We are all looking to end our emotional suffering and solve our life’s problems. We long to answer: How can I find love, stop being so anxious, lose weight, make money, have more energy, have a better marriage, be a better parent?

In this post I’m going to give you the answer to your difficulties and tell you how to achieve true fulfillment and happiness.

In order to do that, I will start with a short review of my basic philosophy of the heart.

As those of you who have followed my blog know, I am inspired by the great Chinese Sage of 2300 years ago, Mencius, who said,

“Pity the man who has lost his path and does not follow it, and lost his heart and does not go out and recover it.”

I believe that we have problems in our lives because we have lost our hearts. Since “essence,” — that which makes a thing what it is and no other — is known as “the heart of the matter,” our essential nature is what Mencius means by the term, “heart.” What this means then, is that we experience unnecessary suffering because we are, as theologian Paul Tillich stated it, estranged from our essential nature. This essential nature is what the Greek philosopher Aristotle called our entelechy, which is that which we are meant to be.

What is our essence? What are we meant to be? I believe that we are all meant to think, feel, act, imagine and connect in the best possible way. When those natural attributes are optimally developed we become wise, passionate, strong, creative and loving. This results in inner harmony, loving relationships, a productive social order and peaceful politics. This is an embodiment, and fulfillment, of the laws of human nature and universal nature. This is our evolutionary purpose and what is best both for the species and the universe as a whole.

A central way that we become distanced from that which we are meant to become is as a result of our relationships. When things go right in our earliest and most important relationships, we develop our potentials in the best possible way. As Mencius knew from observing nature, anything properly cultivated will grow. As we all live in a lost hearted world and each one of us is raised by flawed parents, we are all, more or less, and in different ways, emotionally wounded. When we do not receive the proper emotional sunlight, soil and water, we do not grow in the best possible way.

We become distanced from that which we are meant to be due to relationship failures in our upbringing. As a result of this, we are living in some way out of alignment with our own nature. When we are distanced from our nature, we live out of alignment with nature in general. We have, what Mencius would call, a lost heart. This results in our suffering and problems.

Science has now proved this to be true. When we get the proper love in early childhood our brain grows the way it is supposed to. When we do not get love in our early life, our brain does not develop to its full potential.

Though these early interactions leave very deep traces, we continue to grow and develop through life. Mencius said, “The principle of self-cultivation consists in nothing but trying to find the lost heart.” This means that we can live out our entelechy, we can be what we are meant to be, we can realize our optimal potentials, we can end our unnecessary suffering and solve our problems, through working on ourselves.

The Answer to Our Problems is Finding the Lost Heart

The answer is that in order to solve our problems and get what we want in life, we need to find our lost hearts. And the way to do this is to live a life of self-cultivation. What does this mean, and how do we do it?

Throughout history, everyone has wanted an instant cure, a quick fix, a magic pill. Cardinal Richelieu, who lived in the 17th century, was prescribed a mixture of horse dung and white wine to cure his ills. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. He died. The instant cure doesn’t work. Whenever we try to take a shortcut, we never reach our destination. And even though I am a psychotherapist, psychotherapy alone is not enough to give us what we need.

The  wisdom of the ages tells us that to find the answer requires a quest. The method I propose may take more work then you’d like, but, unlike the Cardinal’s cure, it will work. It includes wisdom that has been proven by thousands of years of historical experience, and modern insights proven by cutting edge science.

The essence of finding one’s heart can be distilled into five basic steps.

1.    The Path of Devotion
2.    The Path of Wisdom
3.    The Path of Healing
4.    The Path of Vision
5.    The Path of Action

The Path of Devotion

Finding true fulfillment begins and ends with living a life of devotion to finding our lost heart. The devotion to a life of self-discovery and realization is a personal bhakti marga, which is a Sanskrit word for the path of devotion. This total intellectual, moral, and emotional commitment to daily practice is more important than the particular method itself. As Sri Ramakrishna said, “One can reach god if one follows any of the paths with whole hearted devotion.”

The most important aspect of this path is daily study. In the collected sayings of Confucius, called the Analects, the very first statement is, “Is it not pleasant to learn with a constant perseverance and application?” But the purpose of this learning is not an accumulation of facts or information. Its point is the personal development of the individual.

The Path of Wisdom

One way to do this is to study the ancient wisdom texts from every culture, whether it is the Upanishads from India, the Four Books of the Chinese, the poems of Rumi, the Confessions of St. Augustine, or the Old Testament of the Hebrews. Confucius devoted his life to the study of ancient wisdom texts because he believed that the past is an inexhaustible source of content for self-discovery. He believed that in the sincere search of ancient texts one finds true knowledge. The classic texts are the best guide to understanding ourselves. This is the Hindu knowledge path of jnana-marga.

The study of the great wisdom of humankind is one important path to finding the lost heart because these texts are the evidence left behind by the great heroes of self-discovery who have travelled this road before us. These writers went into themselves, and the words they write tell us what they found there. Because we can never truly put what is deepest about being human into words, their utterances require contemplation to grasp. Their meanings are endless. The more we immerse ourselves in them, the more we find. These writings are symbolic in a particular way. I call them yantras, where a yantra is a complex symbol that is used as a revelatory conduit for cosmic truths.

Yantras are not only to be found in the writings of the wise but can come in many forms. They are in all the products of culture. They are in myths, rituals, fairy tales, mandalas, the results of scientific research, and art and literature. This path of devotion through contemplating the yantras of culture is known in German as bildung. Bildung is another essential way to develop our innate potentials. Bildung involves not simply an intellectual exercise but the participation of the complete person in the process of self development that leads to a realization of ultimate character. Whether you read The Frog Prince, Victor Hugo, or David Foster Wallace; listen to the music of Mozart, Ray Davies, or Taylor Swift; watch the movies, Citizen Kane, Groundhog Day or Ratatouille; you will find the answer wherever you look  if you immerse yourself in the work.

These practices give us a means of making a deep exploration of our selves. As inscribed at the temple to Apollo in Delphi, Greece, the answer to life is it “know thyself.” In order to find the lost heart we must embark on a journey of self-knowledge. The journey down the yellow brick road is a journey into the self. We must learn how to go within, as all the great heroes have before us, and discover the “jewel in the lotus.” In our deepest depths, we find what the Indians in the Upanishads would call Atman, the ultimate within the heart. Gestalt therapy is a good way to learn how to do this. This is a phenomenological method, which means that you learn how to go within and listen to the silent voice of the heart, your authentic self.

The Path of Healing

In the fairy tale, Cat Skin, as a result of the childhood emotional wound of incest, the princess hides her dress of diamonds in a walnut shell, covers herself in ash, lives under a staircase and does the work of the scullery maid. She has a lost heart. Because of her childhood wounds, she has hidden the best of herself, and lives a life of shame. The disguise becomes so convincing, she forgets that she is really a princess. This yantric fairy tale shows us in symbolic form the story that we all live. As a result of our childhood wounds, we hide our beauty. The low identity we create becomes so convincing we lose touch with the glorious beings we actually are. The next step in finding our hearts is to heal these wounds of the past so that we can bring our dress out of the walnut shell and reclaim our throne.

As a result of our wounds, we might live our lives believing that we are the problem, that we are broken or bad. We must uncover the true stories of our lives, and discover how we were taught these falsehoods about ourselves, how we learned that we are scullery maid instead of princess. New therapeutic techniques have been developed to help us  process those early stories so we can transcend them. In so doing, we can end the emotional suffering these wounds caused, and learn how to transform our shame into self-love, which is central to getting what we want in life. My favorite method for this is based on a method called EMDR.

Methods like the 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous also teach us the importance of taking responsibility for our own past and present behaviors. Part of the devotion to the recovery of our hearts is to  look closely at the hurts we have caused to ourselves and others and to do all we can to rectify those wounds.

The Path of Action

The next step in finding the heart is to take actions in the present. This corresponds to the path of karma-marga. The most important thing we can do in our lives right now to help us find the heart is to learn how to truly connect with others. If we were wounded by relationships in our lives, learning how to have relationships in the present provides us with a core means of self-realization. We need to learn the methods of authentic connection in order to become all we are meant to be. Harville Hendrix’s IMAGO technique provides one wonderful way of doing this. In this technique we learn how to speak from our hearts, and truly listen to another. We learn how to express our needs in healthy ways and meet the needs of others.

In order to find our hearts we also must care for the heart’s temple, our bodies. Good nutrition, exercise, rest and sex with an intimate partner are some of the primary ways of caring for our bodies. Health counselors trained at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition can provide terrific information on the best way to care for your body in order to optimize energy, mood, health and well-being.

Nature is the best yantra. It provides all the wisdom we need to embody and live from our hearts. Spending time in nature is essential to finding and living out our true nature.

Our own creativity is a central way of finding our hearts. When we go within in a process of self-exploration, we want to express and manifest what we find there. This is the source of creativity. It is the gift we bring back for others to share, to help them on their own paths of finding their hearts. By creating, we find out who we are. As William Faulkner said, “I never know what I think of something until I read what I’ve written on it.” Part of our essential purpose is to express ourselves. The quality of what we create is not our concern. Our job is, as the inventor of modern dance, Martha Graham, said to her student, Agnes De Mille, “to keep the channel open.”

Finally, we must learn to live from our integrity and do the right thing. When what we want to do and what we should do are in harmony, then we have inner peace. This right thing is not something imposed by external doctrine or held in the dogma of religion, though we might be able to learn a great deal about the good and true from such sources.

Ultimately, what we discover is that our source of compassion and empathy, the core of our ability for moral action, is the heart itself. Just like the tongue knows the delicious and the eye the beautiful, the heart is the part of us that has a taste for goodness. When we have access to our hearts, we know the good from the inside. Cultivating the self and finding the heart, are in the end, about developing our source of goodness, which we all share, and is within us. In this way we develop what Mencius called imperturbability. Tillich called this the ‘courage to be,’ the ability to act from our hearts in the face of any external threat or danger. Once we grow this ability, we have what Mencius called flood-like ch’I,’ which is access to the endless stream of universal energy. No fear of rejection or failure can stop us. We can do anything.

The Path of Vision

Next on our path of finding the heart, we must envision that which we want to become. A unique capacity of the human heart is the ability to imagine. As the ancient Greek myth put it, Prometheus created us upright so that we could contemplate the stars. We are aspirational beings. If we can imagine, we can imagine a supreme, an ultimate. As a means of finding the lost heart, the Chinese philosophers spent much of their time visualizing the ultimate person, which they called, jen. The clearer the vision we have of what it is that we want to become, the more likely we are of becoming that thing. The quarterback needs to see the ball being caught in the endzone in order to make the touchdown. In order to develop this image we need to find symbolic heroes who hold the qualities we long to realize. By contemplating and communing with these ideal figures, we free these attributes within ourselves. Napoleon Hill, in his book, Think and Grow Rich has a wonderful exercise where he communes nightly with his board of ideal advisers in order to accomplish his goals.

Finding the Lost Heart

What does life become when we follow these paths and find our hearts? By following the path of finding the lost heart we live in accordance with what the ancients called “the Tao,” or The Way. We are in harmony with our own and cosmic nature. Our problems are symptoms that indicate we are living out of harmony with the Tao. When we find this central harmony, our problems dissolve. We receive the rewards for our efforts. We have great relationships and realize profound intimacy. We discover and live out our heart’s vocation and do work we love. We become prosperous. We feel great, and are healthy in mind, body and spirit. We look great and have our best body. We live a long and energetic life. We are great parents and raise happy children. We find true success, living out our meaning and purpose. We live lives of giving. We give and receive infinitely increasing love. We contribute to the healing of the planet. We find deep spirituality and a live a life of connectedness to the all.

As the fairy tales tell us, the path is long and filled with impossible tasks, but if we take the advice of magical helpers on the way, and follow their instructions, we end up with the kingdom.

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