Follow your heart. That’s common advice. But what does it actually mean?
For me, I’ve learned that following my heart is a deeply-grounded, experiential, sensory, and non-verbal connection to the sensations in my body and to something much deeper, quiter, slower, and sweeter than my everyday “self.”
I regularly practice feeling into my heart space, noticing sensations, and feeling for clenching or relief/release, especially when I’m faced with a decision or if I’m just generally feeling uninspired or unsure.
My classic example of following my heart came from 8 years ago when I was offered the opportunity to share an office space with my acupuncturist in his beautiful office space (my current office) downtown.
My mind mostly projected fear of financial ruin and fear of failure. It was my second ever month in practice when this opportunity came up and those first few months (and even the first year) were molasses sloooow client-wise! It financially made no sense to take on a second office space commitment after already making an agreement with and starting to offer acupuncture in my West Philly office.
And yet, this Center City space was so special, so sacred, so imbued with aliveness that I felt a sharp pang at the thought of giving it up before I even started.
I sat with the fear and felt a softening in my heart and a rightness in myself. I looked at the lease, added up the total financial commitment for a year, and I brought that number in front of my heart. Worst case scenario I was out several thousand dollars (and potentially “embarrassed” by “not making it work”--I’m putting these all in air quotes here because whose idea of “working” would I be serving anyways if I stuck to conventional ideas of “success.”)
That would definitely not be fun, but shutting out the opportunity felt like a much bigger loss. As I sat with the idea of accepting the office, my heart still felt fluttery but it was an excited fluttery rather than the total shutdown of fear.
The heart in Chinese Medicine is associated in the earliest Daoist medical texts with integrity. I think of integrity as your own sense of rightness, your own orientation towards what will work for you and what will not.
I recently, in a snap-moment decision, allowed myself to be “talked into” recording an acupuncture boards prep seminar I’m teaching for students at my acupuncture school then allowing that recording to be distributed. The student who casually asked about a recording of the session caught me off guard. I’ve been teaching the same course for 8 years and somehow the issue of recording has never come up (probably because the pre-pandemic world did not include so many recorded offerings!).
I could have just said that I would think it over but, being honest here, sometimes we just act quickly or cough up a quick yes, especially when that underlying urge to be (seen as) “helpful” rears its head.
At first I thought it was no big deal but as the class drew closer, the thought of giving away the recording PLUS the powerpoints felt like a generosity that was completely misaligned with the compensation I agreed to receive from my school. This might also be the last year I teach this course and the thought of that recording circling the internet (or the students at my former school) forever didn’t sit well with me.
I thought it over and discussed it with the school and they were totally fine with me not recording the session, which they had never asked for anyways. I then had to go back to the students and tell them that the class would not be recorded after all. This process wasn’t as hard or angsty as it could have been, simply because, after so much heart-feeling, I was so super clear that this felt like the right thing to do.
When we don’t take the time to connect to our own hearts, and when we’re not honest with ourselves about what we can and want to offer, we create all sorts of conflict and misalignment in our own heart and also in the hearts of others who sense our bitterness or regret.
It’s easy to force-think your way through a situation, to talk yourself into it, or to allow yourself to be talked into it, but you will find much more peace by taking the time to sense, to breathe, to explore what feels right for you.
I made a video about how to feel into your heart back in 2016. You can watch it here, on my youtube channel (which also has various yoga practices and other wellbeing offerings as well).
May your heart be always at ease, this summer season and beyond.