In one of Tara Brach's fine guided meditations, she suggests: “… with the out-breath, let go of any unnecessary holdings in the heart.” https://www.tarabrach.com/meditation-loving-what-is/
What a wonderful suggestion!
Of course we all have protective armor of varying thickness around our hearts due to all the traumas we've been exposed to, perhaps even before birth. Even the process of being born is traumatic to the child, no matter how smoothly it goes.
So what are unnecessary holdings in the heart? If we've become resilient, balanced, mature adults, and have forgiven those who may have harmed us, and have learned to consciously face & accept even life's harsh realities, we likely will still continue to carry some habitual armoring in our body, but especially around our heart. This is now completely unnecessary, and something best to intentionally work on releasing.
A much greater challenge is if we continue to be traumatized in some manner, be it racism, poverty, sexism, etc. Even here though, armoring the heart is - somewhat like the "freeze instinct" - a survival tactic of the very young and others not capable of more mature, more effective responses to trauma. An armored, frozen heart is not capable of enjoying a vibrant participation in life. So even here, it is best to adapt more effective adult responses to end & mitigate the damaging effects of trauma AND intentionally work on releasing these holdings in the heart.
An armored heart becomes such a natural part of us, that the suggestion to release the armor to some will sound completely insane - as if being asked to immediately become a heart organ donor! And even if you've reached a point in your life when the idea of shedding defenses around your heart sounds appealing, even urgent, in real life, it's actually a slow, cautious process, mostly out of your direct control. The heart is, after all, our most vital organ!
So even though we're hard-wired for self-preservation & conditioned to fear, at the same time, our life feels whole & meaningful only when we have open-hearted connection to ourselves, others, the world. So how can we resolve this potent pull in opposite directions?
A meditation PRACTICE I've found beneficial is holding a beloved baby in my heart. It can be your own baby or grandchild, baby Buddha, baby Jesus, a puppy, kitten, baby bird - whoever feels closest for you. The key is to feel directly sharing the nurturing warmth, peace & protection of your heart with a tiny, beloved, helpless little innocent being. We are holding this beloved innocent & our own innocence together, in nurturing safety & unconditional love, so both are thriving in real time. Allow yourself to rest in the physical feel of nurturing & being nurtured, embodying our true nature.
Immediately after writing the above, I listened to an excellent interview in which Dorothy Hunt answered a question about desire - to have something or to get rid of something. "This awareness, this awake nature of ours, it’s moving from inside the thing that we’re trying to get rid of, rather than trying to get rid of it. We just let awareness come inside – it begins to liberate it from the inside. Whereas the mind tries to pry it open, or get rid of it. Awareness is like the sun that melts these frozen things. So much of what feels like a block is just some kind of frozen feeling, frozen experience that hasn’t been allowed to simply be. So when we allow our inner experience to be what it is – the Buddha once said, ‘Hold your anger as though it’s your only child’ – bringing that compassion, that embrace, that intimacy, bringing it close so we can see ‘What is this?’ instead of ‘How do I get rid of it?’ The mind wants to know, ‘How do I get rid of it?’ But this awake space, this awareness, has no judgment, it just shines the light on what is. And then we begin to see desire for what it is.”
Dorothy Hunt interview: https://batgap.com/dorothy-hunt/
“In this choiceless, never ending flow of life
There is an infinite array of choices.
One alone brings happiness -
To love what is.” Dorothy Hunt
“Let go of the battle. Breathe quietly and let it be. Let your body relax and your heart soften. Open to whatever you experience without fighting.” Jack Kornfield
“When we stop tensing against life, we open to an awareness that is immeasurably large and suffused with love.” Tara Brach