I was recently on a vacation with my partner of 8 years Julie Kramer (spending time in British Columbia kayaking with orcas), and I asked her how well she thought I was doing “living up to my highest potential.” These are the kinds of questions I seem to gravitate toward on vacation, a type of existential “taking stock” if you will. Julie’s response surprised me. She said something to the effect of, “I think you are asking the wrong question. How about asking instead, ‘Am I living in a wholehearted way?’”
The question itself stung (Julie seems to have a gift for delivering “zingers” very calmly and sweetly). I thought to myself, “I am not truly whole-hearted about anything. Not about our relationship. Not about my work. There is often a part of me that is holding back, looking and evaluating everything from the sidelines, measuring and comparing, reserving just a bit of ‘hedge’ room to protect myself if things go south.”
During this vacation, I thought about this question a lot (and took all kinds of new relational risks as well!). One interesting point here is that there are two Sounds True authors and spiritual teachers I greatly respect, Adyashanti and Hameed Ali (who writes under the pen name A.H. Almaas and is coming out this Fall with a new ST learning program called The Diamond Approach), who emphasize again and again how sincerity is the most important quality on the spiritual path. I have never much connected to this word “sincerity,” however when Julie asked me to inquire into whether or not I was “wholehearted,” I suddenly realized that this was the same question Adyashanti and Hameed have been pointing to when they talk about what it means to be sincere.
That’s when the light really went on for me. I have always been curious about how some spiritual practices seem to work fabulously well for some people and other people can do the same practices for years (sometimes even decades!) and there is no real growth or transformation. I had previously attributed this to different people simply being at different points in their development (and of course, there is some truth in that). But what if one person is engaging in a practice (say the practice of forgiveness) in a wholehearted way, and another person is doing the same practice with only a portion of their genuine heart “on the line”? Of course, the results are going to be wildly different.
Or take another example: how some couples see a relationship counselor and radical change happens in a very short period of time, while other couples can go through a similar counseling process with little or no change occurring, even after years of therapy. Is it possible that the couple whose dynamic did not change were not really wholehearted in their willingness to grow and transform?
Now, I know there are lots of factors that account for how people change and at what speed, but what if wholeheartedness is one of the most significant and powerful factors of all? What if my partner Julie was right, that asking this question “Am I wholehearted?” is the most important question I could ask if I want to experience life in as full a way as possible?
At one point a few years ago, I was engaged in a devotional practice called “prostration” which involves throwing yourself down on a mat over and over again, while offering yourself fully and completely to life, for the benefit of all beings. I remember talking with Adyashanti about the practice I was doing, and he said “if you do one prostration with the whole of your being, that one, single prostration will liberate you.” This type of “gonzo wholeheartedness,” packed and exploding–in one prostration, one kiss, one moment of total surrender and vulnerability—is what interests me, and what I hope to experience again and again and again.