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Posts Tagged ‘temperament’

Heart to heart

Humanity’s crying need . . . . . calls, rather, for a fundamental change of consciousness, for a wholehearted embrace of Bahá’u’lláh’s teaching that the time has come when each human being on earth must learn to accept responsibility for the welfare of the entire human family.

(From a message of the Universal House of Justice to all those gathered on Mount Carmel to mark the completion of the project there on 24th May 2001)

This seems worth republishing at this point, given its relevance to nature as an issue in the current sequence.

I had a recent deep discussion with an old friend (of course, I mean old in the sense of ‘known a long time.’) We are close in many ways. We share a similar sense of humour and many core values. However, we are hugely different in our interests – hers practical, mine theoretical – and temperament – she, extravert: me, introvert.

She was completely unable to understand how I could combine a deep love of nature with a completely passive attitude to gardening.

I gave into the temptation to react, which generally involves treading on dangerous ground and attempted to point out that she similarly fails to understand why I spend so much time and energy reading and writing, even though she values some of the ideas that come out of all that effort.

I referred to her passion as horticulture. It’s then that the concept of ‘hearticulture’ came to me in a flash, as a good way of contrasting our intense enthusiasms.

This idea has had a long gestation period though.

First of all there was the slogan used many years ago in the Bahá’í community ‘Uniting the World: one heart at a time’ with the logo that accompanied it (see picture at the head of this post). I used to joke that this meant we were involved in heart-to-heart resuscitation.

Then there was the idea of ‘psy-culturalist’ which I coined in my discussion of my approach to mind-work, more specifically working with those who were experiencing distressing and abusive voices and the delusions that sometimes accompanied them. I wrote:

Because, to do mind-work, I drew on lots of other disciplines and traditions, including philosophy, psychology, biology, religion (especially Buddhism and the Bahá’í Faith) and the arts, I could sometimes feel like giving myself a fancy title such as psy-culturalist. This captures the richness of the traditions I could draw on and also captures the essential purpose of mind-work which is growth. It also meant I didn’t have to label myself a psychologist with its one-sided implication that I study the mind but don’t work with it, nor did I have to call myself a Clinical Psychologist with its implications of illness and therapy, which are insulting to the client.

Psy-culturalist, as a term, has a similar problem to Clinical Psychology. If we think about gardening, it’s a one-way street. Plants, as a general rule, don’t grow people. Mind-work, though, is both reciprocal and reflexive. I grow you and you grow me and we grow ourselves as well!

Flowers near the Shrine

Flowers near the Shrine of the Báb

Thirdly, there was all my pondering on the issue of the ‘understanding heart.’ In that process I attempted to unpack some of the implications of a key image in the Bahá’í Writings: the heart as a garden. I wrote:

The garden image implies that many of the processes that promote spiritual development have a far slower pace than either light or fire would suggest. The image is also powerfully suggestive of how the processes of spiritual growth are an interaction between what we do and what is accomplished by infinitely greater powers that work invisibly on the garden of the heart over long periods of time. It takes only a few seconds to plant a seed, it takes some degree of patience then to nurture and protect it, but by far the greater determinants of what happens in the end come from the soil, the weather and the sun.

When, for example, I read a passage of Scripture I am sowing seeds. When I perform acts of kindness as a result I water that seed. My heart’s garden then benefits with flowers and fruit because of the rich nutrients of the spiritual soil and the energising power of the divine sun. By analogy, these fruits yield further seeds that I can plant if I have the wisdom and caring to do so, and my heart will benefit even further.

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.

But that is not a reason not to persist in the attempt.

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Cliff

Cliff

Wordsworth turned from the great hills
of the north to the precipice
of his own mind, and let himself
down for the poetry stranded
on the bare ledges.

(R. S. Thomas: Later Poems – page 99)

In preparation for a couple of posts later this week it seemed a good idea to republish this sequence.

What then?

Last time we looked at various ways in which we could be seen, not as a single unitary self, but as a composite of many selves. If we are such a community of selves – what then?

Bahá’u’lláh exhorts us to (Seven Valleys 34):

. . . . reflect upon the perfection of man’s creation, and that all these planes and states[1] are folded up and hidden away within him.

“Dost thou reckon thyself only a puny form
When within thee the universe is folded?”

Rowan refers to the Buddhist concept of “mutual interpenetration,” (John Rowan, Subpersonalities page 220), and quotes Wilber as saying: “the universe is likened to a net of glittering gems, wherein each Jewel contains the reflections of all other jewels, and its reflection in turn exists in all other gems: one in all, all in one, or unity in diversity, diversity in unity.”

This suggests that the world within us is as manifold, vast and complex as the world outside us. Outside us there is, as it were, a landscape: inside us there is perhaps, to borrow Hopkins’ word, an ‘inscape.’ Rowan spells out certain implications by saying (page 220):

. . . we are back to the idea that the inner world and the outer world have the same laws and the same features and the same structures. The personal and the political are one.

The implications of this, if it is true, or even if it is merely useful, are too vast for this post or perhaps even this blogger to encompass. However, several really do stand out already.

For source of image see link

For source of image see link

Implications

Firstly that which lies within the individual becomes subject to Bahá’u’lláh’s statements that mankind needs to establish unity before other problems can be resolved and that this unity can only be created if we first of all follow His counsels.

Secondly the processes of consultation and compassion should apply with equal force within as without. In practice this might mean allowing different aspects of ourselves to communicate one with another, and ensuring that we respond even to the unprepossessing parts of our selves with loving acceptance. After all, can we expect to bring out the best in an “unsavoury” new acquaintance whom we have just met by cutting him dead and keeping him in Coventry? Why, then, should we expect the beings peopling our inner world to respond well when we treat them badly?

Thirdly, as we are within so will we create our world outside ourselves. Hence the vital importance of Bahá’u’lláh’s exhortation to free ourselves that the whole world might become free.

Fourthly, it strongly suggests that we must stop pigeon-holing others, refrain from either-or thinking and nothing-butism and eschew forcing people to behave in ways that are consistent with our expectations and prejudices. If, within them, they contain multitudes, why should we draw conclusions about them based on only a fraction of their being?

And last of all, as Bahá’ís, it may not be sufficient to deepen only our most immediately accessible selves in the Faith: we need to reach our minorities inside, our despised and outcast ones within, with the loving Message of Bahá’u’lláh, or else there is very little chance that we will reach those the world at large rejects!

Magna Carta (for source of image see link)

Magna Carta (for source of image see link)

The Gallery of Selves

It is perhaps necessary to add that this gallery of selves comprises various levels. The lowest level may correspond to the acquired character, which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá regarded as the potential source of evil and is fragmented by traumatic experience and the need to play different roles in different situations. Such selves are vivid to us but are not perhaps the most vital aspects of our being and may become potential members of the brain-robber gang I described earlier.

Perhaps at a higher level of significance are the selves that pertain to the inherited character: there is strong evidence, for example, that distinct temperaments are morally neutral and discernible in all of us from day one. Jung, who proposed the idea of archetypes such as the Anima and the Animus, also argued for such underlying tendencies as extraversion and introversion; Eysenck contended these also are inherited. Different aspects of our temperament may not always sit easily together.

At the highest level there is the innate character and the innate capacity, which come from God and are all good. This may not be a simple unity either. There are, as I have suggested, many attributes of God, not all of which appear immediately compatible. Also Bahá’u’lláh describes the Godlike in us in different ways at different times. For example, in the Arabic Hidden Word mentioned above, we are to experience Him as “mighty, powerful and self-subsisting” whereas in the Gleanings He refers to the “seas of (His) Loving Kindness”[2] moving within us. We are likely to experience those two aspects of God’s attributes very differently, it seems to me, assuming that any of us reach the point of experiencing them at all!

Nonetheless the higher aspects of what seems likely to be a single variously experienced transcendent self may be the best or only way of rising above or resolving the conflicts between the lower selves (which have to be consciously understood however if they are not to subvert all our efforts at spiritual development). Rowan’s position is (page 206):

(At) the same time, when the person gets in touch with the real self, or the greater self, the question of the subpersonalities becomes less important … They move gradually from being great feudal barons to being colourful banners brought out on appropriate occasions.

The conflicts between aspects of the higher self may well be more apparent than real.

I have skated over many difficulties but have sought to convey as simply as I could a possibly underestimated aspect of our inner reality. If what I have described is true or useful, it will be extremely important to remember for Bahá’u’lláh counsels us in the first Taraz[3] to know ourselves and that within us which leads to loftiness or lowliness.

Perhaps a good place to stop would be the moving words of a clergyman poet:

The best journey to make
is inward. It is the interior that calls

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . For some
it is all darkness; for me, too,
it is dark. But there are hands
there I can take, voices to hear
solider than the echoes without.
And sometimes a strange light
shines, purer than the moon,
casting no shadow, that is
the halo upon the bones
of the pioneers who died for truth.

(Thomas, Later Poems, page 99)

Notes

  1. E.g. the dream.
  2. Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings page 327.
  3. Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets page 35.

Read Full Post »

Heart to heart

Humanity’s crying need . . . . . calls, rather, for a fundamental change of consciousness, for a wholehearted embrace of Bahá’u’lláh’s teaching that the time has come when each human being on earth must learn to accept responsibility for the welfare of the entire human family.

(From a message of the Universal House of Justice to all those gathered on Mount Carmel to mark the completion of the project there on 24th May 2001)

I had a recent deep discussion with an old friend (of course, I mean old in the sense of ‘known a long time.’) We are close in many ways. We share a similar sense of humour and many core values. However, we are hugely different in our interests – hers practical, mine theoretical – and temperament – she, extravert: me, introvert.

She was completely unable to understand how I could combine a deep love of nature with a completely passive attitude to gardening.

I gave into the temptation to react, which generally involves treading on dangerous ground and attempted to point out that she similarly fails to understand why I spend so much time and energy reading and writing, even though she values some of the ideas that come out of all that effort.

I referred to her passion as horticulture. It’s then that the concept of ‘hearticulture’ came to me in a flash, as a good way of contrasting our intense enthusiasms.

This idea has had a long gestation period though.

First of all there was the slogan used many years ago in the Bahá’í community ‘Uniting the World: one heart at a time’ with the logo that accompanied it (see picture at the head of this post). I used to joke that this meant we were involved in heart-to-heart resuscitation.

Then there was the idea of ‘psy-culturalist’ which I coined in my discussion of my approach to mind-work, more specifically working with those who were experiencing distressing and abusive voices and the delusions that sometimes accompanied them. I wrote:

Because, to do mind-work, I drew on lots of other disciplines and traditions, including philosophy, psychology, biology, religion (especially Buddhism and the Bahá’í Faith) and the arts, I could sometimes feel like giving myself a fancy title such as psy-culturalist. This captures the richness of the traditions I could draw on and also captures the essential purpose of mind-work which is growth. It also meant I didn’t have to label myself a psychologist with its one-sided implication that I study the mind but don’t work with it, nor did I have to call myself a Clinical Psychologist with its implications of illness and therapy, which are insulting to the client.

Psy-culturalist, as a term, has a similar problem to Clinical Psychology. If we think about gardening, it’s a one-way street. Plants, as a general rule, don’t grow people. Mind-work, though, is both reciprocal and reflexive. I grow you and you grow me and we grow ourselves as well!

Flowers near the Shrine

Flowers near the Shrine of the Báb

Thirdly, there was all my pondering on the issue of the ‘understanding heart.’ In that process I attempted to unpack some of the implications of a key image in the Bahá’í Writings: the heart as a garden. I wrote:

The garden image implies that many of the processes that promote spiritual development have a far slower pace than either light or fire would suggest. The image is also powerfully suggestive of how the processes of spiritual growth are an interaction between what we do and what is accomplished by infinitely greater powers that work invisibly on the garden of the heart over long periods of time. It takes only a few seconds to plant a seed, it takes some degree of patience then to nurture and protect it, but by far the greater determinants of what happens in the end come from the soil, the weather and the sun.

When, for example, I read a passage of Scripture I am sowing seeds. When I perform acts of kindness as a result I water that seed. My heart’s garden then benefits with flowers and fruit because of the rich nutrients of the spiritual soil and the energising power of the divine sun. By analogy, these fruits yield further seeds that I can plant if I have the wisdom and caring to do so, and my heart will benefit even further.

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.

But that is not a reason not to persist in the attempt.

Read Full Post »

Cliff

Cliff

Wordsworth turned from the great hills
of the north to the precipice
of his own mind, and let himself
down for the poetry stranded
on the bare ledges.

(R. S. Thomas: Later Poems – page 99)

What then?

Last time we looked at various ways in which we could be seen, not as a single unitary self, but as a composite of many selves. If we are such a community of selves – what then?

Bahá’u’lláh exhorts us to (Seven Valleys 34):

. . . . reflect upon the perfection of man’s creation, and that all these planes and states[1] are folded up and hidden away within him.

“Dost thou reckon thyself only a puny form
When within thee the universe is folded?”

Rowan refers to the Buddhist concept of “mutual interpenetration,” (John Rowan, Subpersonalities page 220), and quotes Wilber as saying: “the universe is likened to a net of glittering gems, wherein each Jewel contains the reflections of all other jewels, and its reflection in turn exists in all other gems: one in all, all in one, or unity in diversity, diversity in unity.”

This suggests that the world within us is as manifold, vast and complex as the world outside us. Outside us there is, as it were, a landscape: inside us there is perhaps, to borrow Hopkins’ word, an ‘inscape.’ Rowan spells out certain implications by saying (page 220):

. . . we are back to the idea that the inner world and the outer world have the same laws and the same features and the same structures. The personal and the political are one.

The implications of this, if it is true, or even if it is merely useful, are too vast for this post or perhaps even this blogger to encompass. However, several really do stand out already.

For source of image see link

For source of image see link

Implications

Firstly that which lies within the individual becomes subject to Bahá’u’lláh’s statements that mankind needs to establish unity before other problems can be resolved and that this unity can only be created if we first of all follow His counsels.

Secondly the processes of consultation and compassion should apply with equal force within as without. In practice this might mean allowing different aspects of ourselves to communicate one with another, and ensuring that we respond even to the unprepossessing parts of our selves with loving acceptance. After all, can we expect to bring out the best in an “unsavoury” new acquaintance whom we have just met by cutting him dead and keeping him in Coventry? Why, then, should we expect the beings peopling our inner world to respond well when we treat them badly?

Thirdly, as we are within so will we create our world outside ourselves. Hence the vital importance of Bahá’u’lláh’s exhortation to free ourselves that the whole world might become free.

Fourthly, it strongly suggests that we must stop pigeon-holing others, refrain from either-or thinking and nothing-butism and eschew forcing people to behave in ways that are consistent with our expectations and prejudices. If, within them, they contain multitudes, why should we draw conclusions about them based on only a fraction of their being?

And last of all, as Bahá’ís, it may not be sufficient to deepen only our most immediately accessible selves in the Faith: we need to reach our minorities inside, our despised and outcast ones within, with the loving Message of Bahá’u’lláh, or else there is very little chance that we will reach those the world at large rejects!

Magna Carta (for source of image see link)

Magna Carta (for source of image see link)

The Gallery of Selves

It is perhaps necessary to add that this gallery of selves comprises various levels. The lowest level may correspond to the acquired character, which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá regarded as the potential source of evil and is fragmented by traumatic experience and the need to play different roles in different situations. Such selves are vivid to us but are not perhaps the most vital aspects of our being and may become potential members of the brain-robber gang I described earlier.

Perhaps at a higher level of significance are the selves that pertain to the inherited character: there is strong evidence, for example, that distinct temperaments are morally neutral and discernible in all of us from day one. Jung, who proposed the idea of archetypes such as the Anima and the Animus, also argued for such underlying tendencies as extraversion and introversion; Eysenck contended these also are inherited. Different aspects of our temperament may not always sit easily together.

At the highest level there is the innate character and the innate capacity, which come from God and are all good. This may not be a simple unity either. There are, as I have suggested, many attributes of God, not all of which appear immediately compatible. Also Bahá’u’lláh describes the Godlike in us in different ways at different times. For example, in the Arabic Hidden Word mentioned above, we are to experience Him as “mighty, powerful and self-subsisting” whereas in the Gleanings He refers to the “seas of (His) Loving Kindness”[2] moving within us. We are likely to experience those two aspects of God’s attributes very differently, it seems to me, assuming that any of us reach the point of experiencing them at all!

Nonetheless the higher aspects of what seems likely to be a single variously experienced transcendent self may be the best or only way of rising above or resolving the conflicts between the lower selves (which have to be consciously understood however if they are not to subvert all our efforts at spiritual development). Rowan’s position is (page 206):

(At) the same time, when the person gets in touch with the real self, or the greater self, the question of the subpersonalities becomes less important … They move gradually from being great feudal barons to being colourful banners brought out on appropriate occasions.

The conflicts between aspects of the higher self may well be more apparent than real.

I have skated over many difficulties but have sought to convey as simply as I could a possibly underestimated aspect of our inner reality. If what I have described is true or useful, it will be extremely important to remember for Bahá’u’lláh counsels us in the first Taraz[3] to know ourselves and that within us which leads to loftiness or lowliness.

Perhaps a good place to stop would be the moving words of a clergyman poet:

The best journey to make
is inward. It is the interior that calls

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . For some
it is all darkness; for me, too,
it is dark. But there are hands
there I can take, voices to hear
solider than the echoes without.
And sometimes a strange light
shines, purer than the moon,
casting no shadow, that is
the halo upon the bones
of the pioneers who died for truth.

(Thomas, Later Poems, page 99)

Notes

  1. E.g. the dream.
  2. Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings page 327.
  3. Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets page 35.

Read Full Post »