In the aftermath of the Sutherland Springs shooting, my social media feed was full of reactions to this unimaginable horror.
This horrific event raised a lot of issues for me, and for the world. One of them, though maybe not the one that will get much attention, was how are we going to get through this? How will the country fare? How am I going to manage the sorrow and fear?
One common way forward came from a White House senior advisor who tweeted that “hearts are breaking” across the country. The tweet also sent “love and prayers” to the people of Sutherland Springs.
I fully support the impulse to project comfort in the face of tragedy. I also understand the use of “heartbroken” to convey the depth of the ache felt when such tragedies happen, even to people not connected to us in any direct way other than our common humanity.
But my own experience with personal crisis has taught me one important way in which the tweeter was wrong in this instance.
It’s an unbroken heart that feels a stranger’s pain, endures personal grief, and focuses on love over fear.
I’ve learned firsthand that Heart is your source of resilience, purpose, and courage. And when you tap into the power of Heart, it helps your brain perform better – and makes you stronger and smarter.
The truth is, when things are at their worst, when we’re at our breaking points, what’s actually broken is brain, not Heart. Brain is an excellent resource for us, capable of many wonderful and extremely useful things. But there are some things it cannot do.
Brain throws up more things to worry about and lacks a program for happiness. We think the brain is the house of reason, but sometimes brain helps us believe in that which is untrue.
Brain is not infallible. And, it gets tired. So tired that it cannot go on, cannot accomplish helpful things. Brain gets stuck in a loop of seeking explanations for the inexplicable, like this tragedy, and finding none, keeps re-looping around the question “Why? Why? Why?”
Brain frantically tries to process the incomprehensible, and throws off feelings of anger, hate, and unbearable fear. When brain is eventually pushed so far past its limits, it shuts down.
This happens for the immediate victims, but also for witnesses near and far. Those of us watching this story on the news absorb a body blow of our own. It obviously does not compare to those who were killed or wounded, and those who know and love them. But it can still shake you to your core, especially when it’s part of a pattern we know that repeats.
We feel we can barely stand to look at this pattern of senseless killings with guns, and we also fear we’ll see similar shootings again soon. How can we withstand that knowledge? And the knowledge that there’s no reason it can’t be us or our loved ones next time?
I want to dispel the myth that Heart is weak and soft. It’s just the opposite – Heart is strong and bold. And when brain is tapped out, Heart will step in.
I learned this through life experience, and it came as a surprise to my professional self. My psychiatric training offered a totally different framework for coping with everything from day-to-day life to major traumas. But when I hit the most difficult period of my life, and that framework stopped working, I discovered a different way to be.
I essentially fell into Heart. And, honestly, I felt a lot of resistance to it at first because I was so devoted to my brain. But I slowly learned how to bring Heart into my brain-first life, and discovered that when brain is connected to Heart, I feel calmer and worry less.
I saw that Heart is immune to being immobilized in brain’s dark emotions, and offers instead a constant state of love, power, courage, and hope. Heart is the only thing that is able to pull us through the worst of times.
It’s Heart that sees us through grieving. It allows us to reach out to others, stand up again, take one more step forward, and then another. Heart gives you the courage to leave your home, cry with others, and get down to business.
Heart is what creates the emotional urgency to keep talking about it, and not stop talking about it until something is done. Heart is done with ‘thoughts and prayers’ as a sole solution. Heart urges and allows action.
And with something big enough, Heart always emerges. What I’ve learned through my personal experience — and ultimately have been able to recreate in my professional experience — is that we can shift into Heart intentionally. We don’t have to wait for dire necessity to benefit from the power of Heart.
And now, I’m reminding myself that though my pain is acute, its source is really brain, and my heart is actually fine. My heart is not broken at all. My heart is ready to help me find more strength and less fear.
So today I will intend to think with Heart as I wrestle with this tragedy, and wonder how to stop the madness and how to start the healing for all of us.
Today, Heart will help me stay open, feel connected, and know my own self and my abilities. And Heart will access them for the good of me, those around me, and in fact, the world.
Today Heart will let me know fear cannot win. But love can and will.
I know in my heart that the more people turn to their hearts, the more people will be able to handle whatever comes their way. Even if that means confronting another violent incident in the world.
In my life, the benefits of tapping into Heart turned out to be undeniable. I’ll never go back to trying to power through everything with brain alone. I’ve also seen equally dramatic effects in my patients when I teach them to access Heart.
And you can do this too. Start to slowly add Heart into your life like I did, and remember that ‘heartbreak’ is just a word your brain made up.
If you want to learn more about living in Heart, take this short quiz to see where you land on the Heart strong spectrum.