Traditionally, historically, and even prehistorically, the home has always been built literally around the hearth – that place where a fire burns to warm the occupants of the home, and to enable them to be fed. It’s interesting that, not only in English but also in many other more ancient languages, the words ‘heart’ and ‘hearth’ are closely related in both sound and meaning. One dictionary definition of ‘hearth’ is ‘the domestic circle, the home’. Again, tracing the word ‘home’ back through the languages, it has remained similar in sound to both heart and hearth throughout the ages – as though this trio of words/ideas is intrinsically tied up one with another:
Heart – Hearth – Home
Even the very sound created by each of the three words in so many languages begins with the soft ‘H’ of gentle relaxed breathing – as if we’re letting out a sigh of relief and contentment – returning wholeheartedly home to our hearth. Even a web-page such as this might be called a ‘home page’ – because it’s the center of our website, the place to start from – and return to, especially if we lose our way.
But this deep universal sigh is not restricted to that trinity of ideas alone: heart, home, and hearth, it also goes on to encompass more in its circle of breath. The words ‘health’, ‘whole’ and ‘heal’ are all derived from the one root, and all give a sense of wholesome well-being, either in regard to returning to that state, or remaining in it. Just as we are, as human beings, at some basic level connected by out heart to hearth/home, we are also essentially involved with healing toward health and wholeness. And so we add to our deep breathing:
Heal – Health – Whole
Each of these six ideas has its own nuance of meaning; yet they cannot be essentially separated. So we find ourselves presented with the essential human continuum of:
Heart – Hearth – Home – Heal – Health – Whole
If we were now to place the words in a circle in this order and went around the circle with our breath, intoning the sound of each by way of a meditation, we would very quickly understand the essence of this circle – and realise it to be not just an essential part of us, but in fact, the very essence of our being – being human. Even those of us who travel extensively, or maybe live nomadically, will still relate to the circle – because home/hearth does not depend upon specific location, but upon a condition of the heart. As we said at the beginning: Home is where the the Heart is.
If you have ever experienced time or times when your heart has lacked wholeness and been in need of healing, then no amount of hearth/home can accomplish this; and it might even become necessary, at least for a while, to become hearth-less, homeless – in order to eventually find our true home – within the Heart. The homeless way can thus become a way of restoring personal wholeness, of healing the wounds, and of eventually re-attracting hearth and home in whatever form this takes externally.
During the journey, away from and back toward home, the circle of six ‘H’s can easily become distorted. What was once a contented sigh from deep down in the hara, (the centre of wholesome breathing), for a while becomes shallow, and the ‘h’ sound restricts itself and rises into the throat. Thus we’re forced to deal with our ‘hurt’, life becomes really ‘hard’, and we realise we just ‘hate’ this, living in the ‘horror’ of a nightmare of ‘hell’! Try saying if any of these short ‘h’ sounds from the depths of your stomach – you’ll find it impossible. They can only be intonated in the throat, just as the first six can only be intonated in the full breath – from the hara, or the depth of our relaxed contented sigh. No – these are the sounds of a shallow breath, distorted and contorted by fear, loss and grief.
However, it is during such times that the heart is affected profoundly, and is forced to open in a fundamental way. (Listen to Leonard Cohen’s album: ‘The Future’ from 1996). The grieving process, involving a severe and meaningful loss of hearth and home has the effect of removing any callous or husk that might have developed and encrusted itself around the central organ of our heart. The pain of heart can be so intense at such times that it is felt literally in the chest. And the vulnerability of heart becomes so profoundly present that it can dominate our entire existence for a while. It is this process – this very painful process – that will eventually lead us home. But it will not be ‘home’ in the way we knew it before – not home to the narrow confines of a heart that shares itself with just a handful of fellow humans. No – it will be home to a much bigger heart – the One Heart that beats for the whole of humanity. This is the Heart that makes room for everyone, no matter who they are or what they have done, either to us personally – or to any fellow human.
This is effectively the healing of the wounded heart – the process of peeling back the layers we have built up through our life thus far; layers we had no choice but to put in place for our personal protection and security. Our symbolic hearts (and maybe literal?), over time become clogged and encrusted over with conditional thinking, partial judgments, and mistaken conclusions – that all have the tendency to restrict the flow of love through the centre of our being- through our heart. We can thereby become hardhearted and callous. We can even believe this to be our true nature. And yet beneath this superficial crust beats, in the heart of each human alive on this planet, a heart of innocence. This extremely vulnerable exposure of the innocent heart becomes for us our true salvation – and we are thereby saved from ourselves.
We have this principle expounded in the various mythological tales of the Fisher King. (You must watch the film The Fisher King if you haven’t – I’ve seen it at least five times!) Here’s my version: An ancient king was once happy and contented in his kingdom, enjoying the full and bountiful blessings of a divine state of Grace – known as The Holy Grail. But through various experiences of heartache and hurt the king becomes wounded and can no longer see his Holy Grail – and so it ceases to exist for him, and he becomes immersed in disillusion and despair. Then one day while sat at his hearth, he sees the chalice again in the flames of the fire. Not realising it is just a vision, he puts his hand into the fire to retrieve the Grail – and burns it severely. However, this is no ordinary wound, as nothing he does or tries to do ever seems to heal his hand. Then one day a fool arrives in his court and, not realising this was the king – but taking him to be an ordinary man, offers to get him a glass of water for his thirst. As he drinks the water the king’s hand is suddenly miraculously healed.
An ordinary man had eventually seen the king as an ordinary man. He had thereby seen himself as the same, and his healing came from being able to drop any sense of difference. He and this fool were one and the same.
The principle is also found in the writings of Paul in the Bible, where he talks about circumcision, not of the flesh, (as in the Jewish tradition of removing the male foreskin), but of the heart. The word ‘circumcise’ means ‘to cut around and remove’. He explains that in order to become approved (from his point of view by God – from mine by oneself, which is essentially the same thing) we need to undergo this temporarily painful heart circumcision. The tradition of circumcision of the flesh was merely a shadow that appeared in advance of the true reality. This experience of heart circumcision is nothing but real and present in every sense – and to every sense. There is nowhere to hide from the circumcising knife. But the reality that follows is well worth the pain. The realisation of the truth about oneself – that one is – we all are –somehow part and parcel of One Divine Existence – and this realisation becomes our new reality. We find ourself living no longer in the head – but in the heart. We have come home to where our heart truly is – in the One Heart – and know for sure that all hearts beat as one.