Not too long ago, my heart ached.
Right in the center of my chest and right in the middle of the night. The pain was very strong and I knew exactly what the problem was.
It all began like this: a group of us had planned to celebrate the 50th birthday of one of my oldest friends, whom I rarely see, in the Olympic National Forest near Seattle.
I was going to fly from Michigan. The only time I could go was a late afternoon on a Friday and then I had to be back by Monday morning. Short, right? Expensive, right?
Not only that, but we didn’t quite know where we would meet up. Two of us would be driving from Seattle into the large national park to meet the other two who were already hiking in the park.
We were going to meet at some point that would take hours of hiking to reach. By the time my flight arrived and we got the rental car, it would be quite a drive to the park entrance, let alone the meeting point.
Which would mean we would be hiking at night…in a huge wilderness that I had never been in…towards a far off point, with no GPS!
If I were an avid outdoorsman with lots of camping and night time navigation experience—able to track wild animals through smell alone, and start fires with my bare hands—that would be one thing.
But the last time I camped was years ago, in a plush campground where the car was nearby and we sat on lounge chairs soaking up the sun.
So, with the help of my very smart wife, I talked the whole thing through and it all added up to an expensive disaster. I called my friend, left an apologetic voicemail about how dark it would be when we met up and that the whole thing seemed like a shot in the, well…in the dark.
And then I went to bed.
And woke up with a huge pain in my heart. Sharp—like the pain you have when you get rejected by a lover.
And immediately, I knew. That pain was not because I didn't eat healthy--I hear all about healthy diets from my wife and sister, who are both nutritionists.
And it wasn't because I don't move my body. Having a mom who was an exercise instructor meant I value movement...and being the dad of an 8 year old boy means I cannot avoid it for very long.
It was something else: I had let my brain override my heart.
So the decision was clear--I’m going. I don’t care if it sounds crazy and doesn't add up, but I’m going. Into the unknown.
And then things shifted.
Not only did my heartache stop immediately, but unbeknownst to me, the two friends who were already hiking in the park had decided we should meet near the entrance.
After coordinating with them and finishing our travels, we ended up getting to our campground right as it was getting dark with enough time to pitch the tents and light a fire. Whew!
The weekend turned out to be magical. That old forest on the coast is amazing. It felt as if I was in an ancient biological entity that had accepted us in its midst. I wondered if this is how many forests used to look thousands of years ago.
There was no cell phone coverage. There was nothing to do but sleep, play with the fire, cook and eat, meditate, connect with real, multi-dimensional human beings without texting or phone calls, settling into the moss covered silence and being absorbed by it and the river flowing next to us.
In fact, the short weekend felt like being lost in time and space—like stepping into a portal where weeks can pass on one side and just a few hours on the other.
And when I sat in meditation, early in the mornings, at the foot of a 500 year old, moss-covered tree, I felt like the whole forest was there to support my body as a deep peacefulness in me arose to the surface.
So…what’s the lesson? What’s the message?
The message is about the brain being convinced of an idea and overriding the heart--the very heart of you. How often does that happen to you? You get a little feeling and then your brain cuts it off.
The heart of you is right in the utmost center of your being. That place out of which the little signals come about which way to turn, where to go as you navigate your life.
Looking closer at this place, it is not only sending us signals, it is our very home. It is the place we connect with others, and in many contemplative traditions, it is considered the seat of consciousness itself.
Indeed, the deeper one goes into this place through that conscious relaxation process we call meditation, the more it seems as if the heart of you, the very you-ness of you is right there and gets closer and closer until it is the only thing—brilliant, awake, unblemished. And then it becomes a doorway to the indescribable.
So when that place aches, pay attention! An aching heart is a speaking heart.
The heart of your being aches when connection is lost. Connection to a loved one, or connection with Love or Life itself.
What to do when that happens?
Turn to face it and discover what needs to change—maybe it is action--saying Yes to something that doesn't quite mentally compute, but feels right and whole. And when you act from that place, life seems to respond and cooperate. Coincidental events become the norm. It all flows.
Or maybe expression is needed—saying something that needs to be said through words or song or dance or art—without which, the heart feels heavy, covered, blocked, in pain.
Or maybe doing nothing is just the right thing—simply being with the heartache until the hurtful thoughts and memories dissolve, the body’s painful tension melts and you land, softly, at home.