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Observing the Conditions… of the Heart (the Friday post) February 6, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.

[This is the post for the “First Friday Night Special: ‘Observing the Conditions of the Heart’” – on Friday, February 5th. You can request an audio recording of this special practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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“When we ask, ‘Am I following a path with heart?’ we discover that no one can define for us exactly what our path should be. Instead, we must allow the mystery and beauty of this question to resonate within our being. Then somewhere within us an answer will come and understanding will arise. If we are still and listen deeply, even for a moment, we will know if we are following a path with heart.”



– quoted from “Chapter I – Did I Love Well” in A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life by Jack Kornfield


In general, “discernment” is one’s “ability to judge well” and to see (or perceive) clearly and accurately. In a secular sense, that good judgement is directly tied to perception of the known world (psychologically, morally, and/or aesthetically). However, “discernment” has certain other qualities in a religious context and, in particular, in a Christian context. In Christianity, the perception related to discernment is based on spiritual guidance and an understanding of God’s will. In his Spiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius of Loyola gets even more specific: Ignatian spirituality requires noticing the “interior movements of the heart” and, specifically, the “spirits” that motivate one’s actions.

Saint Ignatius believed in a “good spirit” and an “evil spirit” that would use similar methods to guide one either towards peace, love, and eternal bliss or towards sin and more sin. For example, if one is already in the habit of committing mortal sins, then the “evil spirit” will emphasize the mortal pleasures that might be found in a variety of vices – while simultaneously clouding awareness of the damage that is being done. On the other hand, the “good spirit” in this scenario “uses the opposite method, pricking them and biting their consciences through the process of reason.”

If however, a person is striving to live in a virtuous and sacred manner then the “evil spirit” will create obstacles, offer temptation, and in all manners of ways attempt to distract one from the sacred path; while the “good spirit” provides “courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and quiet, easing, and putting away all obstacles, that one may go on in well doing.” It can get really confusing, on the outside, which is why discernment requires turning inward and taking a look at one’s self.

Yoga Sūtra 2.44: svādhyāyādişţadevatāsamprayogah


– “From self-study comes the opportunity to be in the company of bright beings [of our choice].”


The fourth niyamā (“internal observation”) in the Yoga Philosophy is svādhyāyā (“self-study”) which is a form of discernment whereby one looks at themself – their thoughts and reactions – in relation to sacred text, chants, or even historical scenarios. Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises fit firmly within this rubric in that they entail a period of prayer and self-study during which a person places themself within the context of the life of Jesus (and the disciples) and considers how they feel, what they sense, and what motivates them in any given direction. Just like in the yoga practices, the ultimate goal of the Spiritual Exercises is to cultivate an awareness of the spiritual heart that enables one to release attachment to likes and dislikes (which are include in Patanjali’s descriptions of afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns that lead to suffering) and move through the world with Divine purpose.

Every religious, spiritual, and philosophical path holds up one or more examples of the ideal end goal. Christians think of this end goal as “becoming more Christ-like,” and may also emulate saints like Saint Paul the Apostle, Saint Francis of Assisi, or Mother Teresa. Jewish people may emulate Abraham, Moses, a Biblical heroine like Esther, or a great rabbi like Hillel the Elder, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, or Rabbi Akiva. In Islām, people follow the example of the Prophet Muhammed and Aisha, as well as prophets like Abraham, Moses, and even Jesus. In Buddhism, the gold standard is the Buddha and a person on the path to Buddhahood is a bodhisattva (although, some traditions have a more specific description). All of these examples share a strong connection to the wisdom of the heart and the power of sacred/spiritual love. All of these examples communed with their hearts – and discernment, as a spiritual exercise (in any tradition), is the practice of cultivating a dialogue with one’s heart.

“It is possible to speak with our heart directly. Most ancient cultures know this. We can actually converse with our heart as if it were a good friend. In modern life we have become so busy with our daily affairs and thoughts that we have forgotten the essential art of taking time to converse with our heart. When we ask it about our current path, we must look at the values we have chosen to live by. Where do we put our time, our strength, our creativity, our love? We must look at our life without sentimentality, exaggeration, or idealism. Does what we are choosing reflect what we most deeply value?”



– quoted from “Chapter I – Did I Love Well” in A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life by Jack Kornfield


Many traditions have a practice of “sitting with” a question. In some practices, the “sitting” is quite literally sitting; breathing, not thinking about the question, but definitely holding the question in one’s heart. In some yoga traditions, the practice of vichāra (which roughly translates into English as “deliberation”) consists of a series of questions that drill down to the core essence of one’s motivations.

In the Heart to Heart Guidebook: A Spiritual Journey for Women and the From the Heart Journal: A Personal Prayer Journal for Women, Patricia D. Brown outlines a practice for groups of women to dialogue with their own hearts while dialoguing with the hearts of others. The journal includes lots of prompts, including a series of questions (courtesy of Portia Nelson’s There’s a Hole in my Sidewalk) to help one recognize potential pitfalls in their life as well as questions to help one honor the people and things that support the heart. She also includes a series of prompts which she refers to as puzzle pieces. In this practice, I ask the following questions based on or inspired by her puzzle pieces:

During Introductions: What is on your heart today? (Note: The prompt IS NOT ‘what is heavy on your heart?’ It is simply, ‘What is on your heart today?’


After 1st Dandasana:

  1. My greatest fear is…
  2. What is on your mind?
  3. A project or plan I worry may fail is…
  1. Note a most embarrassing moment
  2. Note a most desperate moment 
  3. Note a tragic moment
  1. When in your life are/were you the most driven?
  2. When in your life are/were you the least driven?
  3. What’s the emotion you hide (from yourself or others)?

The questions also circle back to the questions in the Jack Kornfield quotes:

  • Am I following a path with heart?
  • Where do we put our time, our strength, our creativity, our love?
  • Does what we are choosing reflect what we most deeply value?

Since I recently had a conversation with a friend who mentors professionals from a spiritual perspective and also listened to a related talk, I’ve had Enneagrams on my mind and, to a certain degree, on my heart. In the most general sense, the Enneagram system is an ancient system of archetypes that breaks down the human psyche into nine interconnected personality types. The nine types are bundled into three sub-types – which I have seen described in different ways, but make the most sense to me as “Body,” “Heart,” and “Head.” Even someone who is not familiar with (or interested in) the Enneagram system, will appreciate the idea of making decisions from “the gut;” from the heart or emotions; and/or from a purely logical, fact-based perspective. And so, I propose observing the conditions of the heart by seeing how the “Body,” “Heart,” and “Head” react to the questions…and to the answers.

Notice what comes up immediately. Notice from where the “answer” arises. Notice how the different parts of you feel about the answer that arises. Notice what you’re thinking about what is arising. Notice if there are questions, answers, and/or thoughts that surprise you. Notice if there are any from which you want to immediately turn away.

And do all of this with your heart gently open or gently supported. Breathe. Listen. Respond.

“There was a girl in Paris
Whom he sent a letter to
Hoping she would answer back
Now wasn’t that a fool
Hardy notion on the part of a
Sometimes lonely musician
Acting out a whim is only good
For a condition of the heart”



– quoted from the song “Condition of the Heart” by Prince

We’re human. We all have a desire to feel connected; to have someone hear us, see us, and understand us. In other words, we all have a “condition of the heart.” Sensation is simultaneously one of the pleasures and challenges of being human: we feel so much. Yet, we don’t always pay attention to what we’re feeling – and, as a result, we are surprised by the “sudden” outpouring of emotion.

I think of it in much the same way that I think about the weather. We talk about the weather all the time – and sometimes with limited knowledge of why we’re experiencing the weather we’re experiencing. Sometimes we are prepared for what’s to come; sometimes not. Sometimes we rely on professionals, and all their science and math and theories, to predict what to expect. Sometimes we trust the almanac (and the history of precedent and “superstition”). Other times, we feel more confident relying on our achy bones; the smell of the air; the pressure in our head/sinuses; and/or a certain kind of restlessness. Of course, sometimes, we observe all that and still ignore the observation.

John Jeffries, born in Boston today (February 6th) in 1744, is considered America’s first weatherperson (even though he was loyal to the crown and would be banished from the new republic because of his loyalties). His birthday is observed (mostly in the United States) as National Weatherperson’s Day, which recognizes professionals in the meteorology, weather forecasting, and broadcast meteorology, as well as volunteer storm spotters, chasers, and observers.

The original Dr. Jeffries (not to be confused with his son, he became a famous ophthalmic surgeon) was a physician, a scientist, and a military surgeon who served with the British Army. A graduate of Harvard College (1763) and the University of Aberdeen, he started taking daily measurements of the Boston weather in 1774. He would eventually take weather observations from a balloon piloted by the French inventor Jean Pierre Blanchard on November 30, 1784 and a second trip on January 7, 1785. On the first trip, the duo flew over London to Stone Marsh, Kent. On the second trip they flew from England to France. In addition to making weather and atmospheric observations, Dr. Jeffries dropped four letters from the balloon on that first trip. Three of the letters were delivered to the appropriate recipients. The letter addressed to Mr. Arodie Thayer is now “considered the oldest piece of airmail in existence.”

“From the Balloon above the Clouds


Let this afford some proof, my dear Mr. Thayer, that no separation shall make me unmindful of you, — have confidence, — happier, I hope much happier days await you — pray tell my dear Mrs T. I salute her from the Skies… [this section illegible except for the word “pleasure”]… believe me as I ever have been,


     faithfully yours,

J. Jeffries”



– quoted from Dr. John Jeffries letter sent via “airmail” to Mr. Arodie Thayer, November 30, 1784, as posted “Attention, Aerophilatelists” by Peter Nelson (on The Consecrated Eminence: The Archives and Special Collections at Amherst College, 4/16/2012)


Friday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [NOTE: If you are in “shuffle mode” Spotify may include songs selected by the app. I will update the playlist next week to circumvent that pseudo-randomness.]





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