“Purity of heart is to will one thing” (Søren Kierkegaard).
THESE DAYS, WE’RE PULLED IN SO MANY DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS, A TOTAL COMMITMENT TO ANYTHING SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE. Conflicting values and multiple priorities have become so common that our minds are in danger of going numb. Somehow we must rediscover the meaning and value of “wholeheartedness.”
The popular concept of wholeheartedness is that of energy and enthusiasm. When we say that someone did something wholeheartedly we usually mean that it was done exuberantly. But while wholeheartedness includes the idea of energy, there is more to it than that. In its highest sense, the word means singleness of purpose. The “whole” heart is the “single” heart — it’s the heart supremely fixed on one thing and not torn or divided among competing loyalties. The wholehearted person has considered the options, made a decisive commitment to one of them, and is now willing to sacrifice all else to the passionate pursuit of one great objective. Few and fortunate are those among us who have learned the power of this kind of commitment. Those who do what they do with all of their hearts live life at a level the rest of us can only imagine.
But life is complicated, isn’t it? As G. K. Chesterton noted, “The perplexity of life arises from there being too many interesting things in it for us to be interested properly in any of them.” Although each of us should have some “one thing” that is our ultimate passion, we don’t have the luxury of thinking about that thing every waking moment. Meals have to be provided, clothes have to be washed, and the roof has to be repaired. Still, we can be more wholehearted in our living. We can give our full attention to each thing in its turn, doing as the Zen maxim advises, “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” Being fully “present” in each moment is a discipline that can save our sanity.
W. H. Auden said, “Choice of attention, to pay attention to this and ignore that, is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer.” Full, healthy human character is impossible unless we exercise the ability to choose our thoughts. And wholeheartedness means that having chosen, we give ourselves completely to the choice we’ve made.
“One man, two loves. No good ever comes of that” (Euripides).