The heart has ten thousand hands that want to lift and hold everything, to leave no dream untried. But the life that carries the heart has only two hands. And so, intoxicated with life, we reach for more than we can carry, and meaning well, we promise more than we can ever hope to care for. In this way, we try to live as many lives as possible rather than inhabit the one life we are given.
This is a common, inner tension. For as human beings, our being is infinite and unlimited, but our humanness is very finite and limited. Feeling this innate cross-purpose, we are seduced by the want to do everything and to go everywhere—though we can’t. It was when forced to lie still after a spinal tap during my cancer journey that I discovered that everything and everywhere is holy. It was humbling to realize that I can find God anywhere, if I dare to stop running and be completely where I am. Romantically and erotically, we are often seduced by the prospect of so many people to experience and fall in love with. But being human, we can’t promise ourselves in all directions and still be completely where we are. We can only honor one love at a time. When devoted to this deep truism, the mystery of everything reveals itself through the complete love of one thing.
We sorely fail when trying to tend ten thousand things with just two hands. I know. I have tried. But devote the ten thousand hands to the one thing before us and the care of the heart can empower us with the strength of those who’ve come before and those yet to be born. Then, we are stronger than we are and more loving than we can imagine. Let the ten thousand hands of the heart enter the two bruised hands we meet the world with and we can embody the love and care of centuries. When reaching for everything, we inevitably fall short of loving anything completely. But through loving one thing or person thoroughly, we can extend our love to everything and everyone we meet.
When desperate not to miss anything, it is the ghost of love that urges us to embrace everything at once, which is like trying to carry ten cups of tea with two hands—I will inevitably spill them and burn you. But carrying two cups of tea with the care of the ten thousand hands will make me a conduit for all the tea ever poured, releasing Eternity through one moment of complete care.
When we can accept that everything that matters is near, it is the symphony of life that plays us till we can receive everything through the one thing before us. Then, the one sip from the one cup is the elixir we’ve been waiting for. Once we stop chasing the dream, it is a courage of heart that enables us to inhabit the dream wherever we are.
Serving the ten thousand hands fuels desire, which is the want to experience everything. This stirs us to reject where we are. In truth, the aberration of wanting everything is the life of addiction. In this state, what two hands can hold is never enough, and we are driven to seek more and more and more.
However, a devotion to bring the ten thousand hands into the two hands we have is the essence of longing. This stirs us to enter where we are. In this state, longing centers on the need to release everything that waits in the experience before us. While desire seeks worthiness outside of us, longing seeks Wholeness inside of us.
The Roman philosopher Plotinus said, “Virtue is our tendency toward Unity.” This tendency to know, feel, and inhabit everything that is larger than us can only surface through our commitment to give our all to whatever is before us. When we can bring everything to bear on the moment we are in, the heart opens as a conduit between our one small life and the stream of Eternity, Oneness, Mystery, and Love that sustains us.
One form of Heartwork—of being a spirit in the world—is to make a covenant with the practice of staying true and real, which helps us stay in longing and not desire. The ongoing challenge for each of us is how to bring everything through us to illuminate and release the miracle of where we are.
So, let’s help each other resist the urge to seek what will complete us in a dreamy want of everything, which leads us to chase everything. Instead, let’s try to love everything, as it grows in us and through us, one touch at a time. This is the sacred work that ennobles us to come alive and, in turn, to enliven the world.
Adapted from Surviving Storms: Finding the Strength to Meet Adversity, to be published in September by St. Martin’s Essentials.