I’ve been thinking a lot about my heart and how it feels these days. I’ve been doing a lot of feeling as I navigate the waves of grief. And I’ve been thinking a lot about the weight of the question, “How are you?” — which I hear (and you likely do, too) a dozen or more times a day.
Most days I don’t know how to answer this question. I don’t know “how” I am. I only know “how” I feel. And beyond that, how I feel can’t really be encapsulated into a neat little label of “good” or “happy” or “OK”.
Some days, and especially these days, how I feel is a mix of a lot of different feelings. I feel sadness, grief, anger, resentment, ok-ness, gratitude — and there isn’t a word that expresses the breathe and range of those feelings.
And so, I push all my feelings down, smile and say, “I’m fine” or worse, “I’m OK” even though I am the furthest thing from OK-ness.
“How are you?” It’s a question that is so ingrained in our culture that it accompanies every interaction we have throughout our day. But, beyond being a friendly formality or a nicety we utter to each person we pass by, it’s a question that robs us of our human experience.
I mean have you ever answered that question on the days you’re feeling like absolute shit with raw honesty? Have you ever said, “You know Karen, actually I feel like shit and I’m wresting with a lot of shame and guilt today. I’m not OK.”
In order to save face and not have the other person running in the opposite direction, we’ll say something along the lines of, “I’m fine” or “It’s going” or even worse, “I’m good”.
In my classes recently, I’ve been asking the question, “How does your heart feel today?” and I’ve been inviting my students to check in with how their heart feels: Does it feel heavy? Does it feel light? Does it feel tight or expansive?
Many years ago, I came across a blog written by Omid Safi called, “The Disease of Being Busy”. At the time, I thought the article was poignant, but it wasn’t until the recent loss of my teacher, mentor and friend, Patricia Moreno, that this blog and Safi’s words really stuck a chord with me.
“In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is your haal?
What is this haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” When I ask, “How are you?” that is really what I want to know.
I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Examine your own heart, explore your soul, and then tell me something about your heart and your soul.
Tell me you remember you are still a human being, not just a human doing. Tell me you’re more than just a machine, checking off items from your to-do list. Have that conversation, that glance, that touch. Be a healing conversation, one filled with grace and presence.
Put your hand on my arm, look me in the eye, and connect with me for one second. Tell me something about your heart, and awaken my heart. Help me remember that I too am a full and complete human being, a human being who also craves a human touch.”
“How is your haal?” I ask myself.
Heavy, it replies.
Heavy with the memory of my teacher. Heavy that I don’t have her wisdom to continue to guide me on my path to be a teacher of teachers. Heavy I don’t have her to push and nudge me to grow beyond where I am.
Grateful, it whispers so quiet I almost miss it.
Grateful for all the wisdom she shared with me during our time together. Grateful she challenged me to uncover the parts of my self that were already there. Grateful she helped me see my innate gifts and abilities. Grateful she gave me the tools to become a teacher of teachers.
Angry, it bellows over the whisper of gratitude.
So angry the feeling is tinged with resentment. Angry my teacher didn’t call or text me goodbye, a message others received and I didn’t. Angry she chose other people to continue her work, some of which were seeds and ideas I planted many years ago. Angry I didn’t make more effort to be present or commit more to her or her program.
And as my haal speaks to me, I simply listen. I cry. I nod. I understand. I see that I am feeling all of these things, but I’m not the things or feelings themselves. My heart is simply the container, the holder, for everything I feel and if I choose to stick a label of “I’m fine” or “I’m OK” on it, my heart isn’t heard and what I feel intensifies instead of softening slightly.
Let me be clear: acknowledging what I feel doesn’t negate the feelings; it honors them and in that space, I can soften around my feelings. The feelings are still there. They’ll likely be there, to greater or lesser degrees, for quite some time; but rather than keeping me stuck in the loop of feeling —> not wanting to feel that way —> only to further feel the thing I’m trying to suppress, I get to break the cycle of being IN the cycle and step on the sidelines where I can bear witness to what I’m feeling and processing.
So, my friend, How is your haal, your heart, today?