EDUCATION OF THE HEART

By Thomas Taaffe

 
We shall never learn to feel and respect our real calling and destiny, unless we have taught ourselves to consider everything as moonshine, compared to the education of the heart.        --Sir Walter Scott

 

Common to a number of discussions at ARIL conferences has been the phrase "education of the heart."  But what exactly is meant by this phrase which seems to reflect so much of what ARIL is about?   

Heart

Our hearts may be glad or sad, troubled, aching, or sick. They may be heavy or light, warm or cool, cruel or kind. Our hearts may be aflame with love, or broken. To have a heart is to be empathetic, to have no heart is to lack feeling; and we pray to change our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh and blood. This sense of "heart" as the center of feeling includes its place as access to the other. We open our hearts, or close our hearts. We hold another in our heart; or reach for another in heart-to-heart communication. Hearts speak to hearts. Two hearts may beat as one; indeed, a whole community may act with one heart. The general association of "heart" with affectivity is clear enough, but even in ordinary usage there are further important nuances to this rich word.

We also know in our hearts, and are able to sing that deep in our hearts, we do believe. We speak of someone having an understanding heart; even perhaps, a wise heart. We remember, keep, and may well say things in our hearts. We speak of a language of the heart. Our experience strongly insists that the heart has its reasons.

But the heart desires, and longs, and yearns as well as knows. We set our hearts on things. We pursue with passion our heart's choices; or oppositely, we may have to confess that our hearts simply were not in it. Our hearts fancy things; and we know, all too well, that our hearts are restless. Wherever our treasure is, we say there is our heart.

The heart also has to face reality. We may take heart or lose heart. We may be faint-hearted or stout-hearted, half-hearted or whole-hearted, weak-hearted or lion-hearted. Sometimes, there are things for which we have no heart. The heart suffers and the heart endures. We honor and celebrate the great hearts among us.

Even in our quite ordinary references to the human heart, then, we often intend more than the capacity for feeling. What holds these nuances together? Does our experience suggest an integrating meaning? The possibility of differentiating apparent and actual intentions in human action helps to establish a core meaning for heart in human personality and anchor the ambiguities of our ordinary uses of this term. Wearing our hearts on our sleeves expresses one boundary -- the simple coalescence of our actual affections with their appearances. Rare and beautiful simplicity! At the opposite boundary, we keep our hearts hidden. The secret heart may well be as pure as the open heart; on the other hand, it may be full of obfuscating complexity. It could be masked even to itself, from fear, guilt, or guile. Knowing one's own heart is essential to the task of self-knowing, which Socrates continues to prod us to accept as the identifying activity of the human person. If existence as agents of our own lives (the essence of our freedom and ethical identity) is realizable at all, we must come to know what we want, to know what our hearts prize. We understand the heart to be the seat of our intentions, whether we keep them to ourselves or proclaim them.

Even when the heart's affections are disguised, or perhaps because we know that they can be, we retain a sense that the heart directly impacts any action. No matter how deeply hidden, the heart's true intention is finally the criterion of our simplicity, or duplicity. In one manner or another -- openly, guardedly, deceptively -- human actions bear the marks of their interiority. This seems to be why individual action is irreducible to the behavioral categories which help us in organizing our understanding. To insist on the reality of heart in this context is to insist that, whatever our readings of behavior, there is a unique person present to us. There is a core to any person which is the ground of all that is true about that person. Here is the home of self-understanding, self-acceptance, and self-love. Here is the tone that pitches the categories of analytic understanding to their meaning within lived experience. Heart marks this assumption of wholeness in our actions, known or unknown, felt or unfelt, seen or unseen.

Remembering that human wisdom is not simply vision -- but lived-vision -- we begin to identify a source within ourselves that synthesizes feeling and vision. A wise person does not garner and dispense insights, but rather has the heart to live those insights. As the muscle which is the original source of these metaphorical applications brings life to the whole body, so heart refers to the core-force of personality at the center of its life. It is the place where the currents of being and becoming, of what-we-are and what-we-are-not-yet, cross. Our heart is thus the frontier of our identity. Because we do not want to limit the self with the name of intellect alone, or will alone, or feeling alone, nor to see these as separate, we have invented the sensibly opaque name of heart for the identifying core of our agency.

This train of thought points to an ordinary sense of the heart as the metaphor for our inmost self, the center of our true identity. Other than mind, other than will, other than the collective memory of one's historical existence, by heart we refer to the locus of personal authenticity, the holistic force that is the shape of what we really are. This, I believe, is the sense the term has in the phrase, "education of the heart."

Further consideration of the meaning of the heart as axis of authentic individuality indicates something like a magnetic tendency toward what fulfills us. We immediately understand the heart's restlessness, of which Augustine writes in his Confessions. In the "Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life," William James recalls Deuteronomy to exhort us to participate in the moral life of the species according to what is written in our own hearts: "It is not in heaven, neither is it beyond the sea; but the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it." The drive and direction to change, when rules "have grown too narrow for the actual case" (231), seem first to root in the heart. Rilke, in the crucial poem, "Wednung," expresses the poet's relationship to the earth as a form of heart-work. Near the end of his IXth Duino Elegy he identifies this as the human vocation and speaks of the congruence of earthly "Things" and the human journey: "They want us to change them, utterly, in our invisible heart, / within -- O endlessly within us! Whoever we may be at last." In none of these examples is the heart's content clear, although in each it is understood as the place of encounter with the fullest self. When we want to refer to what in our experience carries hope and belief into the future, we refer to the heart and its reasons. What but the convictions of their hearts cause oppressed individuals, again and again, age after age, to finally say, "No more!" to sophisticated propagandas of enforced propriety which conspire to silence them? In gender, race, or ethnic oppression -- among the most serious challenges of contemporary life to the human heart -- the extent of cultural reinforcement for such oppression is often overwhelming. The worst result of such subjection is that victims come to accept the social verdicts of their inferiority, weighted so heavily toward inequity is the language of daily exchange. In so much of our human experience, the protests of the heart have preceded any conceptual justification of revolt. The authoritarian personality fears to awaken the heart's inner freedom, yet awaken it always will. The sense grows that the heart is the residence not just of what we truly are as individuals; it is also the residence within us of what we are called to be -- the weight of our nature, our human ground. If all this is so, the heart is the seat of both passion and compassion, of empathy as well as the center of personal vulnerability; it is where we break, where we begin to be restored, where we accept healing and offer healing.

The Heart and Community

My rationale offered for using heart to name the center of our individual and species identity has suggested that the heart is the source of our precognitive awareness of human solidarity. Further analysis of the experienced polarity of inner self and public self strongly supports the notion that we do not come to know ourselves in isolation. People may not be what they seem. The true self may well not be the observed self. The sources of duality, however, are not limited to an individual's deceit or the immaturity of self-awareness. The dynamics of authenticity is social. The figure of Abraham is not that of a person running to hide from himself but of a person running from Ur of the Chaldees to create an accepting community for his heart's desire. Sometimes the eyes (and, yes, heart) with which we see the other, or are seen by the other, make authentic mutual existence nearly impossible; yet just as surely, our authenticity does seek and need the confirmation of the other. True community rests on mutuality.

Mutuality, however, requires informed assent, without which it remains empty sentiment. Nor is it a reality achieved once and for all. To be more than nominal, community formed by the heartfelt assent of its members must be sustained by their caring. In the second act of Beckett's Waiting for Godot, Vladimir and Estragon, in search of their own hearts, happen to hear the desperate cries of Pozzo (blind and helpless, lying in a ditch). Vladimir pauses. Reflection (whether theological, philosophical, psychological, sociological, poetic, etc), in its moment of reflection, withdraws from the cries of the wounded. In the time of his withdrawal, Vladimir, in fact, comes to formulate an option for meaningful active response. Its language is that of full-hearted proclamation of our species-involvement in one another. The action of helping confirms Vladimir's thoughts about our stake in human communion. Both coming to know and entering upon the path of communion are the works of the caring heart. Our modes of reflection have importance, finally, because they serve our heart's longings to know what we must do to create the city of peace. Our visions of community and our articulations of solidarity, in the end, require heart --solidarity is as solidarity does.

The Scottish pragmatist John Macmurray seems right to hold in Persons in Relation that all the personal knowledge we have involves a process of revelation. The achievement of personal knowledge of one another requires that we believe self-knowledge to be possible and important, that we speak to one another truthfully, and believe that we are so speaking, and finally that we mutually care to hear and be heard. Your trust that I care, and my trust that you do know yourself and are not lying or manipulating are as crucial to whatever I come to know of you as clarity of image and concept. William James would call the grounding condition of this possibility a kind of "dumb willingness" of our "interior characters" to speak to and to hear one another, and to accept this as the forum of our moral growth. Such dumb willingness is not based on logical deduction, but on the reasons of the heart. In this manner, the heart as the seat of one's interiority and the locus of personal identity becomes the means of opening to, receiving, and understanding the interiority of another. In this process of revelation -- literally, communion -- the hidden depths of our individual hearts become known to ourselves, and shared. "Heart to heart" is how we ordinarily describe this deepest of communications. We speak of having poured out our hearts when such communication is full. Hearing with our hearts and speaking from our hearts are the indispensable requirements of mutuality.

Returning to the potential polarity of inner and outer sell I believe the educated heart must seek their coalescence. The association of heart and courage now becomes more clear. To make the inner self one with the historical self, to act with purity of heart requires courage. This point is made with etymological eloquence in English in that courage takes its etymological identity from cor, the Latin word for heart. To acknowledge publicly that you love, or believe, that you agree or disagree, that you think we must or must not proceed, often requires great courage. The heart is the bridge from the ideal to the actual. Failure to make our inner heart a working agenda in our community life -whether through fear, hypocrisy, or avarice -- indicates a condition of alienation. The community is the field of incarnation. It is in our historical existence that being and becoming are joined. What we do is the real definer of our moral characters. Open-hearted mutuality is the measure of any community's maturity. Only communal and enduring commitment to authenticity will ever construct the culture from which the science, politics, and laws for the creation of Kant's ideal community of ends could emerge. Faith in that fact is indispensable to that fact; not that it will be either easy or swift, but that the community of peace is impossible without it. A democratic community cannot be an accident. Faith in it will be stillborn if we do not persist in moving it, testing it, and nourishing it in the world by our actions. This requires great and sustained heart. Mutual en-couragement is no small part of the work of incarnation!

There is suspicion that education of the heart could become the cover for a dangerous sentimentality. If heart referred only to capacity for feeling, in isolation from its other dimensions, that might be so; even though the education of our emotions would still remain important. Actually, sentimentality results from a failure of heart, not from its excess. It is a replacement for lost courage, a pyhrric victory of fear. Sentimentality is the emotional residue of an illusory resolution of conflict between inner desire and outer possibility by dream or thought or story alone. It results from a refusal to move beyond the intention, a refusal of the work of incarnation. Sentimentality is never the companion of the courageous heart, which accepts that the terms of the moral adventure are not pre-scripted. The courageous heart faces engagement as the true source of growth, since it knows that peace is a physical achievement, not some imagined happy ending. The educated heart is truly unable to indulge sentimentality, the most bogus of truths.

Heart and Education

For education, the sense of heart which we have been considering primarily implies the importance of a holistic approach. We have seen that heart encompasses feeling, knowing, loving, and is our access to one another. It is also the deep well of our full human meaning -- of whoever we may be at last. An educated heart would be educated in the practice of self-knowledge. An educated heart would be educated about affections, and the ways of interaction. It would also have to understand the requirements of participation and the necessity, for that possibility to be realized, of democratic association. It would understand the anatomy of courage and be responsive to its call. The heart of education is the well-being of community. For the educated heart, the need of a functioning community is the concrete impetus for using and evaluating the ways of knowing and creating we have inherited, as well as the challenge to invent new intellectual and aesthetic vehicles of its justice. An educated heart, as the place in ourselves and in others where we must especially allow hearing room, would respect transcendence at the horizon of our own self-meaning

A guide to educational practice generated by sensitivity to the education of the heart might include aims like these:

  • to encourage habits of critical self-awareness
  • to valorize openness to interiority
  • to accept the equal right of all individuals to the autonomy of their emotional lives
  • to encourage the development of individual voice; and, as the practical condition of its possibility, develop the capacity for hearing the voice of the other
  • to learn what and how the other wants (the real justification of multi-culturalism is equality of access to one's own emotional life; simple empathy for each other is not enough)
  • to accept mutuality as the form of the learning environment
  • to acknowledge the educability of emotional life and develop its practice
  • to acknowledge the limits of conceptualizable vision
  • to encourage openness to the unknown, and humility and courage in its presence
  • to develop appropriate tolerance for ambiguity to fully integrate expressive creation into the educational mainstream to study the requirements of democratic responsibility
  • to promote habits and techniques of collaboration
  • to focus assessments of educational quality on citizens' capacities to function within the requirements of democratic responsibility

It seems important to add here, in the light of Macmurray's observations on how we gain personal knowledge, that outcomes-assessment for the education of the heart cannot evade a strong measure of dialogue. The achievement of individual voice or of an atmosphere of mutual openness is not detectable without personal confirmation. Self-examination, honesty, truthfulness, mutual patience, and mutual trust will heavily mark the habits of inquiry by which we care for and measure progress in the education of the heart. Establishing what we decide to commit ourselves to, in a manner consistent with the priority of heart, favors the modality of consensus building, whose inner life is dialogue. Communion is the fullest communication and communion is only verifiable within its achievement. Personal testimony will provide the major evidences for the successes and failures of education that is sensitive to the heart. Learning the skills for translating experience into growth relies heavily on a culture of dialogue.

 

Heart and Religious Imagination

Is Vladimir's call to what I once heard Richard Ellman name "gratuitous samaritanism" just one existential option, of no different status than eating a carrot or waiting for Godot -- a gray option among other equally gray options? Or, is it the call of the heart's necessity -- an insistence that we respond as if the universe were personal? This is the precise form that the question of G.d's existence takes for John Macmurray. The possibility that the heart presses on us a wisdom beyond the chance option of some samaritan choice leads directly to some thoughts on the relationship of the heart to religion.

In his Lectures on the Essence of Christianity, Ludwig Feuerbach shares the conviction found in Augustine's Confessions that our conception of the divine is born in the restlessness of the heart. For both believers and nonbelievers, is the heart's dissatisfaction with the realities of the world not an immediate index of our unfinished experience, opening us to dreams of transcending this present vale of tears? Albert Camus sounds a corresponding note when he identifies the absurd as the impossible distance between our longing for clarity and the world's existential condition, in which children die unjustly. Can we deny critical content, clearly contradicting contemporary social order, to our hearts' reactions to CNN's documentary of children's deaths in Rwanda? Who is not revolted at the sight of toddlers drowning in the mud? Is there any more powerful, or eloquent, or manifest reason than the heart's revulsion at such tragic iniquity? Are believer and nonbeliever not of one heart on this? Are we not in touch here with our deepest human core? As well as expressing the substance of individual character, heart also holds our most profoundly human desire. "In the secret of my heart teach me wisdom" prays the Psalm (51). For the nonbeliever, the heart is the tent-opening to ideal humanity, the final and universal judge of all praxis. To the believer the heart is the tent-opening to G.d and to each other. There we dwell in the divine and the divine in us. Out of this intimacy of each to each, and through the contrast between what we actually are and our discontent, prophecy arises, deep calling to deep.

From our interiority, religious imagination has drawn images of the divine, sometimes as narrowly as Aaron did at the foot of Sinai, sometimes as awesomely as Moses did at its peak. In daily life, fear and insecurity confuse the heart. Trying to shadow the divine presence, to bring life to failing hopes, our hearts may narrow, obscure, or miscast the divine image. Authentic communion with the divine is blocked because of the idolatry of our reception. The divine heart is pure. As the divine heart no less than our own acts always from its interiority, the universe is everywhere, microcosm and macrocosm, marked with this heart and is thus an endless sacred source for the naming by which we try to bring near or stay near the divine. In this regard Psalm 48 voices an obligation for the religious imagination to describe the city of its hope: "Walk about Zion, go all around it, count its towers, consider well its ramparts; go through its citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is G.d, our G.d forever and ever." But as the religious imagination gives form to our liberation out of the materials of our existence, it must not bring closure to the divine conversation encountered in our hearts. In this matter, we must hear Hopkins: "We guess, we clothe thee unseen king . . . each in his own imagining, sets up a shadow in thy seat" ("Nondum"). Readings of the divine heart will not be cast into stone idols or images of gold if the heart's own wisdom guides us. The heart is the primary access to and dwelling of the divine in us, the source of the unending litany of divine names, and at the same time the source of our sense of the idolatry of this naming (the divine Buddha's being here and not being here are the same). As the muscle that continues the circulation of life's blood needs the indwelling of oxygen from the ecosystem to which the lungs connect it, our hearts feed on the breath of the Spirit. We must both listen with our hearts and listen to our hearts.

Perhaps William James has it right. The advantage of belief in the creation of the inclusive community is that it posits an eternally live cooperating and co-acting concern in history. The divine is a will and an interest and a faithful insistence in history. For the believer, faith is an alliance that brings zest and intensity to the evolution of the community of peace. For Camus, the moral hero must find moral intensity in rebellion against a world inimical to the human heart. This sentiment is not lost in the believer (Job's rage equals that of Sisyphus) but the believer is impelled, in the face of crushing absurdity, to act not only "as-if" the divine action was toward our liberation, but within that assurance. Two things seem important to note. First, the form of the ideal human community is not now known, whether thought to be emerging from the human dream of freedom, or from the divine dream appealing to that freedom. Both belief and nonbelief are directed by the heart's primal protest at whatever is unsatisfactory in our daily lives to the contemplation of its transcendence. Secondly, our understandings of the heart's ideal, out of which the most elemental, forceful, clear condemnations of oppression constantly sound, are always in the terms of concrete experience. At the limit of our imagination, the counterpoint of the concrete and the heart's unrealized joy breeds in believer and nonbeliever humility in the face of the humanity emerging out of our suffering. The believer seems differentiated by an insistence that the transcendent exists and autonomously works in and with our actuality. This renders the universe personal; at its heart our destiny matters. Persons who truly believe in divine care for the world cannot be indifferent to that world. Religious belief, perhaps contrary to much of its history, ought to enhance participation in the genesis of the just community.

ARIL and the Education of the Heart

Openness to religious experience seems to occur at the Godot-point of human experience -- where our hearts ask: "Given these cries for help sounding in our ears, what is to be done"? ARIL's fundamental interest in clarifying and promoting the education of the heart, as here outlined, stems directly from its founding purposes: to give grounded basis for moral decision-making, to avoid the impoverishment of knowledge and imagination by the bracketing of human religious experience, and to widen the vision of the common good. Any agenda for the education of the heart implies a holistic concern with healthy community. ARIL shares with those advocating sensitivity to the education of the heart both humility in the face of the limitations of our language, concepts, and politics and the perception that access to the divine grounds and intensifies our care for the human body, individually and socially.

The greatest challenge, other than the ongoing challenge of reason's self-sufficiency, stems from the destructive effects of creedal conflict. The education of the heart, by making us more open to the divine as both a more natural and universal presence in human experience, provides the ground for creedal pluralism. The divine name or names seem always closely associated with some cultural continuity of voice. Out of the depths we cry to the Lord and name the Lord in words fashioned by those depths. Our culturally diverse experiences are gates to the divine presence and should not be built into fortresses. Perhaps, the experience of the ARIL community can help articulate, from the methodology to be developed for the education of the heart, a theology of the divine names that supports its own interfaith history and its growing awareness that the discovery of the divine is a joint venture.

The central convergences, then, of the education of the heart and of the purposes of ARIL are that the educated heart is open to the possibility of communal and personal transformation. Creedal conflict, so often violent and exclusive, might lead, through the education of the heart, to an inclusive and theologically positive practice of dialogue. The advocacy of religion in intellectual life hinges on trust in the openness of our hearts to the diverse movements of the divine in human experience. Despite the idolatries of religious history, ARIL can lead its own diverse religious communities in joint witness to the pluriform movement of the divine in our hearts.

The human heart encompasses feeling, knowledge, desire; it stands for the authentic self and is the axis of our interiority. Always, it is distinctly body-bound, situated in concrete space-time. The education of the heart must localize the heart's aspirations. Religious commitment in particular depends on fidelity to everyday circumstance. The educated heart is never abstract, it is always concrete. It accepts that its duty has an ordinary face. "Zion" begins in the corner of the house, where hope is created or restored by the work of hands engaged in acts of building, caressing, forgiving.

Above all, reflection on the meaning of the education of the heart endorses for ARIL fidelity to its own core mission. Its programmatic support of individuals and groups has been vital and consistent encouragement. Encouragement is empowerment. The destiny of the human heart, muscle of organic life and muscle of our moral agency, is not private; its longing is not for dream but for encounter. ARIL's place in the education of the heart is to give form and support to the community of courage out of which peace will be born. To come to be who we only are tests all our courage. Emerson's words in his "Divinity School Address" are sensitive to the blessing ARIL can be for us in that fearful journey of our hearts: "We mark with light in the memory the few interviews we have had, in the dreary years of routine and sin, with souls that made our souls wiser; that spoke what we thought; that told us what we knew; that gave us leave to be what we only were."

THOMAS TAAFFE, an educator in experiential degree programs for adults, is currently working on a translation and commentary on the work of the twentieth-century Dutch poet Gerrit Achtenberg.


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Source: Cross Currents, Fall 95, Vol. 45 Issue 3, p380, 12p.