by Wendy Keller, heart owner
Have you ever gotten up in the middle of the night, in the dark, and fumbled your way across the room to go to the bathroom or down the hall? What did you do? You probably put your hands out in front of you, using your fingers as sensors to keep you from bumping into things.
Your emotions are like your fingers when it comes to navigating your life, especially during the dark nights of the soul.
Your emotions are sensors that can help you decide if you’re going the right direction or if you’re about to slam into a wall and hurt yourself.
Trouble is, we often don’t take in the feedback from these sensors. Like an abused wife who stays year after year because of promises her ears hear but her heart knows are false, we use our heads more than our hearts to navigate our lives.
And yet, ironically, it is only by listening to our hearts that we can sense our way out of life’s traumas.
For some crazy reason, most of us use our brains to try to shut up our hearts. We are like a dog owner who is yelling “Stop it!” at their barking pet, unaware that this time, it really is a burglar and not a rabbit in the garden.
We create our own problems by trying to squelch something that can help us. We do this out of ignorance. The wise dog owner gets up off the couch, ambles to the window, and spots the danger.
How successful is yelling at yourself when trying to control your emotions anyway? Not so much, at least, not for very long.
The alternative to trying to suppress, repress, ignore or punish your emotions is to listen to them. To notice them. To stop wrapping the pillow around your head and pretending you can’t hear anything.
I had a beloved executive assistant for years who would jokingly put her fingers in her ears and repeat “Neener, neener, neener” when I told her something she didn’t want to hear.
What our hearts say is sometimes uncomfortable or unpleasant. But it is always the truth. And a life lived in truth is better than one embedded in a lie.
So how do you listen to your heart?
First, you have to at least give it the benefit of a doubt. It could perhaps have something to tell you. (It does, but the first step is sometimes a tenuous one for those unaccustomed to listening.)
Second, you have to notice what it’s saying. Does it soar when your toddler waddles over to give you a hug? Does it sink when you have to go to work, or your husband pops the top off his first beer of the night? Do you feel a sense of dread when you are preparing to go to church, or work, or get in the car? Do you feel overwhelmed with sadness when you go visit the cemetery, but still feel a duty to do so?
Your path out of this difficult time in your life starts with noticing what’s going on inside you. If you have to, set a timer for the top of every hour for a day, and just jot down what you’re feeling at 7, 8, 9, 10 AM and so on. It will eventually become habit and you’ll hear your inner “barking dog” when it is sounding the alarm.
Third, you have to be a Big Girl or Big Boy and decide what would protect and honor your heart – and take actions in that direction. That is what your mind is for – figuring out a plan and executing it.
Does staying in a bad marriage make you feel better or worse? (Oh, yes, but there are so many factors and complications in leaving, and then there’s the money issue and the kids should have two parents, however miserable and cruel we are to one another and…. <Is that your head or your heart?>)
Does not going to the doctor make your illness more or less likely to improve? (Oh yeah, but I don’t have health care and he might tell me that I have something really serious and if I’m going to die, I may as well at least not know about it and…<Is that your head or your heart?>)
Does spending $100 you don’t have on a new shirt make you feel better or worse about your financial problems? (Yeah, but I’ve been suffering so much for so long I deserve a little something. You have no idea how hard my life is! All the debt I’m under is crushing my spirits and I need this…<Is that your head or your heart?>)
There are ten million different permutations. But the easiest way to notice when you’re NOT listening to your heart is when you feel your brain snap in with its rationalizations, justifications and excuses. You think, “He’s a great guy, but…” or “This isn’t so bad…” or “I can stay with this job until the kids are out of school…” and you convince yourself that your brain is right and your heart is wrong. Nuh-uh. Other way around.
Your heart may not be aware of the practical ramifications of making a decision. Those are probably real. The balanced point of view is this: to listen to your heart, respect its concerns, and then in a logical, progressive way, start to test taking steps in the direction it indicates. You needn’t do anything drastic, but if you do nothing, nothing will ever improve.
What tips do you have for listening to YOUR heart? What is it saying to you?