The English translation to the Persian greeting, “Hello, how are you?” is “How is your heart doing at this very moment? At this very breath?”
Head of Islamic Studies Omad Safi suggests that is what we mean when we say “How are you?” We mean to ask, “How is your heart?”
I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Examine your own heart, explore your soul, and then tell me something about your heart and your soul.
Tell me you remember you are still a human being, not just a human doing.
From grade school kids to retired, too many consider life with what Safi calls “the disease of busyness.“
Rather than spending our time and energy seeking and transporting water, growing and harvesting food, caring for animals critical for transport and planting, cooking and cleaning which had been necessary in previous centuries, we spend the limited time we are given in our lives to do…what exactly?
The problem of deciding how to compose a life is not a new one.
When I traveled alone to Delphi in the late nineties I stood in the ruins of the Oracle at Delphi thinking about her admonition to all seekers: Gnōthi Seauton or ‘Know Thyself’. Plato declared in his Aplogia, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ And close to two thousand years later, Thoreau wrote, “It is not enough to be busy. The ants are busy. The question is: What are we busy about?”
But these are statements about meaning; about discovering the purpose of our lives, of learning just what we are called to be. Discerning the answer demands silence, solitude and a quiet mind. Features and conditions which are more easily said than achieved because the work required is stillness. Something man is never comfortable with.
Blaise Pascal wrote All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone. Five hundred years later the problem of achieving stillness of mind is clearly a far more elusive goal than in an age which lacked nearly all the distractions of the twenty-first century.
In a series of 11 studies, U.Va. psychologist Timothy Wilson and colleagues at U.Va. and Harvard University found that study participants from a range of ages generally did not enjoy spending even brief periods of time alone in a room with nothing to do but think, ponder or daydream. The participants, by and large, enjoyed much more doing external activities such as listening to music or using a smartphone. Some even preferred to give themselves mild electric shocks than to think…
Ryan Holiday does not overstate. These words from his book, Stillness is the Key, are incisive and compelling. Not long ago, I put together his thoughts with those of St. Therese of Liseuix in a post I called Sanity: Stillness, Addiction and Love.
Let us insist on a type of human-to-human connection where when one of us responds by saying, “I am just so busy,” we can follow up by saying, “I know, love. We all are. But I want to know how your heart is doing.”