Finding the kind heart forms the foundation of spirituality and is a journey that must include both the path of love and the path of power for it to be effective and balanced.
IHAVE MET MANY spiritual people. And I have met many kind-hearted people. And the spiritual have not necessarily been kind-hearted; and the kind-hearted have not necessarily been spiritual. Of course, there are many spiritual people who are kind-hearted, and inspirationally so, but the two categories — spirituality and kind-heartedness — are not synonymous. I am not sure why I ever believed they were except to admit that it is a widespread misconception.
Or perhaps it is because spiritual people can be so very nice, saying the right things in the right places, soothing us in a world that so often cuts us with its harshness. Who wouldn't prefer the company of a nice person than a horrible one! But niceness is not the same as kind-heartedness, for niceness can have motivations that have little to do with the heart, motivations that are difficult to discern because they are usually hidden or unconscious.
There are two main facets to spirituality: The first is the path of the heart; the second is the path of power (the realization how our thoughts and emotions colour our experience, forming our reality). To be balanced spiritually, we must follow both paths. If we ignore the path of power and opt only for the heart, then the personal issues we have not faced and our abdication of responsibility for the reality we create ends up distorting and blocking our connection to others, so that we become more of a hindrance than a help. And if we opt predominantly for the path of power and ignore the heart, then we misunderstand the unity of being by wallowing in an inflated concept of individuality, and this separateness stunts our spiritual growth because the heart is not challenged to open.
The path of the heart is the path of spontaneously feeling what we feel, and is often associated with unconditional love. But love, as we commonly know it to be, is not the exclusive expression of the heart, for the heart is the seat of many deep and subtle feelings.
The path of power is the path of responsibility. When we realize that our thoughts and emotions create the reality we experience then we learn responsibility not only for our physical actions but also for the consequences of our mental and emotional environments. The path of power can be thought in terms of the path of being conscious of how our different layers — world, body, emotions, mind, feelings, spirit — all interact with each other.
Let me give you an example of someone who focuses primarily on the path of the heart at the expense of the path of power. I have a friend who I will call Suzi who is a kind and loving healer, always going out her way to help others. Indeed, Suzi wants to heal the whole world and insists that everything is happy and "fluffy", despite the fact that her life has been marred by a string of personal tragedies of one kind or another, and that partners and friends often seem to end up betraying her. Her own health has suffered considerably over the past few years and she is at her wits end to make ends meet financially.
Ask Suzi why her life is so far from ideal and she will tell you that despite all the "sacrifices" she has made and continues to make for others, people just keep taking advantage of her. She is the way she is because of the action of others. It never occurs to her that her mind and emotions might be creating these negative experiences, and that therefore she is the one that has instigated them. But this is not a responsibility that she is willing to accept (yet) because she is addicted to playing the victim role, seeing herself as the good person sorely abused by a world that does not deserve her.
Paradoxically, even though Suzi is on the path of the heart, the issues she avoids taking responsibility for are start to have a life of their own (what we deny tends to do this), sabotaging her loving ways so that she can end up being quite unloving — with justification of course! In fact, Suzi will actually become enraged if you so much as hint that she might have a role to play in the terrible tragedies that seem to "happen" to her.
As a result of refusing to acknowledge the path of power — that thoughts are creative and that all healing is ultimately self-healing of mind and emotions — Suzi's perception of the healing she does for others is that SHE is the agent of healing, not her clients themselves. After all, if we cannot acknowledge our own power to manufacture our reality then we cannot acknowledge it in another. She may get good immediate results, but from a longer-term perspective, her approach is one of disempowerment — you could say that she is attempting to take on the karma of her patients, which is perhaps why she is so unwell herself.
There are many "kind-hearted" individuals like Suzi who follow spiritual gurus and teachers around the world, unthinkingly opening their hearts without any degree of discernment so that they can be of service to the divine manifestation within their teacher. And whilst they certainly seem very loving, their abdication of responsibility to their own divinity and their self-subjugation to the reality of their teacher means that they are not serving the divine manifestation that is closest at hand within their own being. And the degree to which we refuse to trust our own inner spontaneous feelings and impulses is the degree to which authenticity is blocked, and that includes the authenticity of our loving kindness.
[External gurus and teachers can be instructional, but only if they are wise enough to lead their students to finding the guru or teacher within themselves. That is true spiritual instruction — everything else is fraud and egotism — and there is a lot of that about!]
Unconditional love is not a goal but a destination we naturally arrive at when we take care of our personal issues. For unless we do take responsibility for our inner environments, our love is conditional because we have unconscious agendas we have never dealt with.
Stephen, in contrast to Suzi, is a New Ager par excellence who diligently takes responsibility for the reality that he creates. He is an adept at the path of power and loves films like What The Bleep and The Secret. But Stephen has not balanced that path of power with the path of love and service, believing instead that people should help themselves. After all, he reasons, if all of us are 100% responsible for the reality that we create then reaching out to help another is not in their best interest.
Whilst this makes logical sense to the mind, this is illogical to the heart which simply seeks connection because of its resonance to oneness. Another person's suffering IS our suffering, and the heart reaches out to touch that suffering in another, to try to share some of the burden. And so my friend Stephen's heart is firmly closed because he is caught in the ideology of the path of power — reality creation — and as a result of this disconnection he compensates with more and more conceptual love, which in turn separates him even more from his heart feelings, and he becomes increasingly inauthentic in the process. As a result of this, Stephen finds life increasingly throws him googlies and curve balls, which only spurs him on to try harder to control his thoughts by conceptualizing further. The net result is that Stephen is so focused on reality creation that he does not have the heart to do it proficiently, and he often feels lonely and cut off from humanity.
Without service to others we cannot open the heart; and without realizing our creative role in the reality that we experience, we cannot realize our complicity in the world's suffering. Suzi and Stephen are both examples of individuals who have not found balance in their spiritual expression, and as a result, they have thwarted their own spiritual growths. Both are well-meaning and believe themselves to be spiritual and kind individuals, but both are adding to the suffering in the world by their unbalanced approach to their deeper spiritual lives.
And it is the same with the vast majority of people in spiritual circles today: most have an unbalanced bias for one path at the expense of the other, and as a result, most are spiritually unfolding below their potential. (This is perhaps why the proverbial "enlightenment" seems so remote even to dedicated spiritual seekers.)
[Established religion, by contrast to New Age or modern spirituality, generally offers neither the path of the heart nor the path of power, for most religions are about control rather than spiritual development. You could say that the spirituality in established religion is incidental.]
How can we tell the difference between niceness and loving-kindness? The heart and the guts are the organs of perception for authenticity. (Heads are notoriously bad at this sort of discernment.) But most of us are so fixated on head-awareness that it takes time before we realize that what is in front of us is merely a person being nice, not a person expressing genuine loving-kindness. We need to lose our mental idealisation or conceptualisation of someone before we allow ourselves to drop into our subtle feelings so that we can really grok them. (This is not the same as dropping into strong emotions like anger or passion.)
But because we love conditionally — almost all of us have unresolved personal issues which block unconditional love — even our true organs of perception, our hearts and our guts, are somewhat clouded and distorted. This is how unresolved "personal stuff", caused by avoiding the path of power can prevent us being successful even at the path of the heart on which we are focused.
There is a lot of talk about "love" in spiritual circles from individuals who merely conceptualize it, so that the concept of love forms the foundation of a spiritual "head" philosophy. But loving kindness is not something we can learn through the head, and if we try, it can be counterproductive, plunging us further into conceptualization. To learn the ways of the heart we need to be around someone with an open heart, or around Nature whose heart is always open anyway.
And when you find someone who is authentically open-hearted, their "spiritual" credentials become irrelevant. In fact, their open-heartedness to begin with is far more likely a consequence of the trails and tribulations of life than the fruits of "spiritual practice". Perhaps it comes down to our openness to feel fully in every situation that life throws at us, to feel the joy at the birth of a child as well as the pain at the loss of a close friend or family member. And in feeling fully without trying to protect ourselves with conceptualisation is one of the most challenging things we can do. There is nothing nice about it: it can be downright messy, like digging down into the mud without the protection of gloves.
In the West we are absurdly formulaic. We want instructions on developing open-heartedness without realizing that the very act of following instructions separates us further from our feelings. And so much of modern life is set up to insulate the heart from feeling deeply. Why? Because modern society is insane, and for us to integrate in it as best we can, we need to cut ourselves off from many of our feelings.
How is our society insane? Society conspires against the kind heart, pitting each of us against the other so that we compete for material possessions, gaining our sense of esteem primarily from the size of our bank balance and our level of media exposure — the proverbial "fame and fortune". Kindness damages profits, and profits are central to capitalistic systems. Without some degree of fragmentation, capitalistic systems just don't work.
To integrate into such an insane system we have to be, by necessity, cut off from our feelings, insulated from the outrage that is a normal and healthy response to an inhuman social setting.
To open our hearts in such an environment is not just about being loving to others: it is about feeling the insanity of our actions, feeling the insanity of our governments, feeling the insanity of our values and feeling the insanity of our goals. It is about opening up to our contribution, both individually and collectively, to the pain of the world, and in this way it has as much political ramifications as it does "spiritual" ones. When we find the kind heart we end up climbing down from our spiritual pedestals and become political dissidents; we can no longer allow the insanity to continue.
I wish people today would forget about the world "spiritual" and try to focus more on finding the kind heart. Being more loving seems so much less attractive to most then being more enlightened, or developing some psychic, mystical or healing power. (Most of the healers that I have met have been the ones who needed the most healing!)
What about the spiritual belief that we should just accept everything the way it is and not try to change things? Whether we like it or not, our thoughts are linked with our reality — we are embedded and intertwined with All-That-Is. If there is discord and suffering in the world, we are playing a part in that. And if for peace of mind we would rather abdicate our responsibility to the fruits of our inner environment, then we are complicit in the suffering of the world.
A kind heart must be balanced with responsibility — the path of the heart must include the path of power — otherwise our personal issues and inner environment will scupper our service to others and add to our collective suffering. When we get the balance right, OUR world is transformed. And when enough of us get the balance right, THE world is transformed.