I’m a big proponent of the ‘go-to.’ By that I mean something we can have at the ready when certain situations arise.

If we find ourselves stressed out we can have ‘slow down’ at the ready. Or maybe we just have three deep breaths as our go-to.

But what about a go-to that works for everything? Something we go to in any manner of situation.

Relax is a good one

I wrote an article back in 2022 (link here) stating that relax is the most important word in spirituality. Why? Because a relaxed state is the optimum state for anything we do in life.

But it occurred to me recently that there’s a better, deeper go-to to base our lives around. And it’s this:

Keep your heart open.

That’s all we have to do. Every moment of every day. Be sure to keep our hearts open.

Ram Dass is big on heart open

I learned about this concept from the revered spiritual teacher, Ram Dass, who places heavy emphasis on keeping our hearts open.

What does it mean to keep our hearts open? Most of you know intuitively, but I’ll elaborate for anybody who may not have a clear understanding.

As Ram Dass teaches, it’s easiest to define an open heart by explaining its opposite, a closed heart. Here are some examples of closing:

-You ask a friend for a favor and they blow you off. It’s a friend you’ve been there for countless times. You decide, that’s it. I’m done with him/her.

-You see the latest tragic school shooting on the news. Several innocent kids are killed. You shut down in despair, believing that the world is too awful to bear.

-Your spouse says something hurtful to you. You immediately shut down and vow that you’re not going to speak to them.

All of these are examples of us closing our hearts. They were open. Then something happened and we decided to close them.

Shouldn’t we close our hearts sometimes?

Some of you might be thinking, “I get it. It’s good to keep our hearts open. But sometimes life is so bad that closing our hearts is inevitable, isn’t it?”

No, it’s not. Which leads to the most important point of this article:

It is NEVER good to close our hearts.

I can’t think of one instance when closing our hearts is advisable.

I do have to clarify something, though. Keeping our hearts open does not mean trying to stay happy or “okay” through all that life throws at us. If a loved one dies, the heart is going to hurt.

But a hurt heart and a closed heart are two different things. A hurt heart is:

“I am beyond sad that my mom passed away. She was the best person I ever knew.”

A closed heart is:

“What kind of God takes away such a lovely woman in her prime? With all of the horrible things happening in the world, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Count me out.”

One way to sum up the essence of keeping our hearts open would be not giving up. In small ways: “Yes, he just said something incredibly insensitive, but I’m not going to shut down over it.”

And in large ways: “Yes, there’s starvation everywhere. Wars in Ukraine and Gaza. And suffering all over the globe. But I choose to fight like hell to keep my heart open.”

We make it our life’s work to keep our hearts open, no matter what.

The beneficiaries of open-heartedness

Who benefits when we make this choice? We do, of course. An open heart provides a healthier, more productive and fulfilling life than a closed one. Full stop.

But guess who else benefits? Everybody. The whole world. We are of infinitely more use to the world with our hearts open.

The how-to of it all

That’s all well and good. But how do we make this four-word mantra the guiding force in our lives?

The good news is, it’s simple. We set the intention that whenever we notice that our heart wants to close, we do our damnedest to keep it open.

How do we keep it from closing? Also simple. Remember when I mentioned the article about the word relax and how central it is? That’s what we do. We relax.

You get in that fight with your spouse and feel that pull from down below that’s begging you to tell him/her to go to hell. But because you’ve set this intention, you catch yourself before you close. And you relax. And say to yourself, “Keep your heart open.”

We will fall off the horse

Because we’ve set this intention, we practice. And sometimes we fall down.

I was just outside a few hours ago chatting with my wife over a late afternoon espresso. Talk turned to our son’s lacrosse team and the coach and some of the parents involved. My wife stopped me at one point and told me she thought I was being negative on everybody.

What did I do? Did I stop and say to myself, “Keep your heart open?” No. I fell down. I got up and walked inside the house.

Ten minutes later we chatted about it and hugged it out. I’ll give it a partial victory for not closing down for long.

The takeaway

Point being, it takes work, commitment and practice to keep our hearts open. But it’s worth giving our all to.

Not jus for us, but for everybody in our lives.