Grace Note 7: Heart over mind
When making decisions, the sages would say that the heart and mind should be aligned. But if there is a conflict, they say unequivocally: Go with the heart.
Dear Jack and Johnny,
Several years ago, your stepfather proposed to me formally at the exact moment when the gondola's slow ride on the twilight-kissed waters of the Grand Canal glided to a gentle stop at the Rialto Bridge in Venice; the perfect, cinematic proposal that any woman could wish for and that probably would not have happened if minds prevailed over hearts.
Knowing beforehand from the guidebooks that a 30-minute ride costing 100 euro was, in fact, highway robbery and that we could just as much enjoy the same view taking the cheaper Vaporetto1, cheek and jowl with the other tourists, I refused to ride the gondola with him for many days despite his fierce insistence that money was no object. I only relented on the last day when I could see he was increasingly sullen and quiet and desperate and I felt sorry for him.
As you can see, the more intelligent mind knew it was expensive but the wiser heart of your stepfather knew that a marriage proposal happens often only once in a lifetime -- and Venice, beautiful, ethereal Venice is sinking slowly and inevitably so why waste a single moment that it exists? -- Romance is priceless and cheap even for 100 euros and even a woman, on the wrong side of her 40s, with a growing middle-age spread (and other baggage), who knows all the “angles” and therefore taught herself to expect less in order to get hurt less, even that woman, a bit frayed on the sides by the wear and tear of life and wounded by a broken marriage, that woman deserved to have her faith in romance restored by a storybook, fairytale proposal that she could regale her children and grandchildren with.
My children, many times in your life, you will come to a crossroad, a fork on the road and you will have to make a choice or a decision. It would be great if your mind and heart are in harmony, speak in one voice and tell you the same thing. But what if the mind wants something and the heart another? Which do you choose? How do you choose? Let me build a case for the heart.
The choice of a life partner or whom to love at all, except perhaps in certain cultures, is traditionally a decision that the heart makes, often independent of our wills. The mind does not decide to fall in love. Often the heart falls and the mind follows its bidding, never in reverse as natural as the passing of the seasons and the rising and setting of the sun.
If one of the most important choices we will ever make in life, that defines and sets the direction of the rest of our lives and marks it forever is the heart’s call, why do we suppress its voice in making lesser decisions?
Love, we say, is the heart’s territory. With everything else, we defer to the mind and today, even in matters of love, we are increasingly giving the mind carte blanche to run roughshod over the rest of our lives, effectively stilling the voice of our hearts.
The heart is never wrong
The mind is often right, we argue, and the heart often wrong, and we buttress our cases against it with our broken hearts, the acts of selfishness and betrayals, disappointments and all the pains of our existence that we thought we would have escaped if we had chosen with our minds rather than with our hearts.
The heart is never wrong, my children. To say it is wrong is to say that summer or spring is wrong or that the sun can be made to rise or set differently. We say the heart is sometimes wrong because we think pain is wrong. Pain, by, itself is not wrong. Pain is right because it tells us what is wrong not so much with our choices but with ourselves.
Pain and the countless number of skins we have shed to become new again and BETTER with all the lessons we have learned from it is actually our building material. Pain, as one writer said, is precious. “It’s your goldmine. It’s the gold in your mine.”
In the same way, the mind is not always right; it only likes to play safe, to go with the easier, less risky choice, to operate within that comfort zone where it thinks we can win and our chances of losing are small. It convinces us that it is protecting us until we learn too late in life how many things we missed in life and can never ever try again because our risk-averse minds already wrote them off.
Do not take this mean that you must throw caution to the wind and follow the first spontaneous impulse that comes to mind or heart. Unfortunately, there are many things we mistake for the dictates of the heart: our ego, lust, our own perverse desires and in your case, your own raging hormones that make it hard to tell right from wrong. Quite simply, wise men say, the ego resides in the mind while the voice of God himself speaks through our hearts.
In all things, we need wisdom and discernment to listen to what our hearts are telling us, not to ignore the mind or the heart totally but to come up with a broader viewpoint or a way of understanding that balances knowing and sensing, feeling and thinking and if they can’t be reconciled, to go fearlessly with the heart. (My next blog will talk about how to listen to your heart properly).
In hindsight, some of the heart decisions I have made in life from career to personal relationships ended in heartbreak but I regret not a single one of them and if I had the chance to relive my life, would choose to make the same career decisions and love the same men and friends because they have enriched my life in ways I am humbly grateful for.
I would marry your father all over again because he made me feel I was perfect and perfectly loved even if both of us were not and taught me about the kind of unconditional love that I am now able to give to you. He also made me a better person, not for him ultimately, but for someone else.
But those decisions I made from my mind, totally ignoring what my heart was telling me, those are the decisions I ultimately regret.
Please remember, the mind easily forgets and moves on – it is very good at protecting itself from past losses and grief – but a heart left unsatisfied and unfulfilled will not make you rest and will haunt you for a very long time.
My children, a first-rate mind will take you very far and you should cultivate it; make it bend and twist, and hop and skip, have fun with it, do great things with it. But a strong, solid, beating heart that marches bravely to its own drum, trust me, will take you anywhere you want to go.
Several years ago in Singapore, I was shown a picture of a swami in India and for no reason at all, I broke down crying, an incident that my rational mind had no explanation for. The picture was given to me. Inscribed at the back were the words, “Come to me with empty hands and I will fill you.”
Since then, the swami was calling me, visiting me in my dreams, impossible to ignore. So, one day, against my better judgment, I did go to him to India, with empty hands for I had nothing, a broken woman after our family broke apart.
I met your stepfather in an ashram in India. My heart knew, five minutes after meeting him and feeling that I am home that I would marry him. My mind convinced me of the many ways it could not work, from the geographical to the cultural differences that I thought would drive us apart. And I avoided him.
But his heart was persistent and strong and found a way despite the obstacles set on his path. He visited me in Manila two weeks later and visited me almost every month until three years later, in Venice, he asked nonchalantly, if we could ride a gondola; a most accomplished man, used to exploring the full potential of the minds of men, set in his ways, fiercely cerebral but taking his heart this time for a great adventure halfway across the earth, unmindful of the ways it might not work, to fill my empty hands with love. – Rappler.com