"Heart, then, is a direct presence that allows a complete attunement with reality. In this sense, it has nothing to do with sentimentality. Heart is the capacity to touch and be touched, to reach out and let in. Our language expresses this twofold activity of the heart, which is like a swinging door that opens in both directions. We say, 'My heart went out to him,' or 'I took her into my heart.' Like the physical organ with its systole and diastole, the heart-mind involves both receptive letting in, or letting be, and active going out to meet, or being-with. In their different ways, both psychological and spiritual work remove the barriers to these two movements of the heart, like oiling the door so that it can open freely in both directions.
"What shuts down the heart more than anything is not letting ourselves have our own experience, but instead judging it, criticizing it, or trying to make it different from what it is. We often imagine there is something wrong with us if we feel angry, needy, dependent, lonely, confused, sad, or scared. We place conditions on ourselves and our experience: "If I feel like this, there must be something wrong with me. . . . I can only accept myself if my experience conforms to my standard of how I should be.
"Psychological work, when practiced in a larger spiritual context, can help people discover that it is possible to be unconditional with themselves to welcome their experience and hold it with understanding and compassion, whether or not they like it at any given moment. What initially makes this possible is the therapist's capacity to show unconditional warmth, concern, and friendliness toward the client's experience, no matter what the client is going through. Most people in our culture did not receive this kind of unconditional acceptance in their childhood. So they internalized the conditions their parents or society placed on them: 'You are an acceptable human being only if you measure up to our standards." And because they continue to place these same conditions on themselves, they remain alienated from themselves.
"The Dalai Lama and many other Tibetan teachers have spoken of their great surprise and shock at discovering just how much self-hatred Westerners carry around inside them. Such an intense degree of self-blame is not found in traditional Buddhist cultures, where there is an understanding that the heart-mind, also known as Buddha-nature, is unconditionally open, compassionate, and wholesome. Since we are all embryonic buddhas, why would anyone want to hate themselves?"