Chapter 4: HEART CHAKRA
Typically associated with the color green
Location: heart center
Related gland: thymus
ACKNOWLEDGING NEGATIVE SELF-TALK
In Sanskrit, the heart chakra is called Anāhata. The dictionary of spoken Sanskrit translates its adjective form in 9 ways: unwounded, unbeaten, new and unbleached, unstuck, produced otherwise than by beating, not multiplied, intact, and of course “fourth of the mystical chakras.” There’s a lot to meditate on here.
Now that we’ve looked at the chakras that are closer to the ground, those that influence the way we walk, feel, and act in the world, we are moving up to the chakras of thought, the ones linked to our inner world.
The heart chakra houses our compassion, empathy, self-acceptance, and altruism. It gives us an ability to embrace both our feminine and masculine qualities. And, of course, it allows us to love and be loved.
Without our heart chakra functioning properly, we might fear intimacy and relationships, lack empathy, be intolerant towards ourselves and others, and show signs of narcissism. We might also feel easily jealous, lack boundaries, and be overly sacrificing. Does that sound familiar?
It has become normal to hate on every little piece of our body and mind and to be cold in a relationship for fear of risking too much. We envy people who have more “stuff”or do “better” in life than we do, and we beat ourselves up every time we fail to live up to our impossible standards.
“The most common block of the heart chakra is the absence of self-love.”
— Anodea Judith, Eastern Body, Western Mind
Our relationship with our mind, body, and heart very much relies on how much we can feel love, compassion, kindness for ourselves. Some say this relationship is the most intimate, deepest, closest relationship we can ever have. Some also believe that without loving yourself, you cannot love others. Whether you agree with these statements, it is undeniable that when that one is off, our relationships with others and the world become affected—for better or for worse—which is why it is so important to tend to it.
How would you describe your relationship with yourself? How does it compare to your friendships? Take some time to write or doodle what comes first.
Your Right to Love and Be Loved
According to our friend the dictionary, love is “warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion,” but also “unselfish, loyal, and benevolent concern for the good of another.” (Merriam Webster)
It is our right to express attachment, enthusiasm, and devotion to our own well-being just as much as it is our right to do so towards and for others. We must understand that we matter, and that we are loved just the way we are.
In today’s world, we are sold clothes and cars that supposedly give us value we otherwise lack. Our mothers tell us what to put on our skins and plates just as their own mothers told them. Our systems create molds we have to fit in order to be accepted and loved. No matter how much we get from external sources, making us believe we aren’t deserving of love, I am happy to remind us all that to be loved is our human birthright.
But humans aren’t meant to fit molds. We are complex, unique blends of qualities and no list of dos and don’ts should ever be imposed on our personalities and aspirations. The problem is, that’s how the world currently works. Each society has its own sets of dos and don’ts, values we should hold dear, life paths we should follow, and goals we should aspire to. To give just one example, women are told to be nice and kind; men are told to be ambitious and bold. But what if a woman wants to be wild and bold, and a man nice and kind?
When the communities we live in teach us to long for things we don’t want in our hearts and to hold values we don’t agree with, the belief that we are less-than-enough gets anchored in our minds. The messages we receive, whether implicitly or explicitly, have a tremendous impact on our sense of self-acceptance. We understand that unless we change, there is no space for us. We wake up every day wishing we could be someone else. Eventually, we come to terms with the idea that this is what it is, and that we have to live hidden in order to live loved.
No matter how common this feeling may be, when it comes to who you are at the core, there is nothing to change, nothing to upgrade, and nothing to tweak. How do we learn to love ourselves exactly the way we are? It starts within: the way you talk to, act with, and take care of yourself determines how you see this right and how you claim it as yours. Begin with noticing where the hateful voices have come from, and decide to replace them with compassionate, loving, and caring ones. When you make loving yourself a priority, your heart feels lighter, fuller, more open—qualities that make your day-to-day just as light, full, and open.
As Alain de Botton aptly notes, “love is a skill, not an enthusiasm,” (in The Course of Love) and whether we intend to love ourselves or others, it takes time and dedication to find out how. It takes time to understand why we can’t claim that precious right to love and be loved, where the opposite feelings have come from, and what we need to do to get it back.
Signs Your Heart Chakra Needs Healing
When we haven’t received the love we need as a social being, as a child or throughout our lives, or when we have been taught to love in a potentially harmful way, a number of consequences arise. These are some common feelings and inclinations that reveal the need to recalibrate what love is and feels like.
Loneliness and fear of intimacy
Loneliness is a deep sense of isolation that results from the inability to connect with the world around us. It doesn’t depend on your environment; you can choose to be alone and enjoy that solitude. In contrast, you can be surrounded by people, even those you love the most, and be unable to connect with them. In loneliness, we don’t feel understood, as if there was a kind of invisible curtain between us and the people around. The underlying reason behind our loneliness is often fear of intimacy: the fear that we will be judged when we open up to others. To be intimate with others, we need to be able to share our deepest feelings and thoughts, even if they might not be reciprocated.
Lack of boundaries
The other side of the fear of intimacy coin is a lack of boundaries. Boundaries are like country borders; they are not meant to close off others, but to make it easier for us to manage our experiences. Here’s the thing: to overcompensate for the lack of self-worth, we look for love and approval outside of ourselves. We say yes to more than we can afford energetically and we end up in situations where we don’t feel comfortable. Sometimes a lack of boundaries can even result in heartbreak: the feeling that we aren’t looked after, that someone has let us down, only that someone is us. Whether we are talking about money, energy, space, or relationships, your heart suffers when you agree to something you wouldn’t do or pick on your own if honestly consulted. Setting boundaries to protect yourself and your heart ties into knowing what you want and need, and meeting those needs instead of seeking validation for your actions—and therefore, love—from external sources.
Narcissism is a form of self-centeredness where we need to feel validation from the outside. We obsessively focus on our accomplishments and the ways we are better than the people around us. Deep in our hearts, we know that if we loved ourselves fully, we wouldn’t feel the need to prove how great we are to the world around us.
Intolerance hints at an underlying lack of understanding. When we are unable to love ourselves as we are and trust that nothing is wrong with us, it’s difficult to find that tolerance towards others as well. When the world feels like it is made to annoy us, when even the tiniest habits of others make us mad, we might need to replenish our empty love tank.
The other side of the coin of intolerance might be excessive admiration for others to the point of idealization. We end up comparing ourselves to unattainable standards and give up too early. We manifest the belief that we have to change, evolve, grow before we can be loved as we are, instead of deserving of love wherever we find ourselves in life.
Jealousy is a deep feeling of insecurity where we believe someone will take what we have away from us. We hold the belief that if we manage to get something, or be with someone we love, it is only a temporary dream—surely others are going to steal that from us simply because they can. Feeling jealousy shows us that we need to start cheering ourselves on, and that the love we feel surrounded by is ours to rejoice in.
Inability to forgive others or yourself
The act of forgiveness is a deep act of love. It means accepting that no one is perfect, and that we all make mistakes. Forgiving others means we know that they are complex beings just like us and that if they hurt us, they must be hurting too. When we can’t forgive others, we hold the belief that they are so terrible they can never be offered love again. When we love ourselves unconditionally, we forgive our mistakes, and it’s easier to forgive others’ too.
Forgiveness can sometimes put an end to a relationship. You can forgive someone and not want them to stay in your life once you have. What is your experience with forgiveness? What kind of new boundaries do you need to set up to be able to forgive a person who’s hurt you?
Ultimately, what needs to be rectified is the belief that we are not good enough as we are. No matter how that erroneous belief got anchored in us, the clearest sign of it is the way we talk to ourselves inside our heads.
Negative Self-Talk: the Loudest Sign Your Heart Chakra Needs Attention
Negative self-talk has become a plague in today’s world. It’s so normal and widespread that it often goes unnoticed. It has become part of our mind’s wallpaper and can be big or small forms of criticism. Perhaps like berating yourself for a poorly picked outfit or questioning your biggest life decisions.
Imagine how a loved one might feel if you talked as negatively to them as you talk to yourself, picking on the smallest faults and aspects of their bodies or minds that you consider imperfect. Chances are they would feel hurt and angry before you even finished your sentence. You’d also quickly call your friends out for talking this way to or about someone. So why would you let these thoughts spin in your own head?
Let’s pause and think for a moment: what would happen if we all remembered that we are inherently flawed? How would we lead our lives if we woke up acknowledging our quirks and weirdness as a natural part of our being?
As we venture through life, we get affected by our experiences, people, and environments. We all encounter adversity in one way or another. Unless we decide to live secluded in a faraway land and dedicate our lives to studying the art of living flawlessly—whatever that means—we are bound to become influenced by our surroundings.
It’s a bit like a house that’s inhabited. In design magazines, we often see sparkling clean kitchen counters and perfectly arranged pillows on stainless couches. But real life isn’t that organized. Keys, cutting boards, and spice jars lay around; our couches change shape and color as we use them. Maybe to save ourselves a little headspace, all we need is to let go of the idea that our kitchen counters must be spotless and our couch pillows perfectly plumped up. Perhaps that’s also what we need to do with ourselves – let go of the idea that the work of being human involves making our mental scratches disappear.
No matter how much we do to protect the state of our house, natural wear and tear cannot be avoided. Sometimes a pipe breaks, a piece of wallpaper gets ripped off, a plate falls, a lamp bulb burns out, a child writes on the wall. That goes for our lives; they, too, get messy. We can find beauty in the perfectly imperfect journey that is living. Can you imagine how our relationships, with ourselves and the world, would be shaped if we arrived into them with the love and softness that comes with such a realization?
Our imperfections also make us quirky and interesting. Wouldn’t our existence be a little boring if we led supposedly perfect lives, in perfect bodies, taking perfect life paths? Our clumsiness, our propensity to avoid conflict, our stubbornness… These are all examples of our uniqueness. These are the parts of us that make the patchworks of our personalities; they are what make us endearing and lovable human beings. So instead of sticking labels that say “right” and “wrong” on aspects of our existence, we might just need to change our mindsets around what makes something (or someone) perfect.
Journaling to Stop the Thoughts from Swirling around
The good news is, it all starts with a choice.
“Love is a feeling, yes, but a feeling that is created by action.”
— Anodea Judith, Eastern Body, Western Mind
And in order to make that choice, you first need to acknowledge what’s going on. When you do, you transform the negative self-talk into a compassionate conversation with yourself.
The best advice I was ever given is to journal when a negative whirlwind hits you. It’s the moments when you go down the rabbit holes of your mind. It’s when you wish you could go into hibernation and come back when the storm had passed. Unfortunately, the storms return. I have found that nothing works better than letting them out of your system, and for me, journaling is a great way to do that.
Here is a five-step journaling exercise you can use to stop the negative self-talk:
- Grab a notebook and pen, or open a notes app, and write everything that comes to mind. Everything. Don’t censor yourself. Write it down exactly as it sounds in your own head.
- When you’re done, take a couple of minutes to notice your breath. Close your eyes and release the muscles in your face, shoulders, and hands. Breathe.
- Come back to your notes and observe. Take a moment to answer these questions: What are you noticing? Do you see patterns? Are there topics that often resurface?
- Now if a loved one came to you with these words and comments, what would you tell them? How could you soothe them? How would you be the caring, loving, compassionate friend you are? Now’s the time to be that friend to yourself. Write down everything that comes to mind.
- You can finish with a few moments of sitting or lying down, or standing up on your two feet, maybe placing a hand on your heart and closing your eyes if you feel like it. Do you notice any changes?
Come back to this exercise as often as the negative self-talk storm comes in.
Poetry to Embrace Our Human Nature to Love
There are countless ways to express, feel, and cultivate love. Lyric poet Gregory Orr, in an interview with Krista Tippett on the On Being podcast, argues that poetry acts as a container for emotions and for the chaos that we experience every day. “It doesn’t change the disorder, it holds the disorder” as Krista Tippett rephrases it so beautifully. Poetry tells tales of the “habits of the world,” how the sun sets and the moon rises, the stars shine and the seasons pass. We “restabilize the self” when we work with poetry; in love, we need a whole lot of restabilizing, if you ask me.
“Poetry gives voice to what can be difficult to say. It helps us to live and experience love in its rawest of forms. It helps us to look beyond labels and other ways we hide from taking the world in, in all its possibilities and wonders.
So before we move on to the next chakra, I would like to leave you with a few of my favorite poems on love to (re)discover what love is—and assign it the meaning and shape you please.
“Let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.”
— Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
“To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh
“i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)”
— E. E. Cummings, [i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]
Poetry Collage: Create Your Own
Let’s give the poetry a go! If you’ve made a vision board or collage before, this practice will be similar.
Grab a couple of magazines and look for words that remind you of love, kindness, compassion… Here are some ideas regarding format:
- Don’t create sentences, just a sea of loving words.
- Create only 3 sentences. What are the most important words you need?
- Create a list of opposites.
- Make a list of moments, places, situations where you are most open to receiving and giving love.
- Find images that remind you of love and write the feeling they create in you under each of them. e.g. you find a bird and write “free” under it; you cut a pair of eyes and write “seen” under them.
Alternatively, you can grab an old book and use it to create a one-sentence poem by covering the whole page in ink except for a couple of words.
Blackout poetry with pages of Anxy Mag, Boundaries edition.
Now that we have a strong basis for how to understand ourselves from the inside out, we can dig into how to advocate for ourselves and speak up with the help of the throat chakra.
Did you like this chapter? Get The Modern Yogi’s Guide to Self-exploration: A Creative Journey Through the Chakra System here.
Chakra illustration by Katya Uspenkaya