"The human heart," wrote Martin Luther, "is like a ship on a stormy sea driven about by winds blowing from all four corners of heaven." What a remarkably accurate description of the part of ourselves we call "the heart." It's a difficult word to define because it is so intimate to us. Defining it is like trying to define our own skin. "Well, it's, you know, it's like, well, my feelings," someone said to me not long ago when I asked him what his heart was. The Hebrews had it right when they used the word leb to express the idea of the heart. It derives from words meaning "agitated motion." Often enough, that is how we experience our heart. Just as our physical heart ebbs and flows, pumps and crescendos with the rush of blood, so does our emotional heart rise and fall with the push and pull of our feelings.
Before we can conceptualize anything, we need to take it in though our senses. Our senses are our way of feeling out our world. Beyond sight, taste, hearing, touch and smell, however, there is a feeling-association that accompanies our senses. One night, after going for a walk, I came home to find half a dozen fire trucks lined up outside the rectory in which I was living. I saw the red trucks and their flashing lights and heard their sirens. But along with all of that, I felt a tremendous sense of danger, of fear and panic in the pit of my stomach. Then I was able to conceptualize what was going on. The logic of the heart told me that there was danger before my mind knew it was so. Fortunately, no one was injured; and the only damage was from the smoke. Yet a bit of that fear recurs whenever I see or hear a fire truck. It seems to go along with the concept.
The heart is a precious vase that holds the impressions and feelings that are so close to us and that are so much a part of our knowledge of the world. As Luther said, and as the Hebrew language attested before him, the heart is often full of agitation. We experience things all the time, each of which brings with it feelings and impressions of pleasure or pain, joy or sorrow, calm or anger, fear or confidence. All of those feelings can be swirling around inside of us at the same time and color our view of life.
Is the heart the same as the soul? Is there a distinction between the two? We often use the words interchangeably, and the dictionary does not distinguish all that clearly between them. I believe that they are separate faculties which interact deeply with one another. The soul is the fundamental principle of life. The heart is the seat of the feelings and impressions. The soul provides a home for the tumultuous and often-confusing impressions that the heart contains and attempts to bring them to peace by holding them up to eternal values, such as truth, beauty, hope and love.
I see the heart as a conduit to the soul. It holds together in one place all of our feelings and impressions. It is the soul that brings them to the bar of the eternal, and by putting them in touch with eternity, cleanses and purifies them by taking what is truly lasting in them and holding it.
The heart and the soul are partners. The heart gathers our feelings as a hen gathers her chicks. The soul takes the confused mixture of the things our heart hold and tries to make sense of them, not as the mind does by conceptualizing them, but in its own unique way by touching them with ultimate meaning and reality. The heart reaches to the soul for a lifeline, a sense of purpose. The soul, in turn, reaches to the heart for fulfillment. They long for each other and are incomplete without each other. They are, in that sense, the perfect prototype of lovers.
That sounds very romantic; but as anyone knows who has ever loved, lovers have a propensity to fight. Hopefully, not always or every day, but sometimes, to be sure.
The heart can become frustrated with the soul in many ways. It is so mixed up and confused, full of so many things, and it longs for some meaning to it all. Just when the heart is feeling that kind of pressing urgency, the soul may decide to take its time, to play among its ideals, to mull things over. That can drive the heart crazy, make it frustrated. It can also make it want to give up on meaning and on the possibility of finding it at all.
That can happen in times of depression. In fact, depression is sometimes part of a long stretch of waiting and the feeling of endlessness that can weigh so heavily upon us. In mid-life, it is not unusual for men and women to experience lengthy periods of wondering whether life has any real value. Workdays become tedious and lackluster. Leisure time becomes filled with groups, classes, bars and restaurants, shopping and nonstop television programs - all of which create the same, dull, monotonous, flat sensation after awhile. "How come there are a hundred channels on our cable system and nothing good on television?" we cry. Another familiar compliant: "I've read all of the books on relationships, joined singles groups, gone on lots of dates. How come there's nobody out there for me?" Again: "I've spent my whole life being a good person. I've been decent and honest, fair to others, have been giving and caring. Why am I having this string of bad luck?" Or this: "All my life I've prayed, gone to church and believed in God. Why does it seem to me that I'm being punished?"
At just these moments, when these feelings and the questions that accompany them pressure us we want immediate answers. After all, our needs and our questions seem very clear. We want concrete direction, and it seems that we are never going to find it. We get mad at ourselves, at our spouses, at our boss, at life and often at God.
What we don't realize, when our souls seem to be too slow for our minds and our hearts, is that the soul always goes for depth, not for speed. That can drive us crazy.
We have needs, questions, places to go, and only a short amount of time to do it in.
Here is where heartstorming comes in. Heartstorming is a process by which we look seriously and directly at our feelings about our situation, to see what our heart is telling us. Then, we allow the mind to work on the feelings and impressions, to see if there are any conclusions we can draw or solutions we can reach. Finally, we cross the threshold into the realm of soul, to "see life steadily and see it whole," as the poet says. In the realm of soul, we tend to get very different answers from the ones we received from the feeling heart and the reasoning mind. In the soul, we experience life without urgency, without conditions, without limits, and with enormous breadth of possibility, perspective and depth.
Lately, I've noticed that in the city, I feel cramped and confined, whereas out in the country I feel refreshed, renewed and energized. Life just seems bigger and broader out there. Someone who lives in the country but commutes to and from the city tells me that there is a certain point on the drive at which she knows she is in the country again. She can feel herself expanding. Similarly, when we enter the realm of soul, we find our sights expanding and we can breathe again.
I speak of "heartstorming" as opposed to "brainstorming" or "soulstorming" (turning inward to receive the soul's guidance), because heartstorming embraces the full human person, in a way that the others do not. If I'm stuck and brainstorm about it, I end up, hopefully, with lots of ideas; but on what basis do I separate out the ideas and make a choice as to what to do? Perhaps I pick the idea that comes to mind most often. Perhaps I choose the course of action that is the easiest, or the most difficult. Perhaps I choose the one everybody else likes, even though I hate it.
Or perhaps, instead of brainstorming, I go within to the depths of my soul to "soulstorm." "The summer before I was to enter the seminary," a friend told me, "I met the girl of my dreams and fell head over heels in love. I talked to my parish priest, who advised me to go away on retreat and pray to know God's will. I prayed and meditated, went for long walks, sat for hours in chapel and did a lot of spiritual reading. By the end of the weekend, I was more confused than ever. It seemed that God could be calling me in both directions. I was a mess." Often when the heart is torn, the soul, whose purpose is to put us in touch with God, has a hard time getting through.
In making life decisions, it is necessary to consult the heart as well as the mind and the soul. Instead of examining our ideas or our ideals, heartstorming takes us directly to the depths of our hearts. As we discover what is in our hearts, we amazingly come to discover both the ideas and the ideals that we live by. For example, if I am heartbroken over the death of a loved one, I may discover in my mind the idea that life is too difficult for me to go on, and also discover in my soul the beauty and love that can co-exist with deep suffering. Both of these impact upon the heart. The former might make the heart sad (dis-couraged, dis-heartened, we say), while the latter might inspire it - en-courage.
The true purpose of heartstorming is to give us passion with balance. The energy of passion is twofold: toward impassionment and toward compassion. There are three questions which can guide us as we heartstorm:
- What matters? (What do I feel in my heart?)
- What do I believe in? (What does my mind tell me about what I feel?)
- What brings me joy and peace? (What are the ideals and inspirations of my soul?)
Heartstorming espouses a fundamental belief that life really matters and that something besides our own self interest matters. That belief must be paramount if we are to live fully and effectively.
As we pursue these questions, we find ourselves growing in understanding of what matters to us. We begin to discover our passion. The beauty of including the soul and the mind in the process is that they tend to draw us to interests beyond ourselves. The mind draws us to overriding beliefs and the soul draws us to ideals and values. But rather than diminishing the heart by taking it out of its focus on itself, the process actually expands the heart by getting it excited about what is important for others and for the world at large. For me, I got out of myself and my "blahs" and fell in love with life again. Impassionment and compassion go hand in hand.
The power of the heart is simply amazing.
The 'mind' is the left-brain thinker, more or less rational, more or less open to new views more or less conditioned. In terms of Transactional Analysis it is the 'Parent' - it chastises, criticises, falsifies, rationalizes and justifies, controls and manipulates, and defends. It's patronisingly sure that it's right.
The 'heart' is the right brain and more broadly the body-mind. It is the 'Child' - it feels openly, it's naively truthful, it knows what it wants, but too often it's suppressed.
The 'soul' is a higher form of consciousness. It is the 'Adult' and has a broader, more objective view. It takes responsibility and thinks not just of the self but is more pan-determined and so is capable of unconditional love. It is the seat of our hopes, ideals, and sense of beauty, truth and justice.
Too often our consciousness is centered in the left brain, which we need most for everyday focused tasks and our culture emphasizes this role. But the right brain has wonderful neglected qualities. It functions holistically, sees from all angles at once and so can perceive relationships and concepts the 'thinker' is blind to. It cannot lie - for this reason the left brain tries to shut it down, to defend the Ego. But when open, it is both our channel to the feelings of the body-mind and to the intuitive wisdom of our soul.