(This is the second of 3 or 4 articles that I’m writing about my 3 day solo vision quest in New Mexico. The first, “Your Job was to Show Up” can be found below. There is a subscription feature on the right that will notify you of future posts as I publish them.)
The idea of having an open heart sounds good, just as it sounds good to have a closed heart opened – in the abstract.
But like anything, be it a habit, a body joint, an idea – things allowed to grow stiff can be painful to loosen up again. When I came down from my so-peaceful stay on the mountain and had my heart break open, I was shoved into the pain, self-doubt and internal dishevelment that is so often part of Spirit breakthroughs.
I’d gone to the mountain in part to release that which no longer served, and the first day I thought I’d done all of that. It felt like weights dropping as outworn ideas and illusions fell away. Most of what I dropped had already been working loose from the rigid framework that had held everything frozen in place. I began my “pre-work” when I committed to the Vision Quest 9 weeks earlier. I journeyed regularly, I harnessed my dreaming to the task. Much of my work cropped up in dreams: I can always rely on them to tell me the things I don’t wish to hear. I did the work; spent time with both meditation and dream re-entry, consciously “let go” of much that no longer served. Letting go with the conscious mind and again with the emotions are not the same thing: so it was the second round, the emotional letting go, that happened without much fanfare during the first day I was up on the mountain.
I don’t know, really, how Spirit works – but in retrospect I suspect it knew that I needed the comfort and enveloping love of the next two days to heal me enough to withstand the final step – the breaking open of my heart, which was the necessary preface to releasing so much more. When it did happen, I was completely taken by surprise.
Shamanic practitioners work with their hearts, not their brains. It is heart that connects with Spirit, heart that sings songs of joy and praise, heart that allows us to work with Spirit to bring healing. The rest of us – mouth, voice, hands, brain, imagination – activate and manifest what is first born in the heart. So my sacrifice must be made: the heart must be freed even if the pain is fierce. Nor is this sacrifice endured only for the sake of the “other.” My own life hangs in the balance: it is for me to decide if I will remake it with courage, or allow it to atrophy into a dumbed down version, a mockery of what a human soul can be.
After we experience injury and loss we typically wait out the storm then seek to ‘close the door’ on what has passed. Too often we have yet to go deep and fully understand before we close those doors – and the result is something like a scab that covers a wound while the poison within continues to fester. The lesson is not yet learned. Shamanic practitioners often say that when our souls fail to learn the lessons presented, the situation recurs until we do. We continue to attract inappropriate mates, bad jobs, abrasive situations. Too often, locked in a cycle of pain, we become discouraged and we decide “that’s what life is” or “that’s what men/women are like” or “that’s what work is like” or even “that’s what politicians are like.” In fact, none of those things is true – life, men/women, work etc are many, many things; when we can learn to deal with our problems at a sufficiently deep level we can choose differently and free ourselves from patterns of repetition and suffering.
When we fail to learn, we lock ourselves into an increasingly difficult spiral down: we become discouraged, cynical, unable to trust. We protect our hearts with walls and abandon our quest. Meanwhile, Spirit continues to send the lesson with increasing zeal, attempting to break through and finally achieve that “teaching moment.”
This is when the practice of recapitulation becomes essential.
Walls around the heart are more common than not in our culture: we accept them as a necessary protection against the vagaries of a world we think can’t be trusted. Those who love fully and easily are scorned as naive. Yet living with a heart muffled from the Wild Joy of the world is no life at all. As the shielding increases one loses spontaneity, joy and finally connection. Worst of all, our souls lose the ability to learn.
An undefended heart is vulnerable, but strong. Properly prepared and fortified, it avoids the old traps simply because it fully understands what happened, the old mistakes and patterns are obvious, they do not attract.
When we are so swaddled in our protective wrappings that the world can’t break through; when we are not fully, bravely, trustingly a part of it, we block this process of learning. We forfeit our souls’ ability to continue moving forward and risk leaving our life tasks undone. While I still could access a manageably smallish joy, I knew that I’d wrapped my heart up in dent-proof packaging, and I knew that it was muffling the rich textures of the outside world. I knew that the walls had to go – I just wasn’t ready for it to happen now.
Recapitulation is the process of re-examing our lives at a detail level and in depth. It allows us to take a profound look at our own life, learn the lessons offered and release the suffering that simmers within us like a low-grade fever. With successful recapitulation, we become ready to move forward, incorporating knowing without cynicism and self protection without blame or masking, and again take a vibrant role in our own futures.
Having been gifted with a re-opened heart, it was essential for me to go deep and practice a thorough recapitulation of all of the events that led me to wall up my heart in the first place. This isn’t about wallowing in sorrow, grief, misdeeds – it’s about deep learning. It is about claiming the wisdom my own life offers, but doesn’t insist that I accept.
It is the price of keeping an open heart.