The next quality that is central to the Mencian conception of heart is ch’i. (For those of you who are just joining this conversation, Mencius was a great Chinese Sage who lived and wrote 2300 years ago. Central to his philosophy was the notion of “heart.” See other posts.) Ch’i is the prime energy of the universe. This can be correlated to “the sacred fire” of the Upanishads. The Indians, too, located this energetic source in the heart.

“I know . . . that sacred fire which leads to heaven. Listen. That fire which is the means of attaining the infinite worlds, and is also their foundation, is hidden in the sacred place of the heart.”

Buddhists located their equivalent, prana, a concept they borrowed from the Sanskrit, in the heart, and also saw the unity of heart, energy, and the cosmic reality.  Ch’i has also been named tejas, mana, or by Jung, libido.  It is found in Norse mythology as the mead from the world tree of Ygdrasil.

The Chinese posited two kinds of ch’i, the gross and the subtle. The body was the home of the grosser ch’i and the heart was the home of the subtle ch’i. To cultivate the heart means to cultivate our subtle ch’i. This would not only bear on our moral health, but our physical well being as well.  Mencius unified his concepts in a moral vision, where right living, as determined by heart, resulted in maximum ch’i. Health, wellbeing and courage were related to living in harmony with the dictates of heart, which emerged from its connection to universal nature.

Mencius believed that this general energetic principle of the universe was something that “ran through” humans.  When we achieve an optimal alignment with the Heavenly Mandate, or universal law, we have the greatest access to this primal energy of the universe. We then possess what Mencius called flood-like ch’i, which is the ultimate energetic capacity.

Mencius himself admitted that explaining flood-like ch’i was difficult. A disciple asked, “May I ask what this flood-like ch’i is?”And he replied,

“It is difficult to explain. This is a ch’i which is, in the highest degree vast and unyielding. Nourish it with integrity and place no obstacle in its path and it will fill the space between Heaven and Earth. It is a ch’i which unites rightness and the Way. Deprive it of these and it will starve. It is born of accumulated rightness and cannot be appropriated by anyone through a sporadic show of rightness. Whenever one acts in a way that falls below the standard set in one’s heart, it will starve.”

This means that our energy, mood and motivation, is dependent on our integrity, of acting from our highest moral understanding, which is in our hearts. This places us in alignment with universal forces, which gives us courage. Depression and failure can be likened to a lack of moral attunement. This does not only mean not doing the right thing toward others, but also toward the self. The condition of shame, or treating ourselves from self-hatred instead of self-love, will lead to a diminishment of ch’i.

Through the manifestation of flood-like ch’i we develop the virtue of imperturbability. This means being true to oneself even without external validation.  As Mencius stated it, “Only a gentleman can have a constant heart in spite of a lack of constant means of support.”

When we have imperturbability, our motivation for action must be on rightness, and not dependent on outcome. (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…)

chi imageIn order to accomplish our life goals we need self-confidence. What is self-confidence, where does it come from, and how do we cultivate it?

Mencius, my favorite Chinese Sage, believed that confidence comes from “ch’i,” the universal source of energy. This power that moves through us has many names — eros, elan vital, libido, kundalini.

The brilliant philosopher, Paul Tillich, called self-confidence “the courage to be.” Possessing this courage means being your authentic self in the face of any danger.

Tillich believed that if we lack such confidence it means we are distanced from our essential nature. Mencius believed this, too. His name for our essential nature was heart. This definition of heart as our essential nature has been found around the world throughout history. In one example, St. Augustine said, “The heart is where I am whatever I am.” Mencius said, “pity the man who has lost his heart and does not go out and recover it.” He, too, believed our lack of strength came from being distanced from what we actually are.

Mencius said that when we are connected to our hearts, we have “free-flowing ch’i.” This means that when we are our true selves we have the ultimate connection to the endless and powerful supply of energy from the universe. It is when we are in touch with this source that we can do anything we set our minds to.

Having this power and confidence is another aspect of our entelechy, that which we are meant to be. We grow this power and self-confidence through being properly parented. When we get what we need from the world, our brain is pumped with chemicals like dopamine, which fills us with energy and confidence. When we are disappointed in life, our dopamine levels drop and we feel like the air has been taken out of our balloon. Getting sufficient positive reflection growing up is the real Popeye’s spinach. When we do not get enough positive support growing up, we chronically have low supplies of dopamine. This can lead us to feel enervated and insecure. We learn that being who we truly are is no good, and so we hide those essential aspects of ourselves. We come to believe that we are not the glorious beings that we are. We live in shame, which is the opposite of having “free-flowing ch’i,” or self-confidence.  Having problems with energy and confidence are sure signs that we have a lost heart.

With self-confidence, we believe in our value and capacities. We can face any obstacle. We can handle the risks of rejection, failure, and mistake. When we live in shame, we believe we are less than, and incapable.

How do we recover our hearts, develop the courage to be, reconnect with our essential being, and find access to our ch’i?

In the fairy tale, Maid Lena, nothing grows in the center of a farm. This is a symbol for a disconnection from heart and ch’i. When we are disconnected from this source of power, there is something in our center where nothing grows. The youngest son, Esben, lives a life mooning about. He is put down by his brothers. He lives in shame, and has no motivation or confidence. After his brothers fail at the task of figuring out why nothing will grow in the center of the farm, Esben determines that he will find out. When his father tries to dissuade him from going, he says, “I’m going, I’m going, I’m going!” When he gets there, he feels fear, but he keeps his feet on the ground, breathes, and determines to face whatever happens. A horrific storm begins. He sees three demons flying straight at him. He looks the demons right in the eye. As they get closer they turn into three swans. Then, just before they reach him, they transform into three beautiful princesses. One of the princesses promises to marry him if he spends the following year completing three impossible tasks. When he returns to the farm he looks completely different. He is filled with power and beauty. After fulfilling the princess’s wish, they marry and he becomes king.

What does this fairy tale have to tell us about recovering our hearts and finding our self-confidence? First, despite the lack of confidence shown in him by others and his own lack of energy,  he determines to find the source of his problems. No matter how frightened he is about facing his demons, he doesn’t run away. When he does, he discovers that what he had been avoiding actually becomes the source of his inspiration. By going to the empty place and staring down his fears, he becomes transformed. This doesn’t mean that his task is complete. In fact, it means that his work now begins. But he now has enough confidence and power to complete the impossible tasks he is given, and in the end he gets all that he desires.

To find our hearts and cultivate our self-confidence, we need to follow Esben’s path. We need to begin by devoting ourselves to a life-long process of growth. Just like Esben, we must say, “I’m going!” We need to go to the empty place within ourselves no matter how scary that seems. We need to learn how to go within, explore and come to understand ourselves. When we do, what we usually find is that we need to heal the wounds of our childhoods that have resulted in the formation of shame.

We must complete the impossible tasks. This means mastering our present. We need to commit ourselves to self-improvement, learning continuously, immersing ourselves in art, spending time in nature, caring for our bodies. We must practice the discipline to recognize and end our negative thinking.

Central to finding self-confidence is acting impeccably. As Mencius said, every time we do the right thing, we come into greater contact with our ch’i. We must take responsibility for our destructive behavior patterns and  surrender to getting help with our addictions and compulsions. We discover that when we do the right thing, we feel good about ourselves and this is the greatest fuel for the growth of our self-confidence.

In order to grow our confidence, we need to have reciprocal, authentic relationships. Like Esben, simply meeting the princess does not win her. He must work to gain her love. We must learn how to communicate and connect with others in true intimacy. This must include both giving and receiving positive validation. Start telling people you know and love that they are extraordinary and you’ll find your own confidence growing.

Another step in growing our confidence is envisioning a better future. By using the examples of the courageous who have gone before us, we call on them for inspiration and help. We must cultivate an image of ourselves as being that which we desire to be. We need to read stories of heroes like Esben, because when we do we realize that we are potentially kings. To fulfill our nature we simply have to follow the path of the heroes who have gone before.

This plan for self-cultivation which provides us access to the “free-flowing ch’i” which is the core of our self-confidence, is known in Asian philosophy as “the Way,” or the Dao. When we live in accordance with the way every day, we find our hearts. By living according to our core truths, we will grow in self-confidence until we can overcome any obstacle, face any fear, achieve any goal, and find true fulfillment and happiness. As Esben learned, that which we fear turns out to be the source of our power. When we follow the way, transformation is guaranteed.

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snowhite in the woodsWhen people say, “That’s just a fairy tale!” they mean that what the person believes is a naive illusion, a lie told to the self. But this is the opposite of the truth. Fairy tales succeed because they wear the clothing of simplicity and innocence, when they are in actuality deadly serious. Fairy tales are ironic. In many tales there is a character with a name like “Dummling” who turns out to be the hero. The stories themselves wear the guise of such foolishness. They do this because telling the truth can be dangerous. The only member of court who could speak truth to the king was the jester, the fool. As George Bernard Shaw said, if you are going to tell the truth, you better make it a joke.

Rather than being shallow fantasies to entertain the kiddies, fairy tales describe the human process of development in all of its mystery. They tell us the harsh facts of our beginnings, how we come to find ourselves in trouble in our lives, and they provide the only viable way out of life’s dilemmas.

They reveal their message in symbolic form because the conscious mind resists and rejects what it cannot easily incorporate. They speak to what every child knows in his heart, but all are afraid to say. As grown ups, we have all too often forgotten these realities, and we dare not admit them now. We have relegated this knowledge to a hidden place, the place where our heart resides beyond our access.

Fairy tales address our deepest existential challenges. They aim to answer the question of how to have, as philosopher Paul Tillich calls it, the courage to be. How do we live fully in the face of the threat of non-existence, insignificance, and moral failure? As Bruno Bettleheim said in his classic book on fairy tales, The Uses of Enchantment,

“The fairy tale takes (our) existential anxieties and dilemmas very seriously and addresses itself directly to them: the need to be loved and the fear that one is thought worthless; the love of life and the fear of death.”

Fairy tales address the problems of human life and relationship. The stories tell us that we are all wounded in the core of our being. The result of this woundedness is that we are all distanced from living out what Aristotle called our entelechy, that which we are meant to be. This is what it means to have a lost heart. The stories tell us how we came to be wounded in the first place and how this has led to a loss of connection to our essential selves. They remind us of what we have lost and how to find our hearts and bring our essential nature back out into the light again.

How have we become so wounded? The psychological pioneers Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung tell us that fairy stories reveal the truth about our inner lives. What these pioneers on the quest for the secrets of human nature could barely admit to themselves was that they also revealed the truth about our outer lives and our most important relationships. They reveal the archetypal patterns of the struggle between generations, between parents and children, that has plagued humanity and been repeated over and over back to the murky recesses of our most distant past.

Freud would have us believe that the story of Oedipus is all about the fantasy of the child wanting to kill the father and bed the mom. But Freud leaves out the essential beginning of the tale. The story starts as all the hero myths do. The father is threatened by the birth of the child, because there is a prophecy that the appearance of the prince means the end of the king. So threatened, the king does all he can to rid himself of the threat by having the boy killed.

The dangerous truth that fairy tales reveal is that our beginnings are fraught with peril and danger, and almost always at the hand of a parent. In Beauty and the Beast, Beauty’s father gives his daughter away to a beast to save his own skin; Hansel and Gretel are sent into the forest to starve; Cat-Skin’s father aims to marry his own daughter; Cinderella lives a life of ignominy and shame at the hand of her stepmother; the examples go on and on.

In contrast to our sentimental beliefs, the relationship between parent and child is not made up exclusively of love. Instead, parents, on a level far below their awareness, and influenced by the depth of their own woundedness, are fundamentally threatened by their children. The prophecy that each oracle reveals in the myths is that the appearance of the child means that the wheel of time is turning. It is only a matter of a few cosmic instants before the parent loses his or her beauty and power and succumbs to death, and the child achieves dominion over the realm. The appearance of the child foretells the parent’s doom.

The tales tell us that this is the natural flow of life. Unfortunately, most grown ups have a hard time accepting this reality. To the extent that we cannot accept this, we are out of harmony with what the Chinese Sage Mencius called the Heavenly Mandate. When we live in harmony with this mandate and accept the natural flow of life, we make way for the next generation wholly and completely and all is right in the world. When we resist against this flow then our hidden aggression against our children comes out in various ways and we cause harm. If we do not accept our own death, then the next generation does not have their turn to advance the human experiment. We hurt our children, and the result is that they lose their hearts.

Part Two will appear tomorrow.

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