Heartwarming

So how many times this week did you feel your heart warmed by reminders of goodness in the world, lifted with a feeling of hope, or maybe embraced as you felt connected to others and to God? Chances are, if you follow the news, those heartwarming moments are few and far between.

It’s just part of the human condition—our minds are very glad to tell us all that is wrong with the world—and they will continue to do that because they are trying to keep us safe. They work overtime when we’re going though turmoil. But today I want to focus on another way of seeing, another kind of listening that has everything to do with our hearts. The heart feels and loves and connects, while the mind analyzes and defends and protects. Keeping them in balance—and caring for them both—is part of the secret to finding peace and being able to live in such a way that we can share the peace we’ve found with the world.

So here are a few heartwarming, hopeful stories to get us started:

  • First, a woman whose home was completely destroyed in the devastating and deadly Camp Fire in California was heartbroken that she couldn’t find her two dogs, brothers Madison and Miguel, when they were being evacuated. She was forced to leave without them and was heartsick and grieving about it. A month after the fire, when they were just beginning to open the area so residents could go see the damage, an animal rescue worker contacted her and said they’d found Miguel. She was quickly reunited with him, and then was allowed to drive out to her property for the first time. As she pulled up, there was Madison, waiting for her, next to the charred rubble of her once beautiful home. “It was like there is a higher power,” she said. I love that. Her home was gone, her possession, up in smoke. But what really mattered, what the heart needed, was there. The message? “Never give up on God—or your dog.”
  • Next, in Bladen County, North Carolina, three inmates were picking up trash along a roadway when the officer supervising them suddenly stumbled and fell into a ditch. Instead of attempting to run away, the men rushed to him and found that he was unable to answer their simple questions, so they used his phone to call an ambulance and stopped cars on the roadway, asking drivers for help. The officer was taken to the hospital and is now recovering from a stroke. One of the inmates said, “At the end of the day, knowing he is OK, that makes you feel better.” He added, “He’s a good man. He’s more than a police officer…he’s more like my friend. He’s just a really good guy all the way around.” The message? “People are good. People care. People can change.”
  • And finally, just this week, a genetic biologist at the University of Cambridge discovered—for the very first time– the actual gene that causes childhood leukemia. This is such a huge and hopeful discovery. It will lead to screenings and interventions and ultimately to the cure of that form of cancer. And if that cancer can be cured, and we are that close, it’s only a matter of time for other forms of cancer too. The heartful message here is that, “God is always on the move, bringing help and goodness and light into the world, through us.” It’s a real thing. It’s happening, right now, whether we are aware of it or not.

So as you hear these stories, do you feel anything going on inside you? Can you feel your heart open a little, you spirits lift, your mind calm down? That’s what happens when we let our hearts be touched—our actual physical system, our bodies and our minds, relax their defensive posture and we begin to notice a little more goodness in the world, we start to trust each other—and life, and God–a bit more. That’s the gift of looking through the eyes of the heart.

On my own, small scale, I did a little experimenting this week and I discovered something interesting. It’s not an international breakthrough, but it is an idea that is helping me find and stay closer to God more easily through the day.

In the mindfulness groups I lead at the hospital, we gather, talk about mindfulness basics, and do some mindfulness exercises together. Our approach to mindfulness comes from a medical model that was created by Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn in the 1970s. He was a medical doctor who noticed that a number of his patients with chronic conditions—like COPD or diabetes—weren’t doing as well as he thought they should. He cared about these folks—there’s that heart coming into play—and he started talking to them to find out what was going on in their lives that was getting in the way of their healing. He discovered that they all had something in common. They each said they had a lot of stress in their lives and they didn’t feel they could do anything to change it.

Dr. Kabat Zinn wondered whether things would change if he helped them learn how to lessen their stress. He came up with a technique called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, that uses the techniques of mindfulness to help people become aware of their awareness—to notice what they’re paying attention to–and to be fully present, on purpose, nonjudgmentally, just right now. He started out with his small group of patients and his technique worked. Today there are more than 30 million people around the world using this tool he developed. Over the years they’ve done lots of research to show that mindfulness has a positive impact on just about every kind of physical or emotional illness you can imagine. It turns out that learning how to calm our minds helps us hear our hearts more clearly, which brings peace and ease, compassion and connection.

This week, I was listening to a podcast of one of my favorite teachers and someone asked him how to hold on to that state of peace when things start to go wrong and we feel stress returning. I loved his answer and it has stayed with me all week. He said it’s possible to stay in that sense of peace if we want to, and added, “Just keep your mind inside your heart.”

A big light went on when I heard that, “Just keep your mind inside your heart.” How wonderful! What could that possibly mean? Immediately I wanted to try it myself. I imagined that it had something to do with a feeling of mental ease—a soft focus, thoughts that are gentle, floating through the mind like clouds, not the frantic hamster-wheel activity we feel when we’re trying to solve the problems of the world or our emotions are kicked up and we’re fussing or fuming about something internally.

I loved this idea of keeping my mind inside my heart, protecting it, caring for it. I had a picture of my mind being placed gently in my open palms and then held with care at the center of my being. Every time that day I thought of my mind resting in my heart, I felt a sense of ease and peace. I felt embraced by a quiet joy. My conversations with people were very rich that day. It felt like God was everywhere, just working things out smoothly and naturally

In the quote from William Penn we heard earlier, he pinpoints what too much analyzing, too much time in our heads, can do to our faith. When we get caught up in the complexity and chaos of our world, Penn said, “we are too apt to let our heads outrun our hearts.” He says what happens next is that “our notions exceed our obedience”—so, in other words, instead of listening for God’s leading, we take matters into our own hands. Our passions support our conceits, he says, meaning we do what we want to do, what feels good, what satisfies our egos, instead of, as Penn said, taking up “a daily cross, a constant watch, and a holy practice.” When our heads outrun our hearts, we lose sight of God and focus instead of whatever’s captured our attention and worked us into a tizzy. It’s hard to see and feel the light of God’s goodness when we’re focused on all that’s wrong in the world.

Doesn’t it make you wonder what today might be like if we could simply let our minds rest in our hearts for a while? I think we’d see the beauty the psalmist described in our Old Testament reading today: “You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with richness. The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.”

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he gives us his own kind of mindfulness tool to help us quiet the alarm bells of the mind and reconnect with God in the center of our hearts. He suggests that gratitude—being grateful for what’s here, grateful that God cares for us, grateful for all things—is a doorway to freedom from the mind’s fearful messages. Gratitude opens the way for peace, trust, and connection. It helps us settle down in the moment and see all the ways God is already blessing us. In that mental space, we have a chance to hear and really feel the heartwarming and hopeful things God is doing—right now, this instant, seen and unseen—in our world.

Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice! Let your gentleness by known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Come out of the worries of your mind, Paul says, and share the gratitude of your hearts. The result is nothing less than miraculous: …the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds with the Light of Christ.

This is both a promise and a tool, a practical way for us to connect with our deep, innate knowing that God is here, working things out, even now. The anxious or upset thoughts our minds offer can point us back to our hearts, where we will discover, gratefully, that God’s love, God’s promise, God’s Light has never left.

 

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