It was a phrase I used almost casually when writing to a friend recently. But when he wrote back asking me what I meant by "the dearest heart," I was hoisted by my own petard. Yes, the phrase had a lyrical and enticing ring to it, but what the fuck was I talking about?
I really do take the phrase seriously, but when I try to get my hands or head around it in ordinary terms, I flounder. Maybe it means what is left when all the kool and convincing constructs of this life simply fail to be convincing any more ... when things drop away ... when nothing is left, still there is this "dearest heart."
The Zen teacher Ummon once said, "When you can't say it, it's there. When you don't say it, it's missing." But I don't really like couching it in Buddhist terms. This is something true and what is true isn't "Buddhist." On the other hand, it's not not-Buddhist either.
Open your mouth and, honest to God, it's a lie. Open your mouth and, honest to God, it's the truth. Speech doesn't work and silence doesn't work either. So what works?
During one of my first visits to the first Zen center I ever visited, I remember sitting at a post-meditation tea and listening to all the people talking. They were using language and references with which I wasn't familiar. On and on the conversation went until I could feel a wrathful voice rise up in my mind: "Will someone just tell me what I want to know so I can get the fuck out of here?!"
What I wanted to know was amorphous in my mind, but it was serious as a blow to the solar plexis. I wanted to be happy, at peace, not uncertain, not confused. Just tell me how to do that and I can get the fuck out of here. Really, it made me irritable as a wet cat.
In my own defense, I had not better tools at the time. I thought that if something were explained clearly enough, that would actually be an explanation. If the emotions were dissected and addressed, that would be the end of unruly emotions. Oh well, intellect and emotion were what had convinced me up until then and so ... they were the things I found convincing. "Empirical" dontcha know. It was within their framework that I demanded my explanations.
It didn't work, of course. And I feel lucky as a leprechaun not to have chucked the whole business in favor of some more 'comprehensible' sphere of endeavor. Something made me summon up a willingness to find out. I suppose it was "suffering" or something similar. Anyway I feel lucky not to have run for the hills.
But none of this explains the "dearest heart," does it? It talks around the edges, just like those people at tea. The dearest heart is at home with a whole life, but a whole life can be full of messes and missteps. How can anything as lyrical and enticing be so sour and confusing? A dearest heart knows no boundaries and yet I am bounded on all sides.
Can you be serious about what cannot be named or bounded. Serious means at a bone-marrow, fresh-blood level. Beyond whining. Beyond explanations. Before identity. Without bullshit. Minus virtue. Never-mind-religion. No more lyrics. Skip the thin-tea praises. Damnation be damned.
Can you be serious about something that is not serious ... or frivolous either? I don't know. I mean I really don't. But sometimes I do feel serious about it.
I should be laughing, I suppose.