The Warm Heart Revolution is a practice of rewiring ineffective responses to stress by replacing them with effective, peaceful, and loving habitual responses.
Warm Heart Practices
1. Recall a memory that brings a warm feeling to your heart. The memory doesn’t have to be real, it can even be from a book, song or movie. Even a commercial. I usually use a memory of holding one of my children when they were babies.
2. Hold the warmth in your heart, with or without keeping the memory in mind. You want to work on holding the warmth in your heart without the memory. This part is like caring for the first flames of a camp fire and not like Chris Tucker’s nostril flaring gaze upon the almost dying match held by Bruce Willis in the Fifth Element.
3. Practice maintaining warmheartedness until it is easy to do working up to it being second nature.
1. After developing skill in warmheartedness expand the warmth to fill your body. It may help to visualize your heart as a small sun or fireplace radiating warmth. As you get better at filling your body with the warmth of your heart you will notice your body relaxing. Why? Because it is your most natural state. Your Buddha nature is the swat of lovingkindness and Jesus said “God is love,” of which you are made in the image and likeness of. Taking Jesus at his word you are the image and likeness of love.
2. The visualization works like a mantra, a point of focus, upon which to tether the monkey mind. The monkey mind is a descriptive for anxiety which is the result of the suffering of change and the survival fight or flight mechanism.
1. Bring an anxiety or problem to mind and hold it in with the warmheartedness.
2. Our brains tend to separate pain and pleasure, unless you’re into S & M, it is not normal to hold them in awareness together. This stage is for de-escalating and de-conditioning a mental/emotional fight, flight, freeze response to a threat; said another way it is for de-escalating reactiveness.
3. Observe the anxiety or problem using warmheartedness as the lens through which you view it. It may be helpful to journal what you notice for later reflection and contemplation.
1. When you feel proficient at holding an anxiety or problem in your warmheartedness, contemplate the anxiety or problem from within warmheartedness. This is just another angle or view through which to look, just as looking through fear or logic are also useful and necessary point of views. The more angles the better.
In one sense the Warm Heart Practice is developing your inner Cesar Milan who gives your primitive brain a firm calm sense of security. Not easy when dealing with the unknown.
Just as in mindfulness, the beginning stages of the Warm Heart Practices are for de-escalating reactiveness to stimuli. I think the Buddha recognized that most humans are a collection of conditioned responses, many of which are not of their choosing. Therefore a good amount of Buddhist practices are for either accepting the conditioning and/or choosing to condition a new response. This doesn’t mean the previous conditioning vanishes, instead the goal is to get it to where it doesn’t push your buttons anymore.
Looking at, or being with, an angry memory, or any memory, in the warmheartedness is a revealing practice. Conceptually it would be like cradling a hungry and scared baby bird in the palm of your hand.
We often want to let go of bad experiences, memories and feeling, however, letting it be is a very different, and often more effective, experience than letting it go. Sometimes letting it go is not preferable because it is associated with throwing away, not the thing you want to do when grieving a loved one. Holding both warmheartedness and a challenging thought or feeling in mind will give you a sense of control and a different perspective on it. I’m using mind here as in the Tibetan word, sem, which encompasses the heart and intellect.
Denial and suppression, viewed through the spirit of ahimsa or non-violence, are forms of violence. For example, if a person is sad and tries not to cry, it is like pushing sadness down rather than letting it flow and run it’s course. Holding an emotion in warmheartedness isn’t always for the purpose of examination, but for letting it run its course in a safe environment.
It takes as much energy not to cry as not to laugh, but we are champions of not crying since most people get really good at it from about the age of five. There’s a story about the Dalai Lama riding in a car that is following a truck transporting chickens and chicks. As some of the chicks fell to the road the Dalai Lama began to cry since he knew they would die. “He’s so kind and sweet!”, is what most people think. Really? If it were me crying, or most guys for that matter, most people would wonder about our mental stability. “Bro, are you ok?” Ah, the power of the red robes. But seriously, social education makes it not ok for us to appropriately express disappointment or grief much less fear and anxiety. And it’s not just guys, it has become the expectation for women too.
One difficulty I think we westerners have is thinking of mindfulness as mind-emptiness. In reality it’s more like this: if a pile of fresh shit was sitting on a table in front of you, the smell would be strong. However if the pile of fresh shit was in the center of a football field in a stadium and you were sitting on the highest seat, you probably wouldn’t smell anything, unless you had Arnold’s sense of smell in Predator. It’s also like the difference between one person pissing in a small swimming pool versus the ocean. Our heart/mind is capable of opening so wide that trauma barely registers. Reminds me of A. J. Jacobs stoning an adulterer by flicking a small pebble at him, you gotta read The Year Of Living Biblically.
The biological survival mechanism often works against us. We remember bad things more than good, not because we are ungrateful, but because bad things potential threats and we need to remember all threats to our survival. Modern threats are not as obvious as a tiger. The human that seems like a nice person, the economy, microbes and viruses are not easily recognizable threats. Most people focus on problems with mental circles because they lack information or strategic critical thinking skills. But sometimes neither information or critical thinking will help in the short term. Sometimes fight, flight, or freeze are the appropriate response.
In my work people often seek certainty without recognizing its limitation. Answers aren’t always solutions. Another problem is making bad choices due to an inability to recognize that the familiar and comfortable are not healthy or valuable. The Tibetan word for meditation, gom, means to become familiar with. Which means we are meditating almost all the time. Meditation is the act of choosing that which to become familiar with so choose wisely. The Warm Heart Practices are choice that can lead you to an inner revolution.
One caution: warmheartedness, like any practice, can be used as a form of denial or suppression. Positive attitude as a form of denial. Asking if a cup is half empty or half full is not an effective question, I want to know what’s in the cup. Fill your cup with love, compassion, kindness and the intelligent caring use of your heart.