By ‘heart’ of course we do not mean the physical organ. Rather we mean the emotional and spiritual centre of our being – the innermost core of our self.
It is in our heart that we connect with God, and it is from our heart that the light of God shines out into the universe. It is only through learning to dismantle the veils and defences our ego has built around the heart that we can enter into the innermost core of our being, the place where God our Beloved waits for us.
The heart cannot be understood by the mind. The heart is infinite, and the mind is finite. This is why much of what is written about this path of the undefended heart comes in the form of sacred poetry or song – the Song of Songs from the Bible for example, or the work of the 13th Century Persian poet Rumi. It seems appropriate, therefore, to begin with a poem.
I am undefended
Open to the universe
Every place, every thing
Filled with Your radiant lifeYou are inescapable
Everywhere my eyes rest
Your shimmering beauty
Leaves me broken
Breathless with longing
Utterly undoneMy ears catch
the wild strains of Your song
A sacred music into which
All other sounds are woven
Into harmonies so profound
I cannot help but weep
My heart is so full
All the oceans of the world
Swell and surge within<
Until I am compelled to overflow<
Into the silent space
Into glory of Your presence
Holy words spill from my lips
And Your voice joins in
Though which is call
And which echo, who can tell
As together we pray …
… Love … Love … Love … Love … Love …
The nature of the Heart
When trying to understand the nature of the heart, it may be helpful for us to get to know some of the heart’s characteristics. Please understand, the heart is one and undivided, so these characteristics or aspects have to be seen and understood in the context of that oneness. They are like the facets of a single diamond, each unique, but each contributing to the beauty of the whole.
The silent Heart
The contemplative spiritual journey, is a path that is often identified with silence. We sit and meditate in silence. For the most part we pray and practice without moving and without speaking. More important than the exterior silence however, is interior silence and stillness. For the mystic, the quest for God – the Beloved begins with a journey into the depths of our own hearts. It is in our innermost being that Jesus said the kingdom of God was to be found. It is from our innermost being that ‘living water’ flows in an eternal wellspring of life.
As we withdraw our attention from the external distractions of life – all the noise and activity, we find ourselves more and more able to turn our attention to the inner world, the rich and vital reality that exists inside us. It is this inner world that we must negotiate in order to find our innermost being and our source.
When we finally connect with our heart, we discover that it is a place of profound silence. A still hub around which all the activity of the ego and the world take place, leaving the heart at the centre, silent and at peace.
The pure Heart
St Basil the Great says:
Silence is the beginning of the purification of the soul … A mind undistracted by external things, and not dispersed through the senses among worldly things, returns to itself.
Purity in this context has nothing to do with moral goodness, or refraining from doing bad things. Pure literally means unmixed. For the soul’s pursuit of the Beloved to be successful it cannot be mixed with any other thing. Only the pure in heart can be worthy of finding the Holy Grail. Of course all sorts of thoughts, images and emotions arise in the mind, but just as they arise they eventually subside. They are like the clouds that cross the sky. It can seem as if the purity of the sky is mixed or tainted with the grey or white clouds that seem to fill and cover it. However, when in the natural course of events those clouds pass, the sky is revealed as unblemished, as pure as it ever was. Whatever thoughts or emotions arise in the mind, the heart, which is the source of the mind, remains untouched.
This means that the soul which is identified with the clouds, sees only the clouds – the thoughts, images, emotions, worries, stresses etc. But the soul which is identified with the purity of the heart, sees all those things as merely temporary phenomena, which in no way change the heart’s essential nature.
The practice of contemplative prayer and meditation encourages us to disengage our attention from the things that move across the sky-like expanse of our heart. When we meditate, the soul finds a resting place beyond all the disturbance and activity – in the pure silent sky of awareness.
The open Heart
Sometimes we can perceive that our heart is very vulnerable. The universe can feel like a hostile and dangerous place. Our instinct is to protect the heart, to guard it, but of course in so doing we hinder the soul’s connection with its source. As long as those defences remain in place, the soul can never enter the heart and become one with the Beloved.
Just as the sky does not resist the clouds or the birds that move across it, so the undefended heart does not resist the buzz of mental activity that arises within it. There is no need for resistance, because the mental activity is just temporary. It will come and it will go. There is nothing for the heart to defend or protect against.
Sometimes our language indicates that the heart can be hurt or broken in some way, but this is in fact not the case. Only the ego can be hurt or damaged, through its resistance to life.
In fact one of the key lessons that we learn on this journey is that attention equals energy. We feed what we pay attention to. If we pay attention to the mental activity, we feed it and it grows stronger. When we resist something, we are giving it a LOT of attention, so that which we resist, we feed and make stronger. The ego through its activity and resistance actually creates the threat that it tries to defend against.
The heart in its essential nature is open and undefended. When we really begin to engage with our heart we can see that these things come and go without hindrance or resistance. When we can allow ourselves not to defend the heart we discover that its very openness means that nothing can damage it. It is within the undefended heart that we will eventually find the dwelling place of God, our Beloved, and in that place that we can finally unite with Him and become One.
The expansive Heart
The heart that is the core of your being is infinite. This isn’t a theoretical thing. Look at any account of those who have had a glimpse of their own nature, and they will talk of the vastness or the expansiveness of their awareness.
Recently as I did my morning meditation practice, I felt a lot of pain in my body, due to a chronic medical condition. The pain was so intense that I knew I would have trouble blocking it out in order to focus on my practice. However, I remembered the open nature of the heart, and decided not to resist the pain, but simply to allow it to be present. What happened next was remarkable. I found my awareness expanding to fill the vast silent space at the centre of my being. It was as if I filled the entire universe and beyond. The pain was still there, but where before it had before seemed huge and had filled my limited awareness, now it seemed infinitesimally tiny in comparison to the infinite silent spacious awareness at the centre of my being.
The heart is the dwelling place of the infinite and eternal God. Of course the same is true of my heart, and the heart of the person next door, and the heart of every human being on the planet. But ask any mathematician and they will tell you that if you divide infinity, infinity still remains. So even though your heart may be one of billions in which God is dwelling simultaneously, still the manifestation of God in you is infinite.
The eternal Heart
God does not exist in time. He is eternal – Our Beloved lives in the eternal present moment that is always ‘now’. He does not change. He has no beginning and no end. He is ever-present, because every moment of relative time is present to Him. Our heart, which is the place where God dwells, is also eternal and exists outside the relative flow of time.
When Jesus declares, “Before Abraham was, I AM!” He is declaring his essential nature – his heart if you like, to be united with the I AM – the infinite God who is eternally present.
This can be demonstrated in our own experience when we wake up even briefly to the essential nature of our being. On those occasions when we are able to shift the seat of our awareness from the relative and finite ego, to the absolute and infinite heart, it is impossible for us to judge how time is passing, because the whole thing is taking place outside of time, in the eternal present. When we ‘come back’ from these moments of awakening into relative reality, it is common for us to be astonished at how relative time has passed. Either the whole experience which has seemed to take a long time – perhaps hours – has in relative terms taken place in just a few seconds, or what has seemed to be a fleeting experience has relatively speaking taken hours.
Even without having a moment of awakening, we can experience this effect, when we sleep and dream. When we dream we can experience large amounts of time passing in what seems to us to be very real activity, but when we wake we can find only minutes or even seconds have elapsed. Alternatively we can experience deep dreamless sleep, as coming and going in a split second, only to find when the alarm goes off, that we have been asleep for hours.
This is why relative reality is sometimes thought of as being like a dream, compared to the absolute reality of being awake in God.
The loving Heart
When we connect with our heart, we discover that whilst it may be silent, pure, open, expansive and eternal, it is never passive. On the contrary the heart radiates with responsive, loving presence.
Above all things, the nature of God is Love. Sometimes we get confused and come to believe (or more often to hope) that God is loving, or that he loves us. These things may be true, but if that were the whole truth it would leave us with a terrible uncertainty. The being who is loving may stop loving, and their existence continues. The person who loves me today, may not love me tomorrow, and they will not cease to be. But when we come to know, rather than merely understand, that God is infinite, eternal, changeless Being, and that in His very essence and nature He IS Love; it brings about a profound transformation in us and our perception of the universe.
Love is the outpouring of the Source of all things. The Source, who we might call Father, is not static but dynamic. There is an endless pouring out of His Being in, upon and through creation. An outpouring of endless, inexhaustible, unconditional Love.
It all begs the question: what about us, who in our deepest heart, the essential core of our being are made in His exact image and likeness? Overflowing, expressive, responsive, Love is the very nature of our heart too. How could it be otherwise, when our heart is indwelt by the Love who is the Source of all things? When the defences come down around the heart, that selfless, unconditional, transforming Love is free to flow out into the universe for all eternity …
… Love … Love … Love … Love … Love …