Writings on True Heart / True Mind

The True Heart/True Mind Intensive in a Larger Context

The yearning for revelation, salvation, and enlightenment is at least as strong today among us suffering human beings as it has ever been. For many in our culture this impulse is captured by various materialistic enterprises; for others, it is engaged by various dogmas or fundamentalisms. But for many others there lives the simple need to fulfill the spiritual potential that we sense about ourselves as human beings.

Fortunately we are today the inheritors of many authentic enlightenment traditions. And in our culture there is a proliferation of all kinds of paths, programs and lineages calling for our participation and advertising their enlightened wares. Many of these offer a legitimate container and support for our own spiritual process. However, we may also find that all programs play into our tendency to bypass or deny the ground of our own experience, to externalize our search for enlightenment, and thus in some subtle or not so subtle way keep us far from ourselves. As some of these programs grow in institutional scale there is often an escalation of form and identity as compared to essential teaching that refers us to ourselves. Actually, that is an ancient problem.

The authenticity of the Buddha dharma and the Christian gospel – beyond all mystification, esotericism, hierarchical distortion or spiritual materialism – begins and ends with the reality of the original clear light of conscious loving presence. This is the subtle reality, the great simplicity, the tao without a name, the already present blessing, the divine, that the least grasping, elaboration, diversion or preoccupation obscures. It is our Self, our Being-place, our pre-existent completion that all our restlessness is seeking. How difficult it is for this essential spiritual intimacy to be faithfully carried and conveyed within the heavy hands of any institutional form, when even the institution of our own thinking can separate us. And how easy it is to be diverted from conscious loving presence even by the most well-intentioned forms and practices, when the very nature of our human activity is one of distancing, and spiritual traditions are not immune from this.

Thus it is that some students who today are drawn to traditional forms of practice may end up still feeling diverted or road-blocked, or find themselves even more remote from what they thought they came seeking – or in some way bypassing the raw material of their existence. While others, not drawn to one traditional form or another, may feel at a complete loss as to how to honor their spiritual search and their need for true practice.

We also see arising within many practice communities a common disconnect between traditional forms of practice and the other skills and practice needed to embrace, integrate and heal our whole human selves. This perpetuates a dualism between our “enlightened” and “unenlightened” selves, and between our meditation skills and our human skills in community. We see practice communities reflecting the same dysfunctions as the greater culture: a failure of authentic communication, of reciprocity, of respectful intimacy, and of emotional integration, and inadvertent (at least) violations of human integrity.

At the same time that many of us are getting lost in the maze of seeking, a genuine, democratic, enlightened impulse is arising in our midst, honoring, but independent of, the traditions. This has happened in other historical periods, both in the East and the West, wherein small circles of independent practitioners brought renewal to the timeless ideas held in the traditions. Perhaps the spiritual impulse manifested in the growth of the AA movement and its genuine store of wisdom has also helped prepare us for this. And teachers such as Eckhart Tolle gently call us back to ourselves, and cut through the old mystifications of enlightenment without substituting new mystifications or hierarchies in their place.

Richard M. Bucke, a Canadian doctor and a friend and biographer of Walt Whitman, identified what he believed was an emerging faculty of awareness which characterized our great spiritual teachers, but which was gradually appearing more broadly among the population. He called it cosmic consciousness, and believed Whitman was a foremost example of it. Whether the phenomenon he observed is an evolutionary trait or a cultural trait, or more likely an interplay of both, it does appear that more people are experiencing a direct and unitive awareness that transcends limiting cultural and psychological structures of thought. This may happen among people who have reached a certain maturity of personal growth and spiritual practice; but it may also occur among people who have limited development or understanding about how to integrate these new insights or energies. Without coming to any final conclusions about all this, we do seem to be in a period, in other words, of growing spiritual openness with limited supportive cultural or psychological foundations for discipline, growth and maturity.

This is not to deny, therefore, the importance and the blessing of the ancient lineages, the depth and rigor of practice, and the continuity of dedication and focus that may be found within the traditional forms. Such depth is not easily come by in our independent learning process, and we shouldn’t presume that our relatively superficial efforts, even with some realization, are in themselves a substitute for that. In any case, it is up to our own true intent, longing, openness, and native spiritual intelligence to begin to channel our exposure to the learning opportunities that come our way into a continuity of daily devotion, integration and practice beyond a daisy chain of weekend workshops.

Another contemporary approach to supporting people in their awakening is found in the True Heart/True Mind retreats that we offer here in Maine. (The Chinese term hsin, or xin, means both the heart and the mind as one essential organ of knowing or understanding. True mind or true heart refers to that direct unitive heart/mind understanding that arises when we neither reject nor cling to the fragmenting concepts of our mental and emotional conditioning.)

The True Heart/True Mind retreat is a unique integration of contemplation and communication that is from the outset nondualistic and integrative of the whole self. True Heart/True Mind is authentically grounded in the enlightenment traditions, and while informal in its approach, is no less rigorous and precise in restoring us to ourselves and in supporting our capacity for direct experience and awakening. True Heart/True Mind integrates contemplative discipline with communication practice in a way that supports us in staying present in our whole selves, not separating inside from outside, the enlightened from the everyday, the personal from the relational, or our capacity to express ourselves truly from our capacity to listen well. By taking the whole phenomenon of the self, or of life, as the object of contemplation and communication, we gradually open to a deepening presence, integration and detachment that invites the awakening of true heart, true mind.

By honoring our own natural capacity from the beginning, with no power or authority invested in external forms, there is no hint of mystification or cultism, but only support for restoring us to ourselves and to our own capacity for direct experience. We appreciate “enlightenment” as a natural part of “growing up” – the full flowering of human maturity that is so often stultified.

When I, as a facilitator, observe the process of the True Heart/True Mind retreat, I often think with amazement to myself, “I have just witnessed human beings ‘grow up’ in the course of three days.” I watch a random group of people arrive with their typical distractions, complaints, doubt, restlessness, judgment, and attachment to drama or story, and I watch them become present, alert, still, dignified, appreciative, self-responsible, open and compassionate to themselves and to each other, with frequent expressions of enlightened insight based on their direct perceptions, and even surrendered to profound awakening, speaking with the tongues of sages and prophets. How can this happen?

When we look at human life on this planet we see a species acting like abused and abusing children, with little evidence of our mature potential. Yet we sense that the very essence of our humanity is the capacity for wisdom and for love – for enlightenment. How is this potential suppressed and how is it fostered?

We see that essence and potential of wisdom and love when we behold any newborn. That glimpse of our mature aspect is present at the beginning, ready to unfold in a natural developmental sequence in accord with mature nurturance and reciprocity from the environment of caregivers. That is, the nurturance and reciprocity that acknowledges and honors the whole unfolding self of the newborn, mindful of its tenderness, responsible to its dependencies, and supportive of its unfolding autonomy, self-expression and exploration of reality. In short, an environment of love and wisdom that reflects and invites the love and wisdom of the child to flourish.

Of course we know that in our actual experience, the environment of the newborn is able to reflect far less than that. We are born into a conditional world that in so many ways negates our own innate wholeness of self, and we adopt identities and structures of thought that allow for less than the wholeness of our own experience. Out of a lack of reciprocity with ourselves and others, we develop a separative identity and fixations of thought and emotion that distort our direct perception of reality. Our future “spiritual practice” becomes a struggle to release these distortions in a world that still seems to reinforce them.

At the True Heart/True Mind retreat everything you are becomes the object of your simple investigation into the nature of reality, without judgments, comparison, or rejection. We learn to be simply present for it all and to become increasingly aware of the one who is simply present. And this learning occurs in the context of a two-person communication process that fosters trust, reciprocity, receptivity, non-judgmental attention, and a deepening bonding and surrender to something that lies outside our own mental structures. It is the communication added to the contemplation that gives this process much of its efficacy. The capacity to truly listen, which is a wholly receptive capacity, is married to our capacity to stand fully in our own truth, to give it complete expression, and then to let it go. Together, they clear old circuitry and make us available to new experience. Combined with our own deepening intention, openness and contemplative rigor, our chronic fixations and developmental distortions begin to melt away and our genetic developmental capacity for full spiritual maturity asserts itself. That is why we have sometimes referred to True Heart/True Mind as a greenhouse that fosters the natural processes of our spiritual growth.

We are currently expanding the True Heart/True Mind process into a full supportive program for spiritual maturation and conscious loving presence. This will consist of a carefully designed and integrated program of practical and experiential study for awakening the harmonious function of the heart/mind and conscious loving presence in our everyday life and thereby complementing, supporting, expanding and integrating the focused work of the True Heart/True Mind retreats. Our intention is to provide support for those who would like to pursue the depths of their essential, unadorned spiritual process with incisiveness, breadth, and integrity while staying true to the simple intimacy and equality of conscious loving presence.

True Heart/True Mind offers transparent support for wherever we are in our spiritual practice. It is a welcoming doorway for the inexperienced, those wanting to make sense of, but not get lost in, the maze of spiritual practices currently available. It roots them in what is essential to spiritual practice and in an integral sense of self that encourages both self-reliance and self-surrender. For experienced practitioners, True Heart/True Mind complements and enhances other spiritual practices, or may release areas of stuckness. While True Heart/True Mind teaches basic skills that we would do well to apply in our daily lives, it also encourages us to adopt or continue in whatever other practice maintains our spiritual focus on a daily basis. For some, True Heart/True Mind has been a primary inspiration for their spiritual practice and understanding. Others welcome it as occasion for spiritual renewal.

In this process the facilitators and masters are also often participants and peers. And thus we are all seen as people in process. I am a capable being in whom a genuine realization is able to express itself. I am also an ordinary person with his own share of limitations and issues, and whom life periodically returns to first grade. We all respectfully share the same process and the same potentials, and our enlightenment underlies both and is negated by neither. This is the foundation of an enlightened democracy, of which my old friend Walt Whitman liked to sing. For those of us who readily despair about the current direction and legacy of “the American experiment, ” this other prospect is still worth singing about.

Notes on True Heart/True Mind

The Chinese term heart/mind refers to our essential faculty of knowing, compassionate, spontaneous interaction with reality, and is not defined by the narrow definition of separate heart or separate mind in the western sense. It is a unitive faculty that expresses our essential nature prior to the separative activity of mind or emotions. Hence it is our true heart/true mind.

When our energetic nature is whole and alive, thought itself can be a creative, vibrant expression of our rich essential nature, finding a natural economy within the whole person. But when the heart/mind is obscured, and the energetic nature is out of harmony, then the thinking process runs away with itself and becomes a purely mechanical and compulsive process with no enlivening consciousness. Its technical capacity for measurement, analysis, interpretation, judgment, imagination and projection is no longer grounded in the unifying intelligence of the heart, but becomes a separate virtual reality of its own that veils the heart/mind and dominates the natural life of body and spirit.

By the same token, the positive emotional energy that is the natural expression of our heart/mind – love, appreciation, compassion, joy – is considerably diminished and overwhelmed by a separative, compulsive and toxic emotional energy that is a dramatization of our mental projections, and which restimulates those projections in turn.

Physiologically and energetically the heart/mind is associated with the heart itself, rather than the brain, although our modern western science and culture has tended to glorify the brain and the nervous system, reducing the heart to a mere sophisticated pump in service of the governing intelligence of the brain. Cutting-edge research in such fields as neurocardiology and heart energetics confirms that the heart has a “brain of its own,” that consciousness is of the whole body, and that the heart is responsible for governing the harmonious functioning of all body systems, as well as harmonizing our interaction with the world – and that its harmonious functioning radiates, and is sustained by, the emotional energies of love, joy and appreciation.


What I am in the virtual reality of my thinking mind is a story I continually make up by observing what has happened. The present moment is always occurring outside of my agenda. It is occurring before I know it. It is always already taken care of. Yet “I” believe it needs the stamp of approval or disapproval, as dictated by my story, or my signed authorization for its existence. What I am in truth is that which is already arising as life in all things. I can choose simple surrender to it – which is already the case – or I can choose the thought that I must judge or control it in some way. In actuality, there is no “I” making such a choice, except in the story. I may either be surrendered or not. The choice is out of time and out of “my” control. Yet awakeness, or surrender, is already the case and may become apparent at any time. That is the paradox of grace.

The true heart is simply that which is already in immediate and essentially loving relationship to – surrendered to – all things as they arise. The true mind is simply that which is already aware of all things as they arise, prior to separation. True heart and true mind is not other than that which is arising. The way things are is what there is.

The apparent inability to recognize this is a result of the complication of the “I-story” that has been built up through a lifetime of observation and identification. The “I-story” exists within mythical time that is an endless labyrinth into which the drama of salvation gets projected – in which the inherently blissful realization becomes the chronically fearful apprehension that there is no one to save. Realization is the heart’s integrity surrendering its search in time; the knowing that opens when the heart falls back into itself. The heart’s integrity is none other than God’s integrity.


To accept the identities and imperatives of our thought-world is to continue in fitful sleep. To seek to awaken is also an extension of our greatest delusion. The ego-mind is ever seeking to reinvent the wheel, when it’s not simply avoiding the wheel altogether. That wheel is the self-existent current of love that manifests as our life, as our suffering and our enlightenment, beyond all our doing. Learning to access and practice our own capacity for this love allows us to stay present to ourselves and to all that is arising within our experience. When we stop reinventing or avoiding this current of love, it will naturally carry us into the depths of divine experience and contemplation, and also into the simple functionality of our everyday life.

As a practical matter, as human beings wanting to stand in the fullness of our humanity, we must let this love carry us not only into the dimension of transcendent awareness, but also into the realm of our emotional healing and of our capacity for relationship on both individual and community levels. To ignore any of these dimensions, or to create any dichotomy between them in our spiritual practice, is to offer very limited service to either our humanity or our realization.

True Heart/True Mind is a supremely integrative and nondualistic process founded in both love and awareness. With directness and compassion the True Heart/True Mind training challenges us to stand nakedly and honestly in the fire of our experience – which is beyond manipulation and beyond self – and thereby learn to embrace both our immediate suffering and our immediate enlightenment.

We never will or can be more than we are right now. What is that? Learning to allow and to exercise the unconditional love that is essentially true of us opens the doors of transcendent awareness.


The True Heart/True Mind Intensive serves as a living laboratory – or greenhouse – in which people can grow in direct conscious knowledge of who they are. It serves not by teaching us how to do something more and more perfectly, how to meditate more perfectly, how to be more perfectly enlightened. It serves by opening a space wide and deep enough for us to test the waters of our own existence, to try and fail and try again at all the beliefs, strategies and demands that normally motivate our approach to experience – until the membrane of our seeking becomes so threadbare and obsolete that we suddenly find ourselves inhabiting an unencumbered space. Enlightenment is not ultimate success at something we’re trying to do. It is the ultimate failure. It is our default position that has always been true after we have exhausted all the other possibilities. The mind will always want to make it a thing. But there is no thing. The heart that falls back on itself has nowhere to stop falling.

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