By Charles Hogg
Charles Hogg is director of the Brahma Kumaris Raja Yoga Centres in Australia.
Charles Hogg reveals the secrets of a healthy heart.
It was my first visit to Calcutta. The pot-holed road from the airport was lined with humpies and flocks of vultures leering with menace at all passing by. The taxi arrived at the Red Shield Hostel, a little haven for travelers in the heart of Calcutta near the Queen Victoria memorial. It was a memorable week, observing life in the ‘City of Joy’. Each day as I left the Hostel I was greeted by a couple of young beggar girls clothed in dirty rags with hair matted in thick knots. They repeatedly chanted the mantra “One rupee, one rupee”, that was followed with a radiant smile that would flash across their faces with a naughty twinkle in the eye. They always won. I would dig deep and pull out a rupee or two. I became quite a stable source of income, so each day I could see them waiting for me and the mantra changed to, “Two rupees, two rupees”.
Nearing the end of the week I emerged from the Hostel to find an older woman with the girls. In broken English she invited me to visit their home. We moved our way through the streets to a large vacant lot covered with humpies built with everything and anything imaginable: plastic bags, packing boxes, old tyres, hessian bags, discarded bits of wood. Many people gathered to greet me and I was offered food and drink with so much love and generosity (though perhaps partly financed by me!). Around these two little girls was a loving support structure of parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, cousins and more. In this desperate scene of abject poverty there was nothing . . . nothing but love, and that love was so rich it seemed to be everything that was needed. I began to think that these two little girls, who had become my friends, were lucky. It seemed to me that no matter what the circumstances, when the heart is maintained, life can be good.
However, if the heart is empty or broken or closed, nothing ever seems to satisfy, no matter what the circumstances. To compensate an empty heart, we crave wealth or power or fame or anything that will fill the void. In August of 1997, the world was shocked with the news of the death of Princess Diana. On one level it seemed she had everything except perhaps one missing ingredient . . . love. She craved true love. Her life was a testament to the search for true love. It seems the world-wide grief was the result of people identifying with her search for love to truly maintain the heart. We are all searching for it, but how often do we find it?
I think there are a few times in life when we emerge the feelings of true love. A friend told me he was on a subway in Toronto in the heart of winter. The peak hour train was full of long grey faces, all seemingly isolated and disconnected from each other. There was a stony cold silence. The train stopped at a station, the doors opened, and in walked a young woman with a newborn baby in her arms. The innocence, the vulnerability of the baby touched them all. A new feeling filled the train. All the drawn faces began to glow with gentle smiles. That which is authentic and pure attracts our love. The baby had no masks, no barriers or facades, and its openness kindled the dormant feelings of love amongst the watching people. Just by being itself, the baby’s qualities had the power to emerge love in strangers.
Recently I spent time with someone dying of cancer. When I first met this woman, she had just been diagnosed and was full of fear and burden. Life experience had etched a deep sadness in her face. But during the last few months of her life there was a dramatic change. Her face now radiated joy and love. She had let go so many burdens carried for a lot of her life. She had let go trying to impress, let go the hurts from others, let go the pressure to be something she was not, let go the inferiority complex. But most of all she had let go of the fear of dying, which liberated her from the fear of living also. She discovered her authentic self and, like the baby, became so lovable to all around her.
A friend once said to me, “If you were told you only had a few months to live, how do you feel it would change you?” I thought about it quite a lot. I thought I would like to clear any regrets I had, tell others how much I appreciate them and how much they mean to me, let go of all the trivial tensions with others and focus on what is really important. I began to think . . . Isn’t this how I should be living anyway?
Between birth and death, what happens? We are desperate for the experience of true nourishing love, so we invest our heart in relationships with great trust and sincerity. But the Law of Life is change. Inevitably that which I love will leave, whether due to change, conflict or death. So I invest my heart again and the same thing happens. This process of loss leaves deep scars of fear and insecurity, so that as life progresses I put big barriers around my hear. The sign on my heart reads, “Stop! No admittance beyond this point!”
I want nothing more than the experience of love, but I’ve created so many barriers to stop it. Even if love is received, it is a polluted form of love that gives a temporary lift but does not truly maintain the heart. Sometimes the love is conditional, the sort of love that has a business contract with clauses and sub-clauses. Such love says, “I will love you but you must behave in the way I want. Otherwise my love stops.”
Or perhaps the love is selfish. This love only takes and never gives. The heart feels so empty. This love says, “Your very existence is to fill my heart”, and if the expectations are not fulfilled, there is resentment, anger and feelings of abandonment.
At other times the glossy magazines and certain TV programmers offer us a romantic image of love—beautiful people gazing adoringly into each other’s eyes. This superficial image of love makes most people feel inadequate. Research shows romantic feelings only remain for 6 to 8 months and then love takes on new dimensions. Yet for some, when romantic feelings change, there is a feeling that the love has finished. So the modern game of re-cycling relationships continues. We have also become victims of dependent love. Such love creates love/hate relationships: love because of the support, but hate and resentment because I’ve lost my freedom. I feel smothered and controlled, but I forget it is my dependence that created this feeling.
Those polluted forms of love have made heart disease one of the main health problems of the world today. There is love, but it is often not of the quality needed to cure the rampant heart disease so evident.
To create a healthy heart three main stages are required:
1. A full heart check up.
2. Heart surgery (if necessary).
3. A Heart Maintenance programme.
The Heart Checkup
I have a friend who prides himself on his physical fitness. He would regularly play squash and run, even though he lived an extremely busy life as a barrister and had a young family. One day after a run he developed severe pain in his chest. He immediately consulted his doctor, and tests showed that 90% of blood flow did not reach some parts of his heart. He was shocked to know this. My friend’s experience prompted me to think. How much love reaches my heart? We often don’t realize how little love-flow reaches our heart, and naturally the less that goes in the less goes out.
How do I test the love-flow to my heart? The real signs are contentment with myself and others. Pure love dissolves desires for others’ recognition and respect. Pure love will also replace arrogance with humility. Pure love will be so fulfilling that my natural response is to share love with others. I won’t even feel empty. So, how healthy is my heart?
Depending on my checkup, I may need heart surgery. The heart needs three types of love to become completely healthy, so sometimes surgery is required to begin the love-flow.
The First Surgery Procedure – Opening My Own Heart
We all now the ingredients of a good relationship: respect, trust, honesty, openness, care, compassion—the list goes on. Are these words that would describe my relationship with me? How do I treat myself? Do I lovingly care for my heart, or do I put myself down, beat myself, undervalue myself? This self-abusive behaviour seems to be at the core of my heart pain.
We all want to be self-loving. Why is it so hard sometimes? We are educated to try and love an image. Am I attractive, am I intelligent, am I successful? I am trying to love the very barriers and facades I have built around my heart. It has not only prevented others from coming close, it has prevented me coming close to me!
The first surgery procedure removes the old self-image of my body, my status, my beauty, my wealth, and replaces it with the awareness of my spiritual self. First I begin to accept myself as I am. Then, when I discover that my intrinsic original state is pure, I begin to heal deeply, and loving feelings for my true, authentic self emerge. This is the story of “The Sleeping Beauty”: the beautiful and lovable part of my heart was locked up in a big dark castle, overgrown with hurts, pains and sorrow. The prince gives the kiss of self-awareness that enables me to (awaken and) love my true self.
The Second Surgery Procedure – Opening My Heart to the Love of God
The heart became so fragile and sensitive because I felt I was not lovable. I could not accept love from anyone, especially God, because I did not feel worthy.
But now that I have discovered my pure authentic self, this part of me can accept the love of God. Sometimes I like to sit quietly and allow myself to be loved by God. I put all other thoughts aside. This love is such a tonic that it makes a weak heart strong, a broken heart whole, an empty heart full, and a closed heart open up. It is the true love that I have always looked for, because, by definition, true love is love that always exists. This love cannot leave me.
The Third Surgery Procedure – Giving and Taking Love with Others
When my relationship with my own heart is strong and the heart of God is close, I have the foundation to care for my heart in any situation. Not only to maintain my own heart, but interaction with others helps heal their hearts also.
In my heart maintenance tool kit I carry some special tools that will help maintain my own heart and the hearts of others. Before I begin any heart maintenance procedure, I need to decide which tools will be most effective in each situation. It is suggested, if possible, to have a few moments of silence to discriminate clearly the procedure and tools required.
The Detachment Tool: this tool is essential to any heart maintenance kit. To be truly loving, I must be detached. Does that sound contradictory? When I am dependent I am affected and influenced by those I am dependent on. Every word or facial expression can affect my mood. If, however, I use the tool of detached involvement, my love and support can be constant, regardless of the moods of others.
The Good Wishes Tool: this tool is incredibly versatile and can fix most hearts. It comes from the realization that the foundation of positive relationships is good feelings. This tool can fix cynicism and mistrust, and can help open hearts that have been closed. For the tool to be effective, I need to learn the positive qualities of the other person and make a commitment to maintaining my vision on those qualities regardless of their fluctuations.
The Forgiveness Tool: this tool is extremely effective to clear away the rubbish of the past. It can dissolve old rusty feelings and clear the air. As soon as the forgiveness tool is applied, it instantly relieves heart pain and often the patient remarks, “If only I had used this tool earlier!” This tool works best with broken hearts that just can’t let go feelings of anger and resentment.
The Respect Tool: this tool works best with heavy hearts: hearts that carry the weight of many mistakes and failures and when we just cannot see any beauty in our own heart. The powerful self-belief is that I am unlovable, and as a result there is no self-respect. Such hearts expect others not to love or like them. The respect tool rekindles self-value and begins to remove the burden.
The Meditation Tool: this is an essential tool in any Heart Maintenance Kit. When the users know how to apply it, they become the master of looking after their own heart. This tool shows us how to regularly check our own heart and see that the flow of true love in and out is regular. An experienced user of this tool can instantly diagnose if a blockage has developed somewhere, and begin to remove it.
My Heart Maintenance Programme
My ongoing heart maintenance programme needs a healthy diet and regular exercise. A healthy diet consists of a balanced consumption of positive and loving thoughts and feelings. I need to be careful not to consume the fatty thoughts of negative self-talk that clog my love-flow. Exercise for my heart consists of giving love to others. If I do this exercise daily it will help maintain my heart.
When I learn the Art of Heart Maintenance, I have discovered the secret at the core of a happy and fulfilling life.