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Recently Charles Blow of the New York Times cited some studies suggesting that people between the ages of 18 and 29 are “moving away from organized religion while simultaneously trying desperately to connect with their spirituality.” I believe this is true for vast numbers of people of all ages. We find ourselves in a time when untold numbers are searching for a deeper sense of fulfillment in their lives. People everywhere are looking for answers.  From the spiritual cognoscenti, to those who regularly tune into Oprah and are committed to personal growth and change, to seekers looking for a way to solve a problem in their lives through the many forms of psychotherapy, to the many millions who fuel the self-help industry, lifelong learners everywhere are seeking something deeper and more fundamental than motivational tips and familiar nostrums.

Evidence that the quest for spiritual development outside of conventional religion has gone mainstream is all around us:  in the upswing of interest in the healing arts such as yoga, meditation, and holistic health practices; in the fascination with forms of mysticism such as Kabbalah; in the study of the traditions of the East like Buddhism and Taoism; in the openness to the melding of the most advanced science and the most ancient wisdom traditions as illustrated by Deepak Chopra’s huge following; in the renewed sense of personal responsibility brought on by the changes in our political and economic landscape; and in the nostalgia for the less materialistic values of the ‘60s.

I call this vast group Seekers. These are people who in addition to personal healing are also concerned about the environment and the fate of the earth.  They are parents who are feeding their children organic foods and working earnestly to give their kids the best start by applying attachment parenting techniques. They are couples who are devoted to having sacred marriages through using the dialogical techniques of teachers like Harville Hendrix.  They are baby-boomers going back to school after the kids graduate college, and thirty-somethings who have gotten off the fast track to become social entrepreneurs, using their business savvy to make a better world. They are open-minded and tolerant.  They are receptive to all traditions, philosophies, and wisdoms, whatever the source.  They read Eckhart Tolle and admire the Dalai Lama. They are connecting with old friends through Facebook, following politics on the Huffington Post and are interested in all types of social networking.  They follow the big thinkers on sites like TED.com. Every day they make an effort to become better people.

Where is this spiritual thirst coming from, and why are people looking in places other than organized religion? (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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brad pittIn our shame-inducing consumerized culture where everyone is a commodity, all too many people believe that if you don’t look like Brad Pitt or Jennifer Connelly you are not going to get any. WRONG! And I have proof. The person I know who has the most passionate, consistent and happy sex life is short, bald and middle aged. What is his secret?Jennifer

First of all, he has spent a lifetime working on his ability to love. He recognizes, as Erich Fromm said in his classic book, “The Art of Loving,” that love is not something that we feel or get, love is something that we do. He works on being a good husband. He is trustworthy, reliable and consistent. Following the wisdom of Harville Hendrix, he fosters connection through intimate dialogue. He reveals himself and listens empathically. He works on cultivating himself intellectually, emotionally, creatively and physically. He tries to be an interesting person; he doesn’t want to bore his wife. He takes good care of himself and his health; he exercises, eats well and doesn’t overindulge. He has continuously tried to heal his childhood wounds that have interfered with his ability to fully realize his potentials for passionate loving. He found a wife who shares his values and has a common interest in maintaining a passionate life. They put the lie to the belief that marriage and kids end romance. They make sure of that! Sexually, he focuses on the needs of his partner, puts himself completely into the experience and does not waste time being self-conscious.

A lifetime of great sex is not dependent on gorgeous looks. As my Dad once said,

“Look not for beauty,nor fairness of skin, but look for a heart that is pure within, for beauty may fade, and skin grow old, but a heart that is pure, will never grow cold.”

Even short, bald guys like me have a chance, by working on our hearts.

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