“Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Do you really see me at all?”
“Yes, oh, yes, of course I do;
The question is Do you see you?”
I observe life around me, mostly because I marvel at it all. Life, people, and our environments intrigue me but not always in a positive way. I marvel at how few people actually reflect on self and actually know self. How do I know that many do not know themselves? I hear and see the news that reports on all the turmoil and stress and hatred and confusion; then, I know. I know that many of us do not listen to our hearts. Many primarily heed the ego, which they equate to logic but which actually, most of the time, equates to rationalization. Rationalization is not logic, not by a long shot.
From ancient times, sages have urged us to know ourselves. The only way to truly do that is to listen to our own hearts, that core self, that inner person who is our true identity. Once that identity is known, so is our personal truth. How do we know whether the ego or the heart is speaking? I believe this: the heart does not urge destructive competition, war, hatred of others, or a whole long list of daily news fare. When things like this show up in life, it’s not from our hearts.
Many people are very business oriented and disinclined to believe the above distinction between heart and ego. I pity those who do not, because they are either not happy themselves and always looking for something more to fulfill them, or they are trying to control themselves and others in order to maintain their version of life, consequently, making others unhappy (read here bully, blowhard, abuse-inflicting, authoritarian bosses). Some organizations recognize the need for self-awareness and provide resources to help their employees to that end. They know that a contented, self-aware individual will be more innovative, valuable, profitable, pleasant, etc., i.e., a true asset.
When is the last time you looked in a mirror, really looked, and spoke to your own heart? It’s a good day to start a conversation with your heart and listen to the sages of old: Know thyself.
Fourteen years ago today is a horrible memory, one that I wish none of us had to have. We do, though. I was teaching at a public high school and had all seniors on this day in 2001, so I felt no compunction about defying the administration’s command to not watch any of the unfolding events. When I had students who were aware enough to immediately start evaluating the situation in terms of our study of Beowulf and the terrorism inherent therein, then I knew that we would watch what was appropriate.
Many young people have a much closer connection to their hearts, in general, about the most basic things in life. Unfortunately, some learn at much younger ages to be influenced by the egos of older people and feel forced to deny their hearts and “believe” a certain way. I will never forget on that fateful day of September 11, 2001, when the news was breaking and my seniors and I were watching the events unfold, one of my girls, Andrea, started sobbing, the tears streaming down her face, “Why can’t we all just get along? Why do we have to hurt one another?” I saw her, and that was not a cry of triteness or for public display or in defiance; it was an honest cry from an honest heart.
And when it comes down to it, I believe those are two questions that we need to answer. I think that the American Declaration of Independence addresses such basic issues with words that are simple enough. Please, read them, and just take them at face value, because I believe that at the time they were penned, whatever, wherever they emanated from, there was a purity of expression: “…that all men are created equal…we are endowed with certain unalienable rights…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Whenever something like 9/11 happens, some people feel that these basic tenets have been abrogated for them. However, if one listens to the heart, then the response will not be one of hatred and destruction. If it is, then the response has not been honest and represents an affront to self and to others. At that point, those who have been affronted must be in touch with their own hearts to know the appropriate response.
Argue with Andrea, my student, whose heart was broken over people who she did not know on both sides. Yes, argue with her about the issues of economics and slavery and political machinations and interfering in the nations and causes of others without understanding them. It would not have mattered to her that day because she was at a much deeper level than all of those arguments.
In the weeks that followed, I saw and heard students who had closed their mind to the urgings of their hearts. True hearts don’t urge destruction and death and spout threats. I had to take disciplinary action against students in one class in particular because I had an Iranian girl, a Muslim, in class who was not only trying to decipher English but also decipher hatred being thrown at her about being a “towel head.” Fortunately, this only involved a few students, but it was obvious to me that they were hearing such at home, giving control to their egos, and not heeding their honest hearts.
Therefore, I ask some questions: Where else does this apply? What about other issues? How do we respond to political, racial, and social problems today? But what about those trying to kill us? What about terrorists? What about anti-terrorists? Which side of the line are you standing on when terrorism is defined? If any of us truly knows where we’ve been and have a dream of where we want to end up, we better quit listening to rationalizations and hatred and flimsy justifications—all from ego—and start listening to our hearts. More and more people today are feeling this, but too many others are intensifying hatred. Sometimes those listening to their hearts just need to take joy in one another, make their voices heard in accord with their hearts, and let the chips fall where they may. Why can’t we all just get along? Why do we have to hurt one another? I don’t know, Andrea. I still don’t really know why we can't listen to the gentle, loving, powerful voice of our own hearts.
The Fellowship of the Heart: Seeking, Discovering, and Connecting with Walt Whitman
As an educator and discoverer, I would hope that you would ask, “Connections of what?” How about connections with others who look at and appreciate life as you do? What kind of connection do you need: a connection of you with your own heart, soul, and inner voice; a connection with the Universe and the Spirit; a connection with the past; a connection with something, anything? My intent for this blog centers on those who have sought the same sorts of connections, those who have created connections in their arts or who have lived lives that exemplify such searching. These vignettes will, hopefully, encourage, enlighten, and uplift you from time to time. Enjoy!
Walt Whitman and “Song of the Open Road”
As a former literature teacher, I believe that Whitman stands alone in terms of pioneering a new spirit which is revealed in his poetry. In “Song of the Open Road” Whitman sees himself connected to all things via a road down which he begins to walk. His connection, however, is not the simple idea of “This road will lead me somewhere; therefore, it connects me with that next town, those people, etc.” No, it’s much deeper. In an apostrophe, he speaks to the road and acknowledges the depths of what it evokes from his soul when he says, “O public road,…/You express me better than I can express myself,/You shall be more to me than my poem” (Section 4). That which it is to him is revealed immediately in Section 5 when he feels the impact of the road, the unseen vibrational energy to which he connects and which he in turn emits: “From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,/Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,…/I inhale great draughts of space,/The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine./I am larger, better than I thought,/I did not know I held so much goodness.”
Wow! Whitman experienced the depths of the common things around him and sensed the flow of the Universe in them. In Section 3 of the same poem, he refers to the air and light and paths and says to them, “I believe you are latent with unseen existences…” (Whitman). He sensed the spiritual vibrations within his environment. All of this expands his perception of himself; he grows personally through connecting to these things, especially the Open Road. He learns that he is connected to the vast expanses of nature and geography, and this frees him from all limitations and society or self-imposed restrictions, “imaginary lines.” He realizes the vast extent of his own goodness. What a wonderful realization!
So, I ask myself some questions. How often do I pause long enough to take in the energies of my environment? How do I interpret them? How do I connect to them? How does this help me to grow? What new truths do I realize about myself, my spirit? What does my heart say to me about my environment? I can pick anything and speak to my heart and discover and connect. So can you. By the way, Whitman, in this same poem, Sections 9-15, invites us to travel with him in this journey: “Allons! [French for “Come with me”] whoever you are come travel with me!” (Section 9) Are you in?
Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!