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  • Writer's pictureMargaret Wolff

The Necessary Heart

I collect quotes, arbitrary, wildly beautiful pearls of wisdom find me out of the blue almost as if they have been waiting around for me to call them up and start a conversation. Maybe it’s because I’m a storyteller and an art therapist, but words sometimes tell me secret things.

When my paisans find their way to me or I to them, I scribble them on chartreuse sticky notes or scraps of envelopes or crumpled protein bar wrappers, wad them up in between the pages of my journal, and let them cook. Every few weeks I toss this raggedy hodgepodge on my kitchen counter, smooth out the crinkled paper with a firm back sweep of my fist, and revel—not just in the smarts splayed out before me, but in the loving, ordered providence that provides me with exactly the right words I need to make sense of whatever is up for me in the moment.

Like today, I was trying to figure out what to write about for this blog and the ideas were flatlining on the page. I shuffled my quote pile like a tarot deck and singled out the following “card:” “Even within The Great Openness, the limitations of the world must be loved and respected.” I smiled, thanked the word gods, and knew exactly what I needed to write about.

So, here we all are (or most of us, anyway!) somewhat confined to our homes, inhaling and exhaling the contents of our airtight face masks, still somewhat isolated from friends and family, corked and occluded from life as we knew it three-plus years ago. Where, you might ask, is the Great Openness in that?

The Great Openness is, by Its very nature, always unconfined, invisibly awake and ready—even amid all the ties that bind. When we feel limited, the Openness is not gone; it’s just waiting for the next cycle of manifestation, the next opportunity to reveal Itself. Something akin to hide and seek. This, in no way, belittles or devalues the limitations we now experience, the rocks we have to crawl out from when the limitations weigh heavy on our hearts. But it makes a statement about the fact that everything in the universe is in constant motion, that everything is transforming within, as part of, the Great Openness.

As a therapist—and as a writer—I do not take constriction lightly. I understand that learning to “love and respect” limitation and chaos is an acquired practice; something that takes a lot of patience and faith and practice and support to navigate.

But that’s not the whole picture. Paramahansa Yogananda, the Father of Yoga in the West, and the founder of Self-Realization Fellowship, puts it this way: “If you use all available outward means, as well as your natural abilities, to overcome every obstacle in your path, you will develop the powers that God gave you—the unlimited powers that flow from the innermost forces of your being. You possess the power of thought and the power of will. Utilize to the uttermost these divine gifts.” As daunting as that may sound, befriending The Great Openness is a two-way street.

When the great botanist, inventor, and environmentalist George Washington Carver was asked how he divined more than 300 uses for something as puny and unassuming as the lowly peanut, he famously said, “Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough.” Of course, there was a lot of trial and error involved. Who would have thought a lowly peanut could embody so many treasures? But Carver was not bound by outward appearances, by the opinions of others or by his own limitations. In fact, he respected them. He also respected the discovery process. He believed that anything worth doing was worth doing until he got it right.

Our ability to love and respect our limitations is actually dependent on how we view limitation within the context of our lives. Quantum Field Theory tells us that the true shape of all things is fluid and dependent on the eye of the beholder or the setting in which something is viewed. If all we see are lemons, we lose touch with our potential—our ability to change our thoughts in the present moment—and our possibilities—the inspiration that can come from remembering our previous successes. We feel small. We tell ourselves things about our Self that are small. We attract small things into our life. Where, I ask, is the Great Openness in that?

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to interview leadership doyenne Meg Wheatley. We had a rousing conversation about what she called “the necessary heart of chaos.” She said: “To see chaos as having a heart, as a loving process, is really foreign to our culture. … When you’re trying to control the world as we are here in the West, trying to use life for your own ends … you end up thinking of chaos as your enemy. Chaos can release your creative power in the same way that necessity is the mother of invention. When things get extreme, when the old ways don’t work anymore, that’s when you get your most inventive.”

You see how it is? When you least expect it, the right words can tell you secret things.


Margaret Wolff is a writer, storyteller, art therapist, and retreat leader. Her work celebrates the ways in which the collective wisdom and storytelling reveal the truth and beauty of our inner lives and connect us—heart to beating heart—to each other.

COMING HOME: Finding Shelter in the Love and Wisdom of Paramahansa Yogananda (White Pearl Press, May 20201), is a curated collection of 14 modern-day stories of spiritual awakening that reflect “the most creative and transformative experience life can offer—developing an intimate partnership with the invisible God of one’s heart.”

Available wherever fine books are sold.

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