An Open Heart: Essential Ingredient to Cultivating Every Day Brilliance

By Ken Wells - 06/17/2020


One of the great difficulties to mastering recovery is that it is so daily. Every day issues that demand recovery keep coming at you relentlessly. Struggles with disappointment, overcoming fear and intimidation, shortcomings and failures in mundane moments of everyday living are reality for us all.  Utilizing strategies to manage disappointment, drudgery, defeats and a host of other demanding experiences just keep showing up day after day.

Figuring out how to transform every day, average experience into sacred space is the beginning point toward mining personal brilliance.

It requires the creation and conditioning of what I identify as an open heart versus a closed heart.

An open heart is the opposite of a closed heart. A closed heart hides behind a wall of fear and avoids vulnerability. Our hearts become closed when we are harboring shame and don’t want to fail. People with closed hearts are defensive, judgmental, and shortsighted. A closed heart fuels pessimism, which can undermine optimism and spontaneity. An open heart is porous and real, which is most necessary to forge personal brilliance. An open heart connects with the present moment and extracts meaningfulness from commonplace experiences.

Closed-hearted people tend to rivet their focus on outcomes. Life becomes about winning or losing, which is a zero-sum mentality. For example, when I sold Bible books, I recall the extreme pressure I put on myself to make a sale. The more focused I was on selling the books, the more my heart seemed to close and the harder it was to knock on the next door. My closed heart permeated my appearance and presentation. I recall the tears I held back as I went from door to door. I had such a closed heart that I couldn’t give the books away. During one week, I had not sold one book and it was Wednesday. I made forty presentations every day for three days and I was 0 for 120! That’s a profound slump in anybody’s game.

On that same Wednesday, I approached a woman who lived in a mobile home. She identified herself as a Satanist. She was so opposed to the Bible books she told me she cast a curse on me so that I wouldn’t sell any books. Since I had already gone three days without selling anything, I figured that I had already been snake bit, so her curse didn’t mean much to me.

As fate would have it, I stumbled onto the porch of Mrs. Gilley. She lived in the last house I visited on that most difficult day. She was a retired school teacher who I later learned had been watching me all afternoon going from door to door in her neighborhood. When I brought my closed heart to her front porch, she greeted me with an open heart of absolute total acceptance.

Before I could give her my introductory spiel, she opened the door and whisked me into her home. She already had a check made out for the $45.80—the amount that the entire library cost at that time. She told me to keep the books and give them to some other family. She said she suffered from cataracts and could not read and did not believe in God anyway.

She insisted that I sit down for a dinner that she had prepared just for me. She wouldn’t take no for an answer. I don’t recall when I had ever been so famished. I left with my stomach so full. My stomach wasn’t the only thing that was filled; so too was my heart. This little woman’s kindness and spirit opened my heart to the possibility of transforming an average moment of discouragement and failure into the unknown promise of an open heart.

It would be nice to share that I left Mrs. Gilley’s home and went on an inspired hot streak of sales. But I didn’t. I struggled the entire summer with dismal results. Yet the struggle, discouragement, and failure I had come to know so well became the common ordinary experiences that curated my heart toward finding meaningfulness in a mundane common place. Rather than run away or hide from the failure that was so painful, I learned to sit with the experience. I opened my heart by embracing the unwanted feelings of perceived failure and despair. By doing so, I generated hope for tomorrow.

It was so paradoxical. Facing the embarrassment of defeat and failure enabled me to transform the feelings of shame into compassion for myself and others. It empowered me to gather meaningful insight and wisdom before moving forward and letting go of disappointment and discomfort.

Everybody must face the hurt and heartache of defeat and failure at some point. Those who practice the discipline of embracing the emotional discomfort that always comes with failure have positioned themselves to tap into their personal brilliance. An open heart is required to create your own brilliance in the midst of recovery struggle.

(Excerpt from Dare to Be Average: Finding Brilliance in the Commonplace—by Ken Wells, MA, LPC, CSAT-S, LISAC)

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