17 Jun A Heart of Iron & Wax
By Dr. Claudia Welch
For a long time I have reflected on something that my guru said on more than one occasion. Here are the exact words, in one case:
“And then we should have confidence, because a coward can never achieve any success. Only a strong-hearted person can achieve success. …You have to have a heart made of iron; you have to be a strong-hearted person.”
Whenever he said it, at least in the contexts I have found, it was in the context of treading a spiritual path and being firm in the resolve to do so successfully.
I have thought of this, that you have to make your heart like iron, many, many times– usually in the context of my own fear or feeling of weakness in the face of things that act as my personal triggers.
And then I get hit with the (somewhat obvious, I suppose) inherent problem: If you make your heart like iron, are you then hard hearted?
I recently put this question to a dear, dear friend in my life, one that spent a tremendous amount of time with my guru. Without missing a beat, he said that the saints say that we should have soft hearts, that they themselves have hearts like wax.
I let this sink in. So often I have found that the things—the concepts—that seem so paradoxical in life and teachings from saints, are the ones that hold some secrets, or some power to transform.
This friend of mine, who brought my attention to the importance of a soft heart…well, this was deeply meaningful coming from him. There have been a number of times over the years that I have been stunned into silence and impressed (in the real meaning of impression…like an impression was made on the stuff of my being) by the softness of his heart and his instinct toward that state of being.
One example I believe will always stay with me, is a small story. We were sitting with a friend, I’ll call him John. It was probably about 10 years ago. I had asked John to do something and I felt he had not done as well at the job as he might have. I said something to this effect in a direct, somewhat lighthearted way, in a joking way that I had come, over the course of life, to feel was a normal way to go about things.
My kind hearted friend softly asked what the job was, asked if John had done it and said that it seemed John had done just what the job required of him. Now, the thing is, he said it in a way that was not humiliating to me or in any way rebuking of me. In fact, I felt just as loved and accepted by him as ever. He simply did it in a way that brought honor and kindness to John’s heart.
To instantly lean towards kindness and offer dignity to another person’s experience in such a tender way…to me, this was a miracle. One that I have not been able to emulate, I’m afraid, to anywhere near the extent that I might. But, from that day to this, his example has remained in my heart.
So when he replied without hesitation to my recent question about iron hearts, with the reminder that the saints have hearts like wax, that they melt in response to the sufferings, great or small, of their disciples, this also has made an impression.
So, the charge it seems, is to have a heart like iron and wax. The soft heart does not mean a reduction of all personal boundaries, just as the iron one is not the same as a hard one. Are we soft with others, in the external world, and iron in our internal world? These are tough concepts to verbalize. Powerful paradoxes.
When should it be iron? When should it be wax?
My guru wrote, “Keep doing the simran (the remembrance of the Divine) while walking, and the destination will come to you by itself.” Applied to this heart paradox, it seems to me: keep in remembrance, as much as possible, and the correct attitude of the heart will follow. Not that there is a tidy little summation possible here or that words will necessarily do the thing justice…
One way of staying in remembrance—for me—without relying on tidy summations or dictums, is to read the stories of courageous people or saints or even myths. Ones that inspire. And let them sink in and hope that they work their transformative magic without my mental limitations getting in the way. They say that, if children grow up hearing or reading myths, that they are more successful in life. In that regard, and at the risk of sounding too much like Winston Churchill (never, never, etc.) I’ll end with this quote from my guru’s guru…
“Try to become a channel for the Divine and the Divine will then flow through you. This is not something impossible, but it is the very acme of all human endeavors. Just learn to implant lofty ideas in your subconscious mind and feed them with the waters of self-confidence, determination, diligence and adaptability. Stick to your guns. Never stoop low, never and still never. Stand aloof with your sublime principles of life, which will stand by you in your hour of need.”
This post is repurposed from a blog Dr. Welch originally posted in 2010.
Copyright Dr. Claudia Welch 2010