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Posts Tagged ‘hearticulture’

Digging Deeper

I needed to explore the implications of the hearth dream more deeply.

The progression up to the understanding explained in the last post and beyond is intriguing.

When I first had the revelation that the fuel was a pun on my name in its shortened form, I took a narrow view of what it meant. The name my parents gave me was ‘Peter’ with all the associations of rock. When I first began to work on the idea of ‘peat,’ I felt that the dream was saying that I should draw on the essence of who I was, not the persona my upbringing had fabricated in me after the image of my silent and stoical father, hiding his undoubted love behind a wall of reserve.

Then, pushing it somewhat further, the idea of burning Pete came to mind, which suggested the idea of self-sacrifice. But increasingly, as time went on, an even deeper meaning, complementary not contradictory, began to come through: perhaps ‘peat’ was not ‘me’ but came from something outside me and far richer and much more substantial. The earth became a symbol for the realm of spirit and peat came to represent the power that could flow from that realm into my being to give me the strength, energy and wisdom to do far more, far more effectively than I could ever do by any other means.

Even this leap of understanding didn’t get me to where I am now.

Even more bizarrely a post I republished in October this year after a three year gap didn’t quite clinch the matter, even though it reads as though it did. It’s about hearticulture. I wrote:

I know that the term ‘hearticulture’ could still be seen as one-sided. I’m the gardener and you’re the garden. But in terms of the Bahá’í perspective that would be missing a crucial point: I need to tend my heart, you need to tend yours and we can both help each other in this process. We both can help each other develop a growth mindset, to borrow Carol Dweck’s terminology.

Once we begin to see what this means, every interaction with another human being, or even with an animal, insect or plant, becomes an opportunity to facilitate our growth and the growth of the being with whom we are interacting. And, what’s just as or even more important, they can facilitate ours.

That heart is an anagram of earth just makes the metaphor even more appealing. I have come to realize that hearticulture is my true passion. Everything I do is influenced, perhaps even entirely reducible, to that purpose. I want to understand myself and others better, that’s true, but not just for its own sake, but for the purpose of growth. And if our hearts grow, so will the earth as a whole benefit. When our hearts shrink, the world dies a little. If all our hearts should shrivel completely, the world as we know it would be utterly destroyed. We would wreak such havoc that Hiroshima and Nagasaki would be utterly dwarfed by the consequences.

Basically, I have to learn how to expand my heartfelt sense of connectedness so that it embraces the whole earth. I believe that’s what we all need to learn. I want to learn it too, and as fast as I can, but I have discovered over the years that the metaphor of gardening applies here also in a way. I cannot grow faster than the laws of nature and the limitations of my own being allow. To paraphrase a Bahá’í pamphlet on making the equality of men and women a reality, hearticulture will also take love, patience and the passage of frustratingly long spans of time.

What hadn’t I yet understood?

As I’d reaffirmed in my small portable notebook slightly earlier, hearticulture is my ‘passion.’ The insight I got at that moment, after my morning’s meditation, seemed a critical completion of this decades’ long process.

I realized that my central interests, including poetry, psychology, spirituality, culture, meditation, blogging, deep conversations, reading, writing, reflection, consultation amongst many other things, are all only tools for this purpose not ends in themselves. I don’t write poetry for poetry’s sake and the same is true for all the others in the list. It suddenly became as plain as a pikestaff that if anything I am doing contributes in some way to the nurturing of a heart including mine, it qualifies: if it doesn’t contribute in that way, it doesn’t qualify, no matter how reflectively I deceive myself into thinking I’m doing it.

When I wrote the original post I saw hearticulture as just one among my various passions, perhaps even my most important passion. But that was not enough. I had not really understood what my heart meant when it influenced me to write ‘Everything I do is influenced by, perhaps even entirely reducible, to that purpose.’

I’ve always known that I do not really understand all that my best poems mean when I write them, but I fooled myself into thinking my prose was another matter. There’d be no hidden messages from my heart in the text. I couldn’t have been more wrong in this instance. Reading it now I suspect many of my readers will have understood that post better then I did myself as its writer.

Right now hearticulture is looking like the organising principle, not just the main focus of the rest of my life. I hope I am managing to convey that this is a major leap of understanding on my part. It is going to affect my understanding of how I should live my life as a Bahá’í as well as how to deal with situations where I feel at odds with the people around me. In fact, the core of my understanding of a central aspect of Bahá’í spirituality adds up to exactly this.

This probably needs a bit of unpacking.

To the casual observer it may seem odd that I am fretting over my calling when it should be obvious I already have one. I’m a Bahá’í. What more do I want to know, for heaven’s sake?

I only wish it could be as simple as that.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of ways of serving the Faith. No one can do them all. Everyone has to choose. It is that choice that concerns me. Each human being, I feel, is called upon to contribute something special to the progress of the world of humanity and to do so in ways that utilize all their special gifts and capacities. Also, when what I am doing seems to be useful but bears little relationship at all to the Faith I believe in, how should I judge whether to continue doing it and in what way.

The Faith I follow has shaped the way I feel I should do whatever I do. It does not dictate to me how I should respond to all the demands life makes of me, beyond the obvious guidelines about what is right and what is wrong. For example, I had to determine for myself, in the light of my understanding of the Writings of the Bahá’í Faith, how I should work as a psychologist without infringing the ethics of my profession. Now I am retired I have to prioritise what I am doing, not just how I am doing it, given that I am free to choose how I use much of my time.

Gardening the heart is the metaphor, adapted from the references in Bahá’í Writings to planting seeds in the garden of the heart, that enables me to integrate all my practices and preoccupations into one coherent approach to experience, labelled a ‘calling’ in this sequence, and to distinguish what should demand my attention and energy, and what should not. It helps me prioritise. It resolves the problem of apparently competing claims, which the concept of reflection alone could not do. Reflection did not take away the tension and the guilt when I was doing something I felt was important, but which I thought should give precedence to something else, and I lacked any criterion for deciding on the matter conclusively.

I wrote the poem I’ve included above, though not one of my best, to remind me of key aspects of all this.

It’s ironic that with the relief at discovering that hearticulture is my calling (and probably always has been), my blood pressure, which had been a problem for some months, perhaps at least in part as a result of this struggle, almost immediately began to fall. Taking care of my organic heart needs to have its rightful place, it seems, among my new priorities.

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It was sunny but cold as I waited outside All Saints church. I was five minutes early and looking forward to seeing Daisy after such a long time. The last time I bumped into her briefly was at the Courtyard Theatre after a Death Café meeting. She’d come back from her foreign travels but we hadn’t met since as she was still settling back into some kind of routine.

I kept scanning the crowds in High Town but could see no sign of her. I checked my phone to see if I had her mobile number as well as her email, but I didn’t.

After another five minutes I saw a figure in the middle distance in a burgundy coat waving at me. After greeting each other we moved into the All Saints Café. Some people see this as rather like the money lenders in the Temple, but to be honest it’s hard to see how the church could be kept in good repair without some way such as this of raising large sums of money consistently over long periods of time.

It wasn’t busy and we were soon at a quiet table upstairs with our herbal tea and cappuccino.

I was lost in wonder at the places she had visited, especially in the four months she was on her own. She had even dared to go into the jungle some place I can’t remember, and been carried away by the intense beauty of nature in such a setting. She described it as a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ that she was glad she had taken when she had the chance, even though it seemed a bit of a risk beforehand.

When she asked me how things had been for me, the most dramatic development I could think of mentioning was my recent insight into hearticulture as the organising principle of my life from now on. For some reason I didn’t think of mentioning the cruise my wife and I had been on.

The hour we spent together flashed by. I gave her an invite card to our weekly wisdom meetings before I dashed off to walk home and get the car to pick up my wife from work.

As I walked back they started up again in my head.

‘Did you hear all that crap?’ It was Emma Pancake, my inner activist, whinging as usual about anything that might interfere with her incessant urge to be doing something as fast as possible. ‘Hearticulture! It was bad enough when we had the battle over reflection. That was a normal word at least. I’d got some idea what it meant. But he’s even invented his own word for this new fad.’

She sounded really worked up.

‘Calm down, Emmie,’ soothed the meditative Chris Humfreeze. ‘I really think he may be onto something here.’

‘You always take his side with these flaky schemes, Chris. I haven’t got time for all this. The world is going to hell in a hand basket. We’re speeding towards a tipping point with climate change and more species are dying out than when the comet that killed the dinosaurs smashed into us, and you want me to calm down. Grow up for God’s sake!’

‘Don’t bring God into it, Emma,’ Fred Mires, my Dr Psychobabble, chipped in. ‘You don’t really believe in Him – not most of the time, anyway. You’re far too busy to pray. If we want to know what someone really believes, watch what they do.’ He was trying to tease her out of her tantrum but it didn’t work.

‘You can shut up as well, Fred. I may be outnumbered but I won’t be outgunned on this. It’s too important.’

Humfreeze tried to defuse the issue by taking a more reasonable line.

‘What brought this on Emma? You’re usually only this passionate about the equality of women.’

‘The cruise he went on and that stuff he was reading about the earth opened my eyes. I suddenly realised how much as a woman, in this arrogant patriarchy we live in, I have in common with the earth. It patronises and exploits the planet in the same it has done and still does with women. And the potential damage is even worse.’

She was about to take off again into a rant.

I could hear Indie Pindance, who had been rescued from the cloud of oblivion left over from my childhood hospitalisations, murmuring something in the background but no one was listening. She was probably speaking quietly so as not to wake the baby we had exhumed and of which she was the main carer.

William Wordless stepped in.

‘Thanks for sharing that, Emma. I think it would be a good idea if we all stayed calm now and tried to talk about this sensibly. I love nature as much as you do, Emma, as my poems prove, but taking some time to talk this through properly isn’t going to kill many more creatures than we’ve lost already.’

He was sounding tense but managing to stay reasonably calm in the way he spoke. ‘I’m not sure I like this anymore than you do, but I’m not sure I understand it clearly enough yet to be sure.’

‘I agree.’ Pindance made herself heard at last.

I wasn’t pleased to hear Emma at the others’ throats over my insight that hearticulture would be the organising principle of my remaining time and energy in this material world. She clearly didn’t get that this included something important for all of them. I didn’t feel like tackling this as I hurried home. It would have to wait for another time.

* * *

At the wisdom meeting in our place that night there were only four of us there. I hadn’t expected Daisy to come to this so soon after our conversation, so I wasn’t unduly disappointed. The crucial thing was to keep running them every week.

One of the quotations we used included these words: ‘. . . when man does not open his mind and heart to the blessing of the spirit, but turns his soul towards the material side, towards the bodily part of his nature, then is he fallen from his high place.’ This reinforced my desire to win over my parliament of selves to my new plan: as far as I could see it was the best, perhaps the only way of motivating myself to lift my game to the required extent.

After the meeting and before getting ready for bed, I sat in my study and worked on a diagram that captured what hearticulture meant to me in a way that would help me remember and stay focused.

Even while I was doing so I couldn’t help catching fragments of the on-going heated exchange among my parliament of selves.

I remembered how I had felt, five months ago now, when we exhumed my buried neonate self, and I had hoped that my toddler self would be able to mature to the point of joining with the rest of us as we worked at creating a single sense of a unified self that could perhaps become capable, if not of tuning directly into spiritual reality, at least of developing a clearer sense than ever before of the direction that this transcendent reality required me to take for the rest of my remaining days. I felt I had found that clearer sense and what I had to do now was persuade my rabble inside to buy into the plan.

This was not going to be easy. I decided to meditate my way into their conversation. I closed my eyes and tracked my breathing for a short while. I wasn’t deep enough to see them but I could hear what they were saying clearly.

‘We’re going to have to talk to him about this. We need to explain that we’re not happy with yet another change of direction. We haven’t even sorted out what the last upheaval meant.’ Mires was drawing on all his knowledge of conflict management to articulate a way forward they could all agree to.

‘Can I join you for a short while?’ I asked gently.

They couldn’t hear me at first.

‘I’m on board with that,’ chimed Pindance, ‘but I can see that Emma is still chafing at the bit.’

‘Dead right I am. Still, my being furious isn’t going to solve anything. We can only sort this out together, and, though I hate to admit it, we’ll have to involve him as well.’

‘That’s good to hear,’ Humfreeze enthused. ‘I really appreciate that because I know it’s not easy for you.’

Pancake grunted something I couldn’t quite catch.

‘Can I join you for a short while?’ I asked again gently but louder.

‘What’s that you’re scribbling? Not another of your stupid flowcharts, is it?’ Emma barked. She might be on board but she was still rocking the boat.

‘’Fraid so,’ I said, wincing slightly at what might come back at me.

Before she could retort, Wordless took over the reins.

‘Listen, Emma. My poems have as much to lose as your potential projects, and I want to check out whether this new brainwave will make room for what we both need to see happen. If not I’d rather dump it. But a ‘kindly tongue,’ as they say, will attract more positive attention than angry rants and insults, so can we agree to cool down the temperature, and treat each other with a bit more respect.’

After a moment’s silence, Emma relented. ‘I’ll try,’ she said.

‘Do you want me to explain what I’m up to or do you want to ask me questions and share your reservations?’

I could hear the low buzz of ideas being exchanged.

‘We don’t need you to explain the model . . .’ Mires paused trying to find the right words.

‘We just want you to tell us how we all fit into your plan,’ Pindance finished his sentence for him. ‘And how is your plan going to help the tiny child inside you that I’m doing my best to look after without much help from this lot?’

‘Steady on,’ Humfreeze broke in. ‘We all take turns to look after him to give you a break.’

‘Yeh, great. But the sum total of the time you all give is less than half the time I spend with him. How fair is that? He’s getting to the age now where he’s learning to talk and he’s asking loads of questions, most of which I can’t answer. Don’t forget, I was shut out of sight for seven decades, while you lot were watching everything that the hearticulture manufacturer over there was aware of, and learning from it. So, be fair. This is just as important an issue as your poems, Bill, and your projects, Emma. And your meditation, Chris and your psychobabble, Fred, if it comes to that.’

The words sounded angry but she was clearly almost in tears.

I was beginning to feel quite daunted by the complexity of fitting all these apparently competing needs into the framework I was working on. I gave a desperate look at my diagrammatic model in the hope of some inspiration.

‘Pete,’ shouted my wife.

I crashed out of the conversation.

‘Yes, love.’

‘Can you switch off my phone when you come to bed.’

‘Will do.’

In a way I was grateful for the interruption. It might give me some more time to think on it over night. I just hoped I wouldn’t meet them all in my dreams just yet.

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As far as I can see, for just over 20 years I have been given hints of various kinds and have responded with varying degrees of understanding. The picture at the head of this post gives one example. Not till now though do I feel I have reached anything close to a full understanding. By now I mean mid-November 2018, the time of writing, rather than January 2019 when this post has been published.

There was an unexpected insight, which came to me first on the 7th of November last year. While I’d been clamouring, for months before that, for guidance about what I was meant to be doing with the rest of my time in this body, I discovered that my ‘calling’ had been staring me in the face for at least two decades, and I’d been more or less unwittingly following it in part at least for even longer than that – in fact, since at least 1982 if not completely unconsciously moving along the right path since 1976.

I just hadn’t had a name for it and was only aware of it in parts rather like the blind men with the elephant.

As I will explain shortly, even when I found the name for it a couple of years back I still didn’t completely understand what I was talking about.

The Dream 

A rag rug

My hearth dream was probably the first prompt I received. Readers of my blog will be familiar with this but in case not here is an abbreviated version of my most recent effort at decoding it more fully.

This is the dream: ‘I am sitting on a rag rug, the kind where you drag bits of cloth through a coarse fabric backing to build up a warm thick rug.  The rags used in this case were all dark browns, greys and blacks. It is the rug, made by my spinster aunt, that was in the family home where I grew up. I’m in the living room, facing the hearth with its chimney breast and its cast-iron grate and what would have been a coal fire burning brightly. I am at the left hand corner of the rug furthest from the fire. To my right are one or two other people, probably Bahá’ís, but I’m not sure who they are. We are praying. I am chewing gum. I suddenly realise that Bahá’u’lláh is behind my left shoulder. I absolutely know it. I am devastated to be ‘caught’ chewing gum during prayers but can see no way of getting rid of the gum unobserved.’

I want, for present purposes, to focus on what for me has become the core of the dream’s meaning, a meaning which is still evolving even though this dream is now more than 20 years old – still in adolescence really so there’s probably more to come.

Taking the imagery first, the image of the hearth is richly significant. The word ‘hearth’ is comprised of several other key words: ‘ear,’ ‘hear,’ ‘earth,’ ‘art’ and most powerful of all ‘heart.’ All of these words were separately of huge significance for me though I had some sense of how they might all fit together. I’ll skate over all but the heart for now.

This only got me so far though. I needed some other way of decoding the full import of the dream.

When we are doing dreamwork, we need to remember how each dream element is part of the dreamer and we can unlock the meaning of the symbolism not only by tracking our associations with it, but also by pretending to be the element in the dream and speaking as though we were it.

The result in the case of the fuel burning in the hearth was dramatic. I had been really struggling to make sense of this part of the dream. What had a coal fire got to do with my situation, except as a memory of childhood with relatively little relevance? I decided I needed to sit right in front of the hearth of the house I was living in at the time and speak as the fuel itself.

The Fuel: I am peat. You dig me from the earth and I burn. You feed me to the flowers and they grow.

Need I go any further really with what I said? The pun on my name is enough, really. That first moment contains the key to unlocking a whole treasure chest of meanings.

On the 26th April 2003, at least five years after beginning to work on the dream, I wrote in my journal, trying to summarise some of my insights:

I’m part poet/writer, part psychologist, part educator, (both subsumed by the term mind-wright) – the words wright and writer catch one part of my essence – my tools are words by and large – mind does not quite catch the other part – soul is too grand and beyond my competence – the nearest I can get is being a wordsmith and a heartwright. The word heart helps because it includes in itself the words art and (h)ear, an essential combination of skills or qualities entailed in heartwork. It leads back to my concept of heart-to-heart resuscitation. Hearts have to connect. That it also links with my archetypal dream of the hearth, where the fire of spirit burns to give warmth to the mansion of being, makes it all the more powerful a word to use in this context. The essence of my being – peat – is to fuel this process. An additional thought: 28.04.03 – if you place Heart and Earth overlapping you get Hearth. Each is also an anagram of the other. In the Bahá’í Writings the heart is often spoken of as a garden and of having soil. Also I have prayed for God to ignite within my breast the fire of His love and Bahá’u’lláh refers to the ‘candle” of our heart. Hearth eloquently combines these notions of the heart as a garden and as a container of fire. What does this mean in practice?

At this point, while I was aware that being a poet or a psychologist etc failed to capture the whole story, I had no real idea what the whole story might turn out to be.

At one point, I tried to capture the essence of all this in a poem, meant really for my own consumption, but it might be worth sharing here:

From my heart’s earth,
peat, my hearth’s fuel,
yearns to give warmth
to the chilled soul.

Even so the penny that dropped in November remained suspended in the air at that point. More about the penny’s descent on Thursday.

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