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Heartfelt Dialogue

Lee Irwin (Sirr al-Basir)

Often when I am giving a talk on a spiritual subject I am asked about “practice” with regard to the application of principles we are discussing. It is not always easy to answer this query because practice is often not a matter of a technique or a particular formal structure. Deep practice is always an expression of the heart, of a dedicated way of life that reflects our inmost values and the qualities we most genuinely seek to embody.

A spiritual practice to be effective and meaningful, to be consequential, requires dedication and commitment shaped by our embodied values, our communal relations, and a significant degree of self-knowledge. By embodied values I mean principles that motivate our behavior; if I want to be a loving person, I must act in a way that expresses and communicates love. This loving behavior is based in circumstantial, relative conditions that require a creative, adaptive response. And this response arises out of the deep intentions of the heart, shaped by a belief in the importance and centrality of love. Further, such practice is communal as we are intrinsically related to each other through the vitality of soulful participation in a shared humanity. The most effective spiritual practice is deeply intersubjective; it relates not simply to the individual, but to the community, to others, to the world at large, to other species, to nature and cosmos. Thus, the goal of self-knowledge is to become increasingly aware of how the thoughts and beliefs of others impinge upon our own, and how we as interactive, creative agents are shaping a world of thought and belief through our shared communications.

Heartfelt dialogue or “heart-centered conversation” is a spiritual practice. While it has certain formal elements, it is, as I understand it, a creative interaction whose purpose is to solicit understanding and insight. It is not simply a matter of listening or being present to the other, though these are certainly key elements in the process. What makes such dialogue “heart centered” is not thought and analysis as much as a felt sincerity and an expression of deep hopes, dreams, and aspirations.

Heart-centered conversation arises from the soul, not simply from the mind, by which I mean from one’s inmost felt and lived desires, from a thirst for insight, mediated by a deep respect for the values and desires of others. In this sense, such conversation in the most authentic sense is passionate, an engagement with one’s most deeply held beliefs; it taps the core vitality of our psychic commitments; it opens a link to our spiritual depths. This opening occurs because we are held in the field of a shared, communal interaction, reminiscent of the ancient teaching, “Where two or three are gathered together, I am present.” The “I am” is a sign of presence, a presence that enhances the field because of the authenticity, passion, and sincerity of the shared desire for spiritual insight and understanding. Heartfelt dialogue is a process of soliciting presence, forming a rapport and resonance that brings forth a spontaneous amplification of insights through the creative infusions of Spirit and Being.

The mystery of heartfelt dialogue, of truly heart-centered conversation, is discovered in the inflow of presence and in a willingness to uncover the desires of the heart, as inspired by an atmosphere of loving concern. As a process of discovery, such dialogue is energized by patience and receptivity to what arises spontaneously and genuinely from the heart. To “feel with the heart” is not an act isolated to the individual; it is a participatory mystery, part of a shared process supported by our intersubjective relations. Insights come to me because I am receptive to the insights of others; if others experience insight based on interactions with me, it is simply an expression of the total field of influences that extend far beyond any one individual.

How many people, embodied or beyond the veil, have influenced your perceptions, beliefs, and values? How many books written by once-living people have you read that impacted or modified your beliefs? How have your interactions with nature, animals, plants, or other kinds of beings shaped who you are and what you do in the world? We are highly intersubjective in all we know and all we are, and heartfelt dialogue can bring forward the deep influences that bear on our soulful sense of self.

This requires a degree of honesty and transparency that can only come forth in an atmosphere of trust, warmth, support, and patient encouragement, without expectations or demands. What the heart senses in the attitudes or hearts of others will condition what is possible in the coming forth. And what is coming forth is often unseen, unknown by the individual in whom the insight is being born. Unlike more rational discourse, heartfelt dialogue, as a process of discovery, requires openness to innovation and newness, to a not-yet-recognized capacity or aspiration.

If we only bring known content to heartfelt dialogue we truncate the process and obscure the heart’s capacity for discovery and, thus, new insights. Unlike a therapeutic dialogue which is created to support others through a more passive listening as they unburden their fears, frustration, anxieties, and subjective needs, heartfelt dialogue is interactive and exploratory. The intent is to illumine a spiritual concern that surpasses a strictly individual need.

Heartfelt dialogue can be therapeutic, it can serve to support others in terms of personal psychological needs, but its goal is to create a context for shared insights on subjects relevant to select metagoals. By metagoals I mean topics or subjects of concern meant to inspire spiritual development, commitment, and real life dedication to a spiritual path. For example, can we actually engage in heartfelt dialogue in all our human interactions? Such a question is not based on a therapeutic concern for personal development per se, nor is it based in acquiring insight into particular psychological challenges, but rather it presents a goal whose actualization requires deep commitment to the quality and honesty of all our relations, regardless of our personal challenges. Deep spiritual practice is often transpersonal in the sense that it seeks to actualize a way of life through an authentic expression and embodiment of higher values that are heartfelt and can shift and re-center our worldview.

We are emergent beings—in process, becoming, rather than made and complete. This becoming does not end as a result of spiritual insights; if anything, such insights deepen the complexity and emergent nature of our becoming. Heartfelt dialogue, deep centered conversation, is intrinsic to the process of becoming; its practice does not aim at convergence or a shared mindset, but at differentiation, unique discovery, and shared values whose embodiments create a more open, supportive field for even greater emergence.

The older order of spiritual development emphasized conformity and even dogmatic adherence to inflexible values, strictly defined and socially required. Emergent spirituality, the new wisdom, is more humble in assuming a vaster context for spiritual life that cannot be tabulated and formalized for mass consumption. We face the challenge of a truly infinite universe, a vastness so great that no one teaching can assimilate or represent that totality in all its diversity.

As individuals, we face multiple challenges that test our capacity for adaptation and creative response. When we seek a friend or others who care, we seek heartfelt dialogue, authentic communication about what is emerging, coming forth, being born into a context that often lacks necessary support or structure. And we seek spiritual guidance, not simply therapeutic counseling, because what is emerging is often deeply transformational and challenges our thinking and beliefs.

There is a shadow side to heartfelt dialogue, an aspect which is masked by the practice because the practice is rationalized as a positive set of values: be patient, listen, reflect, be emotionally supportive, encourage discovery, be open to differences, nurture nascent insights, be transparent and loving. These are all good, core values and they support the process of discovery and dialogue. And each value is a challenge in itself, to truly be patient, a good listener, and so on.

However, there is another aspect, one of disagreement and challenge that questions the beliefs or ideas of others. Thus, there is also an ethic of disagreement in heartfelt dialogue, a condition of response that must come from a deep authentic recognition of differences. I describe it as “non-confrontational integrity,” by which I mean when another person, speaking from the heart, expresses beliefs or thoughts that challenge or contravene my own beliefs or values, then I am challenged to respond based on the integrity of my beliefs and values. The first step is to recognize where I do or do not agree, and thus to avoid simply reacting negatively to another’s point of view—this is where patience and self-knowledge really matter. Then I can seek clarification and mediation through dialogue in order to clarify the differences. In the end, we may simply disagree because the issues are not reducible to a code that requires mediation or conformity. Such disagreement can be very creative and meaningful, or it can be an impasse that stands as a marker of genuine difference. What matters is recognizing what constitutes deep soul integrity in both self and others, and to live according to self, not according to others.

Finally, heart-centered conversation as a spiritual practice or Pathway, as a method of conversation, needs the support of other related practices that stem from a dedicated inner aspiration toward an illumined way of life. While heartfelt dialogue may be an instrumental practice directed toward the exploration of metagoals and meanings with others, the lived experience of daily life on a spiritual path requires constant refinement in the application of all our practices. For example, mindfulness is certainly an aspect of self-awareness that enhances the practice of heartfelt dialogue. The tendency is for habit, persona, and conventional social behavior to dominate our interactions. Mindfulness in this context is the practice of retaining dialogical authenticity in social circumstances; it is also a practice of evaluating a social context in terms of metagoals.

Not all circumstances are appropriate for heartfelt dialogue and, in fact, the best circumstance may be highly selective and require a voluntary participation from others. Yet, there is a degree of authenticity that can be brought forward in every interaction that draws upon our heartfelt sense of relatedness. And it is not always serious and sober—often it may be highly humorous, playful, or a joking interaction meant to express affection or challenge. We may engage in heartfelt dialogue with a smile or a laugh as much as with a tear or a sense of seriousness. Heartfelt dialogue ranges across the entire field of our shared communications in a wide array of emotions and states. The challenge is to find the creative means for deepening the interaction and allowing for the emergence of insights that enhance our relatedness and illumine our desire for even greater depth. With love and joy to all, may your dialogues be ever fruitful!

To learn more about our Pathway, Heart-Centered Conversation, please click here.

Lee Irwin is a Professor in the Religious Studies Department at the College of Charleston where he teaches world religions with an emphasis on Native American traditions, western esotericism, hermeticism, contemporary spirituality, mystical cosmology, and transpersonal religious experience as related to dreams and visions. He is the Vice President of the Association for the Study of Esotericism (ASE) and a board member of the Sophia Institute and the Institute for Dream Studies. He has been a workshop leader and group facilitator for over twenty years, particularly in the areas of visionary cosmology and the development of the sacred human. He is the author of many books and articles, including: The Dream Seekers, Visionary Worlds, Awakening to Spirit: On Life, Illumination, and Being, The Alchemy of Soul, and Coming Down From Above: Prophecy, Resistance, and Renewal in Native American Religions.

Read more about Lee Irwin

3 July 2013


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soul, contemplation, dialogue, consciousness, heart, practice, The Cry, Journey of Life, What May Be, presence, Heart-Centered Conversation, Pathway, heartfelt,
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