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Shielding the Heart

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupery

A lot of us shield our hearts. We are so nervous about the potential for it to be broken by the loss of love, that we inadvertently keep it from use. Shielding our heart can become such a deep and prolonged habit that we often walk around with a shield we don’t even know we are wearing. These shields come in so many unique shapes and sizes that they can be confused for something else.  So common is the practice that it is a rare meeting of two open hearts.

The tragedy here is that our heart is strong. In fact, it could be argued that it might be the strongest muscle in the body. As our hardest working organ, our heart never sleeps; beating over two billion times in a life and circulating 50 million gallons of blood. Impossible to think that one could ever take this organ for granted, but so constant is the heart; we rarely celebrate its function or recognize its strength. Instead we shield it, protecting it from the interactions that actually strengthen it and depriving ourselves of the emotional wealth that it is made to manifest.

Physically, it is the breast that shields the heart. The breasts – organs hardwired to some of our most sensual responses and capable of nourishing our progeny – are far more than the female adornments that get most of the attention. Illness in the heart center, whether in the breasts or the heart itself can be interpreted as shield damage. The rate of illness in this region of our body is mind-boggling. Breast cancer affects one in eight women every day. Heart disease kills one in four women. Just a year ago, I sat anxiously in a waiting room to find out if I would join the ranks of millions of women who fight this disease.

The nights of prayer in between the test and the results, which were thankfully negative, led me to think about how in holding our old wounds or preserving painful emotional distance we do invisible and often unspoken damage to our heart center.

It is not that big a leap to see how the inability and unwillingness to open up our heart to the challenges and rewards of relationships might have something to do with the rampant degree of life-threatening illness of the heart center that impacts such a large percentage of people. The truth of this is perhaps found in the healing that happens in the context of these illnesses.

Much of the deepest healing that goes on during the treatment of breast cancer or heart disease happens as time becomes scarce and the truth of our heart connections demand full attention. Some of the most memorable stories that celebrate transition and survival, or pay homage to the losses in these illnesses share the heart’s revelation of opening. They celebrate the connection and re-connection to self and those most dear.

As we come full circle again to pay attention to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, let us consider how we can all cut the straps to the shields that bind us. Let’s dedicate the month to discovering how strong our heart center can be by opening it. It might be the most curative practice we can undertake in our own life and who knows the good it might bring to this profoundly wounded planet.