Put Your Heart Into It

By Robert Treat

I have always reacted most favorably to the old injunction, "put your heart into it." It makes no difference what the duty may be, we compromise and weaken ourselves if we do not give it our best. Tasks around the house or at the office are often of a petty routine nature and we may feel half-hearted in taking care of them. Most of these, however, would take only a little more time to be done right, and when we finish them in that spirit, we feel good inside. Katherine Tingley had some fine words on this subject: "Do well the smallest duty, and when the day is done, there will be no regrets, no time wasted. Then joy will come." I feel this inner joy is a sure indication that we are on the right track when we have done the best we can.

Of course there are occasions in all our lives when we are asked to prepare something almost immediately. There is no postponing the event, no time to do every phase with care. Here we must take a commonsense overview, deciding what must be done thoroughly, and what may be given "a lick and a promise." However I have found that if we have been doing the best we can from day to day, there is seldom any accumulation of partially taken-care-of duties and we are in a better position to concentrate upon the main event. If the main event itself is too large for the time allowed, and there is no way to postpone it and no helpers to delegate portions to, we may still rough out the project and give detailed concentration only to its most important phases. More we cannot do.

Putting one's heart into it also has the interpretation of doing things with a whole heart. Nothing is more irritating in duties where we must contact others than to feel we have only part of another's attention. He seems to be listening to something inside while he is making note of our requests. Or we get the impression that he is really a very busy man who has condescended to give us a few moments of his valuable time. It is imperative to give our entire attention to the job in hand, especially where we are contacting others. We must understand that if a request is being made of us or an opinion or advice asked, it may mean a lot to the other person and he deserves the best we can offer.

It is not by chance that the word "heart" is attached to "wholehearted" and "put your heart into it." When we reflect upon it, we see that where other people are involved we have to open our hearts and minds to understand their situation. Who knows how important even a casual word might be? After all, every person we meet comes to us by karma: it is a two-way exchange of giving and receiving. The heart is truly the organ of understanding. This understanding comes in a flash and can penetrate beneath surface appearances. As Martin Buber suggested, the most important questions often remain unasked, although they are there behind the other questions a person may be asking. The real questions may not be related, mentally at least, to the conversation taking place. The wholehearted person feels or intuits the true situation, but he can only do so because his full interest is engaged -- which is another way of saying that he truly cares for the other fellow, whoever he may be.

So "put your heart into it" may also mean putting some heart into everything we do, looking beyond our own personality with its often dominating self-interest. Indeed, the person who is in the best position to understand any situation is the one who can leave the cavern of his own illusions, and intuit the actual conditions behind the masks of those around him, doing so because he has a feeling of love and concern for all involved. Of course he may sense that some may be dominated by selfishness or egotism, but he must depend upon what comes to him to do or say, or not to do or say, in the situation. For no doubt all of us have seen how a generous and helpful spirit in one person can evoke a similar spirit in others. If not, if it is not given him to say or do more, then at least he has done the best he can. Time alone, working out the law in its unseen ways, may bring about what human agencies cannot achieve.

I suppose the ultimate definition of putting our heart into it, or being wholehearted, is trying to be our true self at all times and under all conditions. We have all known some who were gently and unassurningly themselves "in sunshine and in rain," and they were loved by everyone. Such can be counted upon to be and do their unselfish best. They may make mistakes, but these are honest mistakes not stained by self-interest. Such people are a joy to be with.

(From Sunrise magazine, October 1978. Copyright © 1978 by Theosophical University Press.)

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