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Heart of Darkness 15 April 2008

Posted by Ayesha Mattu in BARAKA, Culture, Spirituality.
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“We’re born with pure hearts,” the teacher said.

He took out a white tissue and poured a little bit of the dark juice on it.

“This,” he proclaimed, holding the now splotchy tissue aloft, “is what happens to your heart every time you look at, say, do, or hear something negative. Small stains build up until you have a heart of darkness.”

His words stuck with me. Afterwards, I tried to be more conscious of what I took in, even passively: eyes lowered to avoid the spark of interest in a passing man’s face; ears trying to ignore a fellow bus passenger cussing into her phone.

Words and images are not innocent, as advertisers realized long ago. Yet in many Muslim families I know, extremely young children are allowed to watch violent cartoons or films, while even the most innocuous physical intimacy is fast-forwarded. To this day, as an adult woman, I still forward even the briefest snogging scenes when sitting with my parents, something Basil finds astounding.

A college friend of mine said that he wept when he first saw Tom & Jerry cartoons; at three he didn’t understand why they were hurting each other. My then two-year old niece’s eyes welled up with huge tears when the hero of the film we were watching died; even at that age she instinctively empathized with a human in pain.

And then they both grew out of it – mostly – as many of us do, through exposure to more films and to life.

We toughen ourselves up early, and rip the hearts off of our sleeves, telling ourselves it is necessary in order to survive the modern world, that it is necessary to distance ourselves from another person’s pain, and from our own. As Basil said, “We can blow up our enemies, but we can’t kiss the ones we love.”

Why do so many of us tolerate depictions of violence as a means of resolution or normal interaction, but not the smallest tokens of affection on-screen or, often, at home or in our communities? What kind of hearts does that create inside of us?

When the teacher spoke of the impressionable core three years ago, in response I separated myself from people, as if fearing their contagion. The cussing woman was worthy of my disdain and distance, as were many others.

It wasn’t until later that I realized that seeking to protect oneself from negative influences is fine, but a lack of compassion is just another type of stain on the heart, slowly walling it up brick by brick into complete darkness.

It wasn’t until I stood on another bus crowded with the usual San Francisco mix of obnoxious grade school students, the poor and disabled, the elderly, and the homeless that it hit me like a thunderclap: God chose, created and loved each of these people seventy times more than even their mothers, and I loved them not at all.

Without an ounce of compassion for their flawed humanity, how could I hope for His compassion for my own?

The Most Merciful says that He can choose to forgive any transgressions that we commit against Him, but that transgressions against a fellow human can only be forgiven by that person themselves. And yet in my pursuit of perfection, I’ve spent an awful lot of time in my life talking to the rich man and turning away impatiently when the blind one plucks at my elbow for attention.

The teacher said that through our daily baptisms, prayers, repentance, and dhikr we have the opportunity to make every day sacred and to rinse out the stains that have accumulated on our hearts.

I also like to think that every time we allow our hearts to break a little with tears, compassion, love, or empathy for another person that we let in a little more Light.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

– Leonard Cohen

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Comments»

1. Brian - 15 April 2008

each divine note seeks fulfillment in actions of others
love seeking path to respect finds loss instead
open thine heart and see with God’s eyes

2. nrsl - 15 April 2008

“We toughen ourselves up early, and rip the hearts off of our sleeves, telling ourselves it is necessary in order to survive the modern world, that it is necessary to distance ourselves from another person’s pain, and from our own.”

Detachment can distance us from pain, but would that help us in living with ourselves in a better fashion? I wonder.

3. VARANGALI - 15 April 2008

Salam Baraka,

One of my favorite quotes is from my late teen obsession with Che Guevara. Soon before his death, he wrote a short letter to his children asking them to: “Above all, always be capable of feeling deeply any injustice committed against anyone, anywhere in the world. This is the most beautiful quality in a revolutionary.”

4. Rachel - 15 April 2008

God chose, created and loved each of these people seventy times more than even their mothers, and I loved them not at all.

This is incredibly powerful. Thank you for this.

The Most Merciful says that He can choose to forgive any transgressions that we commit against Him, but that transgressions against a fellow human can only be forgiven by that person themselves.

I love this teaching. We have the same one in my tradition, too.

5. sha - 15 April 2008

“I still forward even the briefest snogging scenes when sitting with my parents”
I do that too which why I find the most romantic scenes to be the one where the hero holds the heroines hand for the briefest second or gives her a shoulder to cry on.Most people just yawn at these scenes because after watching too many of those snogging scenes they forget to enjoy love in its simplest terms.
It works either way.Watching too many violent scenes or too many love scenes renders one insensitive.

6. Baraka - 17 April 2008

Salaams all,

Brian: open thine heart and see with God’s eyes

Beautiful!

nrsl: Good question…balance between attachment and detachment is necessary but it’s not an easy one to keep.

Varangali: Yes, yes, and yes! Beautiful quote, thanks!

Rachel: I love the many symmetries between Judaism and Islam.

Sha: I agree that overexposure to either is unhealthy. Personally, I wish they would leave a lot more up to the imagination. Physical relationships in films are often so cliched that they’re terribly boring.

I do think exposing kids to violence and not to even innocuous physical affection (in the home or on film) is dangerous though.

Thanks for your comments!

Warmly,
Baraka


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