One common misperception in Buddhism and spirituality is that the heart states are mental constructs that we create. But they are in fact inherently there in our hearts – they are the way that we connect with the outside world.
This is a specific and important factor of interdependent origination, which is easy to miss.
Our hearts are the part of our beings that receive and consolidate all the information in experience.
Lots of people believe it is our minds that do this – but this doesn’t account for our subconscious experience, which is the vast majority of what creates our reality. In any given moment we are only logically aware of a tiny section of information in our experience. There is a huge swathe of beliefs, assumptions, trust and knowledge in the reality that we exist in that buoys up our ability to function and exist in the world.
What We Are Made Of
We are a being that is made up of a body, a soul (or intuition), a heart and a mind.
(Just to be clear, Buddhism sometimes describes us as a heart-mind. I am pointing out that we are in fact a body-soul-heart-mind and pulling out these different aspects separately.)
Our external world is a being that is made up of matter, a story, love and awareness.
The mind and awareness is only one aspect of what is arising in each moment.
The space that all this happens in (our beings and the Universe) is also an aspect we can connect to with our hearts and from a non-dual perspective, it is an aspect of our being.
I will break down how each of the heart states connects to a different aspect of this – not as a mental construct but as a basic fact of how our realities and experiences are created.
The body is one aspect of our being
Passion is a word I use to describe the quality of being directly in contact with our physical bodies and sensations. I sometimes use the word Compassion, which is less accurate, but more recognisable as an inherent quality of the heart
This process does not involve the mind – it comes from matter meeting matter. It is the direct sensation of, for example, feeling the cool sensation on your skin when you touch metal.
This gives us the capacity to feel like we are present in our experience.
The soul (or our intuitive capacity) is one aspect of our being
Joy is the emotional sense of connection with the story that is playing out. It is the ability to be there for it and for it to mean something to us.
This process does not involve the mind – it comes from the story that is being inherently expressed through the Universe.
The gives us the capacity to connect with our experience.
The heart is one aspect of our being
Inclusion (more commonly translated as equanimity) is the state of allowing sensations, thoughts and meaning into our heart. We allow ourselves to receive the truth of how things are, without us putting up walls and barriers up to protect ourselves, or twisting how things seem.
This process can involve the mind – the heart connects to every aspect of our being, so whether we are open to receiving something includes how we perceive things, as well as how we feel about things and what is physically happening.
The gives us the capacity to be open to our experience as it is.
The mind is one aspect of our being
Friendliness is the ability to remain open to what is happening in our experience. Part of this is recognising that, as humans, a lot of what we perceive to be happening is illusory. Teachings on emptiness, in Vajrayana Buddhism, are trying to break down these illusions.
People automatically think things are fixed, separate and broken. The truth is that meaning is nebulous, that reality is non-dual and that things are whole or perfectly imperfect.
Emptiness (in this tantric sense) only applies to this aspect of experience. It is the perception of what the phenomena means, the perception of what the phenomena is and the perception of what the phenomena says about us that are empty. It does not apply to the phenomena itself.
This gives us the capacity to understand our experinece.
The environment is one aspect of our being
Gratitude is the quality of the heart that connects us with our environment and allows us to be present. It takes us out of a fear-based separate way of being and into an allowing and connected way of being.
We become less separate from the space we are in.
This process does partially involve the mind – it comes from when all aspects of our being (body, soul, heart and mind) can relax and open.
The gives us the capacity to connect with others.
An example of how all this comes together
This is an example of how all this comes together, using the example of a hand touching some metal.
Body – body and metal come into contact, heat transfer, cool sensations
Soul or Intuition – the meaning of this i.e. this feels nice/ this feels bad/ this reminds me of… / I would like more of this/ I would like to get away
Heart – I am open to this experience/ I am closed to this experience
Mind – I can perceive and understand all this happening/ I don’t understand what is happening
Environment – I belong here/ something is wrong with this experience
When I followed these processes all the way back, removing all the resistance for what is actually going on in the Universe to be expressed through me (or more accurately, they followed themselves all the way back through me) it turns out that all of these things are happening in sync. They arise simultaneously, none of them happens first or causes the others. It is not a chain of events. Nothing is.
The difference between this and the descriptions of dependent origination that I have come across is that I am not talking about our perception of these events. I am talking about the actual events themselves. At the bottom of it all, in my experience of the world, there is no causal chain of events in our physical and metaphorical shared reality.
And just to be 100% clear, the lack of causality includes awareness and where our attention is being drawn to or directed towards in each moment. Again, this is different to how I’ve heard it explained elsewhere.
Until it has been followed all the way back in every aspect, it appears that it is in some ways causal, that there is a series of events that are unfolding.
If it is followed all the way back from the mind and awareness point of view only, for example, then you end up in a dead end of solipsism, which doesn’t make any logical sense.
The reality is we are human animals that experience time and causality. Given that this is where we spend most our time and this is where we are most connected with each other, this is at least as meaningful and profound as any other way of experiencing the world.
In this case, we are interested in what feels most helpful.
For this, separating out the different aspects of experience and seeing the process laid out in order is helpful for allowing us to engage with life in an honest and heartfelt way.
It creates more love, understanding and connection in the system, which in turn opens the door to more freedom, beauty, truth and love being experienced by everyone.
Which as far as I am concerned, is what the path is all about.