Becoming aware through curious minds and open hearts

Last month I was invited to participate in the university’s “Ignatian Examen on the Israel Hamas war: Moving from awareness to compassion.” The event was “a chance for our [Marquette University’s] diverse community, which includes both Jewish and Muslim members, to come together with Marquette’s Jesuits in an effort to humanize one another through conversation.” Following an Examen format, my opening reflection invited the community to awareness of the moment and the presence of grace and love. Here it is:

Thank you all for being here this afternoon. My name is Liz Angeli, and I’m an associate professor of English, a spiritual director, and a Marquette alum. In my reflection, I’ll be speaking about how we can become aware through curious minds and open hearts. So to start, I have two questions for you.

When is the last time you checked in with what your mind is saying? When is the last time you checked in with what your heart is saying? This second question is important because at the heart of Ignatian discernment is, well, your heart, my heart, our hearts. Fr. David Fleming describes discernment as listening “to the language of our hearts” and we do that because that’s where our personal god is – your god, my god, “speaks a language to us through our feelings.” So, knowing what our hearts are saying is a way to know how God speaks to us.

Which was easier for you to recall, a time you checked in with your mind or your heart? If it was your mind, that’s not surprising. Every day, all day here on campus, we are tuned into our minds. Our minds make sense of the world around us. They allow us to complete workplace tasks, they’re essential in memorizing information for an exam and puzzling out arguments in research papers and digesting the news. Our minds seek meaning, interpretation, and certainty. All of that has its place. But the world is not certain. The world is not fair or just. Part of learning to be human is to sit with that reality and then ask our God, “Ok, God, what next?”

This is where the heart comes in.

Our heart is the keeper of our feelings and emotions. Our heart is our wisdom center that supports us during difficult moments. It makes us aware to when we’re sad, excited, confused, anxious, or when we’re feeling all those things all at once, and our mind can help us stay grounded in the heart by being curious. Our curiosity asks questions like, “Why am I excited right now? Why do I feel disappointed? I feel tightness in my jaw, what’s that about?” The first step in knowing what our heart wisdom center is saying is to become aware and to be curious.

To do that, I invite you to check in with yourself. Close your eyes if that feels ok to do, put your head down on the table, or focus on a point of interest. Focus on the breath coming in through your nose and out through your mouth. Take three deep breaths. Scan your body, from head to toe. Check in with yourself and ask your heart how is doing; it’s ok to talk to your heart center. Ask your heart, “What do you need?”, “How do you feel?”, “Why did you come to tonight’s Examen?” Name what you’re feeling and noticing as best you can, trusting what words come to mind first. In this way, we’re inviting our heart and mind to work together.

Now, gather what you learned from your heart and return to the room.

When we engage in dialogue with others, it can be tempting and easy to slip out of our feelings and back up into our mind. Here are four practices I invite you to try tonight to keep you grounded in an open heart:

  1. Honor silence and the space between words. 
  2. Take a reasonable risk tonight with disclosing what your heart is saying.
  3. Use “I feel” statements and follow them with “because” if you want to share about your feelings. “I feel nervous,” “I feel uncomfortable,” “I feel confused,” “I feel disappointed,” or “I don’t know how I feel.”
  4. Focus on what your body is saying. Our heart rate, our breathing, shoulders, jaws, and hands, all parts of us tell us what emotion we’re experiencing. We just have to be aware and curious.

In a few moments, you’ll be invited to listen to another’s story by responding to reflection questions, and the reflection questions I pose for you are:

  • What does “listening with an open heart” mean to you?
  • When is the last time you listened with an open heart?
  • How are you being invited to live with an open heart on campus?

Be led by your heart and let your mind follow. Trust your beautifully curious mind and your gorgeous open heart. Thank you.

Leave a Reply