The ancients told us that it was the heart that mattered. Thinking too much, they warned, will only give you a headache. And this fact was backed up by the finest research of Medieval physicians and theologians. Aristotelian philosophy had imparted to the Medievals that the heart was hot and dry-- often times burning hot; and that intelligence, emotion, passion and sensations all originated there, in that heat. Ibn Arabi further refined this by adding that, if the mind thinks (考）, the heart imagines （思・想）.
We find ourselves, therefore, back in a Medieval time when heart and imagination took center stage.
In addition to its heat, the Medieval heart was also believed to be extremely porous--something which inextricably connected inner with outer (and outer and inner). Heather Webb explains it thus:
It was thought that the air we breathed mixed with the blood in our hearts to form generative spirits that, sent back into the world, connected us to one another and to the greater circulating universe. According to the Aristotelian and Aquinian theory, the heart should imperfectly mimic the circulations of the heavens"
Through our breath, then, and our persistently beating hearts, we are connected to the world around us. One breathes in landscape, atmosphere and social context and breathes out heart and poetry.
Remember when Dante sighed?
Out to buy figs, young Dante was in a rush to arrive at the market. As he walked he imagined the smell of Sicilian lemons; of sweet sugar from Egypt; of perfumed vinegars and syrups made from grapes. Cherries, endives, oranges, spicy sausage; dried fruit, dried fish, mint, orange blossoms and roses---cumin, peppers and of course saffron. Just thinking about the perfume of these things caused him to quicken his pace. And, turning the corner to the lively street that followed the great River Arno, he spotted her. Beatrice. It had been precisely nine years since the first time he had caught glimpse of her, at a time when they had both still been only children. But he recognized her in an instant.
Then, as she approached him-- not surprising, given the story-- their eyes locked.
And as a thousand birds took flight in his heart, the man stood there barely breathing. Time stopped. Breath quickened and he let out an amorous sigh (溜息→感嘆).
Too quickly, however, Beatrice's friend, with whom she had been walking arm-in-arm, urged her to continue walking, and so Beatrice-- with just the most prefunctory greetings to her beloved-- walked away. Somehow, though, she felt absolutely sure that she would never be the same again.
Dante. His world was largely un-interested in Nirvana or Enlightenment-- or any other project which saw our human lives as a resource to be shaped, utilized, improved and perfected. People didn't really seek to be the best me they could be. Nor did they go to elaborate lengths to avoid pain. For those in Dante's world, one needn't empty oneself or seek to detach oneself from emotions as their world was not a world of independent self-enclosed brains. Dwelling in a world that itself was bleeding and wounded (wounded Christ heart), poets and philosophers considered that the best one could do was to bravely and vigiliantly keep an open heart-- a generous heart (Sacred Heart).
And through one's own heart's wounds, from out of this would true art be created.
Dante was very clear about this.
But, the Middle Ages was a long time ago. So, imagine my surprise when visiting a psychic down on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood not that long ago, I was told: You have forgotten your Medieval heart. Your Gypsy heart.
In the Comedia, hopelessness is the greatest Sin of all and only in Hell, is a person's heart closed. Heart becomes cold and likewise --as Dante tells us again and again-- hell is not a hot place but rather is a full of ice. For in Hell, people harm themselves by hurting others.
While in Paradise, people picnic.
All art by Tullio DeSantis