from the Theosophist January 1992

Problems of Mind and Heart

by Hugh Shearman

Most people area aware of two elements in their lives, a calculating element and a motivating element. The mind alone does not supply the force which results in action. There is a passional or emotive or desire element in our lives which keeps us on the move; and, since we like in this age to regard ourselves as rather reasonable people, the relationship between the mental and emotive elements in our nature- between mind and heart- is a constant concern to us.

It was David Hume, the Scottish philosopher of the eighteenth century, who told the western world that reason is and ought to be "the slave of the passions". By this he did not mean passions that were necessarily evil. He was simply declaring that mind is set in motion by something in our natures other than itself. This has been a very disturbing teaching to those who try to regulate their lives by what they consider to be reason. The same teaching has been propounded once again, in its social implications, by Bertrand Russell in 1954, and certain Marxist writers have tried with much evident warmth of feeling to confute him.

Perhaps we can quibble a little over the definition of terms like mind and heart; but it is certainly the experience of most people that it is not reason alone that "makes us tick". Reason may analyse and elaborate and provide us with factual ground for modifying our course of actions; but fundamentally our actions may all be referred back to desire for their driving force. Desire may be instinctual or intuitive. It may be, in our opinion, beneath reason or above reason. But it is different from reason.

Perhaps we sometimes find that this motivating element in our lives is somehow greater than mere calculating reason, that it can outpass reason without coming into conflict with it, that it can be what we call intuition and can impinge upon the world of reason with a noble and subtle comprehensiveness which created harmony in that world and no discord. But unhappily there is often very considerable discord between the motivating and the calculating elements in our lives, a conflict between heart and mind.

Since the is conflict of mind and heart makes us very uncomfortable we try to solve it, and we eagerly take up any course of activity which may be proposed to us as a cure for our discomfort. In pursuing these various solutions of the conflict of mind and heart we often find that we are merely rendered more acutely aware of the conflict and of our helplessness in it.

For example, we are told that meditation is a way of moving on to a solution of the conflict of mind and heart; and so we learn the methods of meditation and gain a clear mental idea of what has to be done. But we do not of what has to be done. But we do not actually meditate, because quite frankly we do not want to meditate. The mind may present us with admirable facts and reasons on the subject of meditation, but the heart is not engaged by them and so nothing is done. If this happens, meditation proves to be not a solution but just a further field in which we become humiliatingly acquainted with our conflict, our helpless and our failure.

As we live in an age in which reason is very properly held in considerable respect, most of our attempted solutions of the conflict of mind and heart take the form of setting the mind to act as watchdog over the heart. It is because we do this that so many good resolves are betrayed and so many good principles are flouted in the lives of people in whom there is nevertheless a great yearning for something better. That setting of the mind to act as watchdog over the heart implies the indefinite continuance of that very division of mind and heart from which our conflict takes its rise.

To draw attention to this unsatisfactory process of setting the mind to the watchdog over the heart, and to recognize it, is not to eliminate it. A good many people have had their efforts to live harmonious and moral lives have been based to a considerable extent upon this process and have failed because of it; but frequently their reaction to the discovery is only to specialize a further department of the mind to act as watchdog over the watchdog. One seems to sense such an operation taking place in some who have become self-conscious about the mind-heart conflict through studying or listening to the teachings of J. Krishnamurti.

It is a teaching of immemorial antiquity that beyond the mind and heart there is something greater, an intuition, a supernal integrator, in which mind and heart are harmonized and made one. But that is something which is not attained through methods of pursuit belonging to the worlds of reason or desire. What is beyond desire cannot be an object of desire.

Immersed as we are in the conflicts of mind and heart, is there no way of moving on from where we stand to a new and more happy outlook which belongs more to that higher world of intuition? Merely to be austerely unattainable alike to mind and heart moving on and up to that true and selves and our world, the first step must surely be from where we now stand. Mystagogues of the higher solemnities will perhaps tell us, truly enough no doubt, that we do not get there by steps at all and that to arrive there is to discover that we were there all the time. Nevertheless there is surely something that can be done by the simple spiritual flat-earthist to whom these witty paradoxes bring no balm.

In effect, there does seem to be a way of resolving these conflicts by bringing every particular conflict and problem out of the limits of merely personal values and into a universal setting. This requires imagination and not just a cold mental process. In fact heart and mind have to join in it.

Let us say that I am in a state of conflict. I am lonely or angry or confused. Instead then of battling with this conflict, let me contemplate all the other people who are lonely or angry or confused. Let me glance through many examples of their loneliness or anger or confusion, until I sense their condition as no longer personal to themselves but part of a vast world process. By groping in this direction I have already entered into a state of mind and heart which is somehow superior to that condition in which my own problem seemed so acute. I find myself in a new condition of sympathetic good humour; and I now know better what to do about my own personal problem. Usually there is nothing to do. The altered focus of thought and feeling that has been brought about is all that is needed.

This method of looking at conflict is not a panacea. Other people will use quite a different approach. The important thing is that we should establish more and more clearly a pathway out of our own small selfhood. Most of the pathos of the condition of those who are psychologically sick is that we cannot reach them no matter how much we may want to help them. Each has constructed for himself a little closed box inside which he chases his own tail or laments or mopes. There is no use breaking into the box from outside. That will cause him only to construct a smaller and stronger one. He must open the box from inside and step out himself. All our conflicts and unhappinesses have something of that character and are boxes in which we have imprisoned ourselves; and the coming out is always an impulse of sympathy which can lead us out to a greater knowledge of that one universal process which alone gives us any significance as individuals.

What is most likely to arouse our sympathy in the first instance is our own personal plight; but this impulse of sympathy has to be led on out into the wider world and not allowed to become fixed in the dangerous condition of self-pity - a condition which has served to justify nearly every crime that has ever been committed.

A readiness to turn imaginatively outwards to the universal and the general can help in many fields of life. It can certainly illuminate our studies. It can also render more effective many other things that we do.

For example, there is an increasing interest nowadays in the use of thought for healing; and a regrettable aura of self-seeking has gathered round some of this activity. People form what they call absent healing groups and try to think other people into better health. Almost certainly they would succeed better if, instead of setting out to heal individuals directly, they would try to heal the whole class to which the sick individual belongs. Thus, if instead of meditating earnestly to heal the rheumatism of one's grand uncle one were to think healingly of all the rheumatic persons in the world, then something would come flowing back from that more universal effort which would be far more valuable to one's grand- uncle than if one had concentrated upon him exclusively. We cannot drive bargains with the universal, and too precise and personal a picture of the result which we wish to obtain in return for so much good thinking amounts to a market haggle with the gods.

The personal side of life, in which all conflict of mind and heart arises is not to be condemned or neglected. But its value and its delight lie in the fact that it can always form the starting point for an advance into something greater and larger and more stable.

Seen truly no problem is really ever "my" problem. There is only one Problem. It was propounded when the One became Two and the Universe was we have to solve, and any particular for our encouragement we may perhaps listen to the paradoxical mystic who may tell us that that universal Problem was solved outside of time when it was propounded.


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