Is the way I respond to the homeless man who often sits on the sidewalk near my home, heart-opening or heart-closing? Why is it that on some days I can look him in the eye and smile, but on other days I find myself making a wide circle around his spot on the pavement? Inquiring without judgement, I learn something about current conditions and become aware of a story I was taught as a child- that anyone and everyone who crosses my path with any need is my responsibility. When this story semi-consciously pops up on a day of low energy, I find it hard to simply acknowledge this man as a fellow human being with whom I share this neighbourhood.
So the story about being uber-responsible is heart-closing. On a day when I have more energy, this belief may prompt me to offer more. But if I shift- not just mentally but experientially- to the reality of what a blessing and a joy it can be to offer what I am able (sans the mandatory martyrdom or shame-inducing “should”) I can meet this other where I am- some days able to offer only a smile, other days able to sit and talk or share the bag of apples I just picked up at the store. Sharing a few groceries with a homeless man is not going to solve all the problems of homelessness, but my participation in co-creating solutions in my community is likely to be better informed and more effective if I am able to be with this man and myself with an open heart.
My father had a truly heart-opening story that he repeated often as I grew up. Despite having had a brutally abusive childhood he said, “People do they can with what they have to work with.” I have added to this, “And if my best is doing harm, I need to go get more to work with." (Which usually means asking for and receiving help.)