Opening My Heart and Removing My Filter

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Opening My Heart and Removing My Filter

I have a very real, palpable fear sharing this story.  Which is why I haven’t until now.  A part of me wants to hide my behavior, and a part of me wants to defend it.  But life is too short.  Instead, I’ll just let it be my story.  How it relates to eco-influence is very personal.  For me, it connected me to people in a way that I knew, deep down, was possible… yet had never experienced fully despite large efforts.  It introduced me to complete empathy.  And to really sharing without barriers.



I used to keep people at a distance… not let them in.  I also didn’t let my true self out.

control-freakI learned this by experiencing a complete melting… of a wall that was over my heart.  One that I never realized was there.

And a total disintegration… of a filter that was in my head.  One I used to let nothing pass from my lips without being carefully analyzed, chosen, and delivered… as to achieve the desired effect.

When they came down, I was finally able to share in a very raw way, and without hesitation.

A Shift Begins

Tiny cracks in my armor began about 3 years ago.  Fast-forward summary:

  • Was teaching and read “Meditation Secrets for Women”… realized I was in my head all the time
  • Messy break-up… aching heart lasted for months (but felt very good to know I was capable of human emotions)
  • Counseling… finally felt comfortable expressing anger in a healthy manner
  • Amazing book club, read things like “The Presence Process”… asked a ton of female friends a ton of questions

New dates.  New relationships.  Much better… yet… I still felt a certain sense of going through the motions.

Where was this “alive” experience of life I had heard/read about so much?! Where was the loving peace of just BEING?!

An Invitation

Awhile ago, my best friend asked me to participate in a “ceremony” in another city.  To ingest a plant, to be more specific.  Or, as my girlfriend angrily called it… “a drug party.”  She had every right.

Personally, I had always struggled with a judgmental nature (e.g. Type A, #1 – Reformer on Enneagram, Ayurvedic Pitta, etc.)… which is likely why I started meditating, doing yoga, studying Buddhism, etc. in the first place.  To lighten up.

For instance, I had always judged people who use synthetic drugs… calling them immature, or needing to escape from reality.

I also judged people who use “sacraments” in spiritual contexts as undisciplined… taking the easy way.  I made up that they are only after a short-cut — unwilling to do what it takes to achieve certain states naturally through practice.

Yep.  I’m that guy.  Surprise.  No apologies, just sharing.

So… “that guy” got invited to a “ceremony.”

The excuses I gave… and what I learned.

  • It’s not safe… actually it was mostly people that I knew, volunteers to take care of those participating, and a nice community space with beds for everyone
  • It’s not trustworthy… actually the facilitator had been leading ceremonies for over 30 years, came from a long lineage in South America (Peru), and had 3 PhDs
  • It’s a short-cut… maybe, or it could be a guidepost, a peak experience (Aldous Huxley) to show someone what’s missing so they can gauge progress on their journey

In the end, it was helpful that it was a non-synthetic, natural plant… but, what had me choose to attend was a story from someone I trusted.  My best friend’s wife.

I was sitting in the hallway of my loft, on my cell phone with her, explaining my concerns… and she told me exactly what she had experienced.

  • How connected she felt.
  • How powerful the communication was with people she knew and worked with.
  • What a sense of community it created… during and after.

All things that I secretly wanted, outwardly judged, and yet had been unable to realize for myself… through discipline and years of practice.

So, I went.

Doing a Ceremony

Here’s “what happened.”

At 5:30 PM we asked questions of the facilitator (shaman / medicine man / 50-year old gentleman).  I loved his talk.  He created a safe environment.  He asked everyone to commit to honor and support others.  He had no tolerance for “using” any outside substances… only what was given.

safeplacelogoThere were a lot of nerves in the room… varying degrees of comfort and experience.  I smoked a little pot in college — that’s it.  Some were upfront about a more active past with hallucinogens, etc.  Some were straight arrows.

At 6:30 PM, I received my “sacraments” — 2 heart openers / external.  Which lent credibility to the shaman in my eyes, because that was exactly what I was seeking.  To connect with others.  Open my heart to them.  I sat outside at a bonfire and chatted with friends… waiting.

At 7:00 PM my head felt a little fuzzy and I worried I might get disoriented outside.  So, I walked inside and took a friend.  I thought, “What if I just get sick and go to bed?  What a waste!”

Then… something happened.

I sat next to my friend’s wife to gain my bearings — to feel comfortable and taken care of.  We looked at each other.  And the sharing began.

“Adam, we’re not friends.  You’re (my husband)’s friend, but not mine.”

Holy shit.  You’re right!  I thought.

Except I said it out loud.  It was just what was there between us… never spoken.  And for some reason (e.g. plant chemistry)… it was plain as day to both of us.  So we said it… without thinking.

There was no pretense.  No filter.  No guard up over my heart.

We just talked for 15 minutes about how I related to her as just an accessory to my actual friendship with her husband.  And why.  And what to do about it.

We decided to be best friends.  It was just the obvious choice!  Why not?  (We are still, by the way.)

She then said, “I want to share something with such-and-such…” and turned away.  At which point I realized I was still in a room with 20 other people.

The moment she began sharing with me, everything else fell away.  I was — possibly for the first time ever — 100% present with her.  Listening to everything she said and feeling everything she felt… with zero distractions.

tear-down-the-wallI looked around the room.  My initial fuzziness was gone.  Life had a crisp nature to it.  She had helped me to fully join the ceremony.

And… for the next 9 hours, that repeated.

Yep… 9 hours.

It turns out that it’s exhausting trying hard to be someone I’m not.  To constantly analyze and control my life.  To filter everything that I say.

I was present to my fear of being judged… but only after I had shared.

Then I was like, “Wow, I’m really nervous now that maybe you’re judging me for what I just said.”   When they responded with kindness or understanding, another surge of energy coursed through my veins.

The plant was no longer the sacrament.  The sharing was everything.  And I (we) couldn’t get enough.

When I finally slept — at 4:00 AM — it was because no one else was awake.  It’s hard to share by yourself.  But I considered it.

Being in Ceremony

I can’t relate every conversation that happened in 9 hours without boring you to death.  So, what I got was this.

I thought I needed to gain “something.”

Like I needed to find a missing ingredient.  Learn a hidden secret.  And then… then, I would have whatever it was that I needed to be connected and loving and accepting in life.

Not true.

Yes, I took something.  A sacrament.  A plant.  Whatever you want to call it.

But what it gave me access to was not “getting.”

It was the temporary “removal” of everything I had put in the way.

And the experience and understanding that if I could stop putting “that” in the way — I’m perfect just the way I am.  And me — without the barriers I put up — should be celebrated, not fixed.

subtractionFor one night, I managed to feel… really feel (not just think about)… what it was like to open my heart to others with no barriers.  A complete heart-melt.  To simply share what was on my mind/heart — unattached to whether I was right, or having it come off wrong.

The physical sensation was a literal breaking up of tension and releasing of energy.  A gentle heat pulsed over my heart and forehead.  A figurative wall and filter broke into pieces and I could feel them radiating out into my body.

My jaw began to tingle and relax.  I realized, “Wow, I must clench my jaw a lot and not even realize it.”

I also carry tightness in my shoulders, feeling like most things are my responsibility to fix, and that also washed away for the night.

Warm.  Calm.  Present.  Focused.

Every memory of the night is still crystal clear.

I didn’t go anywhere on a “trip.”  I was simply there in the moment.

I laugh now thinking about it… but the natural thing to do in that state was the same for everyone.

We sat incredibly close to each other, smiled lovingly, stared into each other’s eyes, usually held hands or just wanted to be in physical contact, and shared whatever came up.  I can only imagine what you — and the volunteers taking care of us — thought of the whole thing.

With friends that I had already shared my lowest and most shameful hidden stories… we still delved deeper.

With people I had held at a distance, we came together.

With people I had never met, other things came up and we were an unexpected, yet safe place to share.

What Was Available

With others as a mirror, I was able to see me for who I was… no excuses.

  • I avoided interacting with attractive women… fear of being in a committed relationship and leading someone else on, and fear of rejection, even if I was already in a relationship
  • I controlled who I let in and everything I said… fear of being hurt/hurting others, fear of losing self-image, and fear of judgment (loss of love) from others if I did share raw thoughts and feelings in the moment
  • I suffocated parts of myself because I believed I had to in order to be successful… fear of not being good enough
  • It was tiring trying to be someone else… wasting mental, physical, and emotional power trying to control and change everything

After a few conversations, something broke open.

Mirror MirrorI was staring at another human being, totally in love with the experience of listening without judgment, and fully accepting them for who they were when I realized… “I don’t love myself this way, and I should!”

I didn’t gain anything.  I lost something.

I lost all the garbage that I put in the way of loving myself.

When I saw that this amazing, energizing experience was not from something new, but from removing distractions… including a shield over my heart and head… it just clicked.

I AM good enough.  I’m a pretty f*ing amazing human being… and I need to just be ME.  Like full-out, no apologies, being Adam Hammes — issues and all.

Then it was like dominoes.

  • I don’t celebrate who I really am.
  • I wasn’t celebrating my girlfriend for who she really was.
  • I didn’t celebrate my past girlfriends for who they really were.
  • I don’t celebrate my friends and family, free of my own judgments.

My self-judgments were being projected onto others… which prevented me from accepting and loving them fully.  And it was destroying my ability to experience overwhelming love and connection in my life.

I understand completely that these are cute sayings you can pull from any popular books you may have read in the past.

The difference was, I wasn’t reading them.  I wasn’t understanding them intellectually.

I was actually feeling and experiencing life in a new way… I finally knew them to be true.

It went like that until 4:00 AM.  Being myself was really energizing.  9 hours felt more like 2.

Tools for After

The next morning we all shared what we got out of it.  Hugs all around.  Had breakfast and left.

I had a long conversation in the car with my friend.  My old concerns (drugs-as-a-short-cut) resurfaced.

“I feel like I don’t have any tools to re-generate that experience when I get home.”

After a 30-minute conversation in the car, however, we realized we did have tools.

grillers-tool-belt-1The natural thing to do when my heart was open… was the following:

  • Have 1-on-1 conversations
  • Be super present, no distractions
  • Physical contact, holding hands (if appropriate)
  • Eye contact
  • Being loving, smiling
  • And not filtering speech, just sharing whatever comes up (even if scared)

THAT is what I brought back to Des Moines with me and have been enrolling others in doing with me ever since.  I’m definitely not the only one… and you definitely do not have to do a “ceremony.”  It may sound odd if people don’t share the same context.

“Please, I have something to share.  Let’s sit uncomfortably close, hold hands, and stare into each other’s souls for a bit.”

You know, something along those lines.

With some of my friends and my girlfriend, it is literally that kind of conversation now — which I love them for.  For others, I don’t know if they notice I try to create a safe place for that type of conversation to occur.  But if they’re reading this, now they do… and I welcome MORE.

Because it works.  It brings me back to a level of connected-ness that I felt during the ceremony… only drug-free.

I’m not saying that I will NEVER participate in a ceremony again, but I am confident that I don’t HAVE to.

I’m not addicted.  I have tools.  Everyone does.

And, it’s not all kittens and rainbows in my life.

The Work

Now the real fun has begun.

It’s easy to share when you’re in a room with 20 friends blissed out of your minds on love.  Love.  Love.  Love.

But when I came home, there were real conversations to have.

With friends I had grown distant from.

With a great girlfriend, who had legitimate issues with me “doing drugs.”

work_in_progressI had no filter for some time.  At least the next week was amazing.

At dinner with my parents, brother, and grandparents… they asked me what I did that week.  I tried to give a vague geographical answer at first.  “Went to visit my friend.”

But when they asked again WHAT we did… I just told them.

I think they were in shock a bit from my openness about it… a few chuckles.  Then questions.

  • What was it?  
  • Was it safe?  
  • How did it feel?  
  • Why did you do it?
  • Does this happen a lot?

I was incredibly present to my family’s love for me, and concern for my well-being.

They didn’t give their approval or anything.  But they didn’t condemn me.

They just inquired to make sure I was okay.  And still probably left feeling a bit confused about what had just happened at dinner.

I couldn’t help but laugh.  I just told my grandparents about a “ceremony.”  Wow.

The real work is to keep practicing.  And I’m scared.  And I’m not perfect.  But I’m me, and I get SO much energy from opening my heart to others, and sharing my experience (my story).

Thank you for listening.

I’d love to hear your thoughts… how are you feeling about all this?

Here is what my girlfriend said:

I have never been so angry at someone in my life, but today, I thank God Adam did what he did.  He was brave enough to experiment, concerned enough about his own life to make a big change, aware enough to have a breakthrough, connected enough to manage through the extreme emotions, smart enough to plan and ask and be safe, and loving enough to consider others in his journey.

The results of his experience first resulted in the end of our relationship.  I was absolutely furious at him for coming home a different person and leaving me behind.  I was hurt in simply every direction upon his return.  Then we fumbled through some of the tools we’ve learned on our path together and some of the new tools he brought from this experience.  We quickly healed the wounds, recommitted to our relationship and today I can say that I am wholly grateful for his experience.  His experience touched my life in ways I had been waiting for for 34 years and the result has been a deep, meaningful, positive and direct impact on my life in so many ways.  We now share what we’d both been yearning for all our lives and we’ve already played the bliss forward to our friends, family and community.



Adam Hammes is the executive director of the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum, a consultant, author, and motivational speaker. He specializes in helping businesses and sustainability professionals with environmental and social performance.

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