Fortitudo, by Sandro Botticelli
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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. (more…)

franciscogoya-Saturn-Eating-CronusAs we have learned in this series so far, fairy tales are ironic. They tell a truth so shocking that it can only be revealed in innocent children’s stories. 2500 years ago, in Plato’s Republic, Socrates said the truth exposed in these stories was so dangerous that they should not be allowed to be read by children at all!

Socrates spoke about one of the earliest Greek myths, the story of the origins of the universe. In this story, Uranus hated his children so much that he buried them in the darkest place. Then his son, Cronus, castrated him. Cronus received a prophecy that he would be dethroned by his children, so he ate them.

Socrates responded to these tales by saying,

“The doings of Cronus, and the sufferings which in turn his son inflicted upon him. . .ought certainly not to be lightly told to young and thoughtless persons; if possible, they had better be buried in silence. But if there is an absolute necessity for their mention, a chosen few might hear them in a mystery, and they should sacrifice not a common [Eleusinian] pig, but some huge and unprocurable victim; and then the number of the hearers will be very few indeed.”

What these tales tell us is that the wounded parent has been wounding the child since the beginning of things. Our pain is not the fault of our immediate forebears, our parents, and the wounds that we inflict as parents are the result of a multi-generational pattern that goes back to the earliest times.

As parents, with this knowledge, we have the opportunity to break this cycle and to do our part in healing a broken world. As Confucius said,

“To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order; we must first cultivate our personal life; to cultivate our personal life we must first set our hearts right.”

The creators of fairy tales were in touch with their own child-like nature and so understood things from the child’s point of view. The intent of the inventors of these stories was less to entertain the child and more to return the parent to the child’s world.  Parents need to read fairy tales so they can understand how their children experience them. The harsh lesson of the stories is not one that a child can say directly to the parent and so the story does it for them.  If we can listen to the hidden message, then we can understand what we need to do to become better parents.

From ancient times,  the creators and tellers of the tales were old women. What were the lessons these elders were trying to teach? These women were actually engaging in a subversive act. These crones were able to reach across the generations and communicate on a subtle level the hidden truths about life. They were saying, “Watch out for your parents, and don’t worry, there is a way out.”

These tellers of tales validated the child’s emotional reactions to their world. Children respond to the stories because unconsciously they feel grateful that someone acknowledges their reality, albeit in disguised, symbolic, form.

When the child asks about the story, “Is it true?” they are secretly saying, “Mom, I want you to know that the story is true. You hurt me and make me feel bad about myself, but I can’t tell you.” When the grown up gives their ironic answer by saying “No, this is just a fairy tale,” the secret message to the child is “I understand now what it is that I do, and I’ll do whatever I need to so that I won’t do it anymore.”

Before saying that children should not be exposed to the shocking truth of the murderous rage of the father against the son, Socrates had a hard time accepting the truth of such stories. He said,

“First of all, I said, there was that greatest of all lies, in high places, which the poet told about Uranus, and which was a bad lie too, –I mean what Hesiod says that Uranus did, and how Cronus retaliated on him.”

Before accepting the truth of their own destructive impulses, parents sometimes denigrate fairy stories because they confirm their worst fears about themselves. Denying the reality that we harm our children in big or small ways makes a significant contribution to the problem in the first place. By evading our responsibility, the child ends up believing they are the problem, and this is how they develop shame, or the belief that there is something fundamentally wrong with them. The child comes to believe that if they are being treated poorly by their parents it must be their own fault.

The fairy tales are a way for the the true facts to be introduced to the parent without eliciting this denial and getting the child into trouble. Fairy stories try to make it easy on grown ups by critiquing them without the listener knowing what is going on. In this way, the parent can hear these important lessons about themselves.

For example, the modern story, The Emperor’s New Clothes says to the parents that they are self-absorbed hypocrites, and it is the “child” in the story who reveals this. The story itself symbolizes the process of confronting the parent with their character flaws. The child in the story is the only one who has the guile to reveal the naked truth about the king. Because the story is supposedly about someone fatuous and ridiculous, the parents are not offended. But if they are open to the message, they know the story is about them. Can we grown ups face the truth in these stories? This is the great task, because without it, we will repeat the crimes reported in the tales.

From the earliest times, these stories were told in groups, and adults listened and heard them as well as children. This is still the way it is today. Grown-ups bring their children to see plays like The Lion King, or movies like Coraline. The structure of these fairy tales are barely different than the stories told 5000 years ago. Parents may resonate with them more profoundly than the children, as we have a greater appreciation of the depth of their message. Parents were children once, too, and they had parents, as well. We know the ways we have been wounded by our predecessors and we intuit the ways that we harm our children despite our best intentions.

Here is the message we parents are offered when we enter the world of fairy tales. In a great chain from the beginning of time, you were hurt by your forebears and your society. This has resulted in your having a lost heart. This means that you have not fully realized your universe-given capacities for thinking, feeling, acting, imagining and loving. You are not fully being that which you are meant to be. The result is that you cannot give to your children all that they need to optimally realize these same potentials themselves. In some way, great or small, you are passing down the wounds to the next generation.

The stories then go on to tell us that this does not have to be. You can leave your old ways of being behind. You can liberate yourself from the constrictions imposed on you from without. You can free your capacity for growth become wise, passionate, strong, creative, and loving. You can heal. You can find your heart. The stories tell us that as parents, this is our charge and obligation. The stories demand this of us, because humanity is striving to end this cycle of wounding, shame and self-limitation. In order for the world to survive and thrive, we need to live a life of self-cultivation, where we heal our wounds, liberate our children, and fix a broken world.

The stories provide hope for all children and grown ups who are still spellbound by a giant ogre. The stories tell us that there is a force in the universe which will come to our aid if we show the pluck and courage to fight the demon within.  The stories are revolutionary in this way. The threatening giant may keep the land under a spell for a thousand years but eventually the child in each of us can grow up and save the kingdom. As parents, if  we can free ourselves, then we will not continue the cycle by becoming the tyrant, ourselves.

If parents take responsibility for their own imperfections by sharing the tales with their children, then there can be a relationship based on reality and acceptance. This can help move the child toward self-love and love of others. If parents can take the lessons of the tales to understand their own shortcomings, they can follow the heroic journey presented in the stories, and become King or Queen.  This means becoming a great parent.

When parents share fairy tales with their children, the parent conveys to the child that they accept what the happy ending of the story means. The parent’s main job is to surrender to the great chain of being, and enable their children to become King or Queen themselves. In the end, we need to accept our own death, and give the universe over to our children’s dominion.  Even though, this means, as sometimes happens in the stories, that the parents end up in a vat of boiling oil.

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FTLH cover picture

If you’d like to read an excerpt from my book,

Finding the Lost Heart: A New Path to Growth, Love and Wisdom,

please click on one of the links below.

All feedback is greatly appreciated.

PDF excerpt from Finding the Lost Heart.

Word excerpt from Finding the Lost Heart.

Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, 1902
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I stared into my paella. I felt myself swirling around, just one more piece of sausage in a chaotic stew. My friend Abby was jabbering about how, at the ripe old age of 23, she had just published a novel. She’d blown into New York less than a year before and was already one fourth of the town’s most notorious performance quartet. She tossed back her beet red hair and laughed, but I didn’t think much of anything was funny. Laurie, on the other hand, looked worse than I felt. She lay unconscious, her head sprawled on the white tablecloth, deep in a migraine.

This is some way to celebrate my 37th birthday, I thought. Clearly, my best days were behind me. My drawer was filled with rejection letters from every record label in America for the singing group I was producing. I had just failed in resurrecting my fourteen-year marriage, which I had screwed up over the previous few years with a string of infidelities.

I was relegated to composing jingles for toy commercials. Now that was something to have engraved on my tombstone: brainwashed small children into buying plastic for a living.

My hair was just about done with the tortuously painful process of falling out. I had been the “wunderkind,” the “child prodigy” once, but now I was just Uncle Glenn, smiling at my young friends’ successes, but grimacing underneath. I felt like J. Alfred Prufrock from the poem by T. S. Eliot:

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair-
(They will say: ‘How his hair is growing thin!’)

I looked up from my paella. I looked at Laurie: her mouth was open and she looked rather green. In her normal, lucid moments, Laurie bore an uncanny resemblance to my mother when she had been in her twenties. I was sure she was a reincarnation. Looking at her reminded me that I was an orphan, without connection to a single family member, as both of my parents had died and I had lost contact with the few other family members I had. I recalled a song lyric I had written:

All the love that’s gone forever
I don’t understand
how it slipped through my hands

“I’m lost,” I mumbled to my friends. “What should I do?”

Laurie opened her eyes, raised her head and said, “Go to Ellis Island.”

The next day, on a crisp October New York morning, under a cloudless sky the color of sapphires against gold and ruby leaves, I went down to the seaport, bought a ticket, and walked on the boat that swung past the Statue of Liberty on its way to Ellis Island.

At sixteen, without a dime in his pocket, my grandfather, a Russian Jew, had come to America through Ellis Island, the port of embarkation for many immigrants to the United States in the early 1900s. Nearly a century later, as the ferry sailed through New York Harbor, I imagined I saw Manhattan as my grandfather had seen it the day he arrived in America.

I leaned against the ship. Children, with the sun gleaming on their faces, played and screamed noisily around me but they seemed as remote from me as my own innocent past. Something gave way deep inside. I could no longer defend against my feelings of powerlessness, hopelessness, and grief for all the love I had lost and destroyed. Tears streamed down my cheeks. The front that I was strong, in control, powerful and all put together came crashing down. I plummeted into emptiness, suddenly facing a void.

Landing on Ellis Island, I walked through the halls where countless immigrants had made their way into this country. As I heard old folk songs my mother had sung to me as a child, old feelings half-buried in the rubble of my life began to stir.

Reaching the sea wall, I read the names inscribed there, of all the travelers who had passed through this door into freedom. I found my grandfather’s name: Chaim Pollack. Wiping back tears, I looked up into the heavens and asked, “Grandfather, what should I do?”

As though the voice spoke from the center of my being, the answer came — one that Jewish elders have been giving since the beginning of time:

“Devote your life to study, and tikkun, fixing the broken world.”

How could I, a flawed man who had hurt so many, help to heal the world? How could I devote my life to study? I had bills to pay, clothes to buy, places to go, people to meet.

Again I heard my grandfather’s voice: “I traveled across the sea knowing full well that I would never reap the rewards of my journey. I knew that I would not enter the Promised Land. But I came for you, for the promise of my grandchildren. My hope lay in you. If I gave up my home, and made my way around the world to start a new life, I am certain you can find the time, the money, and the way to do what I have commanded you to do.”

I knew that I wanted to change. Was I finally ready? As the Talmud said,
If not now, when?

Humbled, I left the island.

When I returned to New York, everything was transformed. The city of dreams glowed with the primal vibration of life. Everywhere I looked, I saw meaning and beauty. My senses were all amplified and enriched. I felt love for all that I saw. I felt my grandfather’s inspiring hand gently on my back, whispering in my ear that it was time to fulfill my destiny — I could do it.

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Leonard Cohen on Canada Day, 2007
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JungWhat happened to the generation that self-actualized, explored the outer reaches of consciousness, believed in peace and love and eschewed materialism for exotic paths to nirvana? They are coming back. The baby-boomers, that demographic lump that has dominated our culture for 60-odd years, is about to enter its next phase: a return to original values. When all the folks who were muddy and nude at Woodstock had to start paying rent, they had to give up their dreams of making a world based on deeper values than making a buck. And they got into money with a vengeance. 60’s idealism gave way to 70’s decadence which gave way to 80’s materialism gone wild. The binge lasted 30 years as the boomers got married and divorced, raised blended families, bought houses and went into debt. Now we can see that the winds are shifting again, and the times they are a changin.’ 74-year-old sexy poet, Zen master and musician Leonard Cohen is stunning sold-out crowds at concerts. The right-wingnuts of Darwinian economics and draconian foreign affairs have given way to dialogue and fairness. Stevie Wonder, who once made an album to help make plants grow with love, is in the White House.

Carl Jung recognized that people’s needs changed once they passed the mid-line of life. We have pushed back that threshold and 60 is the new middle-aged. In this life phase we get to stop being the hero and going out to conquer the world or being the caretaker. The boomer’s parents are going or gone, and the kids are out of the house. The college bills have stopped coming in. Husbands and wives are looking across the table and seeing that they are actually married to someone and the relationship that has taken a back seat to soccer games now needs some attention because its the only thing these people have. This refocus on relationship brings people back to themselves again. When we get to this point in life, Jung recognized, we once again have a total recentering of identity that parallels what we went through in adolescence. In the book Passages, Gail Sheehy called this phase middlessence. At this change, our needs turn inward. We begin to look for the deeper meaning of our lives. We have the time to consider what is of real importance to us. We recognize the compromises we have made, and along with coming to an acceptance of them, we reevaluate our priorities. The baby boomers are coming to realize that though they were trying to do the best they could, they lost something essential along the way and didn’t even realize it. As my favorite sage, Mencius, said, “When people’s dogs and chicks are lost we go out and look for them, but when people’s hearts  — or original nature — are lost we do not go out and look for them.”  But as boomers are hitting 60, they are remembering the values that were paramount in their youth, and there is a longing to return to their “original nature.” If you find yourself going to YouTube and listening to “All You Need is Love,” and remembering how much it meant when you heard that song for the first time, you can bet that you are in middlessence.

There is a great promise in this new life stage. The passing thrill of self-examination that occured in adolescence takes on a deeper cast as we begin to see the shadows of the end when we enter this phase of life. It is time for us to become what the archetypal psychologists call the senex. This is when we become the wise elder who through the experience of a lifetime can now understand the ways of the universe and help the next generation hold onto the essential.

What does this change mean in terms of our culture? We are already seeing a cultural shift in our politics; ironically it took our first post-boomer president to recognize this desire for a return to original values. This is the role of the redeemer; he is always a figure of renewal. What we can look forward to in the next several years is a culture that is deeper, less ephemeral, less concerned with an instant, short term result and is more interested in eternal truths. We can look for a culture that helps people to define and manifest what will be their lasting legacies. Research shows that this generation is interested in lifelong learning, and we will see a great surge in adult education as people do not want to be put out to pasture or the shuffleboard court, but want to grow throughout their lives. We can see a great increase in people coming together and working to make the world a better place. Certainly in our culture there is a great premium on youth and baby boomers certainly want to deny that they are aging and do all they can to stay young. Hopefully, they will realize that the best way to do this is to rejoin a process of self-cultivation that they may have put aside decades ago; that true youth rests in spiritual development; and that they can recapture their lost days by returning to the highest ideals of the 60’s generation.

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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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ObamaIn President Obama’s ASU commencement speech on May12, 2009 he said,

“In all seriousness, I come here not to dispute the suggestion that I haven’t yet achieved enough in my life. I come to embrace it; to heartily concur; to affirm that one’s title, even a title like President, says very little about how well one’s life has been led – and that no matter how much you’ve done, or how successful you’ve been, there’s always more to do, more to learn, more to achieve.”

In this statement, Obama achieves the ancient Chinese Sage Mencius‘s definition of the worthy leader. The Confucian project, of which Mencius was the greatest mind, was to cultivate virtuous leaders by teaching them that they needed to work on self-cultivation, on improving themselves, ceaselessly. These philosophers believed that the good of all was dependent on the good of the individual — especially our leaders — and that this required continuous effort and learning.

Obama goes on to encourage every student to use this as their guiding principle in life. Rather than getting caught up in the shallow rewards offered by materialism he inspires them to commit themselves to the harder, nobler path of the new Bhakti Marga, a devotion to the daily work. He goes on to say,

“That is what building a body of work is all about – it’s about the daily labor, the many individual acts, the choices large and small that add up to a lasting legacy. It’s about not being satisfied with the latest achievement, the latest gold star – because one thing I know about a body of work is that it’s never finished. It’s cumulative; it deepens and expands with each day that you give your best, and give back, and contribute to the life of this nation. You may have set-backs, and you may have failures, but you’re not done – not by a longshot.”

The wisest human beings to have graced our planet, from Mencius through Obama carry the same message. Will we listen? It all begins with you. With working on yourself. Are you willing to commit to working on yourself every day for the rest of your life? What are you going to do today to improve yourself? What are you going to do today to make the world a better place?