Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Choosing A Wise Question

Here’s a question to consider: Is the story I am telling- in the beliefs I espouse and how I live my life- heart-opening or heart-closing? 

The question comes from Rami Shapiro- a lovely, wise (and very funny) rabbi I met years ago. This past Sunday I heard Rami being interviewed on CBC radio’s Tapestry with Mary Hynes. At one point, discussing his book about parenting, Rami's advice was summed up as, “Tell your children heart-opening stories instead of heart-closing stories.”

Heart-closing stories are stories that separate us, stories that split the world into “them” and “us” (or create an inner split from aspects of self we find unacceptable.) And, although children (and other adults) hear what we explicitly say, the implicit stories reflected in how we walk through the world each day ripple out from us continuously.

I’m not offering Rami’s suggestion to give us another way to beat ourselves up (that would be heart-closing to ourselves,) but as a way to bring some gentle curiosity to what is reflected in how we live our lives. There are lots of criteria we could use when evaluating our beliefs or actions: Do they help me cope with what is? Do they get me what I want? Do they make me comfortable or uncomfortable? Asking- Is the story reflected in my choices heart-opening or heart-closing?- and allowing the answer to arise in our bodies, plants our discernment in the ground of compassion.

Is the way I respond to the homeless man who often sits on the sidewalk near my home, heart-opening or heart-closing? Why is it that on some days I can look him in the eye and smile, but on other days I find myself making a wide circle around his spot on the pavement? Inquiring without judgement, I learn something about current conditions and become aware of a story I was taught as a child- that anyone and everyone who crosses my path with any need is my responsibility. When this story semi-consciously pops up on a day of low energy, I find it hard to simply acknowledge this man as a fellow human being with whom I share this neighbourhood.

So the story about being uber-responsible is heart-closing. On a day when I have more energy, this belief may prompt me to offer more. But if I shift- not just mentally but experientially- to the reality of what a blessing and a joy it can be to offer what I am able (sans the mandatory martyrdom or shame-inducing “should”) I can meet this other where I am- some days able to offer only a smile, other days able to sit and talk or share the bag of apples I just picked up at the store. Sharing a few groceries with a homeless man is not going to solve all the problems of homelessness, but my participation in co-creating solutions in my community is likely to be better informed and more effective if I am able to be with this man and myself with an open heart.

My father had a truly heart-opening story that he repeated often as I grew up. Despite having had a brutally abusive childhood he said, “People do they can with what they have to work with.” I have added to this, “And if my best is doing harm, I need to go get more to work with." (Which usually means asking for and receiving help.)

Rami’s question offers us the opportunity to discern where we are offering “more” or “less” of what is needed for the work of co-creation. For surely finding, cultivating and holding stories that open our hearts to ourselves and each other gives us all more to work with in any given moment.

Oriah (c) 2013


  1. For me it is the daily reminder of what the authority is for my life that helps me answer these questions in full transparency, whether it is yes or no on any given day. For each person that authority is different. But for me I begin my day in prayers that help me reflect upon that authority which opens my heart wide open in reverence, awe and respect; not just for the higher power in my life but all of humanity. Are there things that happen in a day that will challenge that openness; ABSOLUTELY! but I find that those challenges show up more when I have not taken a moment to refuel, it's harder to give from emptiness. In my most earnest attempts I find that my story and my choices do not line up at times, but those are just in moments of my life, not how I live my life overall. Most days, I can end the day, knowing that I have lived well, I have given myself away in the most loving and sincere ways, and my heart is open. We live in a world where everyone seems to have the answers for everyone else, so it is refreshing to be challenged individually with the questions that help the individual go deep inside to find that place of authenticity for herself.

  2. Deat Oriah

    Heart opening, heart closing! When I think about this then more often than not my mind is in play, also my emotions.
    For me, it is in that space in between when I just am, existing in some kind of flow whether it is walking the dog, cooking dinner, on my computer. The consciousness, mindfulness of this is a plus for me, that felt sense of softening,(or hardening, tightening in response to some old pattern, aspect ).

    1. Wendy- yes, like your way of describing how you know what is happening within- a felt sense of softening or hardening. :-)