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This question came up three (yes, three!) times in one day in my practice and I found it odd.  So I started asking the same question of friends for the following few days.  Ready for the question?  Here it is:  On a scale of zero to one hundred, where would you say your heart is?  Let’s calibrate the scale, shall we?  Zero is drawbridge up, moat filled with alligators, and an armed gunman on every parapet.  Not to mention the reinforced concrete walls, the electrified barbed wire, and the cannons loaded and ready to fire.  Oh, and dragons; lots of dragons.  On the other end of the spectrum at one hundred, what we have is more open and welcoming than a puppy dog.  You’re more vulnerable and less protected than a baby.  You’re an overripe peach, without skin.  Anything and everything that wants to get in is getting in, and you’re not even going to raise a tiny baby fist in protest.

I hope that for all of us, this is a question where the answer changes hour to hour and day to day, based on the situation.  Obviously we’re not going to go argue about the cable bill with our hearts at 100.  And hopefully, when you hang out with your bestie or your favorite pet, your heart’s not in full-lockdown mode.  But, on average, say for the last week, where would you put your heart?  I don’t really care where it was when you were 3.  Or where you hope it will be when you’re 90.  Or if it wasn’t for that stupid ex-husband of yours, it would be at 70, but now it’s at 31.  Tell me where you’re at, right now, in this life you’re currently living.  Or better yet, tell yourself.  Are you on the open and vulnerable side with 50 or above?  Are you closed and protected with 49 or less?  Much more importantly, do you feel comfortable moving around on that scale?

Once, I read about a study which showed that a heart which oscillates between beating fast and beating slowly is healthier than a heart that stays at a constant, calm rate.  (If I could find that study for you now, I would link to it, but alas; my 92 seconds of googling came up with nothing; I got frustrated, and I decided to just write this post instead.)  This report I read made the point that while we typically assume it’s better to be calm and even keel all the time, this is just not true.  Getting all worked up, whether it be physically or emotionally, is actually better for your heart, as long as you also have periods of rest and relaxation where your heart rate comes back down.  Living this way allows your heart to learn a sort of flexibility so that the highs aren’t so shocking and exhausting when they happened.

I feel like this applies to pretty much everything.  I don’t like air conditioning because I want to be hot in the summer.  It’s summer!  This is when you’re supposed to be hot!  I like to work out super hard, then sit on the porch talking with friends for hours.  I tend to get carried away when I cook and I have to remind myself that just because you can put every single one of the spices in a meatloaf doesn’t mean you should.  And at the same time, I’m perfectly happy eating plain crackers for dinner.  Go to extremes, then find middle ground.

Same goes for your emotional, energetic heart.  Your life experiences and your current outlook have led you to whatever number you came up with regarding the openness of your heart.  No biggie.  No need to judge yourself, or flaunt your number.  No number is better than any other (except 9, which is just the coolest number on the planet, but not any extra cool for this exercise).  What’s more important is, can you move from that number, when it’s appropriate?  26 may be a super comfortable place for you right now.  Safe, but not on full-lockdown.  Guarded, but you’ve got a good reason for that.  However, when the love of your life appears, do you have the ability to open up a bit more?  Can you get to 54 so they can squeeze through the door?  And if 78 is where you normally hang out, do you know how to draw things in a bit, when necessary?  Can you hear criticism without it destroying your whole week?  Are your boundaries well defined and well protected, in case an ill-wishing marauder comes your way?

If so, hooray!  You’re like a heart olympian!  If not, what stretches can you do to increase your emotional flexibility?  Imagine scenarios where your heart moves towards the bigger numbers along the spectrum.  Picture your heart lowering the drawbridge, putting the dragons out to pasture, and taking off the suit of armor.  What have you been missing out on, that can now come in?  Now go towards the itty, bitty numbers, put that chain mail back on, and grab your sword.  What challenges can you meet face first, with your heart protected like this?

Going back to your original number; is that something you’re happy about?  Are you comfortable there?  Does that rating of openness serve you well?  Again, if so, then super-duper!  If not, now may be a good time to point your nose towards the end of the spectrum you’d like to be closer to.  One day at a time, one decimal point at a time, make an effort to get your heart to a number that better suits you.  And remember, while it might be scary, it’s probably not a bad idea to Love Love Love.