Alan Watts, the great philosopher and writer said, “ A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thought. So he loses touch with reality and lives in a world of illusions.
By thoughts I mean specifically chatter in the skull. It is a perpetual and compulsive repetition of words… of reckoning and calculating. I’m not saying that thinking is bad. Like everything else it’s useful in moderation”.
When we face a world that is chaotic and lacks sense and meaning, our ideas about the world mirror them. “We confuse signs, symbols and ideas with the real world.”
I met a man this week that has spent his life in and out of jail. I’ll call him Manny. Manny was one of twenty kids. He learned early in life that life is about survival and attending to your own needs. This selfish attitude leads to problems. One learns the laws of the world and adjusts his thinking to the laws to gain what he needs.
Manny exemplified this perfectly. Born into poverty, his mother was told he needed an operation to repair an irregular heart. She couldn’t afford it and he never had it. He was “too poor to go to school” and his ignorance worked its mischief on him. He didn’t listen or respect his teachers. He was taken from his mother at an early age, so he rebelled against the system. It became habitual for him and a way of life living hand to mouth.
He exercised to help him gain strength in the battle. The survival mechanisms we acquire become the conditioned responses to many of life’s challenges. Manny lived a life of crime. Crime established a context for his morality and survival. He played by his own rules and responded to life on life’s terms. It kept him alive but made life tougher on him. His petty theft soon became armed robbery.
There is a better way. When we respond to life from the level of the problem, we become part of the problem. When we respond above the situation, we rise to a level of awareness that conquers.
I talked with a fifteen-year-old student who told me how he witnessed the death of a person who was shot in McDonalds. Fifteen years old and he was witness to the execution of another person. I don’t believe he’s ever coped with the fact that he witnessed an unnatural act at such a young age.
Watching a person die is traumatic. A child watching a person escape the clutches of life is likely to create post-traumatic stress. How does one move beyond the level of a problem when that person is faced with insane situations of survival?
Another student told me that he doesn’t see himself living to a ripe old age. He shared with me how he was “jumped by eight guys” going to school. It left him cold and cynical about the people and their motives. In his words, he became a “lone wolf”. He can’t trust people. The gang that jumped him was trying to prove their manhood to one another, and he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. It left him cold and bitter, untrusting of other humans.
In the words of Sr. Peg Dolan, RSHM, “It is eighteen inches from the head to the heart and it takes a whole lifetime to get there”.
It is an intriguing idea. We don’t think about the movement of our inner motivations in the long term. We address our needs for the moment and attend to life, putting such inclinations on the back burner.
For some religion is pie in the sky thinking. Love is a foreign idea. It is not something that is realistic or tangible. For some, it is not truly attainable and found in its fullness. Love for some is a lustful fulfillment of an animal need. It is bastardized and corrupted rather than realized and appreciated.
When one has encountered spiritual truths in a profound life changing way, the willingness to test the limits of love is accepted. The role that love plays in fulfilling one’s destiny and living from the heart of love is tested. When that person is witness to the grace of God through the challenge, he understands the world in a new way.
Miracles abound, as one is witness to grace. The mind is in concert with the heart and there is a willingness to live life from the heart and pursue life with heart.
In Manny’s case, he hadn’t considered a life of love until now. He’s sixty-seven years old. For the first time in his life, he encountered the presence of love. It’s now shaping his life. It came in the place of Joseph’s Home, a place for poor people and homeless men to rehab in community.
As he shared his story with my students, he oozed a revelation that has changed his life. The room fell silent as his conviction resonated in a small dining area where we sat. A man with an eighth grade education sounded like Martin Luther King, Jr. as he profoundly stated that love has the power to heal all ills – “no ifs, ands or buts”, no doubt! Our acceptance of love as a tool for personal change is real.
Manny broke down and expressed that for the first time in his life, he saw that people really cared for him and loved him unconditionally. For the first time in his life, he is operating on the premise that love will save him. He has seen that it has.
I once asked him what his gifts in life were. He responded that no one has ever asked him that before. As I left that room, I told him his gift is in teaching. Teachers teach from the midsection of head and heart, but the great ones lead from the heart.
Manny’s moved from living in the head of survival to living in the heart of survival with the full knowledge that he is cared for. He wants to give back and share this with others. What a powerful expression of living from the heart. What a powerful movement from head to heart.