I’m in the midst of the most profound experiment I’ve ever done. I wrote about this idea in a previous article, and now I can unequivocally state that the results are not only mind opening but heart opening.
For the first time in my life, I understand the famous T.S. Elliot quote:
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.
I have come home to my heart. And I know this place for the first time. I am not afraid of this place—of living with an open heart, nor am I a master. But I am discovering how to live with an open heart as part of this experiment, which involves working with a partner—a buddy—in my case it’s a colleague of mine, Mike, who’s also a therapist. To be clear, we’re not doing therapy with each other. Actually, we’re doing the opposite.
Therapy reinforces safety consciousness
All we are doing is reminding one another that we have a choice—almost all the time—to live in heart consciousness instead of safety consciousness.
In safety consciousness, I am focused on doing things to make myself feel safe and secure, including setting goals, being productive, solving problems, managing my finances, setting clear boundaries with people—all necessary activities. And this is where most of us live most of the time. In safety consciousness, the smallest hiccup can cause anxiety, reactivity, negative self-talk, judgments, and inappropriate behaviors on my part.
Heart consciousness is very different from safety consciousness. When I’m in heart consciousness I appreciate so much about my life—not just the “good” things, but even many of the “hard” things. Not only do I appreciate what I have, simple things, like I have two legs and two arms that work, I can also walk and run, dance and exercise. I have a cool cat, Maow, a wonderful wife, Hannah (maybe I should have listed Hannah before Maow?), and a few dear friends. But even more fundamental than what I have is the simple fact that I’m alive. That alone is a reason to feel grateful.
Mike and I are learning that we can experience something that might typically be considered difficult, challenging, or scary, and still stay in heart consciousness by practicing being grateful. Here’s an example Mike shared with me. After visiting his dentist, he wrote the following:
For as long as I can remember I suffered my way through dental procedures with thoughts like:
- I hope this asshole knows what he’s doing.
- He’s probably a sadist.
- He’d better not screw up. Is he drilling the right tooth?
- God this sucks.
- I might have to pee. What if I piss my pants right here?
- Ooh, that hurt. It’s gonna start hurting. Wait…wait, it’s hurting! Maybe not. Don’t be a baby.
- How can anyone be happy being a dentist? Rooting around in people’s disgusting mouths all day…
- How come my teeth suck so bad? It’s genetics. I hate my parents.
- I can’t believe how expensive this is. I could go on a vacation for this money, but no, here I am being tortured so he can drive his Porsche.
- I’m losing parts of my body that have been with me forever. I’m slowly dying off…grief.
- I’m sweating. Can they see it? Of course they can. God this is embarrassing.
- Is it starting to hurt for real now?
Today, being in heart consciousness, my thoughts were different:
- Wow, those poor people in the old west: a shot of whiskey, some dudes to hold you down…
- This guy is actually very good.
- That’s a thoughtful method, starting the drill very lightly, making sure it doesn’t hurt before applying more pressure.
- Can you imagine life without modern dentistry? That scene from Castaway…
- This is so friggin’ cool if you think about it.
- Grind away dude!
- Hey, the sound of the drill blows out internal dialogue.
- I’m gonna stick my tongue in that spit sucker thing next time, just for fun.
Looking up at these two faces, with the bright operating light just behind them – the image is so clear and close and stark. There we were, the three of us saving me from what would have been horrendous if not for this procedure. It was cool. I was comfortable. My body tensed up from time to time. My jaw and neck hurt from staying in that position for hours. But I wasn’t suffering. Best dental procedure ever. I don’t feel normal.
Laughing out loud
I laughed out loud when I read Mike’s story. I entirely related to the first part, going to the dentist and being in safety consciousness. The second part was a whole new concept for me. But, for the past several months I’ve been test driving how to work with my consciousness, and the results have been life-changing. And to further my understanding, I started a beta-group, leading ten people through a 21-day online course. Each person has a buddy, which is key to the course design, and over the course of 21 days, they learn ways to access heart consciousness.
There is much I could share about this, but for now, I want to highlight three key points.
1) To be content and feel satisfied in my life requires that I live mostly in heart consciousness.
Even when I use all the psychological tools I have, which have helped me cope with anxiety and insecurity my whole life, the problem is that I am operating within safety consciousness. The result, no matter how proficient I am at communicating, setting intentions, and maturely expressing my feelings, still leaves me in safety consciousness. I believe it is essential to be good at navigating safety consciousness, but it’s also a trap.
2) Safety consciousness is almost invisible
What water is to fish, safety consciousness is to human beings. I don’t recognize safety consciousness because I grew up in safety consciousness. The only way I see to break out of the habitual pattern of safety consciousness is to have someone I trust point it out to me time and again. I’ll share with you an example of how this works.
I was on the phone with Mike, telling him that I’ve mostly been living in heart consciousness, but lately, I’ve also been in safety consciousness. He immediately challenged me and said, “Nah, I think you’re in safety consciousness, and you’re kidding yourself.”
Jake: “Well, you may be right, but that’s because we moved to Hawaii and I have to figure out how to make a living here, I’m managing very complex issues at a company where I serve as chairman of the board, and I’m trying to work out a bunch of details with the contractor who’s building our home.”
This was the key
Mike responded very slowly, almost speaking one word at a time: “Well . . . that’s really . . . really, interesting . . . because you can make a shitload of money in heart consciousness, manage the board of directors while you’re in heart consciousness, and work out details with your contractor while you’re in heart consciousness. On principle, there is no reason why you would need to go to safety consciousness to do the things you need to do. You don’t need to be in safety consciousness, and your needs won’t be met nearly as well in safety consciousness. You do so much better, have so much more success, feel so much better doing all of this in heart consciousness.”
Jake: POP! “You’re absolutely correct. I get it. I’m presupposing that to do certain things I need to be in safety consciousness. Justifying being in safety consciousness.
Mike: “Yeah, yeah, you’re saying some of the time you need to be in safety consciousness to do certain things, you don’t like going there but, you just have to go there. But, whoa, no, no, no . . . you don’t need to go there!”
3) It is realistic to live mostly in heart consciousness
This is a new insight for me. Before this experiment, I believed that I needed to live most of the time in safety consciousness, because of the business and busyness of life. I thought that only when I felt safe, I could shift into heart consciousness. I no longer believe this. I now recognize that I can live most of the time in heart consciousness and only when I feel genuinely threatened do I need to go to safety consciousness.
In my next article, I’ll share with you how I’m learning to manage the impulse to go into safety consciousness at times when I don’t need to.
Our 21-Day Experiment
Meanwhile, the first beta-group is wrapping up, and it’s been a great 21-day experiment for people interested in learning more about this way of living. I’m so excited about the results I’m going to offer another one. I know that many people who have been to our retreats want to do this course, and I will do one for our retreat participants in a few months. For now, I’m looking for people who have not been to our retreats because I’m curious to see how this model works if you have not learned the other models we teach. I want to understand how this approach to heart-consciousness/gratitude stands on its own.
What I will say about the course is that I inspire myself with the results. I’m seeing people open their hearts and form nourishing connections. I’m seeing them let go of their reasons for withholding, controlling, or defending themselves. And, at times, they may choose to withhold, control or defend because they truly don’t feel safe, but it’s a choice, not a habituated response. I have inspired myself with those who are participating in the first course, and I look forward to starting another one in March.
At some point in time we’ll start charging a fee for this 21-day course, $299, but for now we’re doing another beta-group—which means that it’s free, but we expect participants to share ideas and feedback so we can refine the experience. If you want to apply, please fill out the form below. If you applied before and didn’t get in, check the appropriate box.