When you cultivate your heart, you grow in inner maturity and blossom as a better person. Merely being smart or having a lot of knowledge often grows the ego. But when you strive to cultivate your heart alongside your head, you grow in a balanced way.
There are five qualities that cultivate your heart and sweeten your personality. They are humility, gratitude, compassion, forgiveness and confession.
These qualities must be personally imbibed and lived and not just values that you know to be good to have.
Quality #1: Humility
Humility is best understood when we compare it to its opposite quality—pride or conceit.
Conceit is an over-estimation of oneself. It is a sign of the ego. Such a person thinks herself as being better than or superior to others.
The ego makes it hard for us to see our own faults. It makes us impatient, judgemental and quick to criticize others. Having a strong ego closes down the heart.
With humility comes modesty and a lack of self-importance or superiority. It enables you to see your own shortcomings and mistakes. As a result of this, you graciously allow others to also be less than perfect.
When facing conflicts, you put people and relationships first. You are careful to think, speak and act in kind and loving ways. You look for win-win solutions. You are ready to put aside your ego and apologise for any mistakes you do.
With humility, you don’t hold back love. With the ego, you hold back your love and slip into competition, comparing, criticizing and arguing.
Humility enables you to ask yourself, “Am I holding back love? Am I separating myself from others? What can I do to make things better for us?”
Now here is a caveat for anyone who thinks he or she is humble. This quote by Swami Chinmayananda says it perfectly: Humility is a strange thing. The minute you think you have it, you have lost it.
Quality #2: Gratitude
Humility opens the doors to your heart and allows you to move out of your small, egocentric life and concerns. You become aware of the many blessings in your life that you often overlook, and feel grateful for them.
Gratitude is the second quality to cultivate your heart.
Gratitude is appreciating all the things that support you and make your life easier. It could be saying thank you to the shoes that protect your feet when you go out, the spectacles that enable you to see clearly, the car that takes you to where you want to go safely, the clothes that keep your body warm, or your home that keeps you safe.
Many everyday conveniences have been enabled by the sacrifices of others whom we don’t know personally. Even then, we can mentally thank them. For instance, we can express gratitude for having paved roads to drive on, electricity to power our homes and other spaces, running water, gas, and so on.
Why does this happen? When you focus on what you have, what you have grows. On the other hand, when you focus on what’s missing and complain about it, you experience more lack and stress.
It’s easy to take the people whom we live with for granted. It’s important to thank them for what they do for us. Relationships are enriched when we appreciate the people in our lives who love, support and stand by us.
We can even be grateful for difficult people and relationships as they give us the opportunities to learn and mature inwardly. All relationships have a higher purpose.
Achievements and successes can often build up our ego. With gratitude we come to realize that we don’t accomplish and succeed alone. There are always people who have had a hand in our successes right from the time we were little—from our parents and teachers who taught us basic life skills to the family, friends, colleagues and others in our lives today.
Open your heart in gratitude for the great blessings in your life. Then allow those feelings of gratitude and joy to bless others through your presence, your smile, your touch, thoughts, words and actions.
Quality #3: Compassion
Humility and gratitude cultivate the heart and make it easier for us to feel and express compassion for others.
It is being putting others’ needs above our own. It is being thoughtful, kind and caring of others. A small act of compassion can make a world of difference for someone.
I remember the time when I fell and broke my ankle while ice skating many years ago. A fellow skater quickly came to my rescue. He carefully picked me up and carried me off the ice. He offered soft words of comfort that eased my pain and shock until more help came. I will never forget the kindness of this stranger.
Compassion is also a virtue to be lived with animals and other living beings. You may have noticed an insect trying its level best to get out of a closed window. It may have been trying for days. You see it repeatedly flying at the window and falling in fatigue. A wave of compassion comes over you and you open the window and direct the insect out. When the insect realizes it’s free, it flies out with such speed that it appears as though it is filled with joy and relief.
No act of compassion is ever wasted. It’s about doing your best to ease the pain of others.
Compassion can be cultivated by looking for opportunities to help and serve. You ask yourself, “How can I help? What can I do to be kind?”
There is nobility in compassion. It is surely a virtue to be developed and practiced.
Quality #4: Forgiveness
The fourth quality to cultivate the heart is forgiveness. We all have had people in our lives who have done or said things that have left painful emotional scars in our hearts.
No one is perfect and we all make mistakes. To hold on to anger and resentment only backfires on you as it disturbs your mental peace and affects your body’s health.
When you hold on to anger and suffer, it’s as though you are punishing yourself for the mistakes of others. And so, forgiveness is for you, not for the person who wronged you.
Even if someone has no qualms about his actions and you feel that he does not deserve your forgiveness, forgiving him brings peace to your mind and unburdens your heart. Forgiving does not make what he did right. Forgiveness makes you right.
Peace of mind is the greatest wealth. If you choose peace in your daily life and transactions, life becomes lighter and happier.
Sometimes we are harder on ourselves than we are with others and find it difficult to forgive ourselves for our mistakes. This is when we need to be grateful for the lessons, take the necessary remedial steps and stop looking back to what is over and done with.
We can begin to heal when we choose to let go of past hurts, forgive others and ourselves. Confession, the last quality to cultivate you heart is how we can let go and move on.
Quality #5: Confession
Confession heals your heart and clears your conscience. When we justify our mistakes, we strengthen the ego and close the heart.
To ensure that you don’t hold on to any emotional scars in your heart, earnestly admit your mistakes to whom you have wronged. Accept responsibility for your actions with remorse and ask for forgiveness. Sincerely promise that you will not repeat your actions and do your best to ensure it doesn’t happen.
Many times, even after we genuinely regret our actions and confess to others, we don’t feel good. There is a heaviness in the heart. We wish things to have been different.
To fully heal from the past, the best solution is to confess and ask for forgiveness in prayer.
Help me, save me please. Please forgive me for my words and actions. I no longer want to hold on to any heaviness in my heart. Please release me from this pain. I can’t do it on my own. I seek your grace and healing, dear God. I surrender totally to you. Please heal me from within, release me and bring me peace of mind. I surrender myself wholly to you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
When you pray wholeheartedly like this; with tears in your eyes, know that your pleas have been heard and the healing has begun. The divine will surely release you from the burden of remorse.
To cultivate your heart, start with humility
Of these five qualities to cultivate your heart—humility, gratitude, compassion, forgiveness and confession, humility is the most important. It is said that humility enhances the other qualities and is the thread that holds them together.
These five qualities have to be remembered and practiced every day. They are the cornerstones of conscious, heart-based living.
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