A lot is made of this idea a “path with heart.” Each person has perceptual fields around this idea… but what does this really mean in terms of action, practice in life? For some it is to be kind and nice to others, but this false heart would go against the ruthless honesty of the spiritual warrior. We have to be careful not to compromise our path with heart in favor of being kind or nice. The essence of it is that as spiritual warriors we are not dominated and ruled by the mind, the ration. Yet our world if full of rational explanations, logic and proof that if we just think about it we will come to the solution… ration. And the dark side of this is if we figure it out, then we should do it. We have walked down that path for a good many years with reckless abandon. The dominion of the ration has its benefits, but it lacks a certain greater perspective and that greater perspective can be found within every person – the path with heart.
Contemplating this, artwork came to me this weekend. My love of Chinese characters came to the front of my heart again. I constantly return to artwork with Chinese characters or in Japanese, Kanji. The reason comes down to ration. English is a rational language whose structure is dependent on specification of meaning. We separate ourselves from the world through the use of letters and structure our ideas on words that are two steps removed from the origin of their being. We sit in a dark cave talking rather than in the light of connection to things as they really are. But Chinese is not like this. Yes it is an abstraction of the original thing too, but it is more than just a word which represents a meaning. It is an idea, it is a picture, it is connected to the thing it represents.
Take one of my favorite characters, heart – above. This is literally a picture of the heart. If we were to draw the heart anatomically it would look like a side aspect of an upper valve, a lower muscle and then two upper right sides or chambers of which there are four. So the character for heart is a picture of a heart. And yet it goes beyond this. To draw it is amazing, whether with a brush or with a pencil. It sweeps down to the left. Then there is a strong force downward and to the right. Just drawing these two parts is likened to the bum-bump of the heart beat. And if done right the upper two being like a circle if drawn in one stroke is like completion of another bum-bump. Artistically the character can hold so much emotion, energy, thought and ideas.
Heart is part of other ideograms in Chinese, like to think is a rice field square over the heart character – meaning on first glance – to organize one’s heart. Heart is in the center of the character for love too, of course. This is a character that shows three legs below the heart, or in other words, when we are in love we share one heart where one leg is always step with each other. In Japan the character for heart is also the character for mind. Thus the seat of being, thought, and emotion are all one, and resides in the chest. The contemplation of these characters brings greater depth than ever found in the west with its obsession with truth and logical accuracy, often a very disconnected way to be. Likewise this is why these characters became art in and of themselves. There is a rich tradition of drawing or painting these ideograms and hanging them in the home for contemplation.
Like the character for heart, a path with heart for me comes down to four parts-four practices; meditation, dreaming, creativity and openness. Each has a Chinese character worthy of contemplating and drawing, but for this enumeration, I will go through the practice and leave the contemplation of the characters to the reader to investigate.
The spiritual warrior is a person who takes time for the inner world. We are people of silence. The power of silence is so intrinsic to the Toltec path that it is critical to start here. We often call this “stopping the world.” This is when the internal dialogue, a thing we know was injected into our being by a foreign source to keep us distracted from the moment. Our constant need to comment in our heads about what is going on around us uses vast amounts of energy and keeps us thinking that our heads are in charge. A path with heart must start with a practice of meditation. In the I Ching this is called stillness. By spending time in silence and turning off, or at least letting it slide on by, this constant flow of criticism and evaluation, we gather energy. We gather silence and calm. Equanimity or mental balance is another aspect of this practice.
The spiritual warrior may actually practice Zen or sitting meditation for a while. It is through sitting in silence and just allowing the self to be that we come to the reason that we call this a spiritual warrior’s path. The battle always begins within. We become friends with the self when we stop for a while from all the distractions. We stop battling who we really are and accept. Without becoming our own friend, we are reacting to the world, not acting. We are distracting ourselves constantly with any input we can get our hands on. And we develop stories and reactions to the world which are often nothing more than the wisp of our mental flickering dialogue. To defeat these things we must come to stillness, meditate. And to be clear this does not mean to pray. To pray or chant mantras or do anything is to distract the internal dialogue into doing something else, trick it if you will or replace it. It’s a great beginning, but it is not stopping the world and being quiet.
For those of us on the Toltec path this word is one of the more difficult because in one sense it starts with what we do in the night as we sleep… but this falls far short of it. In no way can this short writing go into the depths of what dreaming is. But as far as a path with heart is concerned, let’s accent a part of dreaming, visioning… knowing your heart. To vision is to envision and come to the source of our being within. It is to touch spirit within. This action, and it is an action and a practice, makes us aware of what is truly important in our lives. When we sit in silence, on a mountain, in a lodge or on sacred ground of any type, we listen to our heart. We vision not with our heads but with our whole being. We dream ourselves into being.
When I meet people who are running constantly and filling their lives with a ton of things and distractions, I advise stopping the world and sitting in nature, dreaming themselves into being. This is the not-doing of our lives. Dreaming is the not-doing of our lives. The Tao says, “do nothing and all will be done.” This means we must get to that point where we are actually following the lead of our hearts, our hearts know what to dream into being. Our hearts envision the world every day. We assemble our world through the heart center… and so dreaming, visioning and connecting with our true source is the only way we will come to know how to act. For doing nothing does not mean not acting upon what and who we are. When we dream, we are who we are, not matter what it is. Therefore we can act more easily. When we do not dream, vision, connect to our central core, we are far from the real purpose of being here. So many are disconnected, far from the path with heart.
The third step is creativity. And this truly is the action part of a path with heart. A path with heart is a creative path. We are after all, all artists of our lives. There is nothing that we are not creating. When we walk a path with heart, then we are connected to our vision and we act accordingly. To vision means to act… to act means to create the world in balance with that heart of our being. We are fortunate to be who we are in this reality because we can create. Now there are so many that say, I am not an artist, I can hardly draw a straight line. Of course neither can I, I use a ruler… and there in is the point. The artist sees all the tools and things they can do to create their world. Those who are not claiming their artistic self are abrogating the very thing that makes us human, heart beings, here in these times. I ask of these people, “Who is creating your life, your world existence.” And watch out! They will fill that sentence with many distractions. These are not a path with heart.
When we are fully aware that every moment is our creation, we hold ourselves responsible for these moments. And it is fun. How many people go to work at a job that they must hold for some distant reason and thus shut down their creativity and just punch a clock. Even the most routine thing is our own creation. There is opportunity to create in every moment even if it is our mental attitude about the job we must do. Creators are whole beings, they rely upon the path and their choices. They know the path with heart lives in every action, not just in the retreat moments. They know that they create their world as a constant dance.
Openness, the receptive
Spiritual warriors are not only people of action, but they remain open, tender (which includes ruthlessness), and they are face forward in their lives. This tenderness does not shut down the heart. Many who create things fail. But the warrior who creates with an open heart fails and thus succeeds. They see the hairs breath chance of a new moment in every moment. This is true receptiveness. The receptiveness that our society would want you to have is to be like everyone else. The receptiveness of the warrior is the hollow bone through which spirit moves and creates through us. It is a dance with all that is.
When we remain open and tender, we are strong. The hard closed rock being in the stream will be whittled down to a pebble eventually. It will be battered and torn. The open receptive person experiences every moment fully. They cry in some moments because that is what is flowing through them. Tears are strength to the spiritual warrior. They are honest and responsive to the world around them. This is a path with heart. It also means that they are angry and frustrated when that is the appropriate response. What is key here is authenticity. When we walk a path with heart we are authentic… and openness is the critical practice of the authentic path.
The four part path of the heart
As we practice these four parts, the four parts of our heart open, strengthen and see the world as a great dance of opportunity. We are centered when we practice these. Now with each practice, we can go on and on for pages… and maybe we should… but again, I will leave that contemplation to the moments that come. The only life worth living is a path with heart. If it does not have these elements of practice, action, doing and not doing, then like being on fire – stop, drop and roll away – for that path is killing us. We must choose life, or we will never regain our true connection to the earth, to the universe and all that is….