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Our experiences teach us that “heart-break” is a fundamental experience of human life.  We live in a culture that avoids pain and sorrow at all costs.  We can even use religion to sedate our pain and suffering.  But, as the Buddha discovered, suffering is a fact of life.  True spiritual practice enters into the pain and suffering we often seek to avoid.  We, precisely as human beings, have the power to feel the brokenness of another.  Empathy and compassion are fundamental to our quest to be humane.  Our humaneness reveals the true nature of what it means to be human.


The practice of “Heart-break” is contrary to the pursuit of greed, power, and status – with the Indigenous, I hear the cry of the Earth; with the Exiled, I long for home; with the Lost Child, I long for my mother’s arms; with the feared and hated, I long for safety and peace.        


We are creatures in need of love from the first moments of our lives.  We learn how to love by being loved.  Sometimes a deprived person becomes a person of remarkable love.  We are blessed by such persons and would do well to learn from them.  As painful as it might be, we must have the courage to remember our past afflictions and present hurts.  


We sometimes harbor resentments and lose heart.  We sometimes fear and lack courage.  We often forget the power of forgiveness and the wisdom of letting go and moving on with our lives.  We sometimes forget the dignity of others and the worth of self.  


Wise people take the time to engage their hearts, probe their lives, and be aware of their true feelings.  Perhaps the obstacles are stepping stones.  In the last analysis, the hardships, painful memories, and obstacles are not removed but honored for the wisdom they offer us when engaged.  As one “former street person” once said, “I can never walk past a hungry person in the street, for I was once hungry in the street!”  Obstacles such as anger, hatred, fear, resentment, and discontent might not be obstacles at all but keys poised to unlock the door of our hearts so we might see in ourselves what others seek and need.  


I will strive to be conscious, alert, and sensitive to the people I meet.


I will seek to honor my feelings and emotions as authentic pathways to my soul, my heart, and myself. 


I will seek the truth about what is happening in the World around me so I may prepare to respond with courage and wisdom.


I will open my heart to the hurts and sorrows of others.


I will seek “the gift of tears” so I may feel the anguish of others in my heart.  My growing capacity to feel the heart-break of others invites me to walk with them as companions on the road of life.


I will seek to learn from my mistakes, failures, wisdom, and courage so I might be of service to others.  


I will seek the wisdom and courage born from my broken-heart, which is now an open heart of self-giving love, understanding, and compassion.


Sometimes we have experiences that touch our hearts.  Sometimes we have experiences that break our hearts.  We can be inspired or challenged, baffled or elated.  Such experiences give us pause as we become aware of new questions and perspectives.  Moses saw the “Burning Bush.”  Hagar heard the “spring of water.”  Hulda read “the Book.”  Jesus saw the “sky open.”  Muhammad encountered the “Voice.”  Our lives are changed when our hearts are open.   Entering fully into such experiences, we deeply influence the lives of others as others affect our lives in ways we may have never thought possible.  


"If we choose the path of the heart, then of course our focus is ultimately and always on love.  Love is the cornerstone of many of the World’s religions, especially the mystic paths.  Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav used to say that achieving the simplicity of love is one of the highest enlightenments.  The attainment of true loving-kindness is the cornerstone of Jewish practice.  Often this comes easily; the sluice of the heart is opened and the water flows.  But some of the gates of the heart are closed, and these can be opened only through a strong spiritual practice."

Davis, Avram

The Way of Flame

Harper, 1996, p. 48  


All understanding begins in a movement from within oneself to enter the World of another; being understood is opening and enlarging one’s experience to make room for another.  Such movements toward another, in both insight and feeling, may be automatic and unconscious, as in sympathy; or they may be intentional and active, as in empathy; or they may require the envisioning of another’s thoughts and feelings from within a different culture, worldview, and epistemology.  We are only beginning to conceptualize this third level of identification with differing others, and we lack words to name it from our past vocabularies.  Since it is a pathos, or “feeling-level way of knowing,” as well as insight into a radically different perspective, we shall call it “interpathy,”* as compared to sympathy.


*I am indebted for the suggestion of this word to Willi Toisuta, Rector of Universitas Kristen Satya Wacana, Salatiga, Indonesia.


Augsburger, David W.

Pastoral Counseling Across Cultures

Westminister Press, 1986, p.27

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