Making friends with this pitch-black heart of mine...
“He just had this golden heart.”
Driving home one day, several years ago, I heard a woman being interviewed on NPR use these words to describe her nephew, a soldier who had died in Afghanistan. Instantly, I felt a pang of shame and longing lance through me because I knew, without reservation, that my heart was not golden.
My heart was jet black. Blacker than coal. Black like obsidian or a raven’s feathers.
I’ve always known, ever since I was very small, that there was a darkness inside of me and that it was very important that I keep an iron grip on it always, squeezing it tighter and tighter, containing it, so that no one else could ever see how black my heart really was. I knew, somehow, that if they did, something awful would happen.
This is the story of how I discovered what lives inside that blackness…
Four or five years ago, I began to sense my darkness as an almost physical place in my body — a deep but narrow gash in my chest. What felt like a bottomless crevasse. The thought of uncovering what lived inside that crevasse terrified me and left me with a deep, throbbing ache in my sternum that wouldn’t go away. For weeks, I tried to ignore the chasm of blackness permeating the general vicinity of my heart, but the more I refused to acknowledge it, the deeper it seemed to get and the more it pulled at my body and my thoughts.
All I wanted was to find a way to somehow rip the darkness out of myself, to just make it go away before it got so big and so powerful that I couldn’t control it anymore. Eventually, at an appointment with one of my wellness practitioners, I felt brave enough to start to examine the deep, black gash that felt like it was threatening to swallow me whole. Together, we approached that frightening, yawning crevasse as tenderly as we could, with as much kindness and strength as we could muster — my practitioner using open-ended questions to gently guide me, his calm, steadying presence providing an anchor when I felt overwhelmed by sensation or my own emotions. Nothing could have prepared me for what I would find only a few minutes into our exploration.
Stars. Planets. Galaxies. A whole universe literally right inside of me.
I’d been so afraid of discovering that my deep, black gash was the place where I had been hiding all of my badness—my flaws that made me unworthy of connection and impossible to love. But what I found instead was BEAUTY. A beauty that took my breath away and left me gasping in wonder and disbelief. And then it hit me — if something that amazing, that powerful, that beautiful lived inside of me, why would I want to contain or hide it?
Why would I want that gorgeous slice of sky inside me to go away?
I decided to start trying to let people see that part of me — that slice of sky. I imagined taking both hands and prying the dark chasm in my chest open wide so that other people could see the universe inside of me too. The first time I did this was during a mindfulness exercise at a yoga training I was attending. The facilitator asked each of us to sit knee to knee with another participant and stare into their eyes without speaking for 10 full minutes. It was scary, it was uncomfortable, and it was beautiful. As I gazed into this other woman’s eyes, I saw vulnerability, compassion, tenderness. A deep desire to be seen and to be loved. I saw myself. She wasn’t going to hurt me or reject me or shame me for my stars. She was captivated by the raw beauty inside me.
Now, whenever I feel that deep, aching gash opening up inside my chest, I try my best to connect with and celebrate the universe inside of me. Sometimes it goes well and sometimes it doesn’t, but what matters is that I’m no longer terrified that my pitch-black heart holds dark and nasty secrets or some fatal flaw that makes me unlovable.
And the strangest and most amazing thing of all is that the work that my practitioner did with me to help me cultivate peace with my darkness is the very same kind of work I’m doing with my own clients now (Heart Sessions which involve emotional release and somatic dialoging — exploring physical sensations, emotions, beliefs, and narratives mindfully and gently to foster healing, growth, and transformation). Work that started the process of connecting with myself more fully and honoring the slice of sky inside.
Work that has completely changed how I show up in my relationships and in my life.
And it all started with the courage to move toward my fear instead of running away from it. If you want to, you can do it too. I know it.