Whether in relationships or with people on the street, it seems most of us have difficulty opening our hearts.
Some may go our whole lives without ever opening them, while others may open their hearts briefly before retreating back into caves.
Here are five steps you can take to open your heart to others, to love, and to life in general.
1. Be here now.
We so often escape the reality of the present by our addiction to thinking — about anything and everything and nothing. The best way to be open to love is to be here now, to be present with others, their words, and the experiences surrounding your interactions.
2. Check your posture.
No, I’m not kidding! Standing with a confident posture — like Superman or Superwoman, with hands on the hips and chest out — actually causes the body to produce confidence hormones and create courage where there was none.
How does this relate to your heart? Your physical posture relates directly to your emotional posture. If your chest is retracted, your shoulders slumped over, you’re literally pulling your heart back from the world.
It is a bodily manifestation of fear and lack of self-esteem (which is, in turn, just another way of saying a lack of self-love).
Loving and receiving love is very much about having the courage to be vulnerable, to extend yourself into the world even at the risk of being hurt by it.
So stand tall, with your chest out confidently. Loosen your belly by giving yourself a laugh and release the tension in your shoulders.
Even if you look a little ridiculous, your heart will thank you.
3. Develop compassion for yourself and others.
Practice compassion in meditation. Sit silently in a relaxed position and still your mind. Focus on your heart space and imagine it opening up like a precious flower.
Extend the love from your heart to your partner and immediate family, then further to your extended family and friends — then even further to your whole town, whole world and whole universe.
If you search online for meditations of this kind, you’ll find a lot of them, especially from Buddhist traditions. You can stylize them to fit your specific religious beliefs.
If meditation isn’t really your thing, or if you find it esoteric, just practice feeling love toward other people.
Find things you like about others to consciously say to yourself — or even better, to tell them. It will open you to deeper love.
4. Let go of the past.
The stories we’ve told ourselves about the wrongs done to us — they don’t matter. They’re just blockades we learned to erect as children to keep love out when we needed to protect ourselves.
Forgive yourself for your incorrect perceptions and forgive the people who hurt you. Or if your perceptions were correct, forgive yourself for believing you didn’t deserve to be loved.
If forgiveness is not forthcoming, that’s okay. Let the process happen naturally and get help if you need to, whether it be through therapy, guided meditation or talking to a friend.
There are definitely times when our feelings are valid, when someone has truly wronged us. And there are certainly people we just don’t need in our lives.
But even the hurts of those long gone from our lives can prevent us from receiving the love we want, so make sure that ghosts from the past aren’t haunting your heart.
5. Be grateful for the gift.
Everyone in your life will leave you one day, whether it’s by circumstances of life — like growing apart naturally, breaking up or moving to another state — or at the time of their death or your own.
This isn’t to say you should become a nihilistic about things.
It just means you should appreciate the love you have in your life now, in this moment, because no one is obligated to love you — it’s a gift freely given.
Matthew Stensland-Bos explores conscious living, loving, healing and grounded spirituality in Know This Love, a weekly SFBay opinion column. You can find him on his website, www.wordswithmatthew.com.