Archive for the 'open heart' Category

Open hearts

June 28, 2015

I listened to President Obama’s eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney twice.  Towards the end President Obama talks about how important having an open heart is, and as sad as the occasion for the speech was, I was so thrilled that someone of such a public stature would talk about that, and talk about it at such a high-profile event.

It reminded me of my gladness and relief that someone of Pope Francis’ stature came out as an advocate for the Earth, in his recent encyclical, and of a similar reaction I had some years ago when I read some of the Dalai Lama’s books addressed to a more universal audience.

I don’t think change comes, ultimately, from the top down, but I do think that influencing what we talk about and sharing ways we might think about the issues can be helpful.

And in the case of talking about having an open heart, I think the posture of having an open heart is an important part of a process that people use to make their own individual progress.  So I see talking about it as a boost to the grassroots part of the dynamic for progress and positive change, and the grassroots level is the part of the human project I think often gets too little attention.

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Ulterior goal affects the experience

March 11, 2015

If I am merciful with the goal of having others show mercy towards me, I will have a quite different experience from the experience I will have if I am merciful for the sake of being merciful.  I think the latter gives rise to more peace within the person, more openness, and less baggage that gets in the way.  Of course, it’s a whole other situation if the situation from the get-go was entered into on the understanding that there would be reciprocity.  And it’s a (different) whole other situation if the situation once entered into is clearly one in which reciprocity is the norm and hence to be expected.  (In addition, if person A has no ability to be merciful, it also doesn’t mean, it seems to me, that they will not be shown mercy.)

Pace Rohr.  Or maybe I’ve misunderstood what he’s saying.

I just think it is too limiting to think of being merciful while one is thinking about whether others will show one mercy.  They may not, but that, I think, is a separate issue, to be dealt with, but not in terms of whether one is oneself merciful;  the decision, to the extent it is a decision, to be merciful has more to do with one’s own capacity, in general and in the specific situation, it seems to me.

My meager understanding of religions is that Hindus are more oriented towards an open-ended attitude than Buddhists or Christians are, who seem to tie together one’s own doings with their possible consequences.

Trying to help

April 7, 2014

How do we help people who feel miserable?  Many of them want us to hold their misery for them.  It’s too heavy for most of us, and it’s not a good idea for us to try to hold it;  if we receive the misery, we need to be able to pass it on to the universe for disposal.

Therapists, Reiki masters, clergy, all kinds of people know how to do something like this.

But if the miserable person still has no way of ceasing to produce feelings of misery, the situation has not been sufficiently addressed.  The person feeling misery needs to find a different way to intersect with the world, a different emotional posture.

Some people find such a posture through cognitive behavioral therapy, others through 12-step programs, others through religious creeds, and I’m sure some people pick up another attitude from other sources, even from individuals or from literature.

I think part of what happens when a person is developing an attitude in which misery is not being regenerated constantly is that the person becomes looser and more open.  This helps negative feelings, when they do arise, become diluted.  And eventually, I think, the person is able to more directly and efficiently dump their load of miserable feelings onto the universe — they figure out how to work the dump truck  so that the universe and not a human interlocutor receives the load.

I think that’s important.  Our misery should not be passed around like a hot potato or spewed out into the environment like greenhouse gases.  And people who just want to dump their loads onto me constantly, happily refilling their trucks and driving them over and over again to my place, well, to them I would try to communicate as gently as possible (and sometimes the gentleness I’m sure does not come through) that I can’t participate in that.  I wish they would also examine why they are not motivated to find an alternative to refilling their truck.

Which tradition?

January 20, 2014

Richard Rohr talks about delving deep through one’s spiritual tradition, citing the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa as sources.

My sense is that the only bedrock guidelines are, open your heart and listen.  If that process leads to going with a particular current religious tradition, that’s one thing.  But if it leads elsewhere, that’s something else.

So, too, with the notion of the happy mystic Father Rohr has written about.  To me that sounds like a human interpretation, the idea that mystics will give external evidence of happiness.  Maybe the “physics” of being a mystic do necessarily produce what we perceive as happiness, but I am open to the possibility that they don’t, that there are varieties of mystic experience and that the tradition he refers to is just one of many.  To me, the issue is what serves the greater good in a particular situation, what puzzle piece fits.  It’s a logical possibility that a grumpy mystic might.  Not every partially enlightened person fulfills the same function, is doing the same job.  And I’m not sure that the completely enlightened people hang out here, I think to be incarnated we have to accept having some kind of flaw.  Even the happy mystics.

As to what religious tradition has worked for me, in terms of spiritual union, I believe it is a much older one, one which most people no longer use today, and I believe that for me that reflects that I am helping someone from the past resolve an attempted spiritual union that went awry in a complicated way.

Which leads me to a spiritual story.  It’s about someone who thinks they are getting someone else’s dreams.  Today we might think of it in terms of getting someone else’s email and wanting to forward the messages on to the correct recipient, who would know how to respond to them.  It was clear to this second person in the story that the first person was getting her stuff because he had too much of her energy incorporated within him.  If you’re impersonating someone, you get their messages.  Not surprisingly, he didn’t want her to take her energy back, just the messages.  He didn’t understand that it doesn’t work that way.

They interacted, she got the messages, did what they indicated needed to be done, stuff which he didn’t know how to do (and he knew that he didn’t).  Then the universe found a way to keep the problem from recurring.

All the rest was irrelevant detail, in the great scheme of things.  She could see that, even if she didn’t like some of the detail, and eventually she made peace with the fact that he had his own interpretation of what had happened.

For her it was a little like overpaying to recover needed information stored on a stolen computer, a computer that was now in the hands of someone who really thought it was theirs.

No one ever told her she was getting a pleasurable or easy role in the story.  It’s being of service that brings inner peace, not necessarily the particulars of what that service entails.  And within the confines of the story, she complained heartily.  It’s just that she could also see (after the fact) that it was only a spiritual story and that she was being of service by playing her role within it.

Holes

October 11, 2013

Well, of course we wouldn’t try to fill up a black hole in a galaxy as if it were a pot hole.  Why do we try to fill up holes in our hearts as if they were, too?

We want to close the hole.

I was reading yesterday this piece about pressure on cracks in a metal actually producing the counter-intuitive result of closing them.

My own personal experience has been that the hole in the heart gets resolved by projecting our positive emotions outwards.

I felt a hole in my heart open after a particularly difficult pregnancy loss, but I also realized that what I needed was a child to nurture, and what I didn’t need was to become angry and bitter.  It wasn’t a reasoned decision, or one set on achieving a particular positive result for myself, it was just a little self-awareness about next steps and avoiding something unpleasant (becoming angry and bitter).

One of the other things I had going for me, apparently, is an ability to stay on emotional pitch and not slide flat or sharp — I could hold a note of hurt or disappointment without its becoming anger or resentment.

Anyway, we found children to nurture.

I think, in retrospect, that it was kind of like throwing up a rope and then climbing it.  I ended up filling the hole through that (nurturing children) — like Harold with his Purple Crayon in the Crockett Johnson children’s books, drawing staircases to go down or go up in order to make his journey.  It’s kind of like faith, only it feels much more concrete than faith in God.  It’s a move on the physical plane that allows one to make a profit by giving something away — giving love to another closes the hole.

There are steps that come after, I think, at least in my own journey, but they are not the subject of this post.  Nor is my encounter with someone whose perceived hole in her heart was woven over through our working through enough imagery and emotional steps, at a very deep level, to allow her to feel the hole had been closed.

Regeneration

September 24, 2013

I have encountered a version of what Richard Rohr talks about in today’s Daily Meditation, this “incurable wound at the heart of everything.”

I conceptualized it, when it came to me, as a very limited child who could not get back to godhead, or be easily guided back there by others on the outside.  We had to communicate to her from within and then give her a way of understanding how to fling herself into the arms of the Lord, the universe, however that concept is translated, so she could complete the cycle of death and rebirth.  Her remaining outside of that cycle, sort of marooned on the shoulder of the road, was a sinkhole for humanity generally, however small the hole actually was.  Like a small glitch in some hardware that crashes a computer.  That’s what I “got” when I peeled away all the layers of the onion.

Somehow we communicated to her to fling herself into the arms of a father — it was an emotional concept she did get, and her soul fluttered into the embrace she was able to expect would be there to receive her in a loving way.

What did I uncover?  Father Rohr teaches me that it is a universal issue that we contemplate and then accept as is, we don’t try to fix it.  So what was this disabled child version of mine all about?  Maybe it was a projection of “me” that I didn’t recognize.

But there’s more to it than that, I think.

I don’t think I’m the first to see what I saw or to come up with the kluge to get the child to crossover by conceptualizing God as a/the father.  I think it has been done before, and what was thought to be a helpful metaphor took on an unhelpful life of its own, to wit, some of the beliefs in our religions — God as a cranky old parent, for instance.

Is the wound incurable?  Can a sinkhole be filled?  How do we relate to black holes?

Father Rohr’s teaching makes me think that we need to accept that incurable wound as the entrance to the next phase, a version of “creative destruction” we must tolerate if not embrace.  We need to accept our fall during our physical lives, in order to open our hearts, and we need to accept our death when we move on from this world, we need to recycle — whether we conceptualize it as including reincarnation or just going back to source after a single lifetime.

But maybe Rohr is getting at something else, something that is just wound and not part of a cycle of death and resurrection (resurrection that, if not on earth, then puts us into eternity through reunion with God).  I don’t know.  But I will think about it — I am certainly willing to explore whether a prior conceptualization of mine was a step towards a further understanding.

But sometimes I think we’re just feeling different parts of the elephant, and that what I’ve felt has its own role in our clarifying our collective understanding, too.

God, the imagination, and books

September 4, 2013

Some people are open and some people aren’t.  Some people even make an art of not being open.  They always hold something back, behind fear, behind, vanity, behind pride.

Being open allows us to see ourselves from multiple perspectives, not just the way we would like to think we are.  We allow ourselves to see the secondary consequences of our attitudes and behaviors on others and we adjust our attitudes and behavior  accordingly.  If we refuse to look at the negative impacts we have on others, we close ourselves off from not only them but from ourselves.

I suspect meditation helps get around that by being a way to put aside the carapace, albeit only temporarily.  Some people do, in contrast, make their entire life a living prayer — they are always open.

When we are open, we can perceive through other than our monkey minds.  What we perceive includes what some people label “God.”  It is not perceived through our imaginations, which are part of our monkey minds.

Willy was a very open person, whether or not he believed in God.  He was kind and generous.  He also had that quality I associate with men of being ready, willing, and able to defend his turf, however.  But he knew that sometimes the most helpful technique is to allow the other person’s energy to become their own undoing, that deflecting that energy can be key.  To me he demonstrated that a person can be a conduit (for the forces of the universe) without being conscious of it.

A close friend of his shared with me that he considered Willy a mystic.  I liked hearing that.  It gave me a way of understanding his sitting cross-legged at the kitchen table to eat, for example.  Or drinking directly from sink faucets.  He was so fastidious about other manners that these behaviors called out for interpretation.

We can teach intellectual ideas through others.  We can disseminate them in books.  These may provide touchstones for others as they try to gain a sense of themselves and of life, analogous to consulting with a village elder, but they also present a hazard, namely encouraging people to believe that the development of the person is, or can be, had through the intellect.  The intellect is a helpful interface between experience and communication, but the significant things a person needs to go through in order to develop into the person they have the potential to be will not be experienced through reading or through learning in a classroom.

Willy had that sense, too, I think.  He was continually frustrated by new hires who thought of life as a problem set and he had little patience for academia.  He fled college (with his degree) in three years and went into the Peace Corps.  He finished his dissertation while working full time, in large part because he much preferred working and solving real problems;  even with the added demands of working, working at a job gave him more energy for his dissertation than remaining a full-time graduate student would have.  In primary school he had experimented with focusing on the niceties necessary to gain complete approval in academia, and he reported to me that he had found the rewards hollow.

I think this blog is my compromise.  I’ve got people in my life who want me to write, and I what I really want to do is to walk.  I think writing is in some way inherently misleading, but the snippets that are blog posts perhaps come closest to those momentary understandings we become privy to through interfacing with the universe through prayer and meditation.

Heartbreak

August 7, 2013

One of the puzzles I wonder about is whether deep faith comes out of having had one’s heart broken open by despair, or something similar, and then crying out to be heard.  Maybe faith can also come through positive experiences.  But I am not sure.

When I read a post like Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation for today, I think, “He just doesn’t remember his lifetime in which his heart broke open, and in this lifetime he doesn’t believe in reincarnation.”  Which may be factually wrong, his heart may have broken open this time around in this world, I wouldn’t know and I’m not asking.

I admire Fr. Rohr for trying to teach faith with what Christianity offers, but I do worry about whether one really can get there from there.

On the other hand, Ramakrishna thought one could, said he had tried it out and it worked.  That’s some comfort to me.

Nurturing a child

March 19, 2013

I was interested in Father Rohr’s take on why people have children.  I don’t remember ever thinking about what a child would think of me, whether they would love me back.  I just had this huge need to nurture.  I had wanted a baby to care for since I was three, when the mother of my friend next door gave birth to a child, and we were invited to see the new baby about a week later;  I looked into the bassinet, laid eyes on Maria, and I was transformed.  I wanted my mother to do that, too, to give us a baby to take care of, but she didn’t.

My desire to nurture a child intensified with my first pregnancy loss, and I knew that the need to nurture a child was more important than pregnancy or whether the child looked anything like me.  (The risk of serious hemorrhaging also became a significant factor — dying in childbirth would kind of defeat the idea of nurturing a child.)  I also had a strong sense that nurturing a child was the path to my not becoming an angry and bitter person.

I don’t think I was wrong — nurturing my children has kept my heart open.  Of course I had no idea at the outset just how wide my heart would be opened by the experience, which I suspect was a good thing.  Part of that opening has involved a process of experiencing difficult responses from other people and then finding a way, not to accept the content of the response, but to somehow accept that they are doing the best they can.

I certainly didn’t think about such issues when I knew I wanted children, but I did know that I needed to follow that path.  I think that’s usually enough — following those bread crumbs.

Tensing up

January 7, 2013

Faced with an unknown dog or a bee on the arm, if we remain quiet and relaxed, we don’t escalate the likelihood of harm.  When we want to float in the water, relaxing our muscles and ourselves allows us to.  When we encounter hurt within a human relationship, if we stay with the initial emotion of hurt and don’t transform it into a defensive (tense) posture, we can also remain in an open (here, emotional) posture.  It’s about, I think, being able to tolerate feeling the hurt.  And that, paradoxically, both allows us to pass through the situation (and to let it pass through us) and also not to become more (and more permanently) damaged.

There are times when we cannot tolerate the hurt, and when that happens, I think we use a coping device to attenuate it.  The coping device has its own cost.  Here’s an extreme example:  my boyfriend breaks up with me and I swear off dating altogether.  Maybe for some people this is a stage they have to go through, putting up an impermeable protective wall to assure themselves they won’t be hurt again.  But that impermeable barrier also, obviously, cuts them off from the possibility of a (healthy) new relationship that does work out.

Some people don’t, to use the example above, actually foreswear the dating market, but rather re-enter it using a detached persona, a self separated from their heart.  This looks like a strategy that allows for both relationship and protection, but I think it is actually much worse than withdrawing.  For one thing, without having one’s heart in the game, one is hugely likely to do real damage to other people, because the ability to generalize empathetic feeling I think resides in the heart; if a person is trying to understand other people’s perspective through the intellect and not the heart, I think that understanding will be piecemeal, like particles instead of waves.  It will likely fail to be accurate in a new situation it has not yet encountered, and hence will not be a helpful guide for what to do and will instead be more likely to give rise to behavior that damages.

But walled-off people do conduct relationships that endure, and what about them?  I think they wobble, less so when the other partner knows how to compensate for the missteps taken by the protagonist.  There are some people who are emotionally willing and limber enough to try to compensate in their part of the partner dance for extreme missteps by the protagonist.  Not only are these dances and relationships painful for others to watch, but they often end in the collapse of the compensating partner.  Here’s an example:  primary person doesn’t want partner to have outside secondary relationships (of the platonic sort) and/or makes it difficult for them to have them, and then the primary person complains that the partner has become too emotionally dependent on them.

My main point here, though, is about trying to stay with the initial feeling of hurt and not transform it into something else.  In its original form it can be completely processed, I think, whereas in a transformed state, there will be a residue that clogs up the heart and weighs us down.   If we stay with the original hurt with an open emotional stance, the feeling will pass through us and we through that stage of feeling.  It may take time, but I think it is far preferable to do than to wrap the hurt up in anger and bitterness, for example, and be left with a foreign object within us, or rather, with an outer shell walling us off.