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Opening Our Hearts to Ourselves and Others

Written by MJ Ryan, SheEO Development Guide

Mission II by Catherine Nelson

This month, I find my mind continually turning to the question of how do we heal from the trauma of our personal and collective woundings, however we experienced them. And how do we support the healing of others, without minimizing or glossing over the painful realities of their experience? In decades past, I believed talk therapy was the answer, but have come to see its flaws and limitations—without a somatic approach, trauma stays in the body and talking about our wounding over and over can create further trauma. And the focus on the individual centers the self only, causing us to ignore the social, racial and cultural context. This is not to say therapy is never helpful; only that that it is not the only or complete path.

In thinking of healing options, I’ve been looking particularly to black and brown teachers for guidance. One wise woman I recently discovered is Insight Meditation teacher Ronya Fakhoury Banks. Her 2017 article in Tricycle magazine described her healing journey that led her through pain and angst to “opening my heart and embracing humans from all walks of life with more love, care, and dignity.” I have studied and practiced Buddhism for decades, but somehow the steps to healing and integration she outlines in this excerpt really resonated:

“I was born in Kuwait to Palestinian parents and raised in the United States. From a very young age, I remember feeling an internal struggle that came from not fitting in both of my two very different worlds.

“This conflict eventually led me down a dark path of using alcohol and drugs as a way to alleviate my debilitating anxiety and inner shame….

“By the time I was 24, I was a single mother with a 2 year-old-son, self-medicating daily with alcohol and drugs to relieve my chronic and debilitating anxiety.

“When I finally quit using, I hit the proverbial wall. Daily life was a challenge. In hopes of relieving my anxiety, I began reading as many books as I could in the psychology and self-help sections. Nearly every book I read pointed me to meditation.

“I …noticed that as long as I practiced, I felt almost no anxiety, was less reactive, and was much kinder to myself and others. I also began practicing body scanning, which brought a nearly instant calm to my nervous system….

“Buddhism has taught me that in order to wake up to suffering, we need to clearly see and embrace all the ways that we avoid dealing with our internal pain. We can heal, but only after we have the courage to stay with this pain and have compassion for ourselves.

“And with regular mindfulness practice, we can also see how we are afraid of change, of those we don’t understand, and how we might project our pain outward to others in the form of competition, anger, or judgment. In essence, we witness how we close our hearts to other human beings. Once we see this clearly, we can practice opening our hearts to everyone, including ourselves.

“Here are the steps I have taken (and that you can take, too) to support personal healing and integration:

  • Engage in daily mindfulness meditation practice to train yourself to be aware of your mind, heart, and body’s present state
  • Practice being aware of whatever is arising in your sphere of experience during waking life
  • Open your heart with compassion to your personal fears, difficulties, and needs
  • Open your heart to other people’s fears, difficult situations, and needs
  • Focus on what connects us rather than what separates us
  • Take engaged and compassionate action to relieve your own and other people’s suffering

“What’s left as the result of these practices is a simple yet powerful compassion that includes all of our sufferings….

“May we stop living in fear and begin living in peace and love, and see how we are all one in heart.”

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