Soft Eyes and an Open Heart

Soft Eyes and an Open Heart — open heartedness requires an empty heart — a difficult concept for Westerners to grasp. And soft eyes produce astounding clarity. Let’s see how this works as a dance of intimacy. 


The Moment is Rich and Full

A look at different approaches and descriptions all aimed at the same thing, open, honest, vulnerable living and being.



soft eyes open heart
I just finished reading Ben Wong and Jock McKeen’s latest book, “The Illuminated Heart.” (available from The Haven Bookstore.)

It’s a great reminder book — sort of like Phase 3 in book form, and also filled with reminders of my friendship with “the guys.” I got 20 pages in, and my eyes were wet at least 3 times. The read was like dancing with old friends, and I’ve decided, over the next few articles, to play off of some of the themes they raise, and create a dialogue of sorts.

For me, perspective is everything

Or, everything is “seen” through my perspective, or filters. And perspective is another way of saying “story.” So long as I remember that my story is not “real” or “true,” it’s fairly easy to proceed. When I get lost in the details of my story, I get myself off-track.

shoulders rolled forward

I was sitting with a client after Bodywork the other day, and she was asking questions. One concerned her shoulders — why she left our sessions relaxed and loose, and then would find herself tightened up.

I looked at her body. She was sitting lightly in the chair, arms and legs open, shoulders comfortably neutral. I asked her to feel her body, and memorize what relaxed felt like. Then, to notice just one step away from relaxed, stop, wiggle, and loosen.

She looked at me, astonished.

I could take what I learn here, and use it at home!” I laughed. Of course. This would be the point. She gets off track when she goes up into her head, tells herself stories, tightens up, yet misses the tightening. When she becomes (finally) aware of the pain (as opposed to noticing the tightness before it turns into pain), she tells herself more stories.

And all that is required is letting go — of both the stories and the tightness.

As for me, I get lost when I start to “wonder.”

I really like my clients, and really enjoy what I do. My nature is to push, both with my stories, and with my thumbs and elbows. I know that some clients will run away… the intensity of either or both is something they will choose to overwhelm themselves with. Others annoy themselves that I refuse to give them answers or fix their stuff for them. I breathe, and let all of this go.

Where I get caught is with “wanting to help.”

I get all invested in my stories — I see where people want to get to, and I get into taking responsibility by “pushing the river.” I get into doing more than my client. And as soon as I go there, my heart closes, and I feel cold and shut down.

[Ben, talking to Jock, and to me…]

You succumb to the trap of hope, which is the flip side of despair. In your hope is a presumption that things could be, should be, different. As we have often discussed, this is the one basic sin… the sin of presumption. We cannot make life different. Hope tries to do that.” (p. 44–5)

The key is simple: staying put in my own “self,” emptying of my desire to “help” — and seeing the other person with an open heart and soft eyes.

It’s all about emptiness

Two weeks ago, I mentioned Yin and Yang. As I’m not well versed in acupuncture, I tend to forget to consider (and list) the meridians, which come in yin-yang pairs. For example, one pair (a Fire pair) is the Heart (yin) and the Small Intestine (yang.) As I was reading “The Illuminated Heart,” the Eastern section, I was struck by this: the yin organs are receptive. And the heart (a yin organ) functions best if empty. Western minds, ever literal, struggle here.

Especially over the thought of an empty heart

[In Chinese thought…] “The shen are life spirits that reside in the heart. The heart itself is empty and is the special place where the subtle spirits can come and go freely. But the heart must be open or the shen will not stay.” (p. 305)

In both Indian and Chinese medicine, the Heart is at the centre of things. For the Chinese, the heart is the locus of both thought and feeling. It’s the mediation point between heavenly (yang) and earthly (yin) energies. In Indian medicine, it is the Middle Chakra (1,2,3 heart,5,6,7).

So, I’m wondering: if a heart is full, might we say it’s full of thoughts and / or feelings? And being full, there is no room for anything else. If the thoughts and feelings are not clung to, the heart processes them, and returns to an open, and empty state.

But, people fear emptiness, and so they “attach.” Physically, people tighten their chest ligaments

Why? To lock in feelings (so they don’t escape — nothing worse than a loose feeling!) , and keep out “threats.”

The chest contracts, the shoulders roll forward. Many folk, when asked about their feelings, add a layer of protection by crossing their arms over their chest. In a sense, the physical action serves to keep the heart full.

It’s no coincidence that, when we are in “emotional overwhelm,” we describe it as, “My heart is full.” And almost no one in the West wants to utter the words, “My heart is empty.”

This is because we fear emptiness, as it’s way too close to annihilation. The existentialists made this point repeatedly, by insisting that angst had everything to do with fearing meaninglessness and death. Most have learned to “stuff” the “emptiness / aloneness / voidness” feeling (typically felt in the chest/ heart region.) The stuffing, again, is done by using our old friends, thoughts and feelings.

If I focus on “stuff”, or “stuff-ing”, I can avoid the void.

I think the main thing that brings people to me, either “live” or through my writing, is fear of despair.

Believe it or not, most find despair preferable to actually living, which requires embracing everything — emptiness and fullness, life and death. Without judgement or preference!

When we do not stand forth [be ourselves — through openness, honesty, vulnerability — WCA], we fade into the oblivion of nonbeing. We are still alive in the biological sense, but not present, not distinctly standing forth, not existing; this has been called “the death in life” and describes a zombie-like simulacrum of a vital being.” (p. 149)

People who choose me as a dance partner get someone who engages with them, at all levels of being. Including the dark and scary places. I know from personal experience that the only way to be present (to stand forth) is to make peace with everything — including emptiness.

We do this through dialogue, and also through physical contact

No evasions, no stories, no games. Here is me, here is you. Let’s dig in and see what’s up. And emphatically it’s not the stories that are key — it’s the present moment experience. Has to be. Otherwise, the person is elsewhere, having left her body behind.

Abandoned bodies litter the highway of the Pathless Path, and abandoning yourself makes it damn difficult (Impossible!) to stay present for the dance.

soft eyes

On the other hand, a couple of days ago, I finished a Bodywork session with a quite dear client, and she tried to make eye contact. She made this difficult for herself, until I placed my hand over her heart, and she placed her hand over mine. We then made eye contact without resistance. I talked about soft eyes, and letting go of a hardened heart.

In a moment of synchronisity, she e‑mailed me exactly when I was writing this, and attached the photo to the left. With the text, “Letting go of what’s hard.”

Which brings us to soft eyes.

Some years ago, I wrote an e‑zine post called “Soft Eyes.” The plot revolved around going to see “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” at a local dinner theatre, and ending up with a table that abutted the stage. As in, the actors feet were even with the top of our heads, and when we looked up, we were staring at their legs, and crotches. If we really craned our necks, we could see their faces.

Go read the story. The take-away was that being that close meant we were focussed too much on details like how well the scantily-clad “whores” had shaved, and how ripped and torn their costumes were.

We needed distance: in the article, I wrote:

Much like our seats at the theatre. Nothing we did from those seats could change anything. We made jokes, we rubbed our necks, we looked away. And every time we looked back, we saw more. Razor nicks. Band-Aids. Varicose veins. Bruises. With each new revelation, our attention was drawn away from the enjoyment of the play, and into, “I wonder what we’ll see next””I’m sure it will be worse!”

The only way we could have fixed the situation was to get up and move or get up and leave. In other words, the fix was less detail and more distance.

Soft eyes accomplish this.

Another client, like many, had been “trained from birth” to stuff her emotions. She’s quite successful, in a profession where stuffing emotions is a necessity. She stuffs personally through long, convoluted stories, (filling her heart with stories) and tightening her body. She has also zeroed in on one or two “big issues” as “the real problem.” (Too much detail, and too close a perspective.)

I was heartened (wink) to notice that, when she uncrossed her body, she was able to express some emotion.

We decided to work on connection through Bodywork. After some breathing, she spontaneously let her legs and arms open, and I helped her stretch her neck, in a sense lengthening her into her full height. Her breathing deepened and sounded blissful, deep, and even. Her body began to tremble. Her shoulders dropped back to the pad, and in that instant, her quite wet eyes popped open, and locked on to mine. This soft-eyed gaze is a marker that the stories have dissolved.

Her heart was empty (of her stories,) her body was open and undefended, her throat was resonant with sound, and her eyes were soft. In that moment, nothing was needed. We met, and danced.

If either of us had succumbed to the need to “fill” — with stories, explanations, with tightness or resistance, the moment would snap away, and we would be detached, closed and impenetrable. When we seek intimacy with stories and scare ourselves with our emotions, intimacy flees.

There is no intimacy without openness.

An open heart is an empty heart, always ready to dance, to discover, to meet, AND to let go. Not to cling, but to let go. Not to detach, but to let go.

To be open is a letting go and an emptying.

I’ll be working with these dynamics over the next few articles, so please, ask questions! If something is “up” in your life, let me know, and I’ll weave it in.


Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

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