[This article was first published by to Woke Souls, a resource and community for Slow-Living, Self-Love and Sustainability]
And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye (from The Little Prince)
This is a secret worth knowing and worth practicing. We are so well-wired to do everything but see and listen with our hearts.
Life felt very different for me this time last year. I was a CEO of a charity in crisis. I was working under a lot of pressure, carrying a lot of responsibility. Heartbroken from grief, too, I was in a state of overwhelm for most of the time. My life felt scarily out of balance. My left brain (associated with analysing, strategizing, etc) was in overdrive. Qualities connected to the heart, like space for really feeling and acting from my intuitive awareness took a back seat. At this point in in my life now, I feel the most ‘alive’ I’ve ever felt. It’s hard to put into words; I can only express it as a visceral experience of feeling aligned. And by this I mean that I feel a greater sense of congruence between my values and how I am in the world.
Life looks and feels very different after I’ve made some significant decisions that have dramatically changed my lifestyle and ways of being. Listening to and acting on my heart wisdom more has been a really important part of this.
Here are a few things that I’ve been exploring:
We are rarely encouraged to listen to our hearts
We are taught to defer to others from so early on in our lives; caregivers, teachers, medical professionals, and many others. This can distance us from our heart seeing and knowing from the outset.
One day aged 5 years, my nephew returned home after having spent the morning with his dad at a vegan fayre. He came home, clearly stirred by the experience. After talking about what he had learnt at the fayre, he asked his mother if he should be vegan. My sister replied, “I don’t know, listen to what your heart is saying to you”. Almost instantly he replied, “my heart is telling me not to eat dairy”. And so began his explorations in veganism.
This story continues to stay with me. It is striking because it’s so rare that we receive this kind of guidance from people around us. His convictions and clarity when faced with his mum’s question is also telling – he was able he was to access what his heart was telling him right away. There’s also a lesson here for me, around how readily we tend to respond to others with advice, when instead supporting them to tune into their own knowing feels such a loving and respectful thing to do.
Listening to the heart involves decolonising the mind
Orientating to the heart is also about decolonising our minds. One of the fundamental legacies of colonisation is how standards such as rationality and logic (most commonly associated with the thinking brain) have sacrosanct status, whilst the existence, validity and legitimacy of indigenous knowledge systems are wholly dismissed. These knowledge systems are often derived from a profound connection with ancestors, the land, knowledge of plants and the spirit world – those things that are ‘invisible to the eye’, as the Little Prince reminds us. I’m not saying that decisions based on heart listening are ‘better’ than ones made otherwise, but that making more space for this type of listening seems to play an important part in decentering Eurocentric knowledge production and value systems. Kenyan postcolonial theorist and author of ‘Decolonising your Mind’, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o says;
In colonial conquest, language did to the mind what the sword did to the bodies of the colonised
In this way, listening with the heart often involves some unlearning. A significant part of this is moving beyond the limitations of language and our thinking mind.
Listening to the heart needs us to quieten the mind
I think all of us will be familiar with the feelings that come with overthinking things; we are good at getting ourselves in cognitive knots, hypothetically planning out every possible outcome of a decision. It can feel pretty excruciating. It’s in these moments that we can train ourselves to gently re-orientate into the body, into the present moment. At the most simple level, we can begin to notice and experience the breath and other sensations as they arise and pass, moment-to-moment. This process needs us to cultivate qualities of deep listening and trust with the body. Rupi Kaur talks about the importance of this;
trust your body
it reacts to right and wrong
Better than your mind does
-It is speaking to you
Recall an instance when you’ve had a gut feeling about something – your body just knew. You can also remember a time when you’ve felt ‘goosebumps’ in a situation and that’s come with a sense of something just feeling right. It isn’t always straightforward because experiences such as past trauma can come into play, making it confusing to really know what to trust. Exploring and unravelling these processes (with the right support) are also an important part of this work.
Things really start to change when you begin to heart wisdom comes more centre stage in your life. The deeper I dive into this journey, the more ease and freedom I’m experiencing in my day-to-day life. In craniosacral therapy (and in other systems) they refer to this quality as ‘vitality’, a sense of wholeness and feeling resourced within oneself. My life and work now feel so much more in synch with my heart. And an added bonus is that I notice myself smiling and belly laughing a lot more, as well as breaking out into song spontaneously!
It feels like a homecoming of a sort.
Here are some things that support me in tuning in to my heart and what it’s telling me:
- Engaging in activities and practices to access the parasympathetic nervous system
The parasympathetic nervous system undoes the impacts of stress. It is associated with being in a state of rest and relaxation – so we are more readily able to connect with the heart and body. Activities and practices that can enable this include; Yin Yoga, Craniosacral therapy, massage, breathwork, and lots more.
- Nature and vast landscapes
Letting ourselves be held by nature can help us to settle by regulating our systems. This can allow us to sink deeper into our own being and knowing. Recently I keep getting the urge to see and inhabit vastness in nature – for example, sitting by the sea or walking through epic landscapes. It’s as if the space around me allows me to experience the space within me and that space often has something to tell me.
There’s a voice within us that wants to be heard but often can’t because there is so much noise in our lives. What helps me is to become a lot more still and quiet. I do this mainly through meditation which helps me to sink under the surface of what’s going on.
Being in motion can also help stuck energy and stagnant ways of thinking to shift, which can free up space to receive other input. Whatever practice speaks to you most is good to follow. I’ve been finding Qi Gong really helpful here and this video is a good place to start.
A lot of our time is spent in relation with others. Being conscious and reflective about how our hearts truly feel in those relationships is vital. I try and use these reflections by Nayyirah Waheed:
things. that should be asked
often. in every type. of relationship:
how is your heart.
is your breath happy. here.
do you feel free.