Broken Heart, Open Heart

However, if so much of our trouble begins with the mind, how do we change our mind? Some versions of Buddhism and Hinduism take a radical "Spartan" approach: we're on our own here and must soldier forward battling our imperfections. This may be daunting, given the grip of habituation, but since the nature of phenomena is change, there is always the potential for constructive growth. What's more, certain metaphysical approaches in both traditions hold that the capacity for awakening is innate—whether that capacity is construed as the "true self," the divine principle, or buddhanature—and we are therefore endowed with the resources to effect wholesome evolution, however difficult. Moreover, while we are responsible for our moral flaws and negative choices, we can draw on the support of teachings, teachers, and community as sustenance along the path.

Other versions of Buddhism and Hinduism make a space for an agency of divine grace. Karma can be overcome not just by our own relentless and dogged efforts, but by the grace of God, guru, Buddha, or bodhisattva. There is decisive, saving help "out there," after all. The opening to grace in Eastern religions comports well with classic doctrines of salvation in Western religions.

The relevant notion here is that with measures of self-awareness, we often recognize an ongoing and vexing set of personal limitations that undermines our well-being and best interests. We are complicit in our unhappiness. This intimates a fundamental poverty of spirit or a kind ontological poverty, a brokenness at the heart of our being. We are limited. Flawed. We do not always choose to do the good. And, under the press of need, we sometimes act selfishly, and in so doing harm others and ultimately ourselves. If we're sensitive and empathetic, this split can produce a terrible inner conflict, and we can be burdened further by guilt. We may understand that we often are the cause of our own pain, but that awareness by itself may not always do much in terms of personal healing and freedom.

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The good we would do, we do not do. We may sometimes find ourselves untethered to our deepest values or sense of self. There is no shortage of public examples of those whose spiritual or moral gyroscope spins off its axis, issuing in a host of troubles. But, in fact, it's safe to say that all of us, at least to one degree or another, have been there. None of us is perfect. Newspapers merely record the most spectacular crashes, but it happens every day in far less public domains. And, yet, while few consciously choose to be ruined, sometimes it takes being ruined to learn powerful lessons that can catapult us into a recovered or deepened humanity. The great Sufi poet Rumi speaks of a "bankruptcy that's pure gain," and in another quatrain writes,

The minute I'm disappointed, I'm encouraged.
When I'm ruined, I'm healed.

When we are bankrupt or ruined, we grow humble (or may grow humble), far less self-important or certain of ourselves, nor of our presumed goodness. We may open to a deeper humanity, and be opened further to the divine. Paradoxically, our untoward actions and dubious choices can become a fertile condition for encountering the divine. This is not to excuse hurtful choices, but contextualizes them in the presence of unconditional love. Our sin or brokenness becomes a catalyst for a recovered humanity, a renewal in life and love. By the same token, our goodness, oddly, sometimes becomes a burden, and it cannot hold up. We fall. But in falling—or falling short—we access a tender vulnerability. Being ruined or bankrupt means arriving at a poverty of heart, a brokenness that opens to the presence and touch of the divine.

This spiritual or emotional poverty is among the most striking sensibilities in the Psalms of the Hebrew scriptures, as well as many great poems in the Hindu tradition, including the two that begin this essay. While many of the psalms certainly are joyful and jubilant, others convey wrenching anguish over injustice, loneliness, perceived separation from the presence of God, and, finally, sorrow for sin. King David seemed to have it all, for example—a sense of being favored by God, the lavish benefits of royalty, gifts in music, art, and leadership—and yet he forgot all this in his irresistible attraction to Bathsheba, who was married. David, after sleeping with Bathsheba, ultimately engineered the death of her husband, Uriah, by ordering him to the battlefront. After the consequences of his illicit relationship became clear, David offered no defense to Nathan, the prophet who boldly confronted him, instead openly admitting: "I have done what was evil in God's sight." Later, overwhelmed with remorse, he is said to have written what became Psalm 51, known, in Latin, as the "Miserere" ("have mercy"); it begins with the following lines:

2/12/2014 5:00:00 AM
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