(Gr. phrenes, Ar. qalb, sadr [sarira, sirr], La. cor)

The term ‘heart’ does not mean the cardiac muscle (or when it does so it is only to serve as the basis for an analogy). The term ‘heart’ is used to designate a number of different but related aspects of subtle corporeity, as Al-Ghazali indicates:

By ‘Heart’ I do not mean the piece of flesh situated in the left of our bodies, but the inner dimension (Ar. batin/sarir), sometimes called Soul [Ar. nafs], sometimes Spirit [Ar. ruh or aql]. The Heart is your Essence (dhat); everything else follows from it. It cannot be seen by the outer eye, but only through inner perception. In truth it does not belong to the visible world, but to the invisible… It is the knowledge of this entity and its attributes that is the key to the knowledge of God. An exact philosophical knowledge of (it) is not a necessary preliminary to walking in the path of religion, but comes rather as the result of self-discipline and perseverance in that path [Ar. tariqa], as it has to be freed from enmity towards people, from the desires of the selves [or Souls, i.e. nafs], and from being occupied with sensual phenomena [also known as ‘ghafla‘: distraction].

Here Al-Ghazali mentions something of vital importance: it is not necessary to have theoretical/conceptual knowledge regarding ‘Heart’ to begin with. Rather, it is necessary to walk the path with Heart in order to learn its qualities, capacities, and potencies. This echoes the old saying that to live the life is to know the doctrine (c.f. experience and authority).

Alchemy is a path that leads from our present conditioned (prematurely ‘fixed’) and fragmented state which emerges from and re-inforces:

  • identification with the contents of consciousness;
  • reification of the sense of having a discrete self;
  • over-stimulation of desire through compulsive use of an externally-directed sensorium.

Alchemists are to dissolve that prematurely fixed ‘self’ and transmute it into the simple and sincere state of the unified (‘perfect’) Human being, in which all parts of our subtle corporeity are in Indissoluble Communion (or constant and harmonious relationship) with one another.

Our Sufi parent tradition defines ‘The Heart’ as:

An incorporeal luminous substance located midway between the Spirit and the Self [or Soul, i.e nafs]. It is the means by which Humanity verifies Reality, and sages call it the Rational Soul. Its Inner aspect is the Spirit, while its vehicle and external aspect is the Animal [or vital, lower] Soul, which mediates between Heart and Body.

The Heart, while in bondage and servitude to the accidental and contingent, is said to be living in the ‘darkness’ or ‘tomb’ of matter (or of the Station of the Flesh and the Senses). However, the Heart is like a mirror, and all she [the Soul] need do is to polish that mirror and turn it around so that the light of the Nous is made to illumine inwardly. The matter of the Stone under such focused light and heat catches fire and turns black as the impurities (scoriae – the accidental, contingent, and inessential) are burnt and turned to ash. As the Stone dissolves, pure water gushes forth to wash the matter. This combination of heat and moisture (alternating) creates a fertile black earth. The vessel is continually heated which causes the water to evapourate, and in so doing, it becomes more and more pure with each cycle. This purified water is re-introduced to the matter to further wash it until it becomes a fine white powder.

To put it epistemologically: the alchemist seeks the development of noesis (the faculty of direct perception of reality using the intuitive higher mind) as well as dianoia (the faculty of ratiocinative thought using the conceptualizing lower mind) by turning the lower mind around upon itself so that contact with the higher mind might become possible (due to the lower mind no longer being fixated upon its own psychic contents nor the objects of the senses). Contact with the higher mind (which is described as being initially flighty or volatile) eventually begins to dissolve the conditioned lower mind (described as initially ‘dead’ or ‘fixed’) even as the newly volatised lower mind helps to fix (through continued concentration) the connection with the higher mind. This mutual action of the fixed and the volatile on one another serves to ‘create’ the truly Human Mind or Rational Soul.

Jalaluddin Rumi, in his Masnavi, has written:

The knowledge of men of the Heart bears them up.
The knowledge of men of the Flesh bears them down.

That is to say: the many superfluous objects in the Heart of one trapped in the station of the Flesh and the Senses is very much like a rock tied around the ankle of a man being thrown into an ocean: such only serves to further weigh him down and drag him —ever faster— toward his doom. However, the relative emptiness and capaciousness experienced in the Heart of one in the station of Discrimination and Divinity en-lightens him, and bears him ever upward toward his joy and rest.

Richard of Saint-Victor, echoing the teaching and the terminology of Rumi (above), writes:

There is a hidden manna altogether unknown to all but they who taste it. For this sweetness is of the Heart, not of the Flesh, so that no carnal person can know it. ‘Thou hast put gladness in my Heart‘ (Psalm 4:7). Body delights even as the body itself may be discerned: by the bodily eye. The delights of the Heart, and this Heart itself, cannot be seen by the eye of the Flesh. Why should a man know spiritual joy unless truly and without feigning he enters into his own Heart and abides there.

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