For most of our lives and with many of the people we encounter, we keep our hearts closed and locked up tight. However, we know that we experience our most profound, fulfilling relationships when we open our hearts to another. Living with an open heart means that one is vulnerable to hurt, disappointment, and rejection. It means living as if there is no such thing as a broken heart. Openheartedness also requires a couple of other things besides vulnerability. Authenticity and gratitude are a big part of it.
If you want a safe life, one where there is little chance of being hurt then don’t try to live with an open heart and stop reading here. If, on the other hand, you want to experience what it is like to live life in a state where you are fully receptive to the love and acceptance of others, then read on for a way to achieve this state.
Being open-hearted and fully receptive to others involves more than just saying, “I’m an open-hearted person.” It is necessary to get vulnerable, get real, and show gratitude. For me, these three things lead to an open heart. There are other aspects, but if I had to pick the top three for me, these are them. By vulnerable, I mean a willingness to show what hurts you, asking for something when rejection is a real possibility or any situation where you are open about your experiences, feelings, and desires. By real, I mean authentic. By authentic I mean that you are your true self with people. By gratitude, I do not just mean reflexively saying thank you. I mean true gratitude where you fully acknowledge the contribution of another to your life.
When we are vulnerable, this is a sign that we are receptive to the love and acceptance of others. It means that we are willing to expose ourselves to rejection, loss, and embarrassment. As Brené Brown would say when we are vulnerable, we can access our deepest empathy and can say, “I get it,” “I feel you,” “I’ve been there.” When we are vulnerable, we are capable of identifying deeply with the plight and feelings of another. This is incredibly powerful.
When we get real, we ditch our masks and show the world our authentic self. When we get real, we can access a broader range of emotions and deeper energy, and this invites others to be authentic and excited in return. Our real selves, our authentic selves, are capable of connecting with others on a level that is not possible with a mask in place. Our masks not only disguise our true selves, but they also filter the world for us and impair our ability to see clearly. Also, when we have our masks in place, we taint all the data streaming from others around us, because they are reacting to something that is not us.
True gratitude is more than just “thanks.” When we show true gratitude we are letting another person know that they are cared for, that we are grateful for the contribution they have made to our lives. We are telling them that they have changed our lives for the positive. We are, in effect, letting them know that they have a superpower. The power to change lives. Moreover, who doesn’t love to hear that they have superpowers?
I had the recent opportunity to place this all into practice when I began making speeches to high schoolers. The usual career/educational path speech is walled off and delivered with a closed heart. They are about success, accomplishments, what school the speaker went to and what they do day to day. Pretty boring. I tried to recall career talks that I had in high school, and all I remember is sitting there thinking, “Tell me how I’m going to pass Geometry.”
I chose to go in a completely different direction and a get vulnerable, be real, show true gratitude and share with the kids how I made it through challenges, disappointments, and embarrassment in high school, college, and work. In short, I opened my heart to the kids, and many of them opened their hearts to me. I get notes and cards from students telling me how grateful they are. Kids come up to me after I speak and say things like, “That was amazing.” It is immensely gratifying.
This is just one area in my life where I have walked with an open heart. Do I sometimes get hurt, sure, I do. However, I get hurt a lot less often than I end up forming more profound, more satisfying relationships and connections with people. Also, I find that living with an open heart, weeds out people who are not real or genuine. It helps in the practice of living joyfully.
Give it a try some time.