It took me a long time to understand that closing my heart as a form of protection makes as much sense as chopping off my hands to avoid getting blisters on them.
How We Close Our Heart
At 7 years of age, I realised that being openly affectionate could get me into trouble. This conclusion came about following an incident with a friend (I tell the full story here ). We had built a treehouse together and afterwards, there was this deep sense of connection between the two of us – it was like we were brothers, and at that time in my life, I desperately wanted a brother.
The sense of openness with my treehouse friend disappeared when some older boys came along and said that we were ‘acting gay’. I had no idea what being gay meant, but I guessed it must have something to do with being overly affectionate. I began to hide this aspect of my personality – I closed my heart because it felt like the only way to avoid a social stigma.
A few years later, my first serious (well, I was serious) girlfriend dumped me for no apparent reason. I felt absolutely devastated for months afterwards (many days in my room with the curtains drawn listening to Billy Bragg), and I swore I’d never allow a girl to do that to me again –my not-so-novel solution was to yet again close my heart as a form of protection.
There were many incidents like the ones I’ve described here – some far more serious and painful– and collectively, these episodes compelled me to build a barrier around my heart. This defence network was kept in place through obsessive thinking. I started to live more and more in my head as maintaining the barrier required constant strategizing, evaluation of threats, and planning for future threats.
I closed my heart because it seemed the only way to protect myself from pain. I didn’t realize that by putting a barrier between myself and the world, I was putting myself into a prison of thinking.
As I became more and more disconnected from reality, I felt increasingly dissatisfied. I then discovered getting drunk could not only make me feel numb to the real world but also so disconnected from it that I no longer felt like I was missing anything. This seemed to work for a few years but reality doesn’t like being ignored and the numbness was soon replaced by mental suffering.
It took me a long time to understand that closing my heart as a form of protection makes as much sense as chopping off my hands to avoid getting blisters on them. There are far less drastic things I can do to protect my hands, and there are far less drastic things I can do to protect my heart.
How Opening Your Heart Can Help You Escape Addiction
It is only through developing open-heartedness that we are able to escape the prison of excessive thinking. This is because it is all the effort we put into protecting our heart that is keeping us trapped in our heads.
There are far better ways to manage the ups and downs of life than trying to make ourselves numb to these fluctuations. This involves way too much of a sacrifice. We can’t just selectively turn off the experiences and emotions we don’t like –if you want to be numb to sadness, you also have to sacrifice your ability to feel real joy.
The sacrifices involved in what I call ‘the path of numbness’ make life utterly unsatisfying. It also seems incredibly ungrateful to respond to this wonderful gift of being alive by trying to hide from it all the time – the saddest part is that when we are caught up in the prison of thought, we don’t even realize we are missing anything.