Heart to heart
In many Muslim cultures, Omid Safi writes, when you want to ask someone how they’re going, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh?
Haal is the transient state of one’s heart. When they ask How are you? what they really want to know is How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?
It’s a sad state of our culture, of the connections and relationships between many of us, that How are you? is a mere pleasantry, devoid of any meaning. I’ve often been left to wonder if anyone actually listens to the answer, or even more often, if they actually want to hear it in the first place.
Why can’t we delve deep into matters of the heart? Why can’t we admit to the reality that for the most part, life is about grief and loss?
The poet John O’Donohue spoke of the inner landscape of beauty, and the power of a great conversation to be food and drink for the soul:
When was the last time you had a great conversation, in which you overheard yourself saying things that you never knew you knew. That you heard yourself receiving from somebody words that absolutely found places within you and a sense of an event of a conversation that brought the two of you on to a different plane. And then fourthly, a conversation that continued to sing in your mind for weeks afterwards…
When I was learning how to breathe again, someone asked me how I was, and wanted to listen to my answer. In that moment, I examined my heart and I explored my soul. I let the deepest sense of myself speak out, because at that point in time, I had almost given up.
We spoke with rawness about what we each carried in our hearts and our souls. This person helped me to see that above today’s dark clouds, there will be sunshine again, and that it is ok to let the pain lift from our hearts and to heal. That letting go of carrying our pain, and letting the sunshine back in, does not mean that you love, honour or remember them any less.
It is a conversation that still continues to sing in my mind, months afterwards. And it all started because when that person asked me how I was, what they really meant was But tell me, how is the state of your heart today?