Photo of a ceramic heart stamped with the the word open against a blurry background as a reminder to keep your heart open.

In Tough Times, Here’s Your #1 Job: Keep Your Heart Open

I had something else planned for today, then I read Casey Erin Wood’s newsletter where she asked us to keep your heart open. Soon after, these lines from Joan Didion’s memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, popped in my head: Life changes in an instant. An ordinary instant.

On October 7th, life changed in an ordinary instant for those living in Israel and Palestine. I’m not informed enough to speak competently on the war brewing between Israel and Palestine other than to say violence is wrong. Killing innocent children is wrong. Using women as weapons of war is wrong. 

Nobody wins in war, and the innocent are often the ones who experience the direst consequences. 

I’ve spent the past two weeks checking in on friends and colleagues directly affected by this war. They’re understandably shaken, scared, and grieving.

Every time I see a face twisted in pain or hear the howls of unimaginable grief on the news or social media, I wince, because I feel my chest tighten as my heart tries to shut down.

But hardening my heart by compartmentalizing or looking away would cut me off from the instrument that helps me create my best writing. So, I’m working to stay present with how I feel and what’s happening.

An open heart is a state of being where you feel accepting and expansive. It’s easy to do this when life’s going well. But to truly keep your heart open, you must cultivate this state during the dark times too. That means remaining present to what you feel and what is while working to find hope in the darkness.

Last week, I shared Sadeqa Johnson’s story of perseverance, and how listening to her intuition helped her decide the next right move. To persevere, you must keep your heart open, so you can hear your inner voice and be willing to answer its call.  

Following these three Cs can help you do this.

Keep Your Heart Open By Assessing the Content You Consume

Check in with yourself regarding the content you’re engaging with and ask the following questions. How is this content affecting my daily life and outlook? How do I know when it’s too much? 

For most of us, it’s the point when we can’t think of anything else or we’re feeling hopeless, anxious, or triggered, which can happen for trauma survivors even when what they’re witnessing looks nothing like what they’ve experienced.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the constant barrage of awful images, limit your time on news sites and social media.

During triggers or times of deep despair, use one of the following techniques to ground yourself:

  • Walk barefoot on the grass
  • Complete Kristin Neff’s soles of the feet meditation
  • Stop and name five things you see
  • Click here and complete this breathing exercise
  • List three things you’re grateful for

Keep Your Heart Open Through Connections

Check in with your feelings. Journaling can be a great way to do this. If you already have a morning pages routine, read the past five entries and note what you see. Also pay attention to how you’re sleeping. Too much or too little can be a sign of distress.

If you’re hurting, connect with people in your support network.

If you know others are hurting, check on them. This is a great time to use your writing for some social good. You don’t have to say anything profound. Just communicate the following three things. I’m sorry. I’m here. I see you. Then be prepared to listen.

Keep Your Heart Open by Expressing Care

Dark times can make us feel helpless. Doing something to support positive change in our world can not only counteract that feeling, it can empower you. Here are three things you can do right now: 

  • If you have extra money, donate to the agencies that are addressing the needs of victims, such as Friends of Magen David AdomPalestine Children’s Relief Fund, the IsraAID Emergency FundUNICEF, or CNN’s Pledge’s website, where you can split donations among multiple nonprofits such as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Save the Children, Doctors without Borders, and the World Central Kitchen.
  • Send cards of encouragement to those who are hurting. Sharon Salzberg has an Instagram post where she asked for quotes that help people get back up. If you’re at a loss for words, check them out.
  • Complete random acts of kindness. Smile at a cashier and ask about their day. Hand a service provider a card with a thank you or the words you matter. Pay for the order of the person behind you in line. Help someone with their groceries. You never know what kind of ripple effect these simple acts can have.

As you do these things, channel any pain you’re feeling into your writing. Identify a place in your work-in-progress where your character’s experience matches your current feelings. Check in with your body, thoughts, and emotions, and infuse your observations into this moment.

A word of caution: If the moment you’ve identified is highly traumatic, and you haven’t yet worked through it, select something else. This could include another scene or maybe writing about this feeling in a fictional environment.

Whatever you do, know that however you feel, whether that’s joyful and in love with the world, or despairing, you are not alone. Just work to keep your heart open. I’ll be right next to you doing the same, as we work together to always write on.

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