Your Heart Is Wise

by Patricia Spadaro

HeartDo you turn to your heart when making decisions?

The world’s traditions are filled with poignant lessons that point to the wisdom of the heart. We learn from the sages that the voice of the heart will always tell us the right way to go in any situation.

In the ancient Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, when the sage Yajnavalkya is asked, “Where is the locality of truth?” he answers, “In the heart, for by the heart man knows truth.”

When you are attuned to your heart, you will know the appropriate response to any situation—whether to make a sacrifice for someone else or draw the line, whether to listen or say “enough,” whether to take a stand or let an issue go, whether to leave a relationship or hang on.

Instead of turning to our heart, though, we sometimes make our decisions based on how our defensive ego feels today or what our mind rationally tells us conforms to the rules of right and wrong we’ve grown up with.

Follow the Rules . . . or Follow Your Heart?

This tale from the Hasidic tradition of Judaism shows that rigidly defending the ego or following society’s rules and expectations can close down our capacity to respond wisely from our heart.

Every week a respected rabbi celebrated a weekly Sabbath meal with friends and students. One week, a new guest showed up. As the meal got underway, those attending looked with disdain on the newcomer, who was sloppily dressed and a bit crude. On top of it, seemingly without respect for the rabbi, the man pulled a large radish out of his pocket and gnawed away at it loudly. The rabbi, however, seemed not to notice.

One of the rabbi’s students, unable to stand it any longer, turned to the man and was about to reprimand him when the rabbi interrupted and said, “You know, I wish I had a nice big radish to eat with this wonderful meal.” Hearing the teacher’s words, the new guest reached into his pocket, pulled out another radish, and handed it to his host, who gave him a big smile and thanked him for his kindness.

Simple stories like this are full of symbology. This one tells us that when we catch ourselves judging our own or another’s behavior, we might just need to let the walls we’ve erected come crashing down so we can bask in the light of the heart.

Here’s another lesson that once again shows the power of the heart, this one handed down from the desert fathers, the Christian monks who lived as hermits in the deserts of Egypt. It tells of two young monks who once asked Abba Poemen what he thought they should do if they caught other monks asleep during prayer time. “Shouldn’t we pinch them to make them stay awake?” said the monks, bothered by this apparent disrespect of their holy ritual. “Well,” replied Abba Poemen, their more seasoned brother, “if I come across a brother who is sleeping, I place his head on my knees and let him rest.”

Sometimes the best choices we can make and the best gifts we can give are the ones that violate the rules we have about right and wrong.

Problem Solve from the Heart

The sages teach that being still and centering in our hearts can lead us to the best solutions to any problem. When you are facing a knotty issue or are just confused about what choice to make, look at it from a heart perspective.

  • Pick your favorite technique for centering in your heart before making a decision. If you don’t already use a technique, you can simply close your eyes, breathe deeply, and then visualize and feel a flame burning brightly in your heart. You can also recall an experience that makes you feel happy or grateful—a memory that makes the flame in your heart burn more intensely.
  • Once you feel a sense of joy or peace, turn back to the issue at hand.
  • Ask yourself: What is the best way for me to resolve this issue? What is my next step?
  • Then listen for the answer that arises.

The Power of Stillness

by Patricia Spadaro

lilies4aStillness creates strength.

Does that seem like a paradox to you? It did to me the first time I encountered that concept, but that’s because I was convinced of this myth:

Myth: Staying busy and constantly running to do more means I am strong—and successful.

The Truth: Stillness creates strength (and busyness does not always equal success).

The adrenaline surge you get from moving at fast speeds can give you a high for a while, but movement alone will not keep you at your peak. Hours of activity must be balanced with space for stillness.

Why? Constant busyness without taking time to renew yourself—your body and your spirit—is like driving a car that’s almost out of gas and pretending it is full. You can push the petal to the metal for a few more miles, and even run on fumes for a bit, but then the engine sputters and spits—and splat, you’re stranded.  (And when it comes to our bodies, it’s not always a simple matter of filling up the tank and we’re on the road again. If we push our bodies and minds too hard for too long and don’t balance our work with rest and renewal, it may take a while to get up and running again.)

Better to fill up your internal energy before your tank is empty. And one of the best ways to do that is to simply be still.

Not easy to do in these jam-packed days when our minds are more like jumping beans or, as Eastern wisdom describes it, like monkeys who can’t sit still. The incessant chase, and chatter, won’t stop unless we realize what the great sages taught centuries ago: the stillness we most need and long for is stillness of mind. Constant mental agitation, cogitation, worrying, planning, questioning, and then more worrying—these can tax our energy resources much more than we realize.

Invite a Creative Pause

There is a time for action and there is a time for stillness. A time to take in new ideas and a time to be quiet and listen to your own inner voice. That’s what the sages tell us. Take, for example, this advice from the ancient Chinese book of wisdom called the I Ching and its commentaries:

“ ‘Restlessness as an enduring condition brings misfortune.’  There are people who live in a state of perpetual hurry without ever attaining inner composure. Restlessness not only prevents all thoroughness but actually becomes a danger if it is dominant in places of authority.” (Wilhelm/Baynes, p. 129)

  • In the ebb and flow of your week, do you allow your mind to rest—without the demands and dictates of your lengthy to-do list? Do give yourself permission to just be—to savor the moment and not worry about what you want to have happen in the future or are afraid will happen?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to affirm with the great Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore each day: “There are tracts in my life that are bare and silent. They are the open spaces where my busy days had their light and air.”

Being still is not just essential to staying sane; it’s a key that opens the door to your inner creativity. Tending to details and taking action are important, but to be really effective we need to insert a pause in our day. Those pauses for “light and air” are interludes where you can open to the inner promptings that are trying to bubble up from the wellspring deep within you.

If you don’t welcome those moments of stillness, how can you hear the whispers of your soul, telling you of the endless possibilities that await you?

Some thoughts to help you reflect on creating space for stillness:

  • How have you experienced the paradox that stillness is what gives you more strength and power
  • How can you intentionally create interludes of stillness, of “light and air,” in your day? (Quiet time alone, meditation, listening to calming music, playing an instrument, doing yoga or Chi Gung, walking in nature, visiting a sacred place?)
  • How can you help the important people in your life make time for the stillness they need too?
  • Do you have a favorite inspirational quote that reminds you of the power of stillness?
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