Dear Feminist.com Readers,
I am so happy to share this chapter from my book with you.
I was so inspired from the event on Thursday and the power of impact that affects our lives when we build an inner life.
My heartfelt wishes for all of you to share your gifts to the world,
Not long ago, a friend of mine was telling me how hard she found it to be with her mother. "Why?" I asked.
"My mother has no inner life," she replied, "and having a conversation with her is exhausting."
I was brought up by a mother who was basically one big inner life, so this was really foreign to me. "Tell me more, "I encouraged my friend.
She began to describe a woman so outwardly focused that her "conversation" consisted of a constant commentary on the things and people around her. She wouldn't inquire into what anyone else was thinking or feeling, or discuss ideas or world events, and when people did share something about themselves—their feelings or their thoughts—rather than listening she'd be focusing on why their jackets were unbuttoned. She'd say things like "Your dress is too short" or "The people next door bought new garden furniture" or "Did you hear what happened to Anne's car?" She'd even ask what you were going to have for dinner while you were still having lunch. She was always picking apart the outward experiences of the world, instead of having her own experience in the world. I could imagine how that would be utterly exhausting—for her and for my friend.
When I asked my friend why she thought her mother was so preoccupied with externals, she said that her mother was probably in so much pain that looking within was just too hard. I believe this is a common situation, and the reason why many of us go around looking for the external fix, avoiding the real experience of our hearts.
How, then, do we go inside ourselves, when it's dark in there and the voices are too chaotic and grim? Don't you wish we could just pick up the phone and dial 1-800-GO-INSIDE? And then the recording would say, "For unresolved anger, resentment, or
betrayal, press one. For not-good-enough or low self-esteem, press two. For loneliness, isolation, or shut-down emotions, press three. For stuck and not knowing where to begin, please stay on the line."
Such a service might not exist—but in fact, the line to our heart is always open. We just have to call. Exploring painful memories and false perceptions that block us from loving ourselves is a good start. Going inside is an ever-evolving process that requires a tremendous capacity for compassion.
My father, who had survived the wartime concentration camps, had a very mercurial personality and an erratic temper with unpredictable flares. He turned to all his senses to find fulfillment: an active extramarital sex life, business deals that came and went, a love affair with gambling, and a night life with lots of drinking. But he also had a brilliant intellect and the soul of a poet.
Toward the end of his life, when he got sick with diabetes, this led to macular degeneration, causing his eyesight to deteriorate so that he couldn't read or write. Those had been two of his great passions. He would often say to me that he was looking forward to having time to read and write—all the time he wanted—in his later years. Now the thing that kept him going had been taken away, and he was devastated. Desperate to find some help, he struggled with all sorts of optical devices, but though he could see light, he could not distinguish forms. Because he could no longer see out, he was forced to go inside— and inside him was a neglected garden that had not been watered or weeded for a long, long time. My father was often affectionate and tender, but the gate to his heart was closed. If we could read the sign on the gate, it would probably say: No Entry—Explosive Materials Inside.
It's not hard to see how my father lost access to his heart. The hurt and rage he took with him from the camps, along with the guilt of surviving when so many of his friends died, put the gate across his path. Different gates have different signs: judgments, blame, unmet expectations, crushed dreams, doubt as to whether there's anything in there worth loving at all. Feeling unworthy is one of the most common human conditions. It keeps us from knowing our true self, the one that lives in our inner world behind that forbidding gate.
We all struggle to let the gate open. We are all holding on to something that separates us from our heart. But if we can go inside and find that something—and it takes courage to reveal it to ourselves, recognize it, and heal it—we may discover that our hearts are always accessible. It takes a shift in awareness and a willingness to let go. If we can let go of whatever holds us back from loving ourselves just the way we are—all of our faults, all those thoughts that undermine us, all those feelings of not being good enough—the gate will open all by itself.
I always saw my father as a mighty king trying to find his kingdom—a king with a poet's soul. There were brief moments when he would let his guard down, let his gate open a little. Then the richness of who he was would shine through, and his majestic presence would illuminate us—which made it all the more difficult to see the gate close again. And I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for him. I wish that once he had gotten inside the garden, he could have propped the gate so that it would stay open forever.
When we love someone, we so want to be there holding that gate open—but each of us has to lift the latch for ourselves.
Greek born, Agapi Stassinopoulos is a best selling author and speaker who inspires audiences around the world. Her most recent book, Unbinding the Heart, has been featured on Oprah.com, HuffPost Live, CBS's The Talk, and The Martha Stewart Show, among others. She uplifts and warms the hearts of audiences from the American Heart Association, Women's Conferences, Entrepreneurial Organizations, the Girl Scouts of America, TED, and many more. She was trained as an actress at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London and then she received her Masters in Psychology from the University of Santa Monica.
Agapi has written two books on the Greek Archetypes, Gods and Goddesses in Love, and Conversations with the Goddesses, which were turned into PBS shows. She developed a curriculum on Heartfelt Leadership for the Wharton Business School that shares the tools to bring conscious leadership into today's workplace.
In her book, Unbinding the Heart, Agapi brings her innate gift to connect with her readers by sharing the stories of wisdom from her childhood; how she was raised by an amazing mother who instilled in her deep values and the journey of how she found her voice. Her passion is to help others unlock their gifts to fully express themselves and help her fellow human beings live a fulfilling life.