Monday, 13 March 2017

The Heart That Could

“As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7)

As I was preparing for a talk I gave a few weeks ago I came across a quote that struck me. It is by Wendy L. Watson April 1998 many years before she married and became Elder M. Russell Ballard’s wife.  In it, she simply states “Ancient Hebrew tradition held that the heart could think.” I love that because I believe it's true. In the classical Chinese worldview, the mind and heart cannot be separated. Sinologists (those who make an academic study of China through the language) translate the word heart "Xin"[ ] as “mind”. I feel it is an accurate description and one worth focusing on. If we give credit to our feelings as making rational choices, and not just emotional fluxes, we can understand more about ourselves and we can make meaningful and worthwhile decisions.

Religiously the Holy Spirit or the Holy Ghost which testifies of God the Father and Jesus Christ also communicates with us through our thoughts, feelings, and impressions making it a bridge to the divine. Because of the great power we hold, mainly to act and not be acted upon we are also bombarded by ways to desensitize and stifle our emotions and feelings so that that link is effectively cut. A way to combat the many distractions we face is to live a virtuous life. Virtue is the fruit of self-mastery. When we make it a point to control the way we act, think and do we create strength of character. I’ve always found being careful of what I do to be easy enough, I don’t often uncontrollably hit people beside me or fly into a rage. Also using words that uplift those around me and don’t demean them is also not extremely difficult especially when I surround myself with people I respect and admire. Yet I find controlling my thoughts to be hard because as most people would say its unconscious so you do it without realizing it. The link between what we feel, say and do can come down to our basic core values. Our values are what filters the everyday world and interpret it in a way we can understand. If I believe everyone is out to get me, then I will be cautious and second-guess others motives. If I have been raised to see myself as a victim of circumstance then I will often complain and see others as being unjust and unfair. If our heart and mind are so closely linked then really all we need to do is have a change of heart. By intentionally choosing to control what we can, we can by its merits influence control over that which we cannot.

Experience and wisdom dictate that strength comes from opposition. When exercising ‘resistance’ is used to make workouts feel harder. It boosts muscle growth and endurance. Similarly, if we want to change the way we think we must encounter some resistance from outside sources or within ourselves, as we create new channels for our mind to act on. An example of this comes from the book “Learned Optimism” by Martin Seligman. He talks about how women are twice as likely to suffer from depression men because on average they think about problems in a way that amplify depression. “Men tend to act rather than reflect, but women tend to contemplate their depression, mulling it over and over, trying to analyze it and determine its source.” This is called rumination a word that means “chewing the cud”, doing something over and over again. Ruminant animals chew cud which is regurgitated food, over and over again. As humans, we do the same thing but with our negative thoughts which might not be an appealing example but a very true one. A way to combat that vicious cycle is to relearn our ABC’s. We need to understand the connection between Adversity, Beliefs, and Consequences.

 Simply put whenever we encounter Adversity, injustice, rejection, or opposition we react by thinking about it. Thinking is not static but turns into our beliefs which are so habitual we are unconscious of them unless we take the time to pin them down. By acting on our beliefs that can inspire us to try again or throw in the towel and go home, we will have our consequences. At times our beliefs about our own self-worth are so habitual we don’t realize them for what they are. A person might think they have high confidence and a good self-image but often times their thoughts and actions will counteract what they espouse. It’s fascinating to make the correlation and see how we react, for better or worse when difficulties occur like not getting a job, breaking up or losing our phone. We often allow ourselves to wallow in self-pity and then pick ourselves up again. But what if we just skipped that part? Think of how much faster we would overcome and begin again. 

There are many instances that prove our mental state of mind needs to be stronger than our physical one. As a gymnast, my coach would always tell me “It's 90% mental and 10% physical, you need to not be so hard on yourself.” This advice can be applied to many situations. In order to come to an understanding of who we are we need to acknowledge and face our weaknesses but not be immobilized by them. So even though in the beginning I was scared to death of doing back handsprings on a beam only 10cm wide and would at times have restless nights of sleep about it, I was striving for something greater so I faced my doubts and practiced until I could do them with confidence. 

If everyone took the time to recognize that our heart can think and influence our choices the results would ricochet across society. As they stand now, the laws of a country are never concerned about a person’s thoughts or desires in isolation. When they do cross that personal boundary it is mainly to assist in determining what consequence should be assigned to an action that was perpetrated. This is a bandage instead of a cure for systemic problems. By the time a decision is made whether to put someone in jail or not, the opportunity for reformation is often passed. If instead we are taught to live a virtuous life at a young age when our minds are more predisposed to it,  the likelihood of a change in nature is far better. It’s similar to the Chinese phrase that if you steal a needle when you’re small; you’ll still gold when you’re older. ( 小时偷针,长大偷金). Individual responsibility will be a blanket of security for the communities we live in. Even though our laws aren’t concerned with what people think we should be.

Adam Smith, Father of modern economics used virtue to determine how in the economic sphere, self-interest allows men to operate on levels of virtue and attain the greatest benefits for society as a whole. “According to Smith, the four principal virtues in a person's life are justice, prudence, benevolence, and self-command. It is through the exercise of self-command, Smith's cardinal virtue, that a man can rein in his selfish impulses, regulate his conduct, and indulge benevolence. Self-command involves the ability to control one's feelings, to restrain one's passion for his own interests, and to enhance his feelings for others (Champions of a Free Society, Edward Younkins).” 
By analyzing our own motives and changing those thoughts that do us harm, we will be happier and do more good in the world around us. As we strive to be true to the best within us, we can follow our heart and reason together.