There is a fair consensus today that something fundamental has gone wrong with the way we do things. The gap between rich and poor, how democracy works, how medicine is practiced, the goals of education, the use of technology and the media, corporate culture – and the role religion plays in society. The dysfunctionality in all these areas seems stronger than those who try to change things and so stress is at epidemic levels.
Something is missing. Let us call it ‘heart’. When the Mid-Staffordshire National Health Trust broke down some years ago it was meeting all its government-set targets. Unfortunately it was doing so at the cost of an unacceptable – the numbers are disputed – avoidable deaths. A US advisor was asked after the enquiry if he could identify one essential cause of this institutional disaster. He replied ‘a lack of love’.
The loss of heart in modern life has many consequences. Until we understand this we will continue to be overwhelmed by the feeling of helplessness and impending disaster. Many actually hope a general disaster will happen to allow everything start over again. Heart, however, does not mean only emotion. Racists lack heart but are driven by strong emotion. The financial markets are very emotional but often heartless.
‘Heart’ is a universal symbol of wholeness, justice and tenderness. If a politician speaks with integrity and tells the truth as he sees it, he exhibits this quality. The lack of heart in politics and in business today makes the rest of us feel hurt by this lack of heart. We are a heartsore generation. When the solution to mass school killings is to put more guns into schools the heartless image of armed teachers shows the lunacy that a lack of heart leads to.
What can we do? Take time. You cannot raise a healthy family without giving it time and attention. Too much stress destroys the joy of life and replaces inner peace, which is our true state of being, with anxiety, fear and violence. Take time to be, not to plan, review or do. Just to be. It is amazing how this quickly initiates a personal transformation in the individual and how this is then reflected in the way they work and relate to people. Families, businesses, hospitals, schools become different places when the people who work there rediscover their heart
Facing their crisis, the Hebrew prophets called on people to exchange their hearts of stone for hearts of flesh. Today we can contribute to this healing of our world through teaching a contemplative practice that teaches us again how to be, how to open our hearts.
Self-contradicting institutions and wounded and wounding people need to be exposed to this in the simplest and most inclusive of ways. It is not about religious propaganda but neither is it about reducing the human person to neurons and synapses. It is about finding again the universal truth that our full humanity is finely balanced in that centre of consciousness we call the heart. The result of this balance is a better, fuller life.
This is why we teach meditation – as a healthy ascesis, a liberating discipline. By the beginning of its third week, Lent should be showing us this.