Tag Archives: the heart

Cemetery In My Mind: Midnight Oil

The Australian band Midnight Oil are back together and touring the world. Their Great Circle Tour is circuiting the globe with the band’s distinctive sound and message. Politics, the environment, social justice, and the ‘human condition’: all are featured. Distraction and lethargy are not an option. The prophets have returned to wake up the dead and jolt the living.

I had a search through their catalogue to find a song that might be of use for us. While most of their music is decidedly action-focused, there are some that attempt an ‘introspective kick-in-the pants’. Cemetery in My Mind is one such song.

For me the message of the song is blunt: what do you want to be – death alive or living a life?

There is a dynamic in culture that distracts from purpose, from meaning, from the heart’s calling. It would have us in the mall, the shopping centre, consumers. How many of us seek to salve emptiness with the latest product or device?

Life as going through the motions, life as avoidance of hurts, life as fear of possibilities: all this can make a cemetery of the mind and life.

What of our dreams, our purpose, our meaning, our calling? How do we find these? How do we deepen in them? Is it too late? Purpose, meaning, calling: what is the experience of these things?

When life becomes dry enough, when dreams die, when no direction affects us enough, despite fear we can start to ask deeper questions: ‘You can fall, but can you rise?’

In the now, not in tomorrow, is the heart. In the centre of consciousness, in the centre of mind is the always alive spiritual heart. It has for us purpose, meaning, and calling. Amid distraction, hurt, and fear we can (if we want to) learn to steadily hear it. In the hearing, there is the following.

We cover consciousness and the heart with too much thinking. Too much imagining, reflecting, assessing – all this and more can keep attention from being in touch with the deeper wisdom of the heart. We then forget how to hear the heart, or if we do, the hearing can often be fleeting – like an echo of the sound of something loving and familiar.

Healthy spiritual paths will have practical ways to guide us into the hearing of our hearts. If all we get are ‘mother statements’ – listen to your heart, follow your dreams – with no practical ways, then hope becomes strained and frustration can rise because the path has become ethereal.

Long standing spiritualities and religions do have practical ways to the heart. One such practical way is meditation. How can meditation help? By giving attention to a word or phrase, for at least 20 minutes a day morning and evening, there will be an effect. Regular practice of this way will see the mind, over time, quieten. As thoughts and imaginings soften, there will be more space for feelings to rise and fall, heal and integrate. Thinking will become something that happens more appropriately and less often. In the space now within, a space once occupied by too much thinking and emotional disorder, the heart moves into awareness.

As we become aware, we experience the heart’s drawing and longing. In time and with guidance we can come to understand that certain people, places, and things draw our hearts and cause them to long. The practical ways in which we follow this drawing and longing become our way of purpose, of meaning and calling.

Life can be more than ‘wake work drink sleep retire’.

 


Every Breaking Wave: U2. Stability and Commitment in the Face of Change

Part of the maturing of our humanity over time is a growth in psychological and spiritual stability. The writer James Bishop, in his commentary on the Rule of Benedict (A Way in the Wilderness), says stability is all about ‘always aiming to do the right thing without constantly changing our direction’ (105). Committing to the ‘right thing’ is about not ‘chasing every breaking wave’, that is, not ‘constantly changing direction.’

Often our commitments are a heart choice. This, I think, is the choice that Bono is singing about: the heart choice of committing to another person. An early conviction of the heart can, over time, be clouded by fear and doubt. Circumstances of life change, the way we approach life changes. Feelings change. People change. It is only natural that a heart choice is buffeted and challenged by these winds of change.

But what is this heart? Of recent times it has become a symbol for love and feeling. Put these together and it seems that love is only a feeling. In the story of Judaism and Christianity the heart is that mysterious ‘place’ of being deep within us where our divinely inspirited uniqueness resides. In Christianity this heart can also be the place of our deepest longing for love. Ultimately this longing is for God because only this God is the True Love that will fulfill us. That ‘God is Love’, true and unconditional, is the great Christian testimony. Everyone else, including those whom we are in relationship with, is at best a manifestation and humble expression of this True Love.

Being in touch with this heart-place of our deepest identity and longing is of great assistance when it comes to both choosing and keeping heart commitments.

Some questions to ask ourselves while discerning a commitment to another person therefore could be: ‘can I be myself with this person?’ And ‘can I give full expression to my longing for God with this person?’ Heartfelt affirmations to these questions are among the indications that the person concerned is a good fit for us.

Being in touch with this heart is what stabilises us in the commitments we make. Being out of touch with this heart has the potential to destabilise us and our commitments. The question that we keep coming back to while we live this commitment over a lifetime is ‘where is my heart in this commitment?’

Contemplative prayer is about the practice of giving attention to this heart, about staying in touch with this heart. This practice grounds us in the heart of who we are and, ultimately, in the divine. Over time there is developed in us a stability that has its roots less and less in our changeable psychology and circumstance and more and more in the Being of God. This Being is our rock. This Being is our source. This Being is our very life force. From this Being we can commit with divine stability. Christian Meditation is one such contemplative practice.

If what we mean by heart is only feeling, and we believe love to be simply a feeling, then it can follow that when our feelings of love change so does the very nature of our heart commitment. But who we most deeply are and who God is are both beyond feeling. Love is not a feeling. We can have feelings in response to the presence of Love. Just because a feeling has changed is no indication that True Love has‘gone’.

And so we come to the struggle that U2 in this song are embracing:

Heart commitments can be a gamble because at any one time we may not have a good enough sense of where our heart is.

Fear and anxiety can cover the heart preventing our experience of this deep place. Stability in commitment is about staying the course until fear fades and our hearts are recovered.

Like the sea, our inner experience can change quickly. We need to be respectful of this. What is stormy at the surface can be still and calm at the depths. A decision based on the surface of inner experience can leave us shipwrecked.

For the Christian the captain is Jesus Christ. His human and divine consciousness lives at our depths, in our hearts. His ‘voice’, those movements of divine life within can be listened to if we can become still and quiet enough. These movements can guide us to, and sustain us in, our lifetime heart commitments.

To drown, to be so overwhelmed by feelings of fear and doubt, to question everything, even to leave after doing your heartfelt best may be a failure, but it is no sin in the sense that it is not a condemnation of our hearts.

‘You know where my heart is, the same place that yours has been’. Often the experience of instability within a commitment is the journey back to the heart. The heart can be the experience of the original choice for that person, that commitment. Back in touch with this heart we can be ‘swept off our feet’ by the divine life within our heart commitments. Intimacy here is about being in God and bringing God to each other.


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