Open wide


To love and be loved… something that sits at the heart of every child. It is only as we grow that the accumulated disappointments, the rejections large and small, teach us to shield our hearts against being hurt again. We all get hurt as we grow… even the happiest childhood will carry the shadows of events, unnoticed and unintended perhaps, that have squeezed the little heart tightly. It may be no more than a ‘Not now’ from a busy parent engaged in something that is not safe for the child… with the best of intentions… but to the small person wanting to show that parent a caterpillar they found, it is a rejection. We all suffer them and learn, brick by brick, how to build a defensive barrier around our emotions.

We are taught that emotions have a time and place too. Some are socially acceptable. We can be calm or happy in public… as long as we are not too happy for other people’s comfort. Tears, however, should be a private affair and we learn to swallow them… hide them… except from those to whom we are close enough to let the mask slide. Romance is only acceptable in youngsters… old people may, perhaps, hold hands in public and draw an ‘awww’ from us… but heaven forbid that they have a proper cuddle or kiss. Even our own children see us as too old for ‘that sort of thing’.

Yet is it wrong to have emotions at any age… or merely to display them? For many that becomes an uncertain balance of suppression and repression. Is it wrong to weep for beauty…or for grief? No more so than to laugh out loud for sheer joy… yet both make many uncomfortable. Of course there is a need for self-control… we cannot be ruled by every emotion, displaying and acting upon them at every turn; the world would be untenable. A certain amount of appropriateness must be learned as we go, though our tendency as a society is to stifle all emotional displays.

For all of us there will come a moment when something starts picking away at the defensive walls we have built around our hearts. Something, or someone, will begin to breach our defences… and then we are faced with a choice. Do we let them in, knowing that we leave ourselves defenceless against possible heartache? Or do we shore up the walls with anything we can find to keep our vulnerability protected?

It isn’t always obvious, even to ourselves, how many ways we can find to strengthen the barricades of the heart. We can throw ourselves into a career, with perfectly legitimate goals, seeking security and the rewards of industry…the ‘things’ that distance us from the emotional depths. We might pursue a dream or a cause with a passion… and that passion is fuelled by the same source that we might lavish on a relationship…if we dared. There is, of course, nothing wrong with the dream, the cause or the career in themselves… on the contrary, we need those people who will focus and become the movers and shakers of society. Where it falls down is the ‘why’. Is the focus due to a pure intent to attain the goal, or is it being used to shield a vulnerability that dare not allow a chink of light into the inner fastness of the barricaded heart?

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

On any spiritual path, a path of consciousness, it is through the emotions that we begin to see a wider Love that it is possible to touch. We cannot do so whilst we are immured within the prison of our own fears. We have to live fully, embracing every part of our fragile, beautiful, vulnerable humanity before we can feel what lays both beyond and within us.

When we open ourselves wide to love, we open ourselves to every imaginable heartache as well as every conceivable joy. If we could hook our emotions up to a monitor as easily as we can the heart, for most of us the needle would trace a graph that looks remarkably like a heartbeat as life swings us between the two extremes with periods of quiescence in between. I don’t think that is coincidence… it means we are alive; fully alive, whole and living an emotional journey. That has to be better than flatlining ourselves through fear… don’t you think?

12 thoughts on “Open wide

  1. Most of us have far too many battle scars and bandages on our hearts to be able to relax and trust in love again.
    Those of us who still can, will be the lucky ones…


  2. That’s so individual. Some families let everything hang out and that’s how they are. Others make the British stiff upper lip look sloppy. Some families can’t show emotion, so they overthink everything as if mental acuity is a cure-all. Moreover, I haven’t found this to be more common among on type of family vs. another. Jews aren’t necessarily more emotional than Black families, nor are Methodists less emotional than Catholics or Muslims or Hindus. Not all Black men have rhythm and just because you are musical doesn’t mean you can easily pick up languages. There are so many stereotypes that people fall back on. The one thing that is true is that most kids take after one or the other of their parents. My husband is very much like his father, though he looks like his mother … except he has his mother’s temper and his father’s silence. And interesting combination. I over-intellectualize everything because it’s my way of fending off anger. When I was young, it was my way of fighting back tears. I turned out remarkably like my mother, something I never expected. Meanwhile, although my granddaughter looked like she was going to be just like her mother, she’s actually more like me than either of us anticipated.

    I don’t think any of us really escape our upbringing. If we come from a warm, huggy family, we will probably be warm, huggy adults. If we come from a very hands-off family, even though we may try very hard to get past us, it sneaks back in. This is where nurture seems to always beat out nature. Maybe that’s how it should be.


    1. Nurture is at the root of much of our behaviour…. or our reaction to it becomes so. Mine was never a huggy family… not for the several generations that I knew personally… nor did we express affection very well. That’s one thing I have not carried forward.


  3. Fear does get in the way of living a full life. We’re conditioned to flee pain and go towards pleasure. Oftentimes, they are opposite sides of the same coin. Not all love leads to hurt, but it is only our beloveds that hold that power over us.


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