Sunday, May 6, 2012

Open-Heartedness

Scott Bradley


There is no virtue for which I have made advocacy here that is not an expression of a perceived lack in myself. This should not surprise anyone who has a modicum of insight into the nature of our shared egoic existence, especially since it is always easier to detect projection in others than to see it in ourselves. Nor is it any great leap of self-knowledge to realize it in ourselves; it's right here just under the surface. So let me just reiterate that all that I write here is about me and my perceived needs. If my advocacy sometimes seems to be 'teaching', it is really just me trying to teach myself.

Open-heartedness is a quality which recommends itself to me when I find myself being closed- or hard-hearted, something not all that infrequent. I hear on the radio someone say they are unable to feed their children and I think, But you can afford your smokes. My knee-jerk reaction may very well reflect the facts of the case, but that is beside the point, because open-heartedness is not about facts. Openheartedness is unconditional; it is an active state of mind, not an interpretive and judgmental reaction to the external world.

Spinoza made a distinction between active, self-expressive emotions and passive, reactive and externally produced emotions. The former are grounded in and issue from our own being; the latter from allowing the external to control us. This is, I believe, yet another way of describing the Zhuangzian vision of non-dependence. We do not allow the external to enter our "Numinous Reservoir", our most inner selves, and disturb its pool of calm. Nothing can touch or harm us because we are identified with all that is.

No doubt this conjures up a vision of a serene and disengaged sage, a moral and emotional zero. But this is far from the truth. I have previously quoted from the Zhuangzi in this regard: "Anger comes forth from him without himself being angry, so his anger is an expression of his non-anger." (Chap. 23; Ziporyn) All the emotions can be in play, only they are rooted in an inner repose which is unthreatened by things external.

Spinoza also makes the point that reactive ('passive') emotions are harmful to others and to oneself. There is great irony here. Though we may in fact wish to harm another with our anger, we are its first, and possibly most negatively impacted, victim. When I first discover hard-heartedness in myself, I am immediately aware of the pain it causes me. In the example given above, listening to the radio, there is no one else affected. Hard-heartedness hurts. Open-heartedness feels good.

Hard-heartedness is rooted in fear of loss. It is self-protective. However remote and removed the object of my negative judgment, its roots are in my own issues. As I have previously said, most of my anger at injustices in the world is rooted in my sense of injustices committed against me. My anger comes forth because I am angry. There is no true solution here, just more anger, given and received. “Fight fire with fire, and surely you shall burn.” (Chen Jen)

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

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