As I drove along the primitive roads of northwestern Cambodia towards Angkor—the legendary capital and spiritual center of the Khmer Empire from 802 to 1432 A.D—I could not help but notice the contrast between lush jungle and vast stretches of empty scorched earth, infamously known as “the killing fields.” Reminded of the genocide perpetrated in the mid 1970s by the Khmer Rouge dictator Pol Pot, under whom more than one million Cambodians perished, I was overcome with grief and anger.
The young Cambodian architecture students I met on this article assignment to write about preservation efforts at Angkor displayed a remarkable ability to forgive their tragic past and move forward with joyful anticipation of the future. They showed me that to forgive fully, we must move beyond the illusion of separation from each other, our own higher selves, and Spirit—the Divine guiding force that is always conspiring on our behalf. Only then can we truly love. The sculpted smiling faces of hundreds of bodhisattvas (compassionate beings who help others attain enlightenment) on one of the Buddhist temples at Angkor were a powerful reminder of this lesson.
Heart-Centered Practices and Benefits
The overwhelming grief and anger I initially felt in Cambodia brought me deeper into my heart center, as I began to feel compassion for everyone involved in this tragedy, which gradually and surprisingly gave way to an abiding peace within. I have found that I can sustain this peaceful feeling when I observe where I am focusing my attention moment by moment, and then continually shift it back to my heart (and out of my head). In this way, I am more present and able to detach from distracting emotions that keep me unbalanced, constricted, and agitated. Another way to achieve this heart-centered detachment is by reciting the Heart Sutra, one of the best known Buddhist scriptures. I particularly like to chant the last few lines of this sutra, which quiets my mind and produces a heart-calming effect. When I stay focused and centered in my heart I also feel grounded, balanced, lighter, and more joyful.
As a longtime journalist, I have traveled the world and explored the esoteric teachings and practices of diverse spiritual traditions. Much of this timeless wisdom is about embodying a heart-centered way of being. On an article assignment in Egypt, I was inspired by paintings on the walls of Egyptian temples and tombs depicting the “weighing of the heart ceremony.” In Egyptian cosmology, a deceased person could not attain immortality if his or her heart was not as light as a feather. Indeed, it has been said that the greatest things are accomplished with a light heart. There is also a very tangible benefit to living fully in and through my heart. The heart chakra—one of the main spiritual energy centers of the body—is associated with the thymus gland, which regulates the immune system to promote physical health. An open, activated heart chakra enables this gland to function optimally.
Taming the Mind in Service to the Heart
Cultivating heart-centeredness is the goal of many meditation practices, which endeavor to tame the wandering mind. One of my favorite ways to move more deeply into my heart is through a walking meditation, where I repeat the sacred Mayan words I learned on my journey to the Yucatan—In Lak’ech; A Lak’en (I am you; you are me)—a simple yet profound way to experience the unity consciousness of universal love.
Mystics, poets, and truth-seekers throughout the ages have recognized the profound importance of mastering the heart’s energies. Now, more than ever, we are being asked “to step out of the circle of time and into the circle of love,” as the 13th-century Sufi poet Jalaluddin Rumi wrote. As I’ve practiced embodying and sustaining a heart-centered way of being, I have been able to tap into my true essence and power in direct alignment with Spirit, Divine love, and the universal flow of abundance. I have gained more clarity about my life’s purpose, enjoyed harmonious relationships, more easily manifested my intentions, achieved greater mastery of my energy and emotions, and accelerated my spiritual growth. Embodying the wisdom of the heart is the key to inner freedom, wellness, and joy.