Is it possible to live with an open heart—in heart consciousness—all the time? That depends on two things.
For the past two or three years, we’ve been introducing the idea that there are different levels of consciousness. We’ve identified three levels: safety consciousness, heart consciousness, and spacious consciousness. If you’re not familiar with them, you can read this article.
It seems that people are very interested in learning how to live in heart consciousness. We teach this in one of our online courses called Thrilled To Be Alive, and it’s the most popular course we offer. Heart consciousness is familiar to all of us; we’ve all spent time in this state of being. Remember a time when you were feeling utterly grateful to someone in your life? That was heart consciousness. Or a time when you felt deeply appreciative of the circumstances of your life. That was heart consciousness. It is a state defined by appreciation and gratitude.
When we live in heart consciousness, we feel more relaxed, open, curious, and compassionate. We feel less anxious, defensive, judgmental, and self-critical. It’s a delicious way to move through the world. I believe we can spend much more time in heart consciousness than is customary, but I don’t think we can live there all the time.
To live in heart consciousness
Being able to live in heart consciousness more of the time depends on two things.
The first is how well we satisfy our basic needs. Maslow pointed out that our unfulfilled needs motivate us. So, if we don’t have enough food and water, we are driven to get food and water. If we don’t have enough financial security, whatever that means to each person, we are motivated to get more financial security. “What is enough” is entirely subjective; we each decide for ourselves. The point is to create a “sense of enough” in our lives so that we aren’t continuously focusing on creating more because when that’s our focus, we remain in safety consciousness.
Think of it this way:
- When in safety consciousness, I’m focused on what I need or want.
- When in heart consciousness, I’m focused on appreciating what I have—my life, the people I love, and the people who love me.
The second thing that determines if we can live in heart consciousness is the people with whom we choose to relate. When we choose to connect with people who are emotionally unhealthy or immature, we’re very likely to find ourselves in safety consciousness. We end up taking a higher degree of responsibility for these people than when we relate with people who are emotionally healthy and mature.
We choose the people in our lives
In my private practice, I hear people complain about the “difficult” people in their lives— parents, ex-partners, even current partners, and sometimes their children. When we complain about the people in our lives, we disempower ourselves. After all, we choose to relate to these people.
Once we’re grown up, we don’t have to relate to our parents. It’s a choice. We don’t have to relate to ex-partners or current partners; it’s our choice. Our children may be an exception because when they are young and dependent on us, we do have a commitment/obligation to get them launched. However, even when it comes to our children, we want to be careful not to victimize ourselves, after all, we chose to have them. They are in our lives not because of their choosing, but because of ours.
So, here’s the thing, the people in our lives are here because we chose them. We may have chosen them at a time when we liked or loved them, and we may no longer desire or love them, for example, in a co-parenting situation with an ex-partner. When we shift to no longer appreciating the people in our lives, we will have a hard time being in heart consciousness with them.
But that’s okay, no need to beat ourselves up if we have some relationships that aren’t based in heart consciousness. Instead, we can get good at operating in safety consciousness. What’s that mean? First, we need to avoid victimizing ourselves—poor me—because when we do so, we disempower ourselves. If we’re interacting with someone who we perceive to be emotionally unhealthy or immature, it’s especially necessary to empower ourselves.
Maturity allows us to respond, not react
The second skill for navigating safety consciousness well is maturity. Maturity allows us to communicate thoughtfully, consider the bigger picture—not just what’s happening at the moment—understand different points of view, and respond appropriately instead of reacting impulsively.
Some of our relationships will require us to be in safety consciousness, and others will encourage us to be in heart consciousness. This is not a sign that something is wrong or that we are failing. It is the result of choosing to have people in our lives who aren’t emotionally healthy and mature. And we need to consider the possibility that we may be the one who lacks emotional health and maturity, and if that’s the case, we have some work to do.
The idea behind recognizing different levels of consciousness is to become skillful in all three levels and be able to flow from one to another depending on circumstances. In general, we could all benefit from spending more time in heart consciousness. That’s the purpose of our Thrilled To Be Alive course; we show people a straightforward way to access heart consciousness. And for a more holistic experience, we offer retreats in which people learn to open their hearts, and also become more skillful in safety consciousness and more secure within themselves.