Fortitudo, by Sandro Botticelli
Image via Wikipedia

As I have said, in order to solve our life problems and find true fulfillment, we must find our hearts. What is the life we will have when we find our hearts?

Every human heart has the capacity to know the laws of nature, and by living in accord with them, we can achieve our life’s purpose.  We can know universal nature if we understand human nature. By understanding ourselves we can live in harmony with the laws of the universe.

When we embody our hearts, we live out our human nature. This means that we continuously  strive to develop our human potentials. Our potentials are for thinking, feeling, acting, imagining and connecting. Another way of saying this is that the blueprint for the mighty oak tree is written in the acorn. We, too, enter the world with a blueprint for what we are meant to become. If we grow toward realizing our virtues, –what Plato would call our arete and Confucius would call jen — we live out this plan, fulfill our human nature, and embody the heart. This process is the meaning of human nature, and this is what nature intends for us. To continuously grow toward becoming wise, which is the virtue of thinking; passionate, which is the virtue of feeling; strong, which is the virtue of action; creative, which is the virtue of imagination; and loving, which is the virtue of connection; is to have our heart.

The lodestar of existence comes from within, from the heart. By accessing our essential self, which is found in the heart, we can know and live the good in our lives. From this perspective, to have our heart means having a connection to our essential capacity and taste for goodness. Mencius said that just as the eye knows the beautiful and the tongue knows the delicious, the heart is the sense that knows the good. The good is beautiful to the heart. When we develop our capacity for thinking, this brings us in touch with our hearts and we find wisdom. As Paul Tillich put it, “wisdom . . . is the universal knowledge of the good.” When we live in accordance with this innate knowledge of ideal goodness, we are able to be truly fulfilled.

When we find our hearts through developing our capacity for feeling, we find the  seat of empathy. This capacity for compassion, for feeling what others are feeling, is what is most human in us. Since empathy is the essence of the heart, we do not have to rely on external authority for guidance of our behavior. The more we live from our hearts, the more we live in harmony with others. All morality extends from this ability to feel what others feel, and the greater we extend our compassion the greater the harmony in the universe. The Chinese Sages called this the central harmony.

Mencius believed that the general energetic principle of the universe, which he called ch’I, was something that “ran through” humans.  When we follow the path of human realization, which Mencius would call the tao, and extend our capacity for thinking and feeling, we have the greatest access to the primal energy of the universe. We then possess what Mencius called flood-like ch’I, which is the ultimate energetic capacity for enthusiasm and passion. When we develop our feelings optimally we have true vitality.

Most importantly, accessing this inexhaustible source of energy gives us imperturbability. Imperturbability is courage, the pure self-confidence that allows us to act from our central selves in the face of any danger. The work of finding the heart is to strengthen our vitality which gives us the courage to live from our authentic being. To have this imperturbability means that our lives are intentional. We live from choice, not from fear or conditionings. This is the achievement of our virtue of action, strength. Our vitality, courage and ability to live from choice are inextricably intertwined. Spirit is a matter of the heart, the personal center. Courage is derived from the French word for heart, “coeur.”

As Paul Tillich said, “courage is the affirmation of one’s essential nature, one’s inner aim or entelechy. . .” Our nobility come from striving to actualize that which we are. It is in this quest that we realize the good and the beautiful. When we inhabit the heart, we may be hurt, humiliated, rejected or ignored. For some of the most enlightened, from Socrates to Martin Luther King, living from the truth put their very lives in peril. When, in the face of all the dangers of existence, we have Mencian imperturbability, or Tillichian courage, we embody our selves as we truly are. Fortitudio is the strength of the heart, its power to be what it essentially is. When we are in possession of flood-like ch’i, and we face the risks of living according to the inner light of the heart, we remain imperturbable; no danger sways us from bravely being what it is that we are uniquely meant to be.

The heart, the place of our spiritedness, strives toward the noble. When we develop our potential for imagination, we imagine the ideal. This part of us feels and knows justice in the core of our being, cheers when someone rises beyond limitation, longs for the good and wants to be the best. There is that within us that yearns for “somewhere over the rainbow.” To allow our imagination to flow, and to aim toward what we only know through faith, requires courage. The embodiment and realization of the heart is the striving itself that emerges from the root of our creative imagination, our heart.

The heart is the part of us that unifies. It integrates the disparate and sometimes conflicting aspects of our nature.  When what we should do and what we want to do are the same, we are living from our hearts. It also brings us into harmonious relationship with the world around us. When we are connected to our hearts, our needs and desires are in accord with what is best for us and for the cosmos as a whole.

Wisdom, our ability to know universal goodness, when combined with passion, our ability to feel our emotions culminating in empathy, the vitality of flood like ch’I, and the free engagment with our creative imagination leads us to choose and act toward love.

The chief virtue of the Confucians is benevolence. Benevolence means that we act with love foremost in our hearts. When we have a cultivated heart and are connected to our essential goodness, we embody this virtue. First and foremost, to live from the heart means that we love our selves. Benevolence toward others begins with self-love. To have found the heart means that we treat all beings — starting with ourself—with benevolence.

When we have access to our intrinsic goodness, when we have the free flow of our energy, or ch’i, when we are benevolent, empathetic, and courageous, when we are living in harmony with the laws of the universe, when we have realized our virtues of wisdom, passion, strength, creativity and love, it can be said that we have, and know, the heart.

To quote Sean Wilentz writing in Newsweek, “to find the lost heart means that it is not enough to be thoughtful or even popular; it requires becoming what Theodore Roosevelt called the man “in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and soot and blood,” who fights with the certainty that, even if he fails, “his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

The truth we must accept is that we will never fully reach the ultimate goal of in our lifetime, but the process of searching in the face of this certain failure is the life of the heart. It is the purpose that Prometheus made us for: to aim for the heavens.

“Prometheus took some of this earth, and kneading it up with water, made man in the image of the gods. He gave him an upright stature, so that while all other animals turn their faces downward, and look to the earth, he raises his to heaven, and gazes on the stars.”

We may never reach the ultimate, but in the searching we find joy. Again, as Tillich put it, “Joy is the emotional expression of the courageous Yes to one’s own true being.”

By embarking on the great journey of finding the lost heart, we join the noble human adventure of aspiring to fulfill our destiny: to be our authentic selves, to create a life of personal happiness and loving relationships, and a world returned to its place of harmony. The ancient Egyptians agreed with this view. They considered the heart to be the core of the soul. As it was said in the writings of Imhotep, the wise vizier who counseled the Pharaoh 5,000 years ago:

“Life, prosperity and health are a man’s heart.”

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