We often close ourselves off when traumatic events happen in our lives; instead of letting the world soften us, we let it drive us deeper into ourselves. We try to deflect the hurt and pain by pretending it doesn’t exist, but although we can try this all we want, in the end, we can’t hide from ourselves. We need to learn to open our hearts to the potentials of life and let the world soften us.

Whenever we start to let our fears and seriousness get the best of us, we should take a step back and re-evaluate our behavior. The items listed below are seven ways you can open your heart more fully and completely.

1. Breathe into pain

Whenever a painful situation arises in your life, try to embrace it instead of running away or trying to mask the hurt. When the sadness strikes, take a deep breath and lean into it. When we run away from sadness that’s unfolding in our lives, it gets stronger and more real. We take an emotion that’s fleeting and make it a solid event, instead of something that passes through us.

By utilizing our breath we soften our experiences. If we dam them up, our lives will stagnate, but when we keep them flowing, we allow more newness and greater experiences to blossom.

2. Embrace the uncomfortable

We all know what that twinge of anxiety feels like. We know how fear feels in our bodies: the tension in our necks, the tightness in our stomachs, etc. We can practice leaning into these feelings of discomfort and let them show us where we need to go.

The initial impulse is to run away — to try and suppress these feelings by not acknowledging them. When we do this, we close ourselves off to the parts of our lives that we need to experience most. The next time you have this feeling of being truly uncomfortable, do yourself a favor and lean into the feeling. Act in spite of the fear.

3. Ask your heart what it wants

We’re often confused at the next step to take, making pros and cons lists until our eyes bleed and our brains are sore. Instead of always taking this approach, what if we engaged a new part of ourselves that isn’t usually involved in the decision making process?

I know we’ve all felt decisions or actions that we had to take simply due to our “gut” impulses: when asked, we can’t explain the reasons behind doing so — just a deep knowing that it had to get done. This instinct is the part of ourselves we’re approaching for answers.

To start this process, take few deep breaths then ask, “Heart, what decision should I make here? What action feels the most right?”

See what comes up, then engage and evaluate the outcome.

4. Engage your shadow

Many of us who are on the personal development path get caught up in embracing characteristics we want to have, like happiness, compassion, love, and passion. In this pursuit we end up losing parts of ourselves that make us whole, such as suppressing our negative qualities instead of engaging them. Try asking yourself a few questions:

What parts of myself could I do without?

How do I get in my own way?

Is there anything I’m hiding from myself?

Don’t be afraid of what comes out; you might want to run from the answers, but instead, acknowledge them and be with them as much as possible. Once you’re a little clearer about what exactly you’ve been hiding, from it gets easier to shine your light on it.

5. Follow your bliss

For this next step, we’re going to take a cue from the famed mythologist Joseph Campbell. A thread that always remains true throughout his work is the idea of following your bliss. This means engaging and trusting your highest excitement, and letting the deeper pull take you into a new direction, even if you don’t think you’re ready yet.

The term bliss doesn’t mean continuous happiness; instead, it refers to a higher calling. Trust that this will carry you in times of need, and open yourself to be filled with your own bliss.

6. Spend time alone

For most of our lives we’re surrounded by people: our friends, colleagues, peers, family members, loved ones, and strangers. How often do we really spend time alone?

When you spend time in solitude, you’re free from the influences of other people, and can truly open yourself and explore whatever you’d like. See where your thoughts take you. The golden ticket here is to not let yourself become distracted; just see what it’s like to be alone.

It might be painful or even scary at first, but by opening yourself up to these new feelings, you’ll add a whole new layer of depth, experience, and understanding into your life.

7. Get outside of yourself

This may seem a little contradictory to the last tip, but in reality, they actually work hand-in-hand. After you’ve explored the depths of yourself, you come away with a new understanding.

Now, it’s time to share that — not through telling others, but through being with others.

When you’re in a group of people, try to give them your full energy and attention so you can understand them just as you did yourself. Appreciate their uniqueness, as if they are an extension of you. Lose yourself in the beauty of others; see what they can teach you about yourself.

Remember, there’s no need to do every one of these at the same time. Take each one a day at a time, determine which work best for you, and see what you can discover.

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Featured photo credit: Opened book. Pages of the book folded into a heart shape via Shutterstock

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