Work of sight is done.
Now do heartwork
On the pictures within you.
—Rainer Maria Rilke
Guided Heartwork gives you an opportunity to directly experience the “classical” Heartwork process of surrendering into and through layer after layer of your false self until you arrive back in your true home. You can do this exercise alone or with another person facilitating your process. In working with a facilitator, you may choose either to share your work or to work entirely internally, signaling the facilitator (with a pre-arranged signal) when you are ready to go on to the next step in the Heartwork process. Please refer to “Facilitator’s Role” at the end of this section for suggestions about working with a facilitator.
The Heartwork process enables you to find your own unique way of looking into yourself. The following sequence, while representative of the stages that generally unfold during the course of a Heartwork session, may vary from person to person:
In doing Heartwork, it is very important that you are physically comfortable. Being able to forget about your body as much as possible will allow you to focus all your attention on your internal process.
First, make any necessary adjustments in your environment. Where in the room would you be most comfortable? Where do you want your facilitator to be in relation to you, and in what bodily position? (It must be one that the facilitator is comfortable with.) If the room is too warm or too cool for your maximum comfort, adjust the temperature. If the room is too bright or dark, change the lighting. Adjust anything that interferes with your maximum physical comfort.
Now find the most comfortable position for your body. You may be most comfortable sitting erect, slouching, lying down (on your back, side or stomach) or in some other position. Ask your body what position it would most like to be in right now, and assume that position.
Now close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and allow yourself to relax as much as possible. If you have difficulty letting go of some of the surface tensions, just watch your breath come in and go out for a few minutes until you feel as relaxed as you can be at this time.
In the Heartwork you are about to do, it is very helpful to adopt an open, friendly, curious attitude towards whatever you encounter on your inward journey. This welcoming attitude will allow you to “witness” your process non-judgmentally, making it easier to see whatever is there because you have a more aware and less “attached” mind-state.
Defining the Problem
Now define your problem as clearly and concisely as possible. Or ask yourself, “What is it I would like to change as a result of doing this process?” If you enter into the Guided Heartwork process with no clearly defined issue, you can simply ask yourself, “Of all the issues that are present in my life, which one most needs my attention right now?” and allow the issue needing attention to choose itself by coming to the foreground. Another way to do this step is to ask, “If I had encountered a genie who was willing to grant me one wish, what would that wish be?” If some problem other than the one you had intended to work on demands your attention, even if it seems irrelevant to the original problem, trust it and go with that issue.
Locating the Problem
In the witness state of mind, now look around in your body to find the area where the problem is centered—experienced as blocked energy, stress, anxiety, tension or pain. (“Body” refers to that place where you experience not only physical sensations, but also senses in a more subtle way.) Notice how deep inside your body it sits. You can work with thoughts or mental metaphors, sensations, feelings or visual images in this process.
Keeping your attention focused in this inner feeling-space, describe in as much detail as possible what you experience here. If you have difficulty getting in touch with what is happening in this place, you may find it helpful to ask curious questions, such as: How big is it? What’s its shape? What color is it? What is it made of? What is the texture of its surface? What does it smell like? What is the feel of this thing? What’s it like? What would this part of me say if it could talk? Vivid visual imagery, memories and intense feelings often arise at this stage of the inward-looking process.
Now slowly and carefully move your awareness toward and ultimately into the very center, or point of greatest intensity, of this feeling-space. You may find it helpful to follow these steps:
- Start by allowing your awareness to get close enough to the feeling-space to be able to experience the energy coming out of it. (Kind of like feeling the heat a hot stove gives off when you walk past it.) What is emanating from this place inside you that you have spent most of your life avoiding?
- Then make direct contact with the “surface” of the space. Can you get close enough to this thing inside yourself to actually “touch” the surface of it with your awareness? What is it like? How does it feel?
- Then “move” into the surface layer. Can you find a way to get inside it, to become one with it, to experience what this surface layer that splits you in two is like from the inside? See if you can determine exactly what it is made of. Take your time so you can experience every step of this most incredible journey. In so doing, you will begin to see exactly how you work and who you really are—beyond all your ideas, beliefs and images of who or what you thought you were.
- Then move through this layer into the interior while still being in contact with the surface (only now from the inside). What is it like to be inside it? How does it feel? What do you sense in this space? Rest here for a few minutes and let yourself be. Let whatever wants to come into your consciousness arise—thoughts, feelings, images, memories or sensations.
- Allow yourself next to let go of your grip on the surface layer and let yourself be drawn inwards, downwards, towards the center or bottom or other end of this yearning space—much like a magnet would draw you toward something. Let yourself go—slowly and with great awareness, allowing whatever wants to be revealed to you to come into consciousness.
As you move inward, you may become aware of reluctance, resistance, hesitation or fear that prevents you from entering into the next space. Work with each barrier that you encounter, gradually softening into the resistance. Or you may find a different way to get through the barrier, such as plunging into it, embracing it, merging with it, being filled by it, looking directly at or into it, caring about or surrendering to it. Ultimately, it makes no difference what means you use; the moment you make the decision to face the barrier directly, the barrier begins to open by itself.
And by the way, don’t assume extensive spiritual practice or years in therapy are prerequisites. Sometimes people who have never done a stitch of inner work in their lives come all the way home in one session. And sometimes those with the most experience have the most difficulty because they think they know what to do. As in all things, it is helpful to avoid expectations as much as possible.
Keep letting go, through layer after layer, until you get all the way to the center, bottom, end or other side of the inner space, or until you have gone as far as you feel you can go at this time.
When you pass through this last barrier, you will usually enter into a wide-open space—experiencing a deep sense of peace, wholeness and oneness with the universe. Once you arrive here, or when you have gone as far as you can, rest in this space for a while. Remember what you went through to get here, so that you can find your way back whenever you want.
Look back at where you began this journey. Start with the problem you wished to change, as you originally defined it, and see how the work you have done relates to that problem. See how you created the suffering for yourself—how you moved out of this place of wholeness, connectedness and peace, how you forgot your deepest truth and how you became lost in fear, confusion and delusion. How can you relate differently to this problem when it arises in the future? Let yourself know that you can always return to this place whenever you are willing and that you can take however long it takes to come back again.
Now check to see if you wish to go further in the process of opening more deeply into the center of the problem. If you do, repeat any of the previous steps that would take you deeper, and continue the process until you are totally satisfied that you have gone as far as you can for now.
Do you feel complete? If not, take the time to say, feel or do whatever you need to in order to complete this experience.
You may need to express feelings, integrate and assimilate insights or simply remain quiet.
The most important aspect of the facilitator’s role is the creation of a safe space in which the person doing the exercise may look inward. To best facilitate the work, it is important that facilitators:
- Maintain a nonjudgmental attitude. This means valuing equally every aspect of the other person’s work and being and placing no expectations or demands on the person to do something that he or she is unwilling or disinclined to do.
- Clearly convey to the person doing the work that he or she is in complete control of the entire process from beginning to end, including setting the pace, determining the timing and direction the work takes, and deciding when the work has gone far enough for a particular time.
- Communicate caring by being totally attentive to what the person doing the work is experiencing in the moment. This means temporarily shelving the intellect, which analyzes, labels and compartmentalizes what it perceives. Occasionally, the facilitator may (with the person’s permission or requesting) support, encourage and add energy to the other person’s work by placing his or her hand(s) on the area(s) of the person’s body where the attention is being focused.
- Be creative and keep the process moving. Engaging intuition, the facilitator balances probing with silence in moving with the other person toward the center of his or her experience. The degree to which the facilitator is in touch with the center of his or her own being is the degree to which the facilitator is able to guide the person to his or her center.
- Maintain an awareness that the thoughts, feelings and sensations that arise are not who we really are. Remaining fully attentive, but not attached to the content, the facilitator communicates to the other person that it is possible to look at and be with what is happening without being overwhelmed.
- Be willing to be “real” with the other person—that is, to acknowledge one’s own humanity and refrain from creating an illusion of perfection. The facilitator needs to be willing to admit to, and openly deal with, the “mistakes” generated by his or her own shortcomings. When a facilitator pretends omniscience and sets himself or herself above the other person (even when the facilitator is a professional counselor and the other person is a client), the facilitator reinforces any sense of powerlessness and low self-esteem that the other person may already have.
- Sometimes it is helpful for the facilitator to share some of his or her own growth process. If, in the name of “professional distance,” a counselor is unwilling to experience with a client the common humanity they share, both are robbed of the opportunity to share compassion (which means, literally, “to have passion with”).
- Be aware that the facilitator is, at best, a catalyst for the other person’s self-healing. In fact, one benefit of Heartwork is that it is reciprocal—providing both the facilitator and the person doing the exercise equal opportunity for looking inward.