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Posted By Opening the Heart

The roar of plastic dinosaurs filled the air 17 years ago as I played with my toddler son Alex. Suddenly he hit me lightly on the head with a tyrannosaur to get my attention. This was unusual but what happened next even more so. He looked me directly in the eye and declared, “I gave you life!”  Startled, I realized that truth had just been spoken “out of the mouth of babes”. How right he was.
When we become parents we get more than we bargain for.  A small baby is a huge piece of uncontained life “far bigger than the sky.” What effect does this huge piece of life have on us beyond the many joys and responsibilities it inherently brings? We must first look at one of the most basic choices each person must make: the choice about whether to open our hearts to all the amazing joys and terrible pain of life, or to close our hearts in a vain attempt to protect ourselves from getting hurt.
A child is a bundle of life. In order to open to a child and hold him close a parent must also open to life and hold life close.  If we choose to do this we will at some point get hurt because the heart is “a package deal.” To fully open to joy we need also be able to open to pain.
Coping with pain is never easy but some of us have a harder time than others. A hospice nurse told me that biologically 50% of the population have the capacity to tolerate physical and emotional pain in a normal way. 25%  have double the  capacity. The last 25% have only half the capacity of the average person to tolerate pain.
Sometimes emotional pain feels unbearable. Especially if we are in that last group of 25%, we try to protect ourselves by closing to life. Because a child is a bundle of life this means that in order to effectively close to life we also have to close off to that child. It is easy to see that this has nothing to do with the child. Unless of course you are that child.
A child tends to make sense of a parent pushing them away like this:  “There is something wrong with me. I must be bad and unlovable.”  This early belief formed about the self generates shame. The healing process begins with understanding.  The truth is that just because one or two people in a child’s family couldn’t tolerate the pain of life very well it’s no reflection on the child. However, to heal, the shame needs to be addressed. This emotional work is done over time and in a variety of ways including counseling, workshops,  self-help workbooks etc.
The goal is to accept and move past the shame while creating a healthy
boundary between the parent’s lack of pain tolerance and the child’s healthy
inside core.  The adult who was that child experiencing rejection can then feel that regardless of their parent’s approach to life they themselves have always been completely loveable and good. Then the task of re-parenting the “inner child” begins. As a by-product of this the adult can consciously start to gravitate to people who are good at giving and receiving love rather than to emotionally distant people who repeat the safe but unsatisfying pattern of rejection.
My son Alex taught me that to fully love him I had to open my heart and fully embrace life.  The Opening the Heart Workshop taught me the heart is a package deal.  It is either open to everything or it is closed and we feel cut off from others, ourselves and everything that is real. I have seen and felt in others and in myself the resilience we human beings have when we face the pain of life and go through it to the other side.  Clearly I advocate for that choice.
“Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing”, said Helen Keller. Alex brought life right up close “in my face” and said to me with the intense sparkle of someone who is fully alive, “I dare you.” He gave me life and I am grateful.

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