Zen & the Arts - Field Notes

Hi Roger,

Had another encounter with Operation Open Heart that I thought might interest you.

Michael is one of our regular guests at the mid-day meal on Thursdays. He is very quiet. A gentle soul. It is really difficult to judge Michael’s age. Like many people who live outdoors in the city his physical form shows clearly the suffering that he has experienced in his life. Most of his teeth are missing, and it is sometimes difficult to understand what he is saying. We are used to him by now, so conversations are not as challenging as they once were. When he closes his mouth, though, his jaw just seems to disappear. It is astonishing how much his face changes right before our eyes.

Michael is also a regular at our Art Table. His drawings are often very primitive, and powerful. The other day he was feeling very sad, so he drew a tree with the figure of a man hanging from one of the branches. He showed it to me to let me know that, even though he was sad, he was not going to hang himself. That was very generous of him.

Later that same day Michael showed me another drawing. This one was a bit different in that it had words on it. He usually just draws. It was a large piece of paper, probably 11×14. The words were written from a landscape orientation with a small picture at the bottom. On it he wrote in block letters:


Underneath he drew a heart in two pieces with jagged edges on each one. The two half hearts were separated by about a half-inch gap. I said to him, Michael that’s not true. Everyone doesn’t know that. I, for instance, did not know that until just then…

This was the opening to a wonderful conversation that went something like this:

Me: Has your heart been broken?
Michael: Yes.
Me: So has mine. It never occurred to me that my broken heart was blind, though.
Michael: A broken heart can’t see love.
Me: You’re right. Even though we are surrounded by love, when our hearts are broken we just can’t see it. Can we?
Michael: Do you think love is still there?
Me: I do. And now I think when our hearts heal, we can see again.
Michael: That just might be so.
Me: Maybe that’s what it means to be whole-hearted.

I thought about this brief interaction with Michael over the last several days. And I began to turn these notions of whole-hearted and half-hearted in my mind. It occurs to me now that whenever I enter into anything half-heartedly, I am a bit blind. Fearful maybe. Disconnected. Encountering blind spots in such times may not be a figure of speech after all. It may be a description of reality in that moment.

Entering into our lives whole-heartedly is another matter entirely. There is an ease to that which can be astonishing. Being committed to something or someone takes so much less effort than to do so with half a heart. Maybe it is so because in such moments we can see past the horizon line with no distortions. My life would have taken a very different path had I known about all this heart business when I was young.

Rumi wrote that a heart must be broken open to make room for love. Michael seemed to add that hearts need to be healed to see the light. Or something like that.

– Edd


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