Use this guided meditation as a way to practice listening softly through the lens of your heart.
It’s so easy to get pulled into our head, to analyze and criticize, to figure it out and make it happen. Spending all of our time in our heads, however, can leave us disconnected with our heart. Spend some time this season reacquainting yourself with the whispers of your heart.
Our culture thrives on being driven. High praise is given to those who accomplish much, and then go on to do more. We are expected to find success at work, at home, and in our personal lives. The weight of these expectations can be disabling. When the pressure becomes too much to bear, our reptilian brain—the area of our brain that becomes triggered when we feel unsafe—takes over and we become anxious and unwell.
A familiar refrain about the stresses of life is that it is the way we respond to stress that is the problem, not the stress itself. I agree to a point. There are choices we can make that will bring less stress into our lives: we can say “no” more often, we can adjust what we expect of ourselves, and we can let go of trying to operate at such a high level in so many different spheres. And yes, we can also pay attention to how we respond to stress in our lives.
The art of fine tuning our response, according to Jillian Pransky, is to cultivate our ability to hear the wisdom found within. Pransky, a restorative yoga teacher and meditation expert writes, “Deep Listening is the habit of paying close and tender attention to our body, our mind, and our heart so we can meet our ‘stress’ differently.” We are able to respond rather than react, to be an active participant rather than a pawn in the game of our life.
In her book Deep Listening Pransky describes us as “a society of zippers. Whether it’s our endless to-do lists or feeling that we have to ‘get it right,’ we feel pushed and pulled all the time.” Relaxation ends up as a bullet on the to-do list, and we push ourselves into yoga poses, even when those are meant to alleviate stress. The effort involved in all this “zipping” leaves our nervous system wired up, because it’s getting the signals that something is wrong, and that we must be in danger.
The first step in coming back to ourselves is to allow the feeling of being supported. When we feel alone and isolated, that sense of needing to keep all the balls in the air is amplified. Finding the space to feel your connection with the earth, and how the earth fully supports you, no matter what, is essentially for beginning the process of deep listening. A simple grounding practice, where you stand or sit and feel your energetic connection to earth—where your body meets the earth and the earth is fully supporting you—is a good place to start.
Once we begin to feel that sense of support, Pransky suggests moving your awareness to your breath. The focus on the breath is something that demands nothing of us, other than to simply allow our breath to move through us. We allow ourselves to fully exhale, and then, without any conscious thought, our body refills itself with breath. Pransky writes, “becoming aware of our partnership with the breath reinforces our experience of connectedness. Of not feeling alone.”
The sense of allowing, without effort, begins to calm the nervous system. As a next step, Pransky suggests a heart practice, that involves “receiving everything tenderly and openly, attending to it with care.” She likens this “compassionate listening” practice to how we naturally listen to those close to us, but often neglect to do when we listen to ourselves.
Listening with a sense of kindness and curiosity when we feel tension in our bodies, minds, and spirits requires practice, and, Pransky maintains, “releasing our tension requires softness.” To listen softly means to be present with whatever thoughts, emotions, or sensations arise within you.
Pransky offers this guided meditation as a way to practice listening softly through the lens of your heart:
Imagine you could breathe
directly through your heart.
Imagine this is where the air flows
in and out of you.
Let your breath flow freely
in and out
through your heart.
Let your breath soften you.
Uncovering layers of you.
Allowing room for you to unfurl.
All of you.
Your breath tenderly receiving
everything it comes in contact with.
Welcoming your deepest feelings
Welcoming all your feelings,
your joys and your sorrows.
Your breath is a gentle listening space.
Your breath listens wholeheartedly
to all that it meets,
staying with you no matter what arises.
Your breath is always present.
Listen to your infinite breath
as it flows
in and out
of your heart.
Your breath will teach you how to listen.
Listen to yourself
as your breath listens to you.