Sarah PalinThe problems we face in life are often the result of having a lost heart. It is not difficult to understand what this means.  Lost heartedness is all around, and the consequences are easy to see. Having a lost heart does not preclude success or fame. In fact, some of our most apparently successful people provide the clearest examples what it looks like to have a lost heart. For example, five people who have been prominent in the news recently illuminate the conditions of having a lost heart, and its consequences. These are Michael Jackson, Bernie Madoff, Sarah Palin, Mark Sanford and Joe Brooks (the writer of the massive hit from the 1970’s, “You Light Up My Life”).

To have a lost heart means that we are distanced from that which we are meant to be. Mencius, the Chinese sage, would say that the heart is the part of us that has a taste for goodness. He would say that we all have the capacity for good. If we are properly cultivated, this native potential will be refined so that we will be drawn to the good and repulsed by the bad, much as the gourmand will be drawn to the delicious and repulsed by that which does not please the palate. When our capacity for goodness is realized, we do what is good and shun its opposite. To have a lost heart, then, means that, in part, our taste for goodness, our moral sense, has gone undeveloped. When a natural capacity goes undeveloped, it doesn’t simply remain in a unmatured state. Rather, human nature has a movement and a direction. If we are not moving toward growth, we are moving in the other direction, toward decay. We are not only stuck, we deteriorate. One sure sign of a corrupted capacity for goodness is shamelessness. If we have not developed our sense of what is good, right or proper then we can act in any way at all. We can easily choose the expedient over the virtuous. This can surely bring us immediate advantage. Such was the case with Bernie Madoff.bernie-madoff-jail-031209-lg He made enormous sums of money and lived a material life we could all envy. But like Midas, though all he touched turned to gold, he lived a life disconnected from the common good of humanity. He brought ruin onto all those he touched, including his family, and finally, in the end, himself. He did not have the inner moral compass that would have prevented him from such evil behavior. Sarah Palin, too, has shown a tremendous capacity for shamelessness. When asked whether she hesitated when asked to become candidate for vice-president, she said that she didn’t blink. She should have. She didn’t have the developed capacity for self-reflection that would have resulted in humbly asking herself whether she was truly prepared for the awesome task she was asked to take on. Then, when she was challenged as to her qualifications, she blamed others, saying that they had it out for her. When her limitations began to reveal themselves, she showed no ability to take responsibility for her own behaviors. Mark Sanford showed the same shamelessness, discussing his affair without perspective or concern for the feelings of others, inflating his infatuation into something of noble value. Michael Jackson may or may not have abused children privately, but when he claimed to have never harmed anyone, his defense was undermined by the image of him dangling his child out of a window. Again, he showed no taste for goodness. He could not recognize it when he was not doing the right thing. Dramatically illustrative of lost-heartedness is the story of Joe Brooks.JOe BrooksDebby Boone Mr. Brooks wrote “You Light Up My Life,” sung by Debby Boone. It was ostensibly about a relationship to God. It was a monster hit. Recently, Joe, at 71, was arrested on 11 counts of rape. Anyone who worked with Joe, and I did, knew his character. The irony that this man would pen a hit about a relationship to the divine was not lost on us. He treated all he came into contact with in a cruel way. What allowed Joe to be successful was his ability to put his product out into the world despite a clear lack of ability and effort. This gave him the ability to actually make two movies, one starring himself. This movie, “If Ever I Should See You Again,” is a must see for it competes for the ignominious status of being the worst movie ever made.

Mencius went on to say that when we  have lost contact with our original nature — our hearts– we are not living in alignment with the Heavenly Mandate. This means that there are laws and principles that the universe operates by. These laws reside within the individual, within the heart. Human nature is a reflection of universal nature. When we live against the laws of human nature we are living against the laws of universal nature. When we live against the laws of human, and universal, nature, we eventually, and in some way, either emotionally, spiritually or materially, suffer. Very often this suffering shows up as problems in our life. Madoff got thrown in jail for 150 years, Palin has multiple ethics violations against her and is hounded out of office, Sanford gets censured. It is no surprise that Brooks would get arrested for rape. These are merely the outward manifestations of a kind of inner suffering. But let me be clear; I am not heralding back to some old testament idea that we are punished for our sins. Quite the contrary. This is a tragic outcome, not of our own making. Our heart is made manifest when it is properly cultivated,  when it receives the proper emotional sun, soil, and water. If we do not receive this, or the opposite, we are wounded. These early emotional woundings leave their scars. They interfere with our ability to develop and mature our potentials, the realization of which we define as “having your heart.” Our capacities for thinking, feeling, imagining, acting and connection become limited. Our capacity for goodness, courage and love become corrupted, more or less. These are simply some of the worst examples that prove what each one of us suffers to a more limited extent.

These people are not bad, they are tragically hurt. Perhaps we can see this most vividly in the person who is the most sympathetic of these figures, and whose early wounds are most known, Michael Jackson. A story that captures both how we lose our hearts, and the consequences of such a loss, is Collodi’s story of Pinocchio. In this story, a puppet is made out of a useless piece of wood. He has no parents, and receives no parental nurturance. Though he has the small voice of conscience, an aspect of the nascent heart, represented by the character of the cricket, Pinocchio attempts to kill this part of himself. Pinocchio is empty and wooden; he wants to be “real,” but cannot figure out a way to become so. He acts without knowledge of the consequences of his acts and gets into trouble over and over again. He is more than a child, he is a narcissistically wounded one. This means that he experiences himself as wooden, worthless, and empty because he did not receive the necessary emotional receptiveness as an infant. We see how Michael was like a reverse Pinocchio; he showed us his intrinsic emptiness by making himself progressively unreal. He thought that if he could just manipulate the surface by perfecting his body, he would somehow achieve a quality of realness. But because he was devoid of a real heart, no matter how many surgeries he had, he never found what he was looking for. His quest for realness turned him into a monstrous mannequin, revealing the true state of his inner being; that which he was trying to hide and compensate for. We know that Michael, by his own description, had no childhood. He was beaten by his father and driven to be something not of his own choosing. His is a sad story. Clearly tormented, he could find no peace other than, it seems, at the end of a needle of powerful anaesthetic. That is a measure of the pain he was in.

We grieve the loss of Michael because we see our own story in his. We hear in his music the pain of endless longing, and how for a moment that longing can be transformed into beautiful art. But having never done the hard work of finding his lost heart, with nothing at the core, in the end, all he had was death.

These are all cautionary tales. Luckily, most of us do not have the rare combination of talent and woundedness to turn into Madoff, Palin or Brooks. But we disregard the warning signs at our peril. Pay attention to your problems. These stories, and our problems are the universe’s way of giving us a message: to find a path of fulfillment, instead of self-destruction, we must find our lost hearts.

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