Recently, while waiting to get in the chair at a local hair salon, I could hear one side of a cell phone conversation that a woman was having. Her words cut through the usual noise in the salon. "Girl, it breaks my heart to see you like this,” she said. Those words sliced through the sounds of blow dryers humming, loud talking and laughing across the room between hair braiders as they kept their work moving. "You can't keep blaming yourself", is what I heard her say next. It was as clear as if she was sitting right next to me. I could tell that this woman was talking with someone she obviously cared about, maybe a sister, a daughter, a good friend. Before her conversation ended, she told the person, "Holding a grudge only hurts you, honey. You're going to have to learn to take baby steps away from this so you can get back to who you used to be". I realized that I was ear witnessing one woman holding on to another woman, signaling to her that whatever trauma or confusion she was experiencing was not to be normalized.
Something about overhearing this conversation brought to mind a thought and a theme. The thought was, how many of us know how to be our sister’s keeper? The theme that came to mind was advancing a twist on the February observance of American Heart Month this year. Instead of just raising awareness about the usual heart health topics - managing hypertension, reminders of heart healthy diets, staying physically active, lowering cholesterol - what if we explored the healing of our hearts in ways that extend to the improvement of our mental and emotional health as well? In a slightly older (2017) Psychology Today article, Jeffrey Birk, Ph.D. explains the throughline that connects our emotional health to our physical health.
There are so many kinds of unwell hearts that can keep us emotionally crippled and cause serious physical cardiovascular consequences too if we are not careful. The broken heart. The grieving heart. The hardened/grudging heart. The timid heart. The restless and cheating heart.
In her latest book, How We Heal, writer and wellness educator Alexandra Elle offers her personal story along with the stories of 13 notable women, where they share resonating accounts of feeling truly unfocused - just all over the place, family issues, constantly running out of time, needing more time to explore who they really are and their personal evolution, not feeling enough, feeling too much, letting the inner critic keep them from achieving goals, and not dealing with what makes their hearts so heavy. Elle offers a revelatory framework that provides guidance on starting your healing from scratch, identifying and "befriending" your fear, reclaiming your power, and finally doing the work to heal your heart.
For the broken hearted, she shares writing healing exercises that take you where it feels good.
For the grieving hearted, she suggests meditations and exercises that will help to rediscover being in joy.
For the hardened and grudging hearted, the framework leans into freeing yourself and learning to release what no longer serves you.
For the timid hearted, learn to work on identifying your fears and the cultivation of positive self-talk.
For the restless/cheating heart, you might want to explore chapters on self-forgiveness and how to make room for new beginnings.
February is American Heart month. Perhaps you will read this month’s message and soon begin or continue your heart healing journey and like Elle, be the catalyst for the healing of those around you, performing this “radical and necessary act”. When you truly put in the work on yourself, you will be better positioned to be your sister’s keeper. Janine and I encourage you to show up for yourself, be kind to yourself, and extend the grace that you need to heal your heart so that you can begin to go after the desires of your heart.
Hear an interview with Alexandra Elle on NPR’s A1 Podcast - HERE
Cheryl Thompson, MSPH