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Xin and the Heart Mind

Hand making a heart in sunset

The Heart Mind in Taoism

January 2018

If we were to come up with one word that might describe the behavior of nature it would be balance. No matter where we look around us, nature is creating a type of balance through the movement of high and low pressure systems (wind), the rising and falling of water molecules (rain), high and low temperatures (ocean currents) and at the very foundation of life (atomic structure.)

The ancient Taoists knew that extremes of judgment led to an array of emotional responses that waste our vital energy. More than that, the very condition of our responses will bring about the type of experience that will lead us back to balance. If we are too much in the head, the feelings are brought into play. If we get buried in our work, our personal life may erupt to return to its importance.

The study of nature allows us to see that the movement of change cannot be labeled as good or bad. When the sun comes, the moon goes - cold and hot are variations of one thing. Emotions can rise and fall, tossing our inner world like a boat on a turbulent see. To become master of your response and achieve the calm detachment favored by Taoists has little to do with virtue. We are connected to what unfolds around us through emanations from the heart mind.

Today we control depression with anti-depressants. These drugs merely remind us of what it feels like to be happy so that we can do it again, on our own. Grief can have many causes and anti-depressants can solve some of the symptoms, but until we come to terms with what has made us unhappy - the affects of these drugs won't solve the underlying issue.

We grow depressed because we are disappointed. No matter how severe the circumstance - our path comes to a halt and we lose our faith that all is right in the world. It is interesting that we describe happiness as something that arrives suddenly or as a state of being: "I am happy!" But we often say we are 'growing' depressed. There is much truth in this because we don't say we are 'growing' happy. Intuitively we know that we have taken on an outlook that is self sabotaging. Like a seed in our inner garden, we have blocked it from the sun and wither into a state of negativity. To return to the way nature pulls us back into its dance of abundance requires that we do consider the idea of 'growing' happiness.

The idea that the heart has a mind of its own comes from Mencius who lived between 372-289 BC in China. He believed that the center for all philosophical activity and self cultivation is in the xin or heart mind. Each child is born with four seeds or duan which give us a sense of: compassion, shame, respect, and a sense of right and wrong. Each behaves like a weather vein, blowing in the four directions to lead us to self actualize.

There is a careful balance between being motivated by the desires of others and being true to ourselves. The cultivation of original sincerity means that we know who we are and sometimes like the rock that makes the stalk of a plant able to withstand the changing seasons, we too, are cultivated into authenticity by life's vicissitudes.

As we grow, these seeds become the virtues of: benevolence, dutifulness, propriety and wisdom. A person of ren has actualized these seeds, actualized themselves and cooperates with the Tao of heaven in helping others to self actualize.

The heart mind sends signals to the brain of how we are feeling. In this way thoughts are influenced by how we feel. Alternatively, manifestation is influenced by what we think. We do not change our experiences by changing our thoughts. We change experiences by clearing the heart mind.

The heart mind is similar to the solar plexus, and by taking a breath and releasing unnecessary tension, we can allow a sense of excited anticipation to rise within this center. The outcome is not important - we just hold to the sense that it will be perfect, whatever it is. We allow our faith to return.

Intention is not the same as setting a goal. When we set goals we are attached to a picture of the outcome and take the necessary steps to make it happen. Intention has more to do with how we are 'being' in the present and how we are adapting to the changes. Setting intention calls you into the present. It is how you become aware of your feelings and how they affect your thoughts. The goal might be an image of your next port of arrival, while your intention is how you prepare and manage your sails for the journey.

Therefore, the heart mind is a very powerful center within each of us. When we wallow in self-pity or entertain the idea of failure, we fall victim to the experiences that validate this center of activity. Our feelings often guide us in making decisions, but when we have become defeated, we can fall prey to feelings that have nothing to do with what is unfolding around us. These feelings take the place of the seeds of ren. We stop self actualizing.

Just as the breath is associated with how the divine moves through us - a simple breath to clear the solar plexus can invite faith to return to our center. There are many things in life that are beyond our control and when we are feeling depressed it is very difficult to change our thoughts. However, we can re-ignite the heart mind or solar plexus with a breath. Each time you do this, intention is reset and like your first breath, the divine within you blossoms like the sun that will nourish your inner seeds.

Confucius taught that rectification of the outer world had to begin with a rectification of the inner life. He advocated fasting the heart mind as a way to clear it. "To align the will and the heart mind, do not listen with your ears but with your heart mind. Do not listen with your heart mind but with your te. Ears can only hear, mind can only think, but te is energy that connects you to everything. It connects you to Tao, and Tao abides in emptiness. Emptiness is the fasting of the mind and this emptiness creates an opening. In this emptiness a light is born. In this way happiness returns with stillness."

It is not what you take or are given that will make you happy. Often, it is what you release that can unblock your way. Whatever outcome disappointed you - let it go. Even while you cannot see the purpose just yet, keep your connection to the divine open and keep your faith resonating to what is shaping you.

Like all things of this earth - you are a part of what unfolds in life's purposeful march toward abundance. Ensure that your heart mind remains open so life can remind you of what it feels like to blossom again.