Dec 28, 2022 | Virtues of the Heart

Understanding has depth and levels when applied to information and knowledge. In turn, the conclusions drawn from each level of understanding are relative truths. Truth is absolute relative to its own level, but ever-changing as new knowledge and new understanding create truth that is more accurate relative to the previous “truth” or conclusion. The question is, “What drives the desire to seek more accurate information and knowledge?” This, I believe, is the heart or soul.
–John Berges, The When, Which, How Practice, pg. 118

When we think of understanding, we normally think of the mind. How we understand mathematics, for example, or how we understand how to drive a car. Understanding implies knowledge through experience, learning, or doing.

Understanding as a heart virtue is more about listening intuitively, sensing, feeling, and becoming aware of how people feel and how that drives behavior. It’s about our relationship with the whole, where we move from fragmented thinking to view a larger picture and how understanding that impacts our lives on every level.

Here are a couple of simple examples:

I had a conversation with a friend who harshly criticized her grandson for not wanting anything to do with his father (my friend’s son). The relationship deteriorated over the years, and they didn’t interact much.

She said the grandson was insensitive and cruel, and she could not understand why he treated his father like that.

I asked her if she could imagine what it was like when her grandson used to have his father over to visit at extended family gatherings. As we both knew, his father was a heavy drinker and would often get out of hand at these gatherings, thus becoming uncontrollable and an embarrassment to his son and other guests. He loved his father, but his father’s drinking and subsequent behavior were too painful and disruptive.

The father chose not to change, so his son chose not to invite him over to family gatherings.

I asked my friend if she could imagine how she would feel in that situation. My friend was silent and then said, “I never thought about it that way.”

She continued, “Yes, I understand how that must have been very hard.” It pained her to acknowledge that, but she knew that it was true. Understanding more of the picture gave her clarity. It was still painful, but her judgments and anger shifted to compassion and forgiveness.

Understanding what drives someone (how they feel) presents a more complete picture. This is the way of the heart, to sense, to feel, and to have the willingness (courage) to step in the shoes of another. Doing this makes us aware of our judgments, criticism, and knee-jerk emotional reactions. Just noticing this pattern is a big step and opens up space to allow more heart intelligence to come in.

I have another friend who likes to talk about God and takes pride in saying he is an atheist. He wishes he could believe in something, but he wants proof. He has built a framework of understanding around the subject of God, including science not being able to prove there is a God. He also sees all the cruel and horrible things in the world as evidence that there can be no God because God would not allow this.

His position of understanding is based on knowledge he has gathered, evaluated, and concluded to be true. He thinks the brain is the source of life and that everything comes from there. He believes that we are humans and nothing more, with a short life span, and we are a product of evolution with no higher purpose. He is a good man, ethical, kind, intelligent, and loves his family. He is curious to learn more, but only that which supports his beliefs.

He asked me to prove there is a God or show me a book that makes a good case for God. I recommend some spiritual books that I had high regard for that were very intelligent and presented a case that there is more to humans than meets the eye. I encouraged him to allow his imagination to take in something new.

He was not moved because they all relied upon, as he would say, “faith,” which in his mind was not science and, therefore, not relevant, not proof.

He could not allow himself to feel or sense or listen to his intuitive voice as a credible resource of insight. He was stuck in a position or framework of fixed information that became the means by which he processed his understanding and subsequently lived his life.

He would ask me, “Do you believe in God?”

I would say, “I don’t say I believe or disbelieve; I am open to contemplating the idea.” Belief and disbelief put me in a box either way. Not putting myself in a box allows me to be open to the idea that there is something that I don’t know and that maybe someday I will understand. I can also pursue the subject from multiple sources as I continue expanding my consciousness.

I don’t want to be locked into a position where I think I know all there is to know on a subject and live my life in that box. My thoughts and emotions can limit me or serve me. If I am the artist of my life, my thoughts and feelings are the brushes and colors available to me in which I am able to be more creative in painting a richer, more vibrant canvas of life.

Understanding how thoughts and emotions can limit our life experiences is freeing and empowering. It promotes creativity and inspirational activity.

It is about moving from head to heart. That is the very essence of practicing the heart virtues.

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