The Flame of Love
Payam Ghassemlou Ph.D.
On a daily basis, many of us spend a lot of time thinking about our life challenges. We think about all sorts of difficult situations, like financial problems, and make ourselves believe we can’t handle them. Catastrophic thinking about our lives bombards us with anxiety and contributes to our feeling of insecurity.
Many of us tend to project our past disappointments and failures into the future and make ourselves believe they are going to happen again. Consequently, we are going to feel paralyzed and unable to come up with creative solutions for our life problems. It is very difficult to feel confident, creative, and brave while we are intensely anxious. Obsessing on our life problems will not solve anything especially if we approach them with the same thinking pattern that created them. Thinking alone is not enough to cope with life issues.
As a psychotherapist, when I listen to people’s life struggles, I notice how much of their life suffering has to do with their habitual negative thinking. A common-sense approach might be to recommend positive thinking and offer people tools to challenge their pessimistic attitude. There is nothing wrong with that except we are being lead back to our thinking and having to deal with more thoughts in our heads. The never-ending battle between positive and negative thinking, which keep us in our heads, is not the only option.
We can learn from different spiritual teachings including Sufism on experiencing life through our hearts and less through our limited thoughts. These teachings can allow us to be in our hearts and not in a battle with our thoughts. Our thoughts need to be experienced in the field of the heart. In other words, thoughts must obey the heart because whenever the heart rules fear disappears.
One way to enter the realm of our heart is by activating our capacity to feel love. We can do this by remembering something or someone we care about. By using our imagination we can remember and picture anything that we love and open up our heart. We can meditate on that love in our heart and stay away from conflicting thoughts in our head. Each time we notice any of our thoughts we can embrace it with the love we feel in our heart. The flame of this love will burn our fearful thoughts and transform our anxious state of mind to a peaceful and loving state.
The goal is not to stop thinking, but to let ourselves feel more love in our heart. A good example of this is my patient Chad, a 34-year-old man who used to worry a lot. Every time he stayed with his thoughts about his stressful career or his relationship problems, he felt worse. He often anticipated and believed his painful past experiences are going to be repeated. After encouraging him to share about his life concerns and providing empathic listening, I encouraged him to try something different. I asked him to remember any loving situations and feel that love in his heart. He imagined and felt his love for his pet, and that love became the key to his heart. After entering his heart, I encouraged him to stay in that loving place. Any thoughts could be experienced in his heart. By practicing this simple meditation, he was able to let go of his worries. Throughout the day when he found himself lost in his catastrophic thoughts, he would remind himself that the place to be is “in my heart and not my head.”*
Chad was able to heal his anxiety provoking thoughts through meditating on the love in his heart. He realized the content of his mind can be experienced and filtered through his heart.
This type of healing can happen on a collective level as well. Not only can we make personal changes by coming from the heart but also collective changes. The mind has not been able to solve issues like war, disease, poverty, racism, homophobia, or violence against women and children. In fact, these issues have to do with destructive thoughts patterns and behaviors. As we learn to open our hearts and let the love flow in our hearts, we can pour that love into the universe and let it be used for the good of all people.
It is easier to trust what happens in our heart than in our busy mind. By being in the service of the heart, we have a better chance to resolve our personal and global problems. By letting our hearts work with our minds, we can change ourselves and the world.
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