I’m a writer. It has taken me 65 years to make this bold assertion though this blogging experience of the past five years has been a very tentative, left-handed way of making this announcement. And “endeavor” was a deliberately chosen term as it has been and always will be a struggle as writing of any substance must come from the heart; and anything that flows from that bastion of “beastly little treasures” will be a struggle. The heart is the innermost recess of our being, so “inner most” that, if you will let me slip into Zen for a moment, it is a “No Thing” and can best be described as emptiness. Therefore, if you “know” what your heart is…that is if you cognitively grasp your heart, or think that you do…I would beg to differ with you. For the “heart” always lies beyond our conscious grasp. And this “emptiness” is very much related to the Christian teaching of “losing your self to find your self” and finding our “self” in the sense that Jesus had in mind is much more than a cognitive, rational, linear-thinking enterprise. You could even say it is a “work of the cross” but not in an intellectual way but in the constellation of archetypal energies which will often feel like a crucifixion.
Acknowledgement that anything is beyond the grasp of our conscious mind is frightening to most people, especially those of us in the West. Since the Descartes dictum, “I think, therefore I am” the West has been worshipping thinking or reason and we have slowly come to be convinced that the whole of life can be reduced to linear thinking, i.e. reason. And this has made us technologically and scientifically great but left us with a spiritual emptiness that will soon leave my country, the United States, with a man who is egregiously mentally ill as its President. “They call it Reason, using Light celestial, just to outdo the beasts in being bestial.” (Goethe)
But writing and all artistic enterprises can only spring from a heart that novelist Toni Morrison described as “petal open.” That is where spirituality flows from, other than the “letter of the law” variety which is only what the Apostle Paul called a “work of the flesh.” My favorite description of this vulnerable heart was written by Shakespeare whose character Hamlet, with great intensity lamented to his mother that he could never unburden his heart to her because it was, “bronzed o’er with the damned cast of thought so that it” is a barrier against “sense” (or feeling) and thus not “made of penetrable stuff.” Shakespeare knew that an open heart can be “penetrated” while a closed heart, one shrouded by an enculturated verbal patina will be reduced to mindless palaver, “the well worn words and ready phrases that build comfortable walls against the wilderness.” (Conrad Aiken)
But words do have the capacity to furrow into the depths of our heart and there we can use them to “unpack our heart.”(see footnote below). But the unopen heart will only reflect from its patina a slough of jargon and packaged, formulaic speech in accordance with what the speaker perceives will gain him the greatest approbation. Here is the opening stanza of a poem by Irish poet W. R. Rodgers who in 1942 recognized the “post-truth” dimension of language that is currently plaguing our world.
WORDS (an excerpt)
By W. R. Rodgers
Once words were unthinking things, signaling
Artlessly the heart’s secret screech or roar,
Its foremost ardour or its farthest wish,
Its actual ache or naked rancour.
And once they were the gangways for anger,
Overriding the minds qualms and quagmires.
Wires that through weary miles of slow surmise
Carried the feverish message of fact
In their effortless core. Once they were these,
But now they are the life-like skins and screens
Stretched skillfully on frames and formulae,
To terrify or tame, cynical shows
Meant only to deter or draw men on,
The tricks and tags of every demagogue,
Mere scarecrow proverbs, rhetorical decoys,
Face-savers, salves, facades, the shields and shells
Of shored decay behind which cave minds sleep
And sprawl like gangsters behind bodyguards.
(FOOTNOTE: For you Shakespearean scholars, I am misapplying this line of “unpacking my heart with words” to describe something useful, when in the play “Hamlet” it described prostitutes deliberately plying their trade knowing that they could then go and perfunctorily confess their sins. Hmm!)