The Territory of the Heart is Prickly

Raja Gopal Bhattar, Ph.D., (they/them/theirs) hails from a long lineage of Hindu spiritual leaders from the Srivaishnava tradition. They are a higher education leader, advocate, and consultant. Bhattar is a 2020 Interfaith America Racial Equity Fellow.



The territory of the heart is prickly.

Like a wild cactus,


dusty and

                                                          entangled upon itself.


What is the purpose of this existence?

Messy, dehydrated

and reaching towards


the Sun.


“The wound is where the light enters.” Rumi


What if the entire heart is wounded? Can the light hold my wound? My pain? My healing?


While my heart feels                                                                                                       lonely,

it is not alone.


I am in a desert full of other beautifully prickly beings,

learning, healing, growing, belonging.


The snake of my soul

sheds this thick skin,




traumas, messages and voices that have gotten stuck on my soul over time.


It is the prickliness of my heart that allows my much-needed shedding to manifest.


Without the prickliness, where would I be? Is healing even possible?


In fact, the territory of the heart is prickly with purpose.




and weathering the many storms.


The prickliness is sweet. The prickliness is resilience. And even full of light.


This wound is not a source of shame but a symbol of my strength.


Each prickly piece a reminder of my journey towards peace.           




Artist Statement:

This poem was inspired recently, after attending my first all Desi/South Asian meditation retreat. While I have attended many retreats grounded in various traditions, being with other Desi practitioners, sharing our struggles, joys and cultural references made this session feel more special than I expected. What was even more powerful was that our grouping was a mix of various spiritual traditions, genders, sexualities, immigration and diasporic experiences and even time zones across the world.

More broadly, while COVID and the global standstill of the last year has been difficult and life-altering in so many ways, it has helped me cultivate the strongest spiritual communities I have ever experienced. Having weekly space with my People of Color sangha, or my monthly Asian and South Asian sanghas, all connected to understanding our spiritual traditions, decolonizing our practices, and deeply engaging with racism and anti-Blackness has been life nurturing. To be able to talk about my anxiety, healing, and inner conflict felt like group therapy at times while also pushing me to practice compassion for myself and others in my community when needed. The territory of the heart is not simply prickly, it’s juicy with potential. If anything, the global pandemics due to health, anti-Black and anti-Asian racism, politics, farmer disenfranchisement and more is teaching me that the wounds of our ancestors are coming to light and demanding attention. Our healing is entangled with our ability to pay attention to what’s happening around us. We are never alone. Our ancestors, known and unknown, are always there. We just have to learn to listen. Each prickly part of ourselves is a path to enhancing empathy for those that have come before and our fellow people in this world. 


The prickliness is sweet. The prickliness is resilience. And even full of light.

This wound is not a source of shame but a symbol of my strength.

Each prickly piece a reminder of my journey towards peace.           



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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.