A few recent events have made me want to write about loyalty, and in particular about loyal-heartedness. And given we have just clicked-over into the Chinese New Year of the Dog, I thought what an apt inspiration the dog and all it symbolises could be for us all throughout the year. I’m in the process of framing the photo above to hang in the kitchen to help me when I inevitably forget what I’m about to say to you.
The virtue of loyalty is often confused with a kind of commitment to in-group attachment or tribal identity….or to a specific person or place. We think we can be loyal to one country, one firm, one friend or group of people, but not to those we feel no identification or familiarity with. These ‘divided loyalties’ might speak more to our anxieties about identity and belonging then they do to the noble quality of loyalty. Loyalty, like all true virtues, is more about our commitment to a higher, or deeper principle. Therefore, by its very nature it applies universally – to all people, and to all situations. (Just as we ‘belong’ universally to each other as part of one humanity). When it comes to cultivating a ‘Loyal Heart’, I want to cultivate a way of seeing imbued with true heart qualities – and I need to cultivate it in all of my relationships.
Today I’m thinking specifically about cultivating loyalty in how we see each other. Loyalty to the practice of seeing others, and myself, with my Heart, rather than just with my mind; loyalty to practising generosity, trust, and forgiveness when I look at others, and when I look at myself – the very type of loyalty that dogs are known for.
Loyalty brings a ferocious tenacity and commitment to our desire to cultivate these heart qualities. It’s like supporting our natural heart qualities with the strength of the solar plexus, the clarity of the mind, and the devotion of the child. It means that we will put the cultivation of these qualities ahead of our moods and our lower interests, and ahead of our temptations to judge or divide. We can also use this capacity to re-route our tendency to fear, worry and doubt – that others love us, that we are safe, or that everything is going to be ok. This doesn’t mean of course that we will abandon our own capacity for discernment or open ourselves up to harm – but we can repeatedly practice choosing to see generously, even when we need to take self-protective actions. We can keep our hearts open, again, just as dogs are known universally to do. For in everyone we see, as with ourselves, higher and lower are both always in play.
Ultimately, loyal-heartedness is the practice of letting ourselves be loved.
We can have a tendency to keep ourselves just that little bit (falsely) protected by keeping in mind others’ shortcomings, or by not allowing ourselves to be more vulnerable with those who love us. We might be in the habit of passing critique on other’s choices, or gossiping (internally or out-loud) about their imperfections, even those that are trivial. Try to catch yourselves as you do this (if you do!) and notice how even though your ego-self might feel a little better for it, there’s a kind of deeper deflation of your Being. Because whilst our small ‘s’ selves (or egos) really like to keep us above or below others, our souls or big ‘S’ Selves really long for something much richer – to be generous with giving our love and open in receiving it. When we practice deflating others too much we also come to feed our inner critic – the result being that we live in very uncomfortable inner territory, with a rather mean-spirited tyrant in charge.
Loyal-Heartedness is a way of seeing others that assumes the best and chooses to affirm the best in their underlying intentions. That means risking some vulnerability. But only in vulnerability is there real strength.
“From the heart it has come, to the heart it shall go.” (Beethoven)
I hope you’ll find a way to receive what the symbol of the Dog might bring to you this year. Choose to see the best in yourself and to be faithful to your belief that your best self is never lost, but always just waiting to re-emerge. Risk being affectionate and open. Be forgiving…with yourself every bit as much as with others. And if all else fails, it could be a very good year to bring a dog into your home…