03/11/2011 05:21 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2011

Reclaiming 'Bless Your Heart' As the Southern 'Namaste'

Be Impeccable With Your Word.
-- Don Miguel Ruiz, "The Four Agreements"

Bless whatever you can with eyes and hands and tongue. If you can't bless it, get ready to make it new.
-- Marge Piercy, "What Are Big Girls Made of?"

"Bless your heart": It's a Southern staple -- old and rife with colorful implications. Although commonly heard, it's an expression that I never found authenticity in; thus, I forewent using it. Last year I had an experience that solidified my thoughts of it, and of the necessity of differentiating between judging people and their behavior, and honoring shadow truth. With thoughts of word choice and how we use them at the fore, this feature isn't intended for young readers.

I never liked the expression. It was too Southern, too religious, too pitifully cloying and disempowering. In reality, I've rarely heard it used with sincerity. Most often it's insinuated into an off-color remark, such as, "She shouldn't be wearing those pants, bless her heart," or, "Bless his heart, I can't believe he spent money on that." An expression of righteous indignation, the judgmental piety somehow transmutes the fact that its heart is an insult. Ever the wordsmith, that twisted intent never sat well with me.

As I began my own lessons in speaking and discerning truth while learning not to judge, I re-examined the phrase. Not necessarily religious, it should be uplifting. It should be kind and inspiring. It should be a reminder that "they" are no different from "us," such that the speaker and recipient walk away from the exchange better than they entered. As it stood, the expression was a dead metaphor; no one seemed to remember its original reverence.

My cause to avenge clearly laid out, I began voicing the affirmation. I specifically used it in situations that challenged my truth, such that I genuinely intended a wish of Universal improvement to the situation, the person and the ailment. Then I made a disturbing observation. Whenever I said, "Bless his heart," the response of those around me was to snipe about the person or situation, or to chastise me for speaking ill. I discovered that the phrase was so badly misused and misunderstood, that even when used with high intent, it was poorly perceived. Because the words had long been so carelessly bandied about, no one recognized my heart-centered use. It was perceived as just more glib gab. The reaction of my "community" left me wondering if I perhaps I didn't understand that the phrase was meant to be double entendre, and that any commentary on ill-behavior or situation is judgmental, regardless of honorable intent. I thought my cause was lost.

A couple of years ago, I was working with a longterm client, a gifted Reiki Master who has observably immense compassion. We were engaged in a fairly deep conversation on his experience of recently being hurt by someone. His perspective toward the offending person was intensely stirring and radically calm, which is in keeping with his overall passionate but gentle disposition. In his closing assessment of the altercation, he held up his hand in the Reiki beaming position and said, "I just thought, 'Love and light, motherfucker. Love and Light.'"

My initial reaction was muted laughter. After working together for years, we'd spoken candidly, comfortably. Despite that, his northern need to romanticize my southern gentility most often pre-empted colorful interaction (read: he was more self-conscious than I was). Yet, when he said those words, I understood that was his "bless your heart." My quest on speaking with intent clarified.

I realized that there is implied assessment in honoring someone after reproach, not for no reason. We must be able to distinguish behaviors that support our truth and those that do not. That distinction can be made without judgment. There is a huge difference between saying, "You hurt me and that was unacceptable," and saying, "You hurt me and you're a bad person." Likewise, we must be able to express anger when our truth is not honored. For most of us, that expression comes in the form of potent speech. However expression is manifest, remember that it's needed. What is stuck creates imbalance inside and outside. Recall as well, that once voiced, words can't be taken back. Speak truth.

We must be able to bless -- without damning -- what we don't like. On some level, we are all acting in our best capacity. That recognition doesn't mean have no boundaries. It doesn't mean be a doormat, and does not offer license to be mean to someone who has offended. It means cultivate the ability to send love and light to what angers or hurts us most. Don't overlook its true nature, which may have no one's best interest in mind at all. Be aware of it, step away from it, bless it and don't become it. The challenge is to find the means of interacting with shadow dynamics without falling prey to our own. This isn't news, and other cultures have their own colloquial phrases as spiritual equalizers. From the Torah comes the golden rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The Wiccan Rede tells us, "An ye harm none, do what ye will." The Hindu greeting namasté imparts, "The Spirit in me honors the Spirit in you."

In the end it isn't about judging the behavior of others, but what we can honor within our own actions when we've been offended. It's about our intentions, regardless of the words coming out of our mouths. I use the phrase copiously now, as a self-check when I'm really annoyed about something, with the hope that my intentions for "blessing" someone might help them in some way, and with the hope that I may be a trendsetter, yet.

Indeed, love and light. Bless your heart.