Monday, October 14, 2019

The Courageous Heart Breaks, What Then Is the Core?


My teacher once said, "The heart is made of courage---it is not fragile or weak---but neither is it invulnerable." Our vulnerability means that the light we might create to fuel and minister is susceptible to every kind of incitement and service. There is no certain or inevitable outcome.

Our courageous heart can be made into any kind of heart because the core of our being is ours to fashion, to build and sculpt. We can just as well service our potential with falsity and fear as we can with truth and fortitude. To live in such a place of the heart we will also have to break it, be broken, and attend to missing, broken, and extra pieces. We'll feel found and lost, together and alone: we will need to learn how to engage and persist.

We don't like to think that we can be rotted at the core. Christians like their redemption claims, Hindus like to assert an immaculate center of being, a self untainted by the world, Buddhists tell us that our core-less core is free without the burdens of self. But no matter what hope or possibility these traditions put forward they may also not quite come to the heart of the matter for fear they could be right. What more might be true?

The Rajanaka view as Appa explained drives through the middle of these claims with sobering and, as I see it, more powerful possibilities. We need not reject other views so much as suggest there is more. Our core is neither an immaculate purity of goodness nor entirely empty for us to create. To wit, some basic Hindu and Buddhist claims may need some (more) rethinking.

We are beings made into a core from provenance and history, from deep imprints and memory, from what we can call karma. But karma is action, it is dynamic, changing, and developing. We are not stuck in our karma and our core is not a settled matter. This is the heart of the matter, this is too karma, and our vulnerability at heart is our chance, our risk and opportunity. What we can do to help ourselves is not wholly up for grabs---we _were made_ in ways we were and will always contend and be compelled to speak to what we do not fully control or comprehend.

We can nurture our courage to goodness and we can feed it with malignancies, both are possible. What we call yoga teaches how to do more of the one, less of the other. But it also must recognize the powers of the unconscious, the social and historical facts that contribute and decide, the ways our individual needs carve their own pathways without requisite need for awareness or consent.

Our core of character and feeling, our inner sensibilities originate in light and shadow that come to awareness only by "doing the yoga," that is, through the difficult and complex processes of introspection and cultivation. We don't become better without joy and sorrow, success and failure, celebration and regret.

We need the pairs of opposites to come to the deeper possibilities we call "great" (that's the word "maha-" and something we can explore further. There is "greatness" and it might be more than we thought. (Rajanaka poses no certain claim to a perfect, untainted, or blissful center of soul. Neither does it teach we are freed if we free ourselves from all expectations, forsaking even expectation itself, freed from self.

The self we are is found in the selves we are becoming. When we bring the powers of receptivity and acceptance of shadow into fields of consciousness we can accept the invitation to cultivate---and to cope and to learn how to live with ourselves. There are possibilities for a courageous heart because the heart wants to be true, it wants to feel that courage. But truth to tell it doesn't really know how.

The heart does not know in its aloneness or without help. Who exists without help? We are vulnerable because we really must learn more about being human by being human. That means we will succeed and fail, win praise and deserve blame; it means that we will need tools and methods, make commitments and practice, that we will have to demur to learn from experience and amend as time and circumstance demands. We are better judged by the kinds of questions we are asking than by the answers we give.

The heart will first cloak itself to conceal the vulnerabilities it sees. But it will go even further to avoid attending to vulnerabilities, hidden shadows, or failures that it can't or won't recognize. This is because our courageous heart wants the feeling of courage, its power and authority to be as easy as it is real. Our hearts beat effortlessly until they cease---or so we want to believe.

The feeling of courage is yet another dissimulation of courage. An unexercised heart, be that physical, emotional, spiritual is not only vulnerable it is weak, enervated, and undependable. (Krishna calls this "durmanasah" in the Gita.) The "problem" is that the effort we need, the processes of engagement, _the yoga_ is going to ask everything of us. It's going to give aplenty in return for that effort but it is also never less vulnerable.

If we claim invulnerability we forsake the better possibilities of courage. Virtues are the rewards of courage but because they burn so brightly their shadows invariably appear darkly. We all know too well how goodness may bring unforeseen and unwanted consequences.

Krishna advises us that such acts are worth the consequences but cautions us to understand how much more we yet will need just to withstand the truths we experience---and those we don't. Hearts left unattended may be fortunately innocent, given to the good and courageous because they have been well-held, privileged with love and grace. But even such goodness cannot avoid the wounds of every life. And it is just as possible that circumstances are less fair or protective, that wounds cut more deeply, that corruption and infection does its work too. There are, we should remind ourselves, no guarantees especially at the heart of the matter.

Some will indeed do the work to grown, change, and evolve, to repair and make amends, some will try to rebuild an inner structure with decency, using remorse and even shame as assets put to real actions. But it appears just as possible to see how some can never come to any of that task and how they will have forged a core that is incorrigible, one that becomes so deeply rotten that it does indeed define their nature.

We are free as humans because our vulnerable hearts will become us. I move now to a piece of morning news, which actually prompted this longer reflection. Charles Blow writes about the continuing hypocrisy, the inexcusable, shameless venality of white Evangelicals supporting Trump. He has more pointedly understood how "Conservatism has been unveiled in all its craven glory. No longer is it shrouded behind morality, small government, traditional values and spending concerns." (NYTimes, 10/14/2019)

The very core of Blow's argument is that there is a deeper anger, fear, and disdain that Trump uses. He stokes the pathologies that shape the history of American racism and, particularly, white Evangelicism. Specifically, Blow cites the vulgar statement at the Trump rally about how Vice President Biden has "kissed Barack Obama's ass." He explains at length the white fear of submission, the triumphalist need for supremacy and dominance, its relationship to America's original sin, Civil War, and the failure of Reconstruction.

Trump may be indulging in another thoughtless, vulgar Trumpism but what we must remember is that the reason Trump "tells it like it is" is because he speaks from a morally debased, wholly racist id that reveals a rotten core. Trump has shown us not a broken heart but an unbreakable heart---and nothing could be worse. Sadly we can say he really does speak from his heart and that it is an irreparably damaged and depraved place.

Of course, the masks we use to rationalize or defend our feelings are endless. Religion always provides more. Church-going can help, no? I mean you get to gather with your peeps, sing some, say your tribal words together, go to coffee hour and feel good about yourself. All the while you can share in the masking of those deeper no-need-to speak-too-loudly feelings you also share, feelings based on fear, grievance, anger, and racism. The confirmation of the group never fails when it responds so aptly to human individual needs.

Theodor Adorno once reminded us that the reversion to barbarism is always an option. Why is that possible?

An important reason for this is clearly articulated by James Baldwin. Baldwin once wrote, "I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain." Here lies, I think, the crux of the matter.

When the pain is so deep, so endemic to the structure of a collective inheritance, hatred's mask not only hardens, it provides the weapons and the battlements to besiege the heart. The heart is not immune, it is not so pure or present that it cannot be touched. The walls of our core are porous and vulnerable by nature.

If "purity" or impenetrability were true we would not be human; we would have to claim an immaculate divinity and then make excuses for debasement and corruption. Rather it is more likely the case that because we are _genuinely vulnerable_ that the heart will take on shapes and forms that authorize our experiences and that corruption itself becomes its nature, entrenched within, consuming its other potentials, like empathy, goodness, and tolerance.

When this corruption happens this is no force compelling the hatred to deal with its pain. Instead, the hatred nurtures a solemn anger---one well-suited for Coffee Hour in the Church undercroft or a Trump rally---the kind that can use solemn religious tones after having gone to "the show" the night before. Add some confirmation bias, a tincture of Dunning-Kruger and the artless deal is sealed.

You have hearts that can no longer find their way but through these well-carved paths of certainty and invulnerability. There is no imperative to begin any remedial or mitigating effort. It is more soothing to launder in the bile because in truth there is no necessity for restoration or revival: you can't put in what karma left out when you don't want to do the work.

What should we do in response? Voltaire comes to our rescue again. Tend your garden, as Candide says. Do the hard labor of the heart for it is just like gardening: you can't fake it or make it look right without the work. Remind yourself that rest is too part of the better labor and keep that good company that supports your effort. When the day's done and the shadows come, and with them the darkness, engage again to all the spaces inside the vulnerable heart. We will at least be human and that courageous heart will be what you need and with it plenty to share.

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