The Heart of the Matter

It was the end of a cool autumn day, and I was sitting on my yoga mat. I thought back to the morning (albeit late morning); my ablutions were complete and I got out on my daily constitutional. (That means walk for those not in the American South.) Walking is good for the heart, I thought, and then I remembered that I was supposed to have some heart tests this year. They were too expensive without insurance, so I didn’t have the tests. What with the pandemic and not getting younger, I’ve been wrestling with the beast that is U.S. health insurance (and losing). So after my walk, I read some stuff on the internet and called some people.

On one of those calls, I got some bad news from a friend, a colleague, really. They were pretty ill, but getting through it. Although I wasn’t raised to pray to a deity, this person was and has a good heart; I’ve always admired their sunny disposition. I’ve also known some Quakers and always appreciated their practice of sitting in silence, and their concept of “holding someone in the light.” So tonight after my bike ride and daily yoga, I flipped my Insight Meditation Timer app over to meditate and chose a five-minute one about compassion in honor of my friend. Usually I wait until I’m hitting the hay to meditate, so I tend to pass out before it’s done, or it doesn’t make much of an impact. Today, for some reason, it stuck with me.

The heart is of course the main muscle that keeps us alive. If it gets clogged, we can suffer a heart attack. In literature, art, and pop songs, it’s that organ where love lives. When love leaves, we say we have a broken heart. There’s even a disease named after that, if you have ever heard of a spouse dying soon after the other. If you’re not passionate about something, someone might observe that your heart just wasn’t in it. In The Wizard of Oz, the Tin Man didn’t have one (except he really did all along). The metaphors are abundant.

Why does this idea persist? Well, I imagine it’s because everyone can relate to it. It seems to be common to all cultures, and from my knowledge of Spanish, I can tell you that corazón is used in plenty of songs. (I should know, I’m on a Mexican radio. Not really — that’s a song title by Wall of Voodoo.) The organ that pumps our blood — our life blood — through our arteries and veins is as good as anything to use in the universal language of love. If you wear your heart on your sleeve, you’re showing your true emotions.

It seems to me that in this time of a global pandemic, economic turmoil, racial angst, general anger at people who don’t like or agree with us, and the omnipresent corrupt, sleazeball, power-hungry politicians, we could all look into our hearts a bit more. It’s always been too easy to turn what Mohandas Gandhi called our opponents into enemies. That’s an important distinction; you can respect an opponent, but you tend to hate an enemy. The outgoing US President #45, Tinyhands Orangehead, is a master of attacking enemies and operating with no compassion or empathy. In his playbook, you dehumanize someone, slander their reputation, make up lies and repeat them often enough so that they seem to become the truth, and generally only care about being right — not being in relationship. All of which makes him the lousiest leader this country has ever seen. History will not be kind to him or his sycophants.

But doesn’t even he deserve some benevolence, just by virtue of being a human (at least, I think he is one)?He’s been exercising his verson of compassion — the presidential power of the pardon for his cronies and family members. He may even try to pardon himself. When he’s no longer in office at noon on January 20, it’s open season on his fat white ass for all the immoral, corrupt, and otherwise iillegal crap he’s been pulling while in the Oval Office. If he is found guilty, he won’t be executed, and I doubt he’ll ever spend a day in prison. But one can hope there is justice and karma. Still, we should have a heart, right?

Here’s a long but thoughtful and astonishing article on forgiveness with psychologist, Buddhist meditation author and teacher Jack Kornfield.

And that gets at the one thing the metaphorical heart has the most trouble with, but which can be the most gratifying: forgiveness. Forgiving someone who has wronged us is as much about ourselves as the other person. If not more so. When you forgive, you don’t forget. But if you can get to that point of telling the other person, “You wronged me, but I forgive you,” it can be said that you have a big heart. Powerful examples of this exist in the media, when the mother of a murdered son or daughter forgives their killer. In fact, it’s like a superpower. It’s transformative, in fact, there’s a phrase for this too: “to have a change of heart.”

This can be most powerful when we apply it to ourselves. If you haven’t lately, try it sometime. Forgive yourself for eating too much snack food. Or for lashing out in anger at your partner when you knew better. Or doing or being any of the thousands of ways we humans can be when we’re not at our best. My post about Coaching Yourself with Compassion Instead of Criticism touches on this subject, too.

There’s also a story attributed to the Buddha that speaks to this. One day a man came and spat on the Buddha, who did not react. The Buddha’s followers were aghast and couldn’t believe he didn’t respond. The man, confused, stormed off and went home and couldn’t sleep. He returned the next day and kneeled at Buddha’s feet, asking for forgiveness. The Buddha said there was nothing to forgive; each man was like a river, and in 24 hours had changed and wasn’t the same person. Therefore, there was nothing to forgive. The man, in his anger, had something to tell Buddha but he couldn’t find the words. By seeing deeply, and trying to understand, Buddha had transformed the man and his anger into understanding and respect. Awesome sauce!

It’s right there in the Lord’s Prayer, which is essential to Christianity: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.” May all beings find it in their hearts to forgive others, and themselves. Try it on someone else, and yourself. It’s good for your heart. Today’s final words go to the sage songsmith and soulful singer, fellow Texan Don Henley, from his 1990 song, “The Heart of the Matter“:

These times are so uncertain
There’s a yearning undefined
And people filled with rage
We all need a little tenderness
How can love survive in such a graceless age?
The trust and self-assurance that lead to happiness
They’re the very things
We kill, I guess
Oh, pride and competition
Cannot fill these empty arms
And the work I put between us
You know it doesn’t keep me warm

I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter
But everything changes
And my friends seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness, forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore

There are people in your life who’ve come and gone
They let you down, you know they hurt your pride
You better put it all behind you, baby, cause life goes on
You keep carrying that anger, it’ll eat you up inside, baby

I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness, forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me

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4 thoughts on “The Heart of the Matter

  1. What a fantastic and thought provoking piece of writing, A Dude.

    Forgiveness. that’s the sticky part of the label isn’t it? I remember a conversation I had with an Amish neighbor after the Nickel Mines shooting in 2006 in which several Amish girls were shot and killed by a deranged lunatic. She talked about forgiving and WOW . . I cannot imagine the strength of those people. But I admire the hell out of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Sorryless. I was feeling something there, a bit of the muse, maybe. I’m not remembering that shooting, there are so many. I also don’t have kids (that I know about).

      Read that linked article, that first story in it will blow your mind. We all have different capacities for this depending on circumstance, upbringing, spiritual growth, etc. It’s a process and I think in many cases we may not get there.

      I do think the most important person we’ll ever forgive is ourselves, and not just once.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It was a horrible thing, what happened. This guy just flipped, got his arsenal of weapons and went to a one room school house. He took hostages with no intention of letting them go.

        What a world it is that we lose track of the shootings. My God.

        I will read it, muchas gracias for providing it.

        This is true stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

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