Thursday, May 1, 2014

Anatomy of choice: Living by heart

“The philosopher is Nature’s pilot. And there you have our difference: to be in hell is to drift: to be in heaven is to steer.”
~ George Bernard Shaw

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I" - I have often stood there and agonized for ages, wanting so desperately to make the right choice but not knowing how to discern the heart's way amidst all the voices in my head. Sounds familiar? I have a Libra ascendant which is probably why some decisions can be excruciating, as for so many others who understand exactly what Dumbledore meant when he said, "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."

The real issue in life is choice, the magic wand with which we transform appearances and test our discernment in choosing what's right over what's easy. And life gleefully seizes every opportunity to send pop quizzes our way designed to show us exactly where we stand and what our brickwalls are. Sometimes I choose my highest sense of right beyond the world's naysaying, and that choice becomes a gift that keeps on giving. Sometimes I hit the brickwall of the mind's rationalizations and fears, let the voices of others drown out the "King's call", and I crash and burn. Sometimes I gather dogma with eager fascinated fingers only to find it traps me when I least need it. Whether I'm Here, There or In Between in this game of life I realize that in the ultimate analysis there really is no right and wrong choice.

Because every problem has a gift for us in its hands. Mind is synonymous with resistance, as Tolle says with brilliant insight. Living with the mind in the driver's seat is a resistance ridden experience with hurry squealing, anger roaring and fear hissing in the background. All of it necessary experience to realize how unnecessary it is. To recognize the impediment it is.

No matter what subterranean caverns we journey through in our Becoming, no matter what hells we make our bed in, what fires we burn in...under, over and around it all is redemption. We are never forsaken. The simple loving Presence eternally Is, imparting its wisdom and strength, flowing out from us the moment we open to it, the moment we divest ourselves of our notions and inhibitions and sit down humbly at Its feet.

I want to let the primal impulse flow out in a joyful stream, unhindered by dogma, judgement or control...crystal clear as its Source, singing and whispering and laughing and murmuring and peacefully wending its way through life. No struggle. No angst. To do away with false dichotomy, with duality, with splitting heaven and earth apart. Just being One With Life.

And now, here we are in the arena where the game of life has to be played and that pop quiz in one of its various avatars is lurking right around the corner. Getting right down to the nitty-gritty - how do we discern the voice of the heart, that still small voice, from the hydra headed cacophony of the mind conditioned as it is by the world and the voices of others? How do we separate our unique authentic inner guidance from the chaff of the mind's white noise, the heartificial from the artificial?

I've learned a thing or two about how to do this and I would love, gentle reader, to know the ways by which you arrive at the path with heart. Please share even if you think it's not significant enough! It always is.

The voice of the heart is usually the first impulse that bubbles up even as the choice is taking shape. When you feel guided in a certain direction, you can generally see patterns gathering themselves around it - the right persons turning up, co-incidences that nudge you closer to its realization - almost as if the universe were conspiring to make it happen. It is also what you really want in your heart of hearts were the gates to be flung open and you were free to do what you will. A happy state of affairs, but then of course since the game has to get interesting, the challenger turns up. The monkey mind steps in. It swings into action, churning out thoughts at a smart pace, generating a 2nd/3rd option in no time and then proceeding to compare and fret and obfuscate. It casts doubts, doles out fear in generous lashings, assumes a false humility, questions your worthiness, and wants to stick to conventional wisdom and others' approval at all costs.

Over the course of a few dilemmas this past year I observed the decision process with the detachment of a spiritual scientist, and found that the refrain of the mind is much the same in most decisions big and small:

"Who am I to aspire to THAT? Better settle for the average and the sane and reasonable. Better do what everyone else is doing. Who am I to question the way of the world? And if I do, and this thing goes wrong, I am the one everyone will blame and criticise for not knowing better. Play it safe. Better a known devil than an unknown angel. Let's not take chances. Let those who dare take the risk pay the price. It's not for ME."

By this time the thinking mind has so taken over the feeling mind that you're frozen in that familiar deer-in-the-headlights attitude in the yellow wood where the two roads diverge. Impaled on the horns of The Dilemma.

But here's the secret: there is no dilemma. The Dilemma is just a mind-constructed clash set up well after the heart has spoken. The heart speaks very subtly - as a sense of rightness, a click, a resonance, a feeling of peace - and these are often passed over by the mind which is looking for tangible solid signs and doctrines that satisfy the head. The heart speaks in waves of quiet confidence when you are solitary and still, but when you're in the midst of a crowd and the mind is at the forefront, the guidance that you received may seem completely far-fetched, crazy or even irresponsible. If it creates butterflies in your stomach, seems impossible, miraculous and slightly scary, know that it is of the Heart. That's because you're being called upon to shift your reliance from your own limited mental concept of yourself to the power of Life itself.

Even as situations and choices arise in life, the guidance from the heart is instantaneous, already there as an answer to the need of the moment, as part of the rhythm of life. There is no strain in following this rhythm. It all unfolds as if a power had gone before you to smooth out your path. There's an inherent self-satisfaction in following the path with heart, even if it involves uncertainty which the mind abhors, even if it means entering the Unknowing with the power of faith over fear. This integrity of thought-word-deed and this unity of head-heart-hand is impeccability, and you are finally, blessedly Standing Within Your Truth.

7 comments:

  1. Love the title - beautifully written essay, as always!

    I'm a Libra, plus a classic introvert - so I know exactly what you mean by excruciating decision making :)

    But what I have learned while figuring out how to follow my heart, is only to focus on the single next step - yes, the mind will bring the past, the future, and its own concoctions of reality, but for this one moment, if I can focus on the one single baby step that the heart is prompting, I really don't need to worry about all the other "chaff" (as you put it) that the mind creates. It's easier to be true to my integrity on a single step. And the future will take care of itself!

    I hope you've figured out your choices that nudged you to write this post :)

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  2. Thanks for that input Saiisha, great point. There's never any problem Now, only in the future when we luridly imagine all the ramifications of some choice. Baby steps in the Now sounds about right to keep the monkey mind at bay :)

    We recently made a decision (about which house to shift to since we're moving) and it had all the "this one or that one" dilemma around it in spades. Anyway, I flatter myself that I finally made the choice by heart, and wanted to pin down the process before it fades in the light of common day, especially as I've fallen for the mind so many times!...thanks for asking :)

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  3. You are a gem. Your wisdom is beautifully expressed here, as always. THIS:

    "I want to let the primal impulse flow out in a joyful stream, unhindered by dogma, judgement or control...crystal clear as its Source, singing and whispering and laughing and murmuring and peacefully wending its way through life. No struggle. No angst. To do away with false dichotomy, with duality, with splitting heaven and earth apart. Just being One With Life."

    YES.

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  4. Sairam sister, these lines are so profound -- "The heart speaks in waves of quiet confidence when you are solitary and still, but when you're in the midst of a crowd and the mind is at the forefront, the guidance that you received may seem completely far-fetched, crazy or even irresponsible. If it creates butterflies in your stomach, seems impossible, miraculous and slightly scary, know that it is of the Heart. That's because you're being called upon to shift your reliance from your own limited mental concept of yourself to the power of Life itself."

    I can tell you that I have felt exactly like this many times when I take a decision based on the heart. It is like stepping into the unknown. There is a bit of trepidation but that is what feels right and I take the leap. I know Swami will guide me every step. :)

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  5. Also, I want to share I was absolutely stunned into silence on reading these lines -- ""Who am I to aspire to THAT? Better settle for the average and the sane and reasonable. Better do what everyone else is doing. Who am I to question the way of the world? And if I do, and this thing goes wrong, I am the one everyone will blame and criticise for not knowing better. Play it safe. Better a known devil than an unknown angel. Let's not take chances. Let those who dare take the risk pay the price. It's not for ME."

    That's because my mind has told me exactly these same words, esp. 'Who am I to aspire to THAT? Better settle for the average and the sane and reasonable' and 'Better a known devil than an unknown angel'. many times when I myself felt unworthy and low in self-esteem.

    I generally go by how I feel about a certain situation. It's an intuitive knowing or gut feel. I dunno how to explain it. Swami's guidance is always there. If He feels He has to intervene, He does send some signs and that gives me clarity and pushes me on to the right path, even if I was earlier a bit unclear. And on some occasions, after I've made a choice He sends a message that reassures me that I indeed made the right choice and all is well and He will take care.

    It is indeed His divine will and prompting and grace that made me stumble upon this blog of yours recently. I thank Him for that. :) You write very well! Kudos! Keep going!

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  6. Thanks Aarthi for your lovely comments :)

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