Space of the Heart
Things that make you go hmmm…. I have heard this expression countless times in the yoga world…about what happens when you slow down…about what happens when you discover the MORE of YOU…you know is there……
The “Space of the Heart” was first made popular by one of the greatest yoga/tantric masters that ever lived Abhinavagupta (c. 975-1025). His profound writings describe what it is like to live from more exalted and noble states of being. These states of being are called “ The Space of the Heart”. He writes that it is a domain or a realm within our own being, in which given the correct alignment, we can access the MORE that we intuit is there. He describes it as a “source place” for every possible desire, impulse, urge, thought, and creative idea. It is essentially the root of our being, our deepest core essence. His books describe the “many levels” of this space as well as the extraordinary life shifts that directly happen as a result of us plugging in to “IT”. For most of us, this heart space and Abhinavagupta might sound whimsical, far off, unattainable, but for all the great world mystics that have lived, including Abhnivagupta, it is not. This space, which has other names in other “traditions”, is not imaginary; it is within and all around, and it is just an “inquiry” away.
So my personal inquiry began over a decade ago: Is it possible…to live and have a meaningful relationship with this “heart-space”? And again what does this phrase really mean?
Paul Muller-Ortega, one of the greatest scholars of Abhinavagupta’s works, describes the “Space of the Heart” not as a physical location, nor the “heart organ”, nor the “heart chakra”; but, a profound space within that is universally recognizable, holds infinite meaningfulness and value, and is deeply important and deeply nourishing. It is the space where everything feels “right”, most importantly you.
As Christopher Wallis expands in his book Tantra Illuminated: Abhinavagupta’s “Space of the Heart” is a special, secret place inside you where you feel the most you, that place where you feel the sheer delight of being you, doing your thing. It is the part of you that has remained constant in all experiences through out your life, the place where you are just yourself.
Again, it is clear from the writings that this “Space of the Heart” is located within our own body/mind. It is true that we may look out into the world and see beauty and have a “heart-felt” moment…but depending on the “state” or “mood” we are in….this might not always be the case.
When we have to stand in the face of life’s guaranteed uncertainties and guaranteed challenges…then it would make sense to do it while having a relationship with this interior “Space of the Heart”. We will be better prepared to hear, see, feel, and connect with life’s wisdom. We can then carry on down the path intuiting life’s answers and connecting to the outside world from this most auspicious connection.
As we all know, it doesn’t take much before life stacks up, before the cup runs over, before our minds start racing. As a mother of two who works full time, I can say firsthand that this space quickly dims and becomes covered over when life goes into hyper-drive. Instead of flowing down-stream, it becomes a struggle up-stream. The connection to this space becomes dull, and so too is that sacred connection to the space of my most authentic self.
The hyper-drive mentality affects us all and has everything to do with our Nervous System. For me, the first signs of my Nervous System de-railing are when I routinely overlook the small, simple and sweet faces of life. The song of the morning birds, the golden rays of sunset, the colors of the trees, all become lost to my senses. I have less patience, I am not as sharp, I judge life more, and I begin to talk in a mindless way. It doesn’t even have to be “hyper-drive” it could be the opposite where a sense of melancholy pervades. Either way, both cases are accompanied by an overly active mind and in both cases they always obscure the present moment and my best self.
The connection to this “Space of the Heart” is dependent on the Nervous System. Think about it…how successful was it the last time you tried to engage your life while having your Nervous System excessively shook up or dull? When we operate from a non-ideal state of being, our decision making space is compromised, we are easily agitated, and a sense of contraction pervades.
The secret doorway into states of expansion (which is really not a secret) is relaxing the Nervous System itself—hence learning how to relax…learning how to quiet the mind and learning how to foster a relationship within. The great yogis of course knew this, and offered many practices. And because everyone is uniquely different and special…there are A LOT of practices, including one of my favorites: going on a personal retreat. Personal retreats are delicious in that they pluck us out of our bubble and get us to spend time with ourselves. It is here we can let go of those daily pressures, slow down, sit down and listen to the space of our heart. Of course you don’t have to go on a retreat to slow down and sit down.
The power of “simply” sitting down, closing my eyes and quieting my mind always brings me home again. It never fails and it is my “go-to”. Quieting the mind can take on many forms. I have heard many people tell me they get a quiet mind from running, surfing, painting, music, nature, boot camp, and a good yoga-asana class. I have experienced a quieting in my mind too from all these experiences. But there is just something different about sitting down and being still. Rain or shine, weak or strong, lethargic or energetic…the power of sitting “down” is so easy…so rewarding and so powerful. It is actually surprising what 10 min can do…let alone a good 20. And it is no wonder that this was “the prescription” of the most ancient and powerful seers.
It is through my seated meditation practice, that I can powerfully palpate this “Space of the Heart”. This place inside where everything does feel right…where there is more joy…where life does have more meaning and value. This place is me. It has a lot to share with me. I listen, I connect and I feel closer to “myself”. I feel each time I sit, I build a stronger relationship with me.
Sure…some days are better than others….nevertheless, the results of this practice are medicinal. Underneath the busy mind lies the magic or “soma”, which Abhinavagupta called the “Space of the Heart”. It is the throb, the essence of life itself. Abhinavagupta writes that tapping it repeatedly, this essence will begin to slowly saturate and proliferate into the fabric of our very own being, into the fabric of very our own life. Heart astonishing life shifts such as fewer judgments, living in the flow, more compassion for self and others are just some of the “boons” that come out of this repetitive tapping.
In the end… this famous “Space of the Heart” is in fact us. We are that diamond in the ruff. We are that special spiritual being having a humbling human experience. It is humbling being in this body, but it can be exciting too. Harmony, truth, and bliss— all heart qualities that will grow not by searching outside of our selves, but by connecting to this benevolent space inside.
And so, the “Space of the Heart” continues to intrigue me. I can feel it at times calling me to “slow down”.
I know….”slowing down” …who has time for that…??? ….it is so unconventional.
I have to say it is not always easy…but each time I “trust” that slowing down won’t equate to falling apart or missing out, I actually “gain more” and I get ahead. And, each time I trust that slowing down will equate to a cultivation of this heart-space, I re-discover the medicine, the soma, and the healing tonic…that radiates from this place and into everyone and everything.
If we want serious change in this world it really does begin with ourselves and on the inside. We must be ok to have moments where we slow down, relax, sit and listen to this benevolent and wordless place as it infinitely vibrates countless possibilities. Little by little, those vibratory impulses are understood and the “Space of the Heart” becomes not just words on a page or something talked about in a yoga lecture, but an actual life adventure and “in relationship” with grace itself.
Kabir (15th century Indian Mystic) poetically describes it:
I laugh when I hear that the fish is the water is thirsty.
You don’t grasp the fact that what is most alive of all is inside your own house;
and so you walk from one holy city to the next with a confused look!
Kabir will tell you the truth; go wherever you like, to Calcutta or Tibet;
If you can’t find where your soul is hidden,for you the world will never be real!