When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it’s bottomless, that it doesn’t have any resolution, that this heart is huge, vast and limitless…
~Start Where You Are, Pema Chödrön
“Let me light my lamp”, says the star, “And never debate if it will help to remove the darkness.”
It was late at night when my son and I were driving home from an evening concert in Brattleboro. “See that bright star above us, Mom?” he said from the back seat. “What you’re actually seeing is actually the past. That star may already be dead. In fact, if you were able to view the Earth from that star, you’d see the dinosaurs.”
“What?” I said, frustrated that he expected me to look up at the sky while I’m driving; and wondering what they’re teaching in fifth grade these days, and if it might be true, and what that says about time, and how that might connect with what I was hearing from my heart these past weeks.
I’d suffered a deep loss of innocence recently, but it was the pain of the past that my heart wanted to talk about–speaking to each of its deepest hurts throughout my life. As it told its story, it heated up my chest until it burned like a hot poker.
Perhaps I had neglected it for too long. Perhaps it really needs me to listen.
“How does the heart speak?” my walking buddy asks me when I share my experience. I tell her that mine spoke in pointed memories; but it also speaks in desire and longing; and in an expanded connection to the world around me.
As we climb MacArthur Rd, I recall a book, Hands of Life by Julie Motz. Though I read it years ago, what I remember so clearly is that this author, an energetic healer, accompanied patients into surgery in a big city hospital. One man in particular rejected his organ transplant, and Julie was able to shift his body’s response with this one insight:
The new heart wants to tell its story.
With Julie’s help, the man listened; and much to the surgical staff’s surprise, his body and his new heart received one and other.
Recalling this story led me to wonder if the heart was like a fiery star–connecting us to the past while shedding light on the present; which brought to mind my favorite fable about listening to the heart: The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo. In this richly-textured narrative, a young man crosses the desert in search of his destiny:
They crossed the desert for another two days in silence. …As they moved along, the boy tried to listen to his heart.
It was not easy to do; in earlier times, his heart had always been ready to tell its story, but lately that wasn’t true. There had been times when his heart spent hours telling of his sadness, and at other times it became so emotional over the desert sunrise that the boy had to hide his tears. His heart beat faster when it spoke to the boy of treasure and more slowly when the boy stared entranced at the endless horizons of the desert. But his heart was never quiet, even when the boy and the alchemist had fallen into silence.
“Why do we have to listen to our hearts?” the boy asked…
“Because, wherever your heart is, that is where you’ll find your treasure.”
“But my heart is agitated,” the boy said. “It has its dreams, it gets emotional, and it’s become passionate over a woman of the desert. It asks things of me, and it keeps me from sleeping many nights, when I’m thinking about her.”
“Well, that’s good. Your heart is alive. Keep listening to what it has to say.”
“…My heart is a traitor,” the boy said. “It doesn’t want me to go on.”
“That makes sense,” the alchemist answered. “Naturally it’s afraid that, in pursuing your dream, you might lose everything you’ve won.”
“Well, then, why should I listen to my heart?”
“Because you will never again be able to keep it quiet. Even if you pretend not to have heard what it tells you, it will always be there inside you, repeating to you what you’re thinking about life and about the world.”
“You mean I should listen, even if it’s treasonous?”
“Treason is a blow that comes unexpectedly. If you know your heart well, it will never be able to do that to you…”
The boy continued to listen to his heart as they crossed the desert. He came to understand its dodges and tricks, and to accept it as it was… One afternoon, his heart told him that it was happy:
“Even though I complain sometimes,” it said, “it’s because I’m the heart of a person, and people’s hearts are that way. People are afraid to pursue their most important dreams, because they feel that they don’t deserve them, or that they’ll be unable to achieve them…”
“My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer,” the boy told the alchemist one night as they looked up at the moonless sky.
“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”
“Every second of the search is an encounter with God,” the boy told his heart.. (And) his heart was quiet for an entire afternoon.
That night, the boy slept deeply, and, when he awoke, his heart began to tell him things that came from the Soul of the World. It said that all people who are happy have God within them. And that happiness could be found in a grain of sand from the desert, as the alchemist had said. Because a grain of sand is a moment of creation, and the universe has taken millions of years to create it…
Perhaps the sand and the stars and our hearts (and even our sons) are in one big conspiracy to help us listen.