfaces, gleaning facts we then categorize in various ways. I have lately been very aware of what happens when I close my eyes and use other faculties to “know” the world around me.
When we meditate, we are instructed to bring our attention back to the breath. When the mind wanders, chatters, imagines, we drop that and come back to the breath, returning to a different way of being with ourselves. I am interested these days in dropping the eye and the hand and waiting to see what the heart is up to in the moment. What happens when I allow my heart to be the sensory organ? To use verbs such as see, hear, touch doesn’t work, but we don’t have verbs for what the heart does. Mostly, it opens.
When the heart opens, there’s a certain amount of pain that goes with the opening. Every time. Even in joy, happiness, ecstasy, bliss. Connecting through our skin-encapsulated egos is a painful endeavor. Each time, it’s a process of cracking open. With practice (over a long period of time for many of us), the big pain subsides a bit and we become a little more used to the cracking and splitting. We might even be able to stay open for longer periods of time. But the heart, still a muscle as we imagine it from our anatomy texts, must expand and contract – like everything in the universe. As the breath expands and contracts the body; as the sun, the solar system, space, the universe, the multiverse expands and contracts; as each cell, each ventricle and auricle, each pathway of blood or xylem and phloem, each star, each wave rises and falls, so also the heart must open and close – each closing brings regret, each opening a little pain.
We call feeling with the heart “love” and “compassion” – but even to have words for these is to categorize them as different from “normal” or “usual” ways of being. I think there might be people – maybe not many – who actually live in that heart space and it’s what they know and do and are. For someone like me, getting there takes work. A whole bunch of unlearning, a whole lot of conscious cracking open, and more risk-taking than I imagined. Maybe I will arrive in my next lifetime already knowing this space well; but in this life it has been almost too hard.
So I give deep gratitude to all that has brought me to the point where I can consider exchanging eye and hand for heart. It will not be of much help on any playground and possibly many objects will smash on the floor – but I am hoping for a different sort of ground under my being, and each time something slips through my fingers and smashes to smithereens, I will try to remember that the heart must break – over and over and over – and I will be grateful for the reminder.