How Can I Trust My Heart?

Posted on April 25, 2012


Is the heart truly trustworthy?

Oh how I yearn to follow my heart but can I trust it, really trust it?

This is the most pertinent question in my life right now.

There is some confusion, in me and in you too, about what it means to follow the heart.

Instinctual compulsions, lust, and much of what we think of as passion comes from our “lower heart” or “false heart,” in yogic terms our sexual centre or second (swadhisthana) chakra. Designed to tell apart the ‘feels good’ and ‘doesn’t feel good’ in life, our lower heart guides many (and probably most) of our choices: what to eat, what to wear, who to befriend, and who to partner with. But while this instinctual level is powerful and necessary, it does not merit our ‘wholehearted’ trust. What happens if we put all our trust here? We become jellyfish – spineless and pliable, at the whim of the waves of mood and emotion.

This second chakra can be said to be the centre of ‘sentiment,’ easily confused for love. As A Course of Love says,

“When you think of acting out of love, your thoughts of love are based on sentiment and must be challenged. Love is not being nice when you are feeling surly. Love is not doing good deeds of charity and service. Love is not throwing logic to the wind and acting in foolish ways that pass as gaiety but cannot masquerade as joy.” – ACOL 4.4.12

Image showing figure with 7 yogic chakrasYoga also does a good job of describing our second most common decision-maker, the navel centre or third (manipura) chakra. This is the centre of integrity, fire, and willpower, and it is here that we decide to do what will help us gain power even when it doesn’t feel good. Working hard to gain money, lose weight, or achieve something, even if it burns. And yet what happens when we put all our trust here? We become hard as samurai, ready to extinguish ourselves on our own sword at any breech of our dignity and power.

99% of us who have the needs of the first chakra covered (muladhara or the root chakra reigns over the stuff of survival: food, shelter, and tribe) make nearly all our decisions based on the second and third chakras: by preference, feeling, and instinct or by will, integrity, and strategy.

And what of the heart?

Above our sexual and navel centres, the heart is the so-called meeting place of the material and spiritual, the energetic centre of our being.

But that’s all analysis!

Analysis does little to serve the cause of the heart, except to bring the mind to the place where it is ready to accept its role as follower.

What? Does following the heart mean giving up all reason?

That’s the kicker, isn’t it? The heart follows its own form of logic. Following your heart does mean abandoning the logic you use now.

The heart doesn’t care about, or perhaps even see the ‘feels good,’ ‘doesn’t feel good’ dichotomy of the second chakra. It doesn’t bend to the drives of the third chakra or even believe in its success-failure dichotomy.

That means the heart doesn’t go for ice cream or lattes. The heart doesn’t toil for a pay cheque. The heart doesn’t manipulate in order to secure something in a relationship. The heart doesn’t work the system to gain money or power.

From this perspective, it seems like the heart isn’t interested in our well-being at all.

St Mary with Sacred HeartPlus, if you have ever really opened your heart, you will discover that its content is profoundly bittersweet. The song of the heart is steeped in sadness. It is a weeping heart. It is a bleeding heart.

When I feel my heart is open, I see there is only one heart. I am connected with all the sorrow in the world: past, present, and future. I feel the unbearable tragedy of life. Love ones lost. Heartbreak beyond anything the mind can conceive or seek to understand.

Sounds like a pretty shitty trade for money and ice cream.

But one thing brings me back: the awe I feel for the strength of the heart.

The one heart of the world – which is my heart and yours – deeply stretches to hold it all. All the suffering anyone has ever felt or will feel, acknowledged or denied, is held in the embrace of the heart. How? I have no idea. It’s incredible. There is no danger of over-stretching the heart. There is nothing the heart cannot hold. Let me say that again:

There is nothing the heart cannot hold.

I think it’s because the heart is already broken. Somehow, this is how it is so strong. I have heard it said that the cracks are where the light gets in. Perhaps this is the secret to how the heart unites the physical and the spiritual: it is earthly enough to beat, and it is heavenly enough to crack.

The heart heeds not the rules of the world. Here where we must kill to live, life is equated with death. Every victory is someone else’s loss. Every need filled leaves the need of another unfilled or otherwise compromised. Inequality is the foundation of this universe. Giving and taking are opposites. One thing having more than another – and the impermanence of this arrangement – is the basis for everything from global politics to the basic laws of physics and chemistry.

But even gravity has no pull on the heart. The heart sees no one else but itself, and is pulled only toward itself. It gives without fear of loss for love given is love received. Love from the heart surmounts time and space. Death is no obstacle to the heart’s bounty, which sees none of the boundaries we so worship in this world. The heart does not defy that which rules our ordinary lives, it simply transcends it all. Its agenda is holiness. Its truth is oneness. It does not need bravery because it knows no fear.

“Love is all that follows the law of God in your world.”ACOL 4.4.9

What happens when we surrender the stuff of our lives to guidance of this mystic organ?

What happens when we let go of the struggle for our physical and emotional needs, the drives of the first three chakras, and commit ourselves wholeheartedly (there’s that word again), to the heart?

Mother Teresa Tenderly holding a BabyI know one thing: I am terrified to find out.

I mean, Jesus did it, and he got crucified. Mother Teresa did it, and her life was not exactly luxurious.

And yet, what happens if we never yield to the heart?

Pause right there. Please join me in asking this question:

What if I never find the courage to let my heart lead?

Did you feel it? A little crack?

Sometimes I don’t have the courage to be with these feelings, I don’t have the courage to cry the tears that are in there, under the surface. But as Anandamayi Ma said: “Your being here now and your asking the questions – are tears.” So thank you for being here with me now, reading this.

May we weep, smilingly, sipping of that bittersweet nectar of the heart.

This passage from A Course in Love left me bawling:

“Must pain accompany love and loss? Is this the price you pay, you ask, for opening up your heart? And yet, should you be asked if you ould have other than the love you would not answer yes. What else is worth such cost, such suffering, so many tears? What else would you not let go when pain comes near, as a hand would drop a burning ember? What other pain would you hold closely, a grief not to be given up? What other pain would you be so unwilling to sacrifice?

“Think not that these are senseless questions, made to bring love and pain together and there to leave you unaided and unhelped, for pain and love kept together in this way makes no sense, and yet makes the greatest sense of all. These questions merely prove love’s value. What else do you value more?” (3.3.20-21)

Because that’s it for me. Life without love is not worth living.

I (we) cop out, we place something else upon the altar where only love belongs: a career, a specific relationship, success at something. We hold our goals, however noble – be they for good causes, spiritual practice, family life – up over our hearts like a shield. I believe we are avoiding the pain of the deep presence, the vulnerability, and the openness to the sorrows of the entire world. Because this is what the heart demands.

But I believe it is only a matter of time before the call of our heart (our one heart) drowns out all other sound. Life and love are inseparable, and the call will not go away. At some point we will choose to listen. This is the process I have begun and while I can’t say that it is fun, I can say that all else in my life that I consider to be valuable or worthwhile pale in comparison to the cause of the heart. I only hope that love holds me, encourages me, and strengthens me on this journey.

The heart will hold its side of our partnership. If only I can be courageous enough to accept its offer.

May it keep tempting me with its sweetness – its purity and laughter – and not only reveal its bitter sorrows! Ha! As if they were separable.

I’m going to close with a quote from Pema Chodron (emphasis mine):

“An analogy for bodhichitta (Buddha-like-ness) is the rawness of a broken heart. Sometimes this broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic; sometimes to anger, resentment and blame.

But under the hardness of that armor there is the tenderness of genuine sadness.

This is our link with all those who have ever loved.

This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion.

It can humble us when we’re arrogant and soften us when we are unkind.

It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference.

This continual ache of the heart is a blessing that when accepted fully can be shared with all.”

Love to you all

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