About Conversation Kindling

The purpose of this blog is to share stories, metaphors, quotes, songs, humor, etc. in hopes they'll be used to spark authentic and rewarding conversations about working and living fruitfully. There are at least three things you can gain by getting involved in these conversations. First, you'll discover new and important things about yourself through the process of thinking out loud. Second, you'll deepen your relationships with others who participate by swapping thoughts, feelings, and stories with them. Finally, you'll learn that robust dialogue centered on stories and experiences is the best way to build new knowledge and generate innovative answers to the questions that both life and work ask.

I write another blog called My Spare Brain. This is where I am "storing" ideas for use in future books, articles, blog posts, speeches, and workshops. There is little rhyme or reason for what I post there. I do this to encourage visitors to come as treasure hunters looking for new ways of seeing and thinking vs. researchers looking for new or better answers to questions they already know how to ask.

13 August 2010

Lay These Words Upon Your Heart ...

Jacob Needleman is a professor of philosophy at San Francisco State University and the author of many books, including: Why Can't We Be Good?, The Wisdom of Love, Time and the Soul, The Heart of Philosophy, Lost Christianity, and Money and the Meaning of Life.

More than a decade ago, we invited Jacob to do a special evening presentation for our Masters Forum members. His topic was Money and the Meaning of Life.

Since that time, I've made it a point to keep in touch with his work, and early this year bumped into a transcript of a speech he gave at Indian Springs School on January 22, 2004. The speech was about the great unanswerable questions of life; the questions that come from a deep place within us, such as:
  • Who am I?
  • Does God exist?
  • Is there a soul, and is it immortal?
  • What can we know?
  • What ought we do?
  • What is good and evil?
A great body of ideas and teachings has been built up over thousands of years to help people as they try to answer these questions. This wisdom is alive in every culture of the world, and forms the basis for all the great religious traditions and spiritual philosophies of the world. It was studied, practiced and passed on by mystics, saints, and great philosophers. It comes in many forms: words and stories; pictures and symbols; modes of behavior; and various forms of art. According to Needleman:
"The great stories and images of the world don’t usually reveal their meaning to us right away. These great stories, these fairy tales, these Biblical images, these myths, these great works of art - sometimes they’re not there to convince the brain, the head which is rational - but they’re there to make a kind of end run around the rational mind, which is sometimes connected to the superficial sense of ego; to do an end run, and go down in the direction of the heart. And later on, as the years pass, and suddenly life does something to you, some shock, some disappointment, some triumph, some extraordinary thing, and suddenly, 'Ah! That’s what the story meant, that’s what the story was telling me!' So try to let these stories come into you and slowly radiate their meaning."
Jacob told a story to drive his point home; it's an exchange between a pupil and a wise old rebbe:
"And so, the pupil asks the wise rebbe about a passage in the Bible, in the Book of Deuteronomy, which is part of the Torah, the heart of the Old Testament. There is a sentence there that says to 'Lay these words upon your heart.' The words, which sum up the fundamental belief of the Hebraic tradition, are these: 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.' (Deuteronomy 6: 4-6) And the pupil asks the rebbe, 'Why does it tell us to lay these words upon our heart? Why doesn’t it tell us to put them in our heart?' And the rebbe answers, 'It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and the words can’t get it in. So we just put them on top of the heart. And there they stay. There they stay until someday, when the heart breaks, they fall in.'"
He ended his time on the dais by saying:
"The great wisdom: study it in all its forms, and someday when your heart breaks, either in great sorrow or in uncontainable joy, it will fall in, and you’ll understand this other level of human values that every school worthy of the name is trying to lead you toward."
  • How is your life guided by the deep wisdom of the heart Needleman refers to?
  • What words are laying upon your heart?
"Where is the life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?" - T.S. Eliot
"Australian Aborigines say that the big stories - the stories worth telling and retelling, the ones in which you may find the meaning of your life - are forever stalking the right teller, sniffing and tracking like predators hunting their prey in the bush." - Robert Moss, Dreamgates

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