stretch your hand out. hold it like you’re looking for which elevator button to press, or you’re leaning on a door panel for a little support. put it up near my chest—gently, please—and then slide your hand into it. yes, into it. you’ll find, against all expectations, that your hand and my chest meet porously, as if my chest were the ocean, or your hand that of a ghost.
keep your hand there, let it slowly enter—and hold it over my heart, not the anatomical heart, but my true heart.
let your hand feel for it, a blind man sensing his surroundings—let the textures come to you, as if you were distinguishing the tree bark’s tales from the dust of a gravel road or the sweet wet grass from soil after summer rain.
what do you feel? yes—layers, textures, patterns, intricate woven strands of quilt and lace—this heartbreak, that loss; this resentment, that confusion; this long-forgotten joy, that brief insanity; the hope and awkwardness of a first kiss, the slow fermented pain of regret and unspoken questions.
I want to show you my heart, I want you to feel its lived experience, to sense its phenomenology. I want to point to the heart and its wisdom, to show you your own heart anew. I want to reprimand our culture and prescribe a medicine, so simple but not easy, just feeling the heart, over and over and over again, and living from there.
have you ever had a day where your heart felt so big, like it was singing? like it was a bright sunny day all over the universe, a smile on everyone’s faces? where laughing and dancing for joy was the only sane response?
or have you ever had a day where your heart was a thunderstorm? a tempestuous dark summer heat, wrathful thick fat clouds threatening downpour? impending chaos seeking devastation wherever it lies?
As a boy, emotions were easy. They came and went, sadness anger fear happiness, endlessly flowing into one another, moments feeling like eternities passing into new eternities. I was afraid of a friend, or sad about leaving the playground, or happy about a new toy, or angry about not getting what I wanted so badly. Crying came easily, expression was effortless.
Last week, I had dinner with my father at his house. It is his house now, not my parents’—my mother, his wife, passed last month. We are both grieving, in our own way, and our own time. He calls his friends, and makes small talk, and laughs—he keeps busy, alerting bureaucracies to make the necessary changes, making funeral arrangements—I do not know if he cries when he is alone. I call my friends, and chant for my mother, and journal for myself—I keep busy, with my work and my service projects—I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed the day she passed, and have largely felt peace since.
A friend of my mother’s had sent two catered meals for us to eat. She’d kindly remembered, somehow, despite never having met me, that I was a vegetarian. We heated our soups and sat across each other, the void where my mother had always been so loud in its silence. It was hard for me to be there with him, in the house where I grew up, knowing I will never see her there again.
I told him how stark the contrast was for me, between my mother’s death and the death of his father a decade ago. I loved my grandfather very much. Jim died just before I graduated college, in 2013, and I remember how strange it was, to be so terribly sad he was gone and yet unable to cry. I hadn’t been able to cry for a decade of my life, inexplicably, despite wanting to—when Jim passed, it was all I wanted to do, but I couldn’t.
Now, at age 31, I can cry easily, on demand. I cry nearly every day of my life, and it has been easy to cry for my mother. It would have been difficult not to. I told him how grateful I was, that all was well with my heart, that I am able to cry once more, and that I have the skills to care for my heart—that as sad as I am, I know that I am well, that I am okay, that this grief will pass, that I can even learn from it.
I tell him how that happened—about training at the monastery, about learning the Bio-Emotive Framework, and circling, and self-therapy techniques. I’m so grateful I had that experience, I’m so blessed to have the skills and capacities I have now, especially at a time like this—and it makes me angry that I had to learn that in my twenties, that I had to go on a quest to a monastery to learn what I hadn’t learned in school, that our culture doesn’t train you in these skills by default as a child and a teenager, that somehow it steals your heart’s natural wisdom and gives you disassociation instead.
He told me something interesting in response, something I didn’t know before. He said that there was a period of several years, perhaps in middle school, where I didn’t emote very much. I didn’t cry, I didn’t laugh, I didn’t respond to much that he said. He worried about me. He didn’t know what was happening, or what to do.
We used to watch movies together. It was our way of bonding, something we could connect on. One night, he showed me a video of Robin Williams doing stand-up. Apparently, it took me a little while for me to warm up to it, but eventually, I broke. The ice in my heart melted. I couldn’t hold back—I just laughed and laughed and laughed.
I asked him, “Why is he so funny, Dad?” and my Dad said, “I wish I knew.”
I had forgotten about this video, and this period of my life, but I’m glad my Dad remembered, and told me—and it tracks with my own sense of it. Middle school sucked balls. Parts of high school definitely sucked balls. Something was robbed from my heart then, I was dead inside, I was sad constantly and sometimes bordering on suicidal. I didn’t have plans to kill myself but I believed in my bones that that was how it would all end. Why wouldn’t it? How could it end any other way? If I was sad and lonely and without purpose, then, wouldn’t it always be so?
It’s wild to look back at this now, or any memory from earlier in my life. I didn’t know what I was feeling then except BAD. Now, I can discern what I was feeling at the time, as if I were putting on glasses and could suddenly see, my heart’s current wisdom and skill lighting new clarity into the heart of my past—giving myself the feeling of being seen, the love of being understood, the healing of time’s passage, showing myself it wouldn’t always be so, new worlds and lifetimes would come into existence, new vantage points would arise to be felt from.
today my heart is a little twisted ball of sadness, a small dog of barking excitement, a flower seedling of burgeoning hope, a rich rain soil of grief wisdom, a dry summer heat of disappointment and regret, a flowing river of gratitude and a roiling ocean of vigor and purpose
Let’s call that time the dark period: the period from some unknown moment in my early adolesence to my late twenties, that time when I could not feel clearly or cry easily, not even when I wanted to—that time when feelings were foreign and unknown to me, to my life, and my heart.
I remember how my emotions seemed to me then. They seemed to be like a storm—pouring rain, hailing hurt, swirling tornado violence—intensity arriving, suddenly departing, coming and going without discernable logic or sense or reason.
In that time, at root, I felt I was a victim to my emotions. I would be attacked by them suddenly and then abandoned by them. I did not understand myself. All I knew was that I hurt. I hurt often, I hurt hard, for long stretches and then, inexplicably, not at all—sunlight poking through storm clouds after afternoon downpour, happiness seeping into my heart, an unexpected gift from a foreign, mercurial God who did not speak the tongue of my head or homeland.
I understand this differently now. It is like a disability, to be unable to feel your heart. All of those emotions and feelings are still happening, but they are disconnected from your head, from your understanding. Your attention is contracted in your head, and your body is down there, over there, far, far away. “There’s a thing that’s happening somewhere and it doesn’t feel good! What is it??? I don’t know! Oh no!!!”
It’s as if I were trying to know what’s happening in this very moment in a specific place on the other side of the world. I’m writing this essay in Massachusetts, and it’s as if I were trying to see and feel and understand what is happening in Weinan, China. I’ve never been to China. I know it exists somewhere, and that something must be happening there, but I have no idea what it is. How could I?
There are still emotions and feelings—there is happiness and sadness and fear and anger, there is nuanced discernment happening in the heart—but these feelings are inaccessible to the head. You are a chaotic, disjointed pile, disparate parts working against each other, fighting one another. You are disconnected from yourself, you cannot feel your feelings, you cannot express them fluidly, you cannot process them and resolve them.
But it doesn’t need to be like that. You can re-integrate your head and your heart, your mind and your body—so that they are a harmonious, integrated whole.
i love myself i love my mother i love my father i love my friends i love the trees i love dogs i love cats i love all animals i love the strangers i meet and i love those i never will i love this world i love all beings in all realms i love myself
It’s no one’s fault that I had difficulty feeling my feelings. If anything, it is the fault of culture, of society, of a nebulous mass of forgotten incidents and furtive habits, systemically weighted against our bodies’ natural emotional wisdom.
Why is it, that babies can scream and cry and shake so freely, and then suddenly, children and teenagers cannot? Physiologically, it is muscle tension—but what are the systemic mechanisms by which this trauma is propagated? That is a suffering we must learn to notice and unwind. It is paramount.
I don’t remember when I stopped crying, I don’t remember what made it hard for me to feel my feelings. Maybe it was bullying. Maybe it was subtle body language from my parents, or the teachers in school. All I know is that it got hard.
i love you i love you for reading this essay and i love you just because you are alive i wish you well i want you to be happy may this essay show you your heart anew may it bring you happiness and peace and joy and may you flourish in your life
There is a belief that haunts the hearts of men in our culture. It is not a spoken belief—it is a lived belief, one that is inhaled and exhaled with each breath on our earth, toxic fertilizer in soil, poison in the water supply. It is a belief that that crying is effeminate, that expressing emotions is emasculation, that showing vulnerability is weakness.
This belief is wrong. It is delusion, ignorance—and it is evil. It is actively harmful to the men whose minds and hearts it infests, and to the people in their lives who live, work, and love alongside them.
Men are widely unable to healthily process their feelings and experiences—internally, with friends, or in public—either because they don’t know how to, or because they don’t feel safe to. This is a root cause, load-bearing infrastructure for the egregore commonly referred to as “the patriarchy.” If you want to “dismantle the patriarchy,” help men to learn and express their feelings, and make it safe for them to do so.
If, by the time he’s an adult, a man hasn’t figured out how to feel his emotions, to express them, to speak up for his needs and boundaries, to process and resolve them, the bad news is that he’s been let down by his society. The good news is that he has a clear opportunity to develop as a man.
My heart breaks for my brothers, my brothers who cannot feel their feelings, who cannot speak them, who do not know how, or who feel unsafe to do so. I want to help these men to feel, express, and process their feelings.
Over the years, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about psychology, emotions, and self-therapy. So many of us have had to go down this journey, not from volition, but out of necessity.
I had to join a monastery to learn what I needed to learn. Over the years, I’ve worked with multiple therapists and coaches, and explored many modalities for understanding and healing the psyche: Gendlin Focusing, the Bio-Emotive Framework, Circling, Internal Family Systems, the Ideal Parent Figure Protocol, Coherence Therapy, and more.
I could explain these ideas to you. I could make it all make sense and help you to practice it. I would recommend them. These are the ideas and tools that have helped me to meet my heart once more, to listen to it, to understand it, to befriend it, to let it become a source of wisdom and the master of my life.
And yet, explaining these frameworks and techniques and practices intellectually, cannot begin to point you to what my felt experience of the heart is, what it feels like to be me, what wisdom has come to me from feeling my heart again, expressing it, living its wisdom into my life. I must instead use poetry and stories to point to them, to show you my heart so that you might feel it.
there’s a style of art i’ve come to love drawing, a signature move i have available in my repertoire as a visual artist—i use the gouache brush in Procreate, and a specific palette I’ve created, and splatter colorful rainbow polka dots over the background of a canvas. to me, this symbolizes my heart, with its myriad of emotions and its breadth of wisdom, its love and its rage and its grief and its terror and its joy, rubbing right up against one each other, an erotic mess, a kinesthetic blur, a miraculous dance
When I speak of the heart, I am not speaking of the anatomical heart, the organ that beats blood rhythmically through your whole body. I speak of the energetic heart, at the center of your chest, which is the locus of emotional experiences that stretch through the torso, the face, and the whole body. It is a metaphor, a synechdoche for the emotional body.
The heart is complex, nuanced, singular. The heart has layers, rooms, moods, gestalts, entire worlds and universe of significance and understanding.
Importantly, while we all have the same physiology, with its built-in emotions—each heart is our own. Our hearts can witness and learn of each other, they can feel for each other, but my heart is not your heart, and your heart is not mine.
hearts long to be felt. they have epics and sagas within their tissue, long tales and deep wisdom buried within their seams. when they are felt fully, listened to, seen, and understood—healing occurs, the possibility of wisdom arises, and love erupts, a tender shockwave massaging the very fabric of the universe
For me, feeling my heart is just like what it’s like for me to witness a tree.
I love trees. When I sat a long solitary retreat in 2020, they transformed from being raw material and resources and color into being something far simpler, far more beautiful—my friends. Every tree I see now is unspeakably beautiful to me—not only visually, but also spiritually.
It is nearly erotic: I admire the particularities of a tree’s body in the way I might a lover—and I listen to its soul in the way I might a human friend in verbal conversation. Trees have wisdom to share with us, if we have ears and the humility to listen.
The texture of the heart’s emotions, our subjectivity, is like the trunk of a tree: delicate, intricate, complex, singular.
trees understand the texture of my heart, the ocean welcomes the salt of my tears
I feel into my heart, every day, all day. I am aware of my heart. I know what I feel, in this moment, as a whole and in part, about various situations.
I feel this about that, and that about this. I can sense into it, asking myself how I feel, in general or about something specific, and know the answer—inarguably, in its totality.
It’s the same as the way that you might poke your head out the window to look at the weather before a walk, to see if you should pack an umbrella if it’s raining or take off your sweatshirt if it’s warm. Yes, I am sad about this relationship; yes, I am at peace about this loss; yes, I am nervous about that situation; yes, I was frustrated by that conversation. I can feel it all. I can ask of my heart how I feel about anything at all and it answers readily.
As I feel, I transmute. Sensations become words, tears, screams, wiggles, shaking, dance, art. At root, emotions are energy, which longs to surge, to express itself, to become shape and form, lightning striking the earth of our hearts, comets flaring the wisdom of our world.
My life’s work—as I currently understand it anyway—involves spreading love in the world: sharing a contemporary presentation of the technique of loving-kindness and the brahmavihārās with the world.
As a meditation technique, loving-kindness is a cultivation technique—focused on the cultivation of specific, positive thoughts and feelings, rather than merely observing your experience equanimously, passively.
To feel love for yourself, for another, for all beings—truly unconditional love—is a beautiful experience. It is a special one, but it need not be rare. Anyone can learn to feel love in this way with a little practice. Making that easier, and more widespread, is my goal.
And yet, for as much as I love love, for as hard as I work to spread it—you cannot begin with love, you cannot force the feeling of unconditional friendliness, or rush its cultivation. You must feel what is already in the body before you can bring it towards a particular feeling.
It may not feel good. It may be uncomfortable—even extremely uncomfortable. The body has many feelings we must feel fully before we can feel the heights of joy, the vigor of aliveness.
Each feeling must be felt, one by one, layer by layer. The somatic experience must be felt fully, with equanimity. If a feeling has something to say to us, we must listen. If it has something to show us, we must watch. If it has a lesson for us, we must receive it, and act on it. And then, when it has said its peace, when its message has been delivered, we must thank it, and turn to the next feeling, and repeat the process once more.
There may very well be many feelings to feel through. It may very well feel overwhelming to do so. Take your time. Be kind to yourself. Take a break if you need to. Do what you must to get through this process—but in the end, there is only two choices.
Feel everything, all of it, every last feeling stored in the body for us to receive and integrate—or feel nothing at all, numb yourself, disassociate from the present and be dead inside.
You cannot choose to feel just happiness and love and joy and purpose—you must feel also the pain and the grief and anger and and the fear and the hurt and the tone of the memories you’d forgotten from your childhood and the burden of the promises you broke and the rage of the dreams you abandoned. Then, when you open your door to all that lies within your own heart, so, too, will you find the joy and love you always knew was possible—and peace, peace, deep peace.
curiosity, interest, a thought, a question—there is a rubik’s cube in my gut, an intricate geometric shape, a puzzle that wants to be unfolded—i sit with it, i feel it, i am present with it, i keep the shape in my awareness—i say what I can of it, sometimes pieces, so often stuttering, falling over myself—but i feel it as i can, and say what i can, and then something emerges, something surprising, something delightful—some wisdom observation or curiosity question i did not think up with my head but found in my body
When we begin to feel the body, to listen to the heart, we invariably find that it has a deep wisdom.
I so love Pascal’s mot, “Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point”—the heart has its reasons that reason knows not. The heart has an entire intelligence, an innate knowing, a wisdom all its own, which may very well be illegible, inarticulable, undiscernable to the mind, to the head, to the intellect—but it is wise nonetheless, wiser than the words in our heads and the reasons we spout post hoc to justify the actions our feelings and intuitions had already decided on.
The heart speaks yes, and the heart speaks no. It whispers secrets in our soul, and transmits lessons so that we might learn.
If you fight the heart, you suffer—if you trust the heart, you flourish.
I told Jane, one of my dearest friends, recently that the best part of my week is when I tell her how it has felt to be me, and she listens, and feels it, and understands. She does not flinch at my pains, she does not judge my weaknesses—she validates my experience, and celebrates me as I am, in my new triumphs and my ordinary mundanities.
Our friendship has shown me more of what it means to be a friend to someone—a gift that I get to return to her, and pass on to all my other friends, and give also to myself.
i love you jane i love you so much for being my friend i love you for all you’ve shown me, for all you’ve given me i hope and trust so dearly that i have been such a friend to you as you’ve been to me, you have shown me anew what a heart is, your heart is so beautiful, my heart is so beautiful, our hearts are so beautiful, all hearts are so beautiful
May you feel your tender heart, may you heal its oldest wounds, may you find its deepest wisdom, may you allow its abundant love to erupt through the whole universe. ❤️🔥
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