Heal your heart first

Old wounds

What happens when there's a wound in the body and we don't let it heal properly? The wound becomes infected and the infection can spread to other areas of the body. The immune system uses its resources to keep the infection in check. Resources that are then no longer available to us. 

The same is true of emotional wounds. We use up a lot of energy to keep that hurt in check and the pain from reaching out too far. 

For a physical wound to heal properly, we need to give the body time and rest. In a similar way, healing our heart takes time and requires some awareness that there's a wound to begin with. But who wants to pause and look at their emotional pain? We instinctively fear being overwhelmed by it. So we tune out. We reach for things that numb the pain. That's smart in terms of survival. But then, we can never stop running away from the pain.

The rush to save the world

That makes us think of substance addicts whose lives revolve around their next hit. But the self-preserving instinct to turn away from pain is just as wide-spread in yoga communities. At least, that has been my personal experience. In the yoga scene, I find we are often in a rush to save the world. We become vegan and produce zero waste to save the planet. We teach yoga in prison and to refugees and to dementia patients. 

While I think it's wonderful to hold other people's hands as they walk through their pain, I wonder: Why aren't we okay to feel our own? Why can't we love ourselves in a similarly unconditional way? Unfortunately, we need to see the wound for it to heal. But here we are, professing that we want all beings to be happy and free when we can't say one nice thing about ourselves. We'd rather take care of other people's pain, if that means we can avoid our own.

Secure your own mask first

You may ask: But what's the problem? Who cares how I feel, as long as the world is being saved? The problem is that we won't get far. Just like we won't get far if we literally try to run away on a wounded leg. Aviation had it right all along: "Secure your own mask first, before helping others." Because we can't help anyone, if we don't help ourselves first. We can't light the way for anyone, if we don't dare dispel our own shadows. 

The mantra we use for loving kindness practice in the Buddhist tradition – the Metta mantra – begins with ourselves: “May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be safe, may I live with ease.” I like to think that centuries ago the wise elders in the East already knew this: It starts with us. We need to see where it hurts, in order to be okay one day. Sometimes we must take a break from busting our ass to save others. We need to heal our heart first, to love ourselves just as much, otherwise we won't be of much use in the long run

Tom Derrington