The Open Heart Curriculum

So on the way to drop of my 5th grader one morning, she said, “OMG, did you hear the Zahn left One Direction?, I guess he wants to go back to being normal….but mom, I don’t think he can ever go back to being normal, he has a mansion and stuff!” I replied with “Probably not” and there was nothing else said regarding that and she went to school. As I drove home, I thought about it, the idea of “normal” and teaching my kids about life and “normal”. I learned that “the trouble with normal is it always gets worse” (Bruce Cockburn). So what do I do with that?

How do I learn to live with an open heart and how do I teach my children to do so as well? We’re learning together. Today was Easter Sunday. Three of my children and I went to my mother’s church for services. My one other child remained home sleeping. She exists in a different paradigm. No, wait, I mean time zone. I think. Anyway, we trekked to my mom’s church and sat in the 3rd row. Service was great. After my years in utter rebellion and anger at organized religion, and God, I can now see past the veil and hear the message. My kids have been victims of my prolonged strike. They have not had the opportunity to choose to attend or not attend, as did I. It’s ok though, I am catching up with answering their questions and sharing my viewpoints and philosophies of life which of course mainly focus on spirituality, a term I far prefer to religion. There is so much to teach them and so much more to learn myself.

I once heard a dharma talk which spoke of a woman who daily passed by daily, the same homeless man on the street. She always gave him a bit of money yet never stopped to so much as look him in the eye. During the process of meditation, a concern arose within her regarding her “lack of compassion” for this man, and how she might possibly overcome this feeling despite the daily donations. Ultimately, for this woman, her biggest fear was that if she stopped long enough to hear the man’s story, he’d be sleeping on her living room couch. Doesn’t this so much represent all of our fears regarding opening our hearts? The fear that we won’t be able to withstand it without complete immersion in the person’s life. A solution to this woman’s dilemma was suggested that maybe, looking the man in the eye and having an occasional brief conversations might be a reasonable middle ground solution. Thus she opened a window in her soul and slowly was able to open her heart a bit more using this experience with the homeless man as a template for living and existing in this world with an open heart and not dying from a broken one.

Kids are not quite so jaded and and a bit more willing to open their hearts to situations they encounter. Example:I heard that my ex husband’s dog, a cherished boxer, had to be put to sleep for numerous reasons. My son was sad. So sad. He cried at school and at home and our other kids were sad too, but as he is the only male, and you know the deal with males and tears. Thus his openness in expressing his feelings and vulnerability, was allowed and encouraged by his support system at school. He attends a program for children with developmental delays. I have observed that his feelings are validated and processed in all situations that arise during the school day and this practice is something that I wish extended to the general curriculum for all students.

What I see as the most crucial elements of learning to live with an open heart are so often squelched by the fierce independence and rugged individualism required to succeed in our American society. Reliance on friends and family, let alone any sense of a larger purpose as a human race are somehow not given much value. To cry, to express outpourings of emotion is seen as weak and immature. We feel embarrassed, inferior, and out of control. In reality, it is that essential vulnerability at these moments when our souls somehow tap the flow of connection to something bigger and far more beautiful than ourselves alone, that we often fear. I know I do. I struggled growing up as an extremely self conscious, overly sensitive child. I was the only one in my third grade class who cried during the movie Snow White, for God’s sake! I couldn’t stop the tears. I was horribly embarrassed, and filled with self hatred for my weakness. My kind teacher pulled me out in the hall when she noticed my tears and told me she cried every year when the school buses pulled away on the last day of school. This simple act of kindness has stuck with me all these years and over the course of my adult life, I’ve medicated, drank and drugged, ran from my open heart, projected it and finally learned to face it and accept. It’s part of my curriculum in life, and I am so grateful for the ability to feel deeply and as surely as the tears roll down my cheeks I know, in equal proportions, smiles and laughter will inevitably flow as the seas of emotion shift.

Right before it was time to leave Grandma’s house in Connecticut today to travel back to our home in Massachusetts, there was a heated discussion between my son and youngest daughter over who was going to sit in the front seat on the car ride home. This discussion rapidly escalated, mostly on my son’s part, and due to some seriously intense misunderstanding. He lost all control of his emotions and a rapid and unstoppable descent into rage ensued. All I could do was not look away, not scream at him for his loss of control yet at the same time protect my terrified daughter from the wave of dark forces he was riding. And that’s just it, I have to see it as not really him but almost as if he is possessed by an energy beyond something he can control. To witness this frequently is heart wrenching, and we do, witness it frequently. We have some strategies and consequences at school and home, but mostly, it’s just riding the wave and staying safe. The tears always come for both of us, sometimes all of us. It’s real, it hurts, it kinda sucks, but also it’s a beautiful thing to feel one’s heart open to each other as we sit through the fear and rage and come out on the other side.

The spiritual layer will come for them when it is time. I do trust they will remember, as did I, the example set for me by two extraordinary parents who, in retrospect authentically lived and live with open hearts. I strive to do the same for my children, and as we all do the best we can, I’m grateful to have been shown the spiritual tools way back when I was a smarmy, know-it- all, young adult. I just tell my brood that some day they’re going to need this stuff. Ha ha, right? Usually I get the eye roll or a shrug and a segue back into the discussion of the significance of Zahn leaving One Direction. God willing, it’s all there, stored within them, like an acorn waiting to take root in their hearts. Godspeed!

About Jill M. Woodworth

Mother of 5. Reigning in the chaos of life with my self expressive blogs. Passionate about alternative addiction recovery and life thriving ideas, embracing life on a day to day basis and raising my children, 3 with TSC. I am an avid runner, and use running and meditation daily to cope with life. Running Boston 2016!!! #IAMTSC
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