“The Heart Expansion Experiment”
Act I: A heart warming exercise.
Try this today: Send loving thoughts to as many random people as possible. Take a few seconds throughout your day—wherever you happen to go—and imagine yourself sending love and warm wishes to each person you come across. Do this whether you actually interact with them or should you just see them from a distance. Focus on that person’s image and imagine what you are saying to them.
The first time I did this, I decided to give it a concentrated effort for a day. Now let me preface this by saying that I like to think I go out most days with good will towards my fellow human beings; so committing to just a single day focusing on this didn’t seem too challenging. However, what I would soon learn was that this little “heart expansion exercise,” well…it was—quite literally—exercise.
I had many opportunities with many different people at the beach that day and the little café where I had lunch and worked on my laptop. It was a very eclectic group—people from all walks of life, including tourists from several different countries and many different “dramas” playing out all around me.
Later, as I was driving to the grocery store, a guy in a van cut in front of another car and narrowly missed causing an accident. He sped away seemingly oblivious to the havoc he had just caused. I sent him loving thoughts for a safe arrival at his destination and I focused on all the drivers surrounding the scene, sending each one of them the same.
The check-out woman at the store had sad eyes and seemed distracted. I mentally gave her a hug and wished her well.
I smiled and said “hi” as I passed several different people in the store and later outside in the parking lot as I was walking to my car. Some smiled and said “hello” back. Others looked startled as though they were surprised someone had ventured to speak to them. One woman eyed me suspiciously and kept walking.
I observed people as I drove home. At least half of the drivers I saw were frowning. I sent good wishes out to as many people as I could including the guy sitting at the stoplight next to me who was angrily engaged in a phone conversation and the little old man in front of me who didn’t stop at the four way stop, but then did stop at the next green light.
I sent good thoughts to the people walking through the crosswalks in front of my car; some people were absorbed with their cell phone or talking to their companion. One woman passed by on her bike happily belting out a song she was listening to on her headphones.
I saw a homeless man sitting on the corner and as I pulled up to the next stop, there was a guy selling oranges and flowers from the median—to each of them I sent love.
Throughout the entire day, I sent warm thoughts and wishes for peace and happiness to every person who crossed my path.
A realization I had is this: When I have judged someone in my life…When I have either verbally or mentally labeled them (even with just a fleeting thought of “Rude” or “Grouch”) …In those moments, I wasn’t being creative. (This realization really made me sit up and take notice!) And the next connection I made was this: Creativity carves a quick path to compassion.
What might this person’s story be?…
Taking that moment to think that there might be more to a person’s story, jolts you out of your old (default) label-making mode and from there, you can see there is more to their story. Not only is this an effective method for getting past a negative perception of someone, it is also useful to employ when we find ourselves reducing someone to the seemingly “benign” labels we so often assign.
Our intellect is very adept at categorizing and sorting information for us as we move through this world, but it always needs collaboration with the heart. And the moment I decide to interject that aspect—to be a little creative and imagine a bigger picture—then that person ceases to be the simple label I initially saw. It is then I can have compassion and send love and good wishes to that person. When I am able to open my heart in this way, I cross the boundaries of all labels and all preconceived notions to where I see—WE ARE ALL ONE.
A warning though: The love you send out comes back to you ten-fold. And like Dr. Seuss’s Grinch, I felt my heart had expanded to three times its size in one day.—I was exhausted!
It was a good tired though and as I climbed into bed that night I smiled. I thought about all the different “characters” who had played a part in The Heart Expansion Experiment:
“. . . now starring as the “singing lady on a bike” and “man in van played by. . .”
As I nodded off to sleep, I thanked each one of them in turn. . . And do you know what?
Every single one of them smiled back.
Photographs by LeAnn
1-2: Santa Monica, California 3: Venice Beach, California