The recent post about devotion (Devoted? To Whom?) mentioned that an aspect of the Sufi path is the cultivation of the heart. How does one do that? We certainly know from our experience of different people that some are warm and open-hearted, while others are less so. Nor is this quality simply the result of appearance or behaviour; someone may display a cordial, friendly manner and yet leave us with a cold, empty feeling, while another person may say almost nothing, and yet we feel completely welcomed into their heart. Is it an unchangeable quality that is given with birth? Or is there a way of improving what nature has given us?
In a way, spiritual seekers are like the ancient ancestors who sought to grow crops for the first time; what nature gave to them in a scattered way was not sufficient, and they had to learn to care for the plants they wished to harvest. Of course, it is hard work, and it requires us to adapt ourselves to our purpose, but sincere efforts are rewarded (while carelessness may lead to famine!). Hazrat Inayat Khan speaks of three related aspects of the human being: nature, character and personality. Nature is what one is born with; parents understand that every child is unique, coming with certain tendencies, certain strengths and certain deficiencies. By the teaching of parents and of life, the child may begin to make the best of that nature, to develop the strengths, and to overcome the deficiencies; that is the development of character. And when character has ripened sufficiently, then one can see the birth of personality, the quality of being a real person and not a mere automaton, reacting mechanically to inner impulses and external stimuli.
In other words, the cultivation of the heart is certainly possible, but it is largely neglected in our age. The development of our physical body, the material vehicle of the spirit, is now pursued obsessively. There are world-wide sports events, with millions watching races timed to the thousandth of a second. Many people take it as an important aspect of their personal life to regularly train the body in various ways, but the attention to the conscious, consistent cultivation of the heart, the sense of deep feeling, is mostly overlooked.
We cannot hope to someday see an ‘olympics of the heart’ — there would be no material profit in such an event, for one thing — but we can hope that the training of the heart could be more widely adopted.
And how to begin? Find room in your heart for another. It is easily said, but not easily done. Still, the more we pursue it, the more the search will teach us what we need to know. And in the end, we may find the truth of the beautiful saying from Gayan:
He who makes room in his heart for others, will himself find accommodation everywhere.