What is the heart?
Not the one in our chests, that’s settled, but the one we intuit when we think, “My heart.” The one that moves us and stills us, the one that tells us to reach out, push away, hold on and let go. The one that we can share in intimate, vulnerable moments, often found in the night or by firelight.
The heart that beats with some deeper purpose than survival. What is that heart? Why does it hurt when it goes unshared?
In the space between us, there can be a crackle, a moving, shining warmth that seems to travel free of misunderstandings. It shows us a deeper truth that our others senses can’t convey: no separation, no distance between. This heart seems to yearn for itself, to meet itself in another. To see and be seen, to feel and be felt just as it is, just as we are. To spark and be sparked without end.
We do everything for this heart; even our most self-destructive acts are means for us to find it or forget it. But we can’t find it that way, and we can’t forget it. Even my Alzheimer’s-inflicted grandma is moved by it.
It’s just ourselves, the person before the name.
We can’t find ourselves because we already are what we’re looking for. The most we can do is reach out to another and soothe their doubts so that we might both share in a shining moment where we forget everything that we weren’t born with.
In that orgasmic moment beyond pain and fear, we’re already here, already complete.
In Zen, this “heart” is called shin or xin. That comes from the Pali term citta. Most translators (me included) translate it as “mind,” but heart is closer in meaning. The problem is that a lot of academics are allergic to the more mystical, wishy-washy side of Buddhism, so we try to put everything into pragmatic psychological terms.
I can’t do that anymore, and I don’t need to—there are already plenty of excellent teachers and writers down that path. I’m here trying to touch base with the often-overlooked demographic of mystic misfits with powerful yin energy. So, just between us yinners, xin is the heart. Its boundaries are only the ones we put on it through conditioning. When those boundaries disappear, there’s brightness that would blind the eyes if they could see it.
It speaks in whispers, murmurs, and momentary glances, not in prose or shouts. Like a river in the dark stretching between dusk and down. Cooled by the moon and warmed by the wind, it carries us along on that lifelong journey back to who we are. Unfortunately for me—an introvert—it’s a journey that we can’t take alone, because it rests on us seeing what’s common to all of us. You can’t do that in isolation. How could I have ever thought that I could?
Because, grinding it down to its essence, the heart is fellow feeling. Nothing more and nothing less. You’re not alone.
Anshi is the pen-name for a Buddhist writer. If you know who Anshi is, please don’t tell anyone since these posts often have sensitive autobiographical info in them. Anshi is a Chan Buddhist priest in the Oxhead tradition. Feel free to check out his sangha, The Wounded Healer.
Editor: Dana Gornall