After the overwhelming response and support I received from our readers after my previous blog post, I began to realize a few things.
I’m not the only person who struggles with this whole…life thing.
We struggle to find meaning. We struggle to live well, to be happy, to better ourselves, to learn skills or acquire knowledge. We struggle in relation to others, and in relation to God, even.
How little we talk about how much we struggle with ourselves.
Working for the Hildebrand Project, I find myself speaking so frequently of the human person. Human. Person. It is a subject of such real depth and rich, profound mystery. Working for the Project, I’ve also come to learn that there are many philosophers who dislike using the word mystery. But, really, have you ever tried reaching the utter limits of your own personhood? It seems boundless, endless. The human heart is so strange – it is truly a mystery. While it often feels so fragile, we find that we can endure a lot. We’re designed to be resilient, to be enthusiastically impressionable. Even in the midst of soul-crushing pain, we breathlessly find that our hearts are still beating.
Many people today overlook the mystery of their inmost self. In a results-obsessed culture, we grow weary with ourselves. We grow tired and annoyed by all of our shortcomings, flaws, and vices. In devout, well-meaning Christian circles, I often find that some people who are seeking after holy lives end up leaning towards (what they mistakenly think is) an “Ignatian” way of seeing things; suddenly the heart is distrusted. It is a stumbling block. They assert that only the intellect and the will make up the human person. And the intellect and the will must be perfected in order for me to be happy.
How backwards! It’s no wonder that so many people find themselves falling out of love with life – with themselves. While true, authentic Ignatian spirituality indeed places an emphasis on discernment (and the necessity for discernment to depend on more than just our feelings), he does not call for an abandonment of the heart or affectivity altogether.
Maybe our problem in loving ourselves lies in the fact that we do not truly know ourselves. We do not know that our heart is our center. We mistreat our hearts – we abandon them.
It was Dietrich von Hildebrand who reminded me of this. He points out that, “in order to understand the nature of the heart, we must realize in many respects the heart is more the real self of the person than his intellect or will” (source, 37). While in the moral sphere, he acknowledges that “we find the true self primarily in the will,” he goes on to clarify that, “it is the heart which is the most intimate part of the person, the core, the real self, rather than the will or the intellect” (Ibid.).
But on what can he base this claim? How can he just assert that the heart is the true self? Well, consider love. When you are deeply in love with another person, what is your aim? What part of the beloved are you directing your love at? Their intellect? Most likely not – for to aim your love at the beloved’s intellect would be to merely wish that the beloved knows that you love them. We desire this, surely, but it is not our primary aim. Do we direct our love at their will? Again, most likely not. For to aim our love at the beloved’s will would be to desire that the beloved consciously wills himself to love us in return. While willing to love is surely important, it is not entirely satisfying when it comes to romantic love. Rather, one realizes that when we direct our love at the heart of the beloved, we have succeeded in reaching them – we have penetrated their very self. They not only know of our love and have allowed our love, but our love has reached the very center of their being. Hildebrand triumphantly exhorts that, “only then will he feel that he has really reached the beloved, his very self” (Ibid, 38).
So, the heart as the real self.
It can be a scary thing, to approach your own heart. To know it. To love it. But if we are to be content with ourselves, then we have to approach ourselves at our center. We must approach our hearts.
When looking at your heart, you may see a lot of grit and dirt to sift through. We come face to face with those shortcomings, those faults, those annoyances that we so often accuse ourselves of. But upon drawing nearer to ourselves, we begin to notice other things as well. We start to notice the subtle, quiet, beautiful movements of our heart. We start paying attention to those things which we feel so tangibly. We start noticing what makes us happy, what calls us out of ourselves, what we are delighted by, what we yearn for. We start to see good things. We begin to know ourselves more holistically, as more than just a collection of failings. We begin to feel beautiful again. Life begins to feel beautiful again, because we delight in seeing it from our own, unique perspective.
Approach your own heart in some, small way today. Take one step. Look at it. It’s quite a beautiful thing, my friend.
You're a sight to behold.