Exploring the Fire and Longing of an Open Heart
If you want to know God, burn your ego in the fire of love.” – Mansur Mastana (Sufi poet)
Many saints and sages, of the past and present, use Love, in the universal sense of the word, as the primary vehicle for connecting to the Higher Self and the inner work we do when we practice yoga. Love can truly be the main vehicle for traveling the spiritual or yogic path. It can be the vehicle for transformation, and for achieving enlightenment. The teachings of yoga, the Toltecs, the Greeks – all these teachings from timeless traditions the world over say that a heart that is open to unconditional, universal, boundless love, with a capital L, is one surefire way to become connected with the Cosmos, with nature, with Universal Oneness.
If this message speaks to your heart and your soul, then you’re not alone. If you are drawn to Sufi love poetry or bhakti yoga, or the teachings of the Buddha, then you might very well be in the process of walking this spiritual path of Love. But what is love? We use the term so freely in English as we only have the one word to express it. In the spiritual traditions of yoga and Sufism, there exist many words to describe this transcendent universal love. In yoga, there’s the term “prema,” which means deep affection and care. There’s also “bhakti,” which translates to devotion to Spirit or Divine. In the Sufi language there’s the term “ishq,” which refers to a passionate, intense kind of love that is full of fire and pain because it is so deeply intense. There’s even the Sufi word “fanaa,” which translates to “annihilation in love.” Perhaps you’ve experienced this in your own life, in different situations, and to different degrees.
When we experience this kind of Love, which may at times be for a person, or for an animal – for humanity, in general, or for the intoxicating beauty of a sunset over the ocean, we’ll often feel bursts of pain in the heart, or even the feeling that the heart is being broken open. This isn’t a bad thing. If we were to ask the Buddha what bodhicitta is, he might say something to the affect of – it is walking through life with a heart so soft and so open, that it can hold everything in its path – all the pain, all the suffering, all the beauty and goodness, all the joys and sorrows – all of it – until the heart is so big and so loving that it can heal and transform even the hardest and closed hearts of others.
Living in this way is immensely freeing as we stop struggling to control, and instead let go of those protective walls which shelter the heart from living and loving fully. We soften and surrender and allow ourselves to be vulnerable in every moment – in the joyful ones as well as the painful ones. In some ways we are destroyed by this kind of openness – in an ego-less sort of way so that we indeed “burn our egos in the fire of love.” When we experience this passion, it’s as if we’re completely disappearing and dissolving into the experience of love. We’re softening and letting go of expectations, beliefs and conditions that create limitations and blockages.
So, how does this experience of love relate to us as spiritual seekers – as yogis – as humans who desire to experience love beyond limitations and constraints? If we’re walking the spiritual path to love we want to experience boundless love – love that takes us outside of ourselves and dissolves us into oneness with everything. We can experience this by remaining present, and aware of our hearts, allowing them to guide our actions and words in times of ease and times of suffering. With practice, we can chisel our way to this soft and vulnerable spot. To strengthen our heart muscle, we can notice and be fully present when something is moving us to tears or laughter. We can savor and love these moments more than just simply acknowledging them and then moving on.
When we feel joy in our heart as we watch an awe-inspiring sunset over the Pacific Ocean, we can say to ourselves, “ Just how long can this feeling of joy last? How long can I allow myself to really love into it, with all of my being?” We can allow ourselves to cry and feel love so strongly that it’s as if we just can’t handle it – as often as possible – because it is opening and strengthening our love muscle each and every time we do.
Here’s to living life with an open heart and walking the path of Love.