Free Yourself Chapter Summary
INTRODUCTION TO PART I
FREEDOM FROM SABOTAGING EGO HABITS
Freedom and inner peace live right here, in this moment, inside our heart.
At this moment in history, we hold in the palm of our hand all the tools we need to release ourselves from fear’s lifelong soldiers: judgment, doubt, anxiety and despair. Whenever we indulge our anger or resentment, hopelessness or fear, whenever we lose heart and find this moment too hard, we cover over the brilliance of our trustworthy heart. Despite our parents’ best intentions, we all inherited—and our parents inherited from their ancestors—an unquestioned loyalty to ego’s clever thoughts, schemes, plans, strategies, stories and reactions, as if these were our best bet in tough times.
Our job is to shift loyalties to the unorthodox compassion and generosity inside our brilliant heart. In the blink of an eye, in a second of conscious awareness, we can remove our ancestor’s blindfolds and see all fear, all worry as just a thought with no more importance than “I want a stick of chewing gum.” Seeing judgment, doubt, anxiety and despair as thoughts—not who we are—brings choice. We are all born with the power to consciously choose between listening to fear’s compelling story orinner peace. We can postpone freedom by repeating, “I’ll be free after I retire or after I find love,” or whisper our deepest truth: “I am free.” It comes down to moment-to-moment choices.
These first five Powers of the Heart hand us the keys to freedom and inner peace.
Chapter 1: YOUR TRUSTING HEART: Trusting What is True
Our heart greets each moment equally, the good and bad, with courage. Free of expectation or judgment, the heart trusts in an invisible intelligence in each moment.
Whether we practice yoga, meditation or prayer, this book spotlights our Real Practice the other twenty-three hours a day. Since we all inherited a human propensity to judge, doubt, fear and react, the first step is witnessing how and when we do these things. Whether we are cleaning the chicken coop or reacting to another’s criticism, when we indulge judgment (justified), we nurture fear. Every time we tell ourselves that life should be different, easier, more inourfavor, we perpetuate a lie: “If I’m clever enough next time, I’ll never suffer hurt and pain again.”
The heart delights in being alive, treasuring each moment just as it is. Since the body, breath, feelings and heart all live in the present, all four ground us in the present:
- Checking in with our Body: By spending 10 minutes deep breathing and noticing body sensations, we connect with the life force that animates our body.
- Checking In with our Breath: Five minutes of watching our inhale and exhale helps us notice thoughts, fears, stories and reactions without buying into them.
- Checking In with our Feelings: Welcoming all feelings, good and bad, as visitors helps us realize that anxiety, fear, grief and depression is not who I am.
- Checking In with our Heart: Simple questions reveal its timeless intelligence.
Through four heart tools following this chapter, The Power of Conscious Choice helps expose sabotaging habits and consciously choose freedom. For example, at 62, Beth woke up every morning for a year terrified of losing her job. But once she practiced Checking In with our Body (Heart Tool 1), inner peace dissolved anxiety. “The second I wake up, my mind races with the same old fear thoughts. But once I name it ‘thinking,’ I take ten deep belly breaths. I refocus my mind on my right leg, left leg, right arm, left arm and breath inside my ribcage. Just this relaxes my body. By whispering ‘yes’ to any tension, pain, anxiety or fear instead of resisting it, a silky spaciousness replaces all that anxiety. By ditching thoughts to tend my breath and body, fears are much less serious.”
Being present uncovers tremendous freedom. Whether grappling with grief, despair, fear or anxiety, we grow an unshakable trust in the gifts that life’s intelligence brings us each moment. Being present lays the groundwork for Step Two: Curiosity.
Chapter Two: YOUR CURIOUS HEART: Trusting your Inner Genius
Many of us obsess so hard to know the right answers, we overlook the vein of gold inside questions. Curiosity is our ticket to the unlimited joy, compassion, love and inner peace that is our birthright. In the Power of Simple Questions, we begin a lifelong dialogue with our greatest source of wisdom: our genius heart. When we ask, “What story am I telling myself now?” or “How do I suffer by indulging my jealousy?” we instantly stop identifying with our story of disappointment or rejection. The heart—immune to getting lost in ego’s thoughts, fears and reactions—reminds us that every moment wedecide, consciously or unconsciously, which thoughts are important.
As we see fears, feelings and reactions as just thoughts and reactions, not who we are, we naturally start to wonder, “If I’m not who I thought I was, who am I then?”
Curiosity welcomes the unknown, unexpected, unfamiliar aspects of life like an old friend. Whenever we stop any thought or fear mid-sentence to ask, “Am I here now,” inner peace replaces the story we were lost in for hours, days or sometimes years.
Lacking its own voice, the heart speaks to us through symptoms, images, feelings and words, offering one clue at a time. For instance, Eric felt so fed up with the lack of regular sex in his marriage, he started looking for an apartment on his lunch hour.
“If she really loved me,” the engineer’s fear story repeated in his head, “she’d stop avoiding my advances.” For ten years, Eric believed he was unlovable—until he learned about Dialogues with your Inner Genius(Heart Tool 6). “With grave resistance, I finally broke down and asked my heart, ‘How is my anger sabotaging our sex life?’ The first try, I grew impatient and gave up. But next day, I saw an image of my wife cowering in bed, afraid. Once I apologized for bullying her, our lovemaking flowed again.
Curiosity awakens awareness. As we practice Curiosity’s four heart tools, we soon differentiate ego’s demanding voice from our heart’s soft-spoken, wise, loving voice. We are now prepared for identifying unconscious feelings and core beliefs.
Chapter Three: YOUR TRUSTING HEART: Trusting Who You Are
We may have the best intentions to listen, share and love better. But ninety per cent of human behavior is controlled by unconscious feelings. Too often, we stand by helpless as our mouths spew anger and judgment. Ego’s reactions drag us around by the nose until we finally ask, “Which unconscious feelings are fueling my reaction?”
We can waste years sleepwalking through life, destroying love relationships—until we find the courage to ask, “What is my part here?” The Power of Responsibility invites us to peek behind our own Wizard of Oz curtain to reveal which feeling levers and belief knobs our ego has been pushing all these years to trigger our same old reactions.
Invisible feelings and beliefs—not outer events—trigger unconscious reactions.
Taking responsibility empowers us to ask, “Which core belief is feeding my underlying hurt, fear or sadness?” It frees us to choose to meet another’s resentment, judgment or fear with compassion and understanding in this moment, where the power is.
For example, Kate avoided intimacy by complaining about her husband. But Identifying Core Beliefs (Heart Tool 11) helped Kate take full responsibility for stating her needs: “I never realized I had a childhood belief that could sabotage my marriage. But when I asked my heart, ‘Which core belief is triggering disappointment?’ I saw myself at seven, crying in bed, wishing my parents or someone would comfort me. With no adult helping me make sense of my feelings, I concluded, ‘nobody cares about my feelings.’”
Core beliefs, designed to help us cope with overwhelming feelings as children, can destroy good adult relationships until we update them with healthy new beliefs.
Chapter Four: YOUR SELF-SOURCING HEART: Trusting your Basic Goodness
Freedom evolves out of total self-acceptance. When we only lookoutside to parents, lovers, teachers and friends for approval, acceptance and love, we can wait years to finally hear from others the healing words we can give ourselves in a few seconds.
This chapter unveils the gold mine of loving reassurance we all possess inside our heart. When we begin to trust our timing, trust our changes, trust our loving heart, The Power of Acceptance invites us to ask ourselves, “What would I love to hear? What do I secretly wish someone would tell me?” When our heart answers, we can whisper to ourselves, “I am lovable, despite this horrible divorce” or “No worries. Everything I need to know comes to me.” By repeating the loving phrases we need to hear, the inner skeptic recedes. Finally, we receive the loving words we may have waited a lifetime to hear.
Whenever we accept what is as it is, even our resistance, we feel deeply peaceful.
Freedom comes when we face the feelings we avoided for years. Overwhelming feelings feel manageable when we lie down, close our eyes and take several deep belly breaths. The instant we ask our body, “Do I feel this anxiety, sadness, fear or despair in my belly, chest, diaphragm or throat,” feelings suddenly shrink to a workable size.
For example, Ron loved his wife Jan. But after medications failed to reduce his anxiety, he feared Jan would leave. Ron felt helpless and hopeless until he discovered Locating Feelings in your Body (Heart Tool 14). “Every morning I wake ten minutes early to deep breathe and ask, ‘Where do I feel anxious in my body?’ I usually feel it as a heavy pressure in my chest or belly. I used to hate it. But focusing on it is ten times better. Over and over, I send my breath right down into that pressure until the heaviness lightens. Whenever I accept the pressure as it is, I feel unexplainably peaceful.”
By locating feelings in our body and gifting ourselves with loving approval, acceptance and reassurance, we take the first step towards unlimited compassion.
Chapter Five: YOUR COMPASSIONATE HEART: Trusting Core Feelings
Compassion lifts our spirits like sunshine when we accept pain, our own and others, with love. Unlimited heart compassion unfolds when we set down ego’s first reaction and greet every situation, every feeling, every fear with loving acceptance. More than a feeling, compassion sees life brand new through the loving eyes of compassion.
Like shedding a winter coat in springtime, The Power of Absolute Love helps us shed everything unlike love—all those Surface Feelings of judgment and guilt, anger and resentment, jealousy and frustration that distract us from being fully present. As we drop underneath surface feelings, the four Heart Tools of Compassion return our inner peace by focusing directly on the Core Feelings—fear, sadness, hurt and shame.
Compassion is rarely our first reaction. For instance, Tina vacillated between judgment and doubt, unable to make life decisions. At 40, she maybe wanted a child. But she was not sure Dan was the right man. “One day, I fantasize raising a child together. The next day, I see his balding head and want to run off to India as a Buddhist nun.”
The second Tina learned about Loving Core Feelings(Heart Tool 18), she tried it. “After Dan left for work, I laid down and asked my heart which core feeling feeds my indecision. To my surprise, shame appeared as a thick, black tar over my heart. I put both hands on my heart and imagined loving my heart with all the love I could muster. After receiving the loving attention I’d waited years for, marrying Dan felt more feasible.”
Compassion feels like reaching shore after weeks (or years) of being lost in a sea of thoughts and emotions. Our kind, loving words create a healing salve to sooth our wounds. Compassion forgives every mistake, greets every fear with a smile. It reassures when doubt rushes in, comforts when judgment shames us and loves us unconditionally. When heartbreak or unlovable feelings strike, our next breath whispers, “I love you.”
By loving the feelings we tried to avoid, and seeing how universal our personal pain is, our heart cracks wide open to embrace compassion for other’s struggles.
PART II: AWAKENING FREEDOM & INNER PEACE IN DAILY LIFE
No longer snagged in an unconscious web of reactivity, we can choose one heart quality each day — Emotional Generosity, Appreciation, Integrity, Forgiveness and Inner Peace—to be our close companion and greet each daily challenge.
Chapter Six: YOUR GENEROUS HEART: Beyond Personal Reactions
Unlike ego, which reacts personally to everything, our heart holds other’s feelings in loving compassion. Unencumbered by personal reactivity, the heart overflows with generosity while watching loved ones struggle with the same fears, judgments, doubts and sadness that all humans face. The Power of Kindnessbypasses complex answers by responding with heart-speak: “I love you and I’m here for you. Tell me what you need.”
Since the heart lives in the present, its needs are simple, easy to address. The shortest path to freedom comes from dismissing the content of any argument to focus on feeling words. For example, Gary felt grateful for Holding a Loving Space(Heart Tool 21) when his wife came home Friday afternoon to announce, “I have uterine cancer.”
“Day after day, I woke early, terrified Sara would die,” he said. “In all my years of meditation, I’d never felt so present and awake as now with cancer. Before rising, I’d set a daily intention to ignore my reactions and listen compassionately to her feelings.
“But as the weeks and months passed, cancer brought us a gift we never expected. Sara’s heart opened. She began sharing secrets she’d never told me in twenty years. We both grew so skilled at talking about the same old fear story in our head that we’d laugh out loud at fears that used to run our lives. Sara fought hard and beat the cancer for now. We ride horses together every weekend—something I swore I’d never do before the cancer—and keep laughing all the way to the stable at those fears that sounded so real.”
Our generous heart blossoms from a daily intention to keep choosing kindness. Like many, we may picture ourselves as kind. But the key question is, “Is kindness tossed out the window when I feel hurt, rejected, disappointed, angry or misunderstood?” The four Heart Tools help us choose kindness even when someone is angry, jealous, irritated or disappointed in us. Whenever we meet another’s hurt, fear, grief or despair with a kind, loving, compassionate heart, we invite another’s loving heart to meet us there.
Responding from a generous heart, free of personal reaction, takes practice. As we tell ourselves each morning, “I’m willing to meet life with kindness today,” we hold all the unexpected gifts life brings us in a loving space. When back pain, headaches, anxiety, fear, grief or despair visit you, you can expand emotional generosity by wishing that all people with the same difficulties might be free of pain and the root of pain.
Chapter Seven: GRATEFUL/JOYFUL HEART: Beyond Personal Judgment
When ego captivates our attention, we vacillate between fearing and wanting—fearing what we might lose, wanting what we don’t yet have. But the heart delights in what is true without judging any experience good or bad. The Power of Appreciation teaches gratitude for all aspects of our journey—for our health and our illness, for falling in and out of love, for smooth sailing and undesirable conflict. When we appreciate loved ones for the daily gifts of working, cooking, listening well, exercising and parenting, studies show that the “bad” aspects of their personality disappear over time.
Ego can’t stop itself. It has to judge every life experience as “good” or “bad.” But when we step beyond ego’s likes and dislikes, our heart encourages us to trust the experience we are having, like it or not. Four Heart Tools help us welcome what is and choose gratitude to receive the gifts today’s life experience brings.
For example, Sue fell to her knees in disbelief when she found out her husband slept with his coworker. “I felt embarrassed, ashamed, rejected, shocked, enraged—anything but grateful!” she said. “After facing the recent death of my father, I lacked any strength to cope. Then I tried Gratitude for theGood and Bad (Heart Tool 26).
“Each morning for a month, Frank and I laid on our bed after work appreciating each other’s truth-telling. Some days I felt so hurt, I cried just looking at him. As painful as it was for him to hear my broken trust day after day, he stayed, looking in my sad eyes. When he shared how lonely and rejected he felt after months of my grieving over my father, I started remembering what I love about him. Anger yielded to appreciation. For the first time, I felt how deeply Frank really loved me. I never thought I’d say it, but I’m grateful for his affair. It brought us closer than we’ve felt in years.”
As our heart stretches us to appreciate all of life’s gifts, we search for the jewels tucked inside every unwanted experience. We surrender into the freedom of this moment.
Chapter Eight: DISCERNING/COURAGEOUS HEART: Beyond Personal Lies
Integrity challenges arrive daily. “Should I take this high paying job if it hurts the environment? Do I to tell my wife about my emotional affair on email? Do I tell my spouse I fell out of love now that we have a three year old? Do I lie on my taxes since money is so tight? Do I let pneumonia take my 90-year-old mother or order heroic measures? Do I tell my teenage daughter about my abortion during our sex talk?”
Every day, as corporation leaders do whatever they can get away with, survival appears to trump our moral compass. But lack of integrity poisons happiness and health. The Power of Truth realigns us with happiness as we trust our heart’s discerning values.
For example, when Dan agreed to hide military rifles for his ex-Army buddy in his family’s basement, he felt it harmless. “I knew it was illegal. But it was only for a few weeks, until he found a place to live.” When weeks turned into months, Dan feared losing his job and facing felony charges. His children feared losing their father.
When my wife told me about following the heart’s Three Discerning Values(Heart Tool 29)—Feeling my Feelings, Speaking my Truth and Keeping Agreements—my heart told me to do the right thing. I reported my friend’s illegal weapons to the police. He won’t speak to me since the arrest. But I sleep better at night with the truth.”
Every human heart is built to hear and speak the truth. When we step out of integrity, we suffer an inner split between heart and mind, which appears as illness, dis-ease or discomfort in the body. As the heart’s three discerning values guide our tough life choices, we step closer to forgiving unconscious acts of humans—our own and others.
Chapter Nine: YOUR FORGIVING HEART: Beyond Personal Resentment
Resentment shuts down aliveness, kills joy and lays a heavy brick over our heart. As the Dalai Lama says, “Forgiveness sets ourselves free.” The Power of Letting Go teaches us to forgive other’s unconscious acts with loving compassion. Our wise heart helps us accept that hurt, disappointment and feeling misunderstood come with the territory of being human. Other’s unconscious acts hurt, but they are not personal.
True forgiveness is a process. It is not about glossing over hurt or making excuses. It flows naturally after we fully express our core hurt, fear and sadness. Forgiveness comes as we see loved ones struggle with the same judgments and fears.
For example, John burned through one love affair after another. “At forty, I’m ready to settle down, but I feel like damaged goods. After Dad left and mom was working two jobs, I can’t forgive myself for molesting my baby sister, even if she forgave me.”
John found compassion for himself with What I’m Unwilling to Forgive (Heart Tool 34). “When others praise how well I parent my daughter, I think, ‘Yeah, but you don’t know the horrible thing I did to my sister.’ For years, I judged myself harshly. But this month, through this exercise, I got underneath my frustration and guilt to discover the core feeling—shame. Each morning, I locate the shame as a black ball in my belly and breathe into the center of it. Immediately, I weep for my sister and all girls and boys suffering molestation. Last, I weep for the ten-year-old me who felt so betrayed by his father’s leaving, that he took his unbearable pain out on his baby sister.”
Four Heart Tools help us move through resentment, fear and shame to loving forgiveness. In the process, we move closer to accepting this shared human predicament.
Chapter Ten: YOUR PEACEFUL HEART: Beyond Personal Problems
In quiet moments, we long for inner peace. We may fantasize that someday, after the teens graduate, after this painful divorce is final, after vacation comes, then we can find peace. But inner peace is right here, inside our heart, every moment. Like joy, love and compassion, we are born with an unlimited supply that nobody can take away. As our secret sanctuary, inner peace soothes fears, softens conflict, lightens despair and absorbs anxiety. Like the undisturbed stillness at the bottom of the ocean, inner peace is tranquil while waves of doubt, judgment, worry and resentment ripple across the surface.
Every moment, we choose between peace and problems. Unconsciously, ego pressures us to see whatever is true as a problem and manipulate life toward our favor. Consciously, our heart receives life’s gifts with a warm embrace by holding all problems in loving compassion. From this peaceful vantage point, creative solutions abound.
The more often we stop thinking and doing, the more space we have to connect with the peaceful freedom below our thoughts. As we pause to look and listen, curiosity wonders again, “Who am I really?” As we juggle this in the air while driving to work, exercising, meditating or walking in nature, The Power of Surrender invites us to trust our heart’s loving reply, “You are spacious, joyful, loving, compassionate awareness.”
For example, Patty struggled with depression. After her boys graduated high school and she quit her job of thirty years, her dream of making jewelry turned into a nightmare. With no clue how to handle depression, she felt terrified of hurting herself.
Waves of depression arrived unexpectedly in the middle of cleaning house or designing jewelry. Anti-depressants barely touched it. Desperate, she tried Accepting our Humanness, (Heart Tool 38). “When I started to go numb inside, I knew the first inklings of depression were coming on. I’d stop whatever I was doing and lie on my bed to take ten deep breaths. This reduced the crippling anxiety. Then I’d feel the depression as heaviness on my heart and breathe directly into it.
“After several minutes, I’d ask my heart who I really am. ‘It tenderly replied, ‘you are conscious, spacious, loving awareness noticing depression visiting you.’ Over and over, this reminder of my deeper self allowed peace to fill the empty space inside.”
Four heart tools help inner peace find a permanent home inside. When we choose to listen from our deep ocean floor, we plant a seed for inner peace. When we choose to respond with awareness and loving compassion, we fertilize inner peace. When we choose to forgive our own and other’s unconscious acts, we nurture inner peace. And when we surrender all past resentments, our garden flourishes with inner peace.
Prologue: WAKING UP FREE DAILY
As we consciously let ourselves out of prison one thought, one fear, one reaction at a time, our loving, compassionate heart guides our choices moment by moment. As we rest in conscious awareness, freedom and inner peace become our constant companions.