Speak From The Heart

Speak From The Heart

What’s Your Heart Saying?

The Practice:
Speak from the heart.

Why?

One Christmas I hiked down into the Grand Canyon, whose bottom lay a vertical mile below the rim. Its walls were layered like a cake, and a foot-high stripe of red or gray rock indicated a million-plus years of erosion by the Colorado river. Think of water – so soft and gentle – gradually carving through the hardest stone to reveal great beauty. Sometimes what seems weakest is actually most powerful.

In the same way, speaking from an open heart can seem so vulnerable yet be the strongest move of all. Naming the truth – in particular the facts of one’s experience, which no one can disprove – with simplicity and sincerity, and without contentiousness or blame, has great moral force. You can see the effects writ small and large, from a child telling her parents “I feel bad when you fight” to the profound impact of people describing the atrocities they suffered in Kosovo or Rwanda.

I met with a man whose marriage is being smothered by the weight of everything unsaid. What’s unnamed is all normal-range stuff – like wishing his wife were less irritable with their children, and more affectionate with him – but there’s been a kind of fear about facing it, as if it could blow up the relationship. But not talking is what’s actually blowing up their relationship – and in fact, when people do communicate in a heartfelt way, it’s dignified and compelling, and it usually evokes support and open-heartedness from others.

How?

This week look for one or more opportunities to speak from your heart. Pick a topic, a person, and a moment that’s likely to go well.

Before you talk:

  • Ground yourself in good intentions. To discover and express the truth, whatever it is. To help yourself and the other person.
  • Get a basic sense of what you want to say. Focus on your experience: thoughts, feelings, body sensations, wants, memories, images, the dynamic flow through awareness; it’s hard to argue with your experience, but easy to get into wrangles about situations, events, the past, or problem-solving.
  • Be confident. Have faith in your sincerity, and in the truth itself. Recognize that others may not like what you have to say, but you have a right to say it without needing to justify it; and that saying it is probably good for your relationship.

When you speak:

  • Take a breath and settle into your body.
  • Recall being with people who care about you. (This will help deepen your sense of inner strength, and warm up the neural circuits of wholeheartedness.)
  • Soften your throat, eyes, chest, and heart. Try to find a sense of goodwill, even compassion for the other person.
  • Bring to mind what you want to say.
  • Take another breath and start speaking.
  • Try to stay in touch with your experience as you express it. Don’t get into any sense of persuasion, justification, defensiveness, or problem-solving. (That’s for later, if at all.) Be direct and to the point; when people truly speak from the heart, they often say what needs to be said in a few minutes or less; it’s the “case” wrapped around the heart of the matter that takes all those extra words.
  • Keep coming back to the essential point for you, whatever it is (especially if the other person gets reactive or tries to shift the topic). And allow other aspects or deeper layers of what’s in your heart to come forward as you speak. You don’t need to know everything you are going to say before you start speaking.
  • Feel free to disengage if the other person is just not ready to hear you; maybe another time would be better. “Success” here is not getting the other person to change, but you expressing yourself.
  • As appropriate, open to and encourage the other person speaking from the heart, too.

And afterwards: know that whatever happened, you did a good thing. It’s brave and it’s hard (especially at first) to speak from the heart. But so necessary to make this world a better place.



Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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