Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

Is It Always Smart to Follow Your Heart?

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“If you vanquish ego-clinging today, tonight you will be enlightened.” —Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

These days just about everyone in the blogosphere tells you to follow your heart, listen to your inner voice, embrace your passion, and map your desire.

But is it always smart to follow your heart?

There’s one potential problem with this advice:  EGO.  And, I don’t necessarily mean having a big head alone.  Low self-esteem entwines itself beautifully with ego as well.  By ego, I mean the incessant grasping at a permanent sense of self.  This sense of “my” heart, “my” inner voice, “my” passion, “my” desire, “my” dream.

Or, “Me, me, me, me.”

How do you differentiate between a pure voice, idea or vision and all the layers of ego along with its best friends, attachment and aversion – the seeds of unhappiness?

I’ve observed the way great spiritual masters make decisions and it’s not akin to following “their” heart.  Their personal desires have little if any relevance in their decision-making.  How do they decide?

  • They understand the futility of worldly activity.  After all, you have to give up everything – even your passion – when you die.  They measure an activity in relation to the benefit it will bring for others.
  • They wait patiently for clarity to emerge.
  • They act when the time is right.
  • They sometimes ask for expert advice in relation to mundane affairs. But, they remain wary of decisions made merely for expediency or practicality; ones that may not take into account a spiritual perspective.
  • They don’t assume they can see the whole picture on their own.
  • They ask for advice and direction from their spiritual teacher.  Even the greatest spiritual teachers have the humility to remain a student.  Then, they surrender their own wishes and opinions and follow the guidance they have been given.

In these times, very few people have a chance to follow a genuine spiritual teacher.  So, left on our own, should we always follow our heart?

I say: proceed carefully.

Consider:

  • How strong are your expectations?
  • How attached are you to the outcome?
  • If circumstances changed, could you let go of your passion tomorrow?

Listen to your inner voice, but hear with discernment and an ear for attachment, aversion, and ego.

  • More important than doing what you love is being mindful and aware whatever you are doing.
  • More important than doing what you love is letting go of any thoughts and feelings that arise moment to moment.
  • More important than doing what you love is being kind, thoughtful, tolerant and compassionate wherever you happen to be.
  • More important than doing what you love is being love.

Of course, it’s wonderful to be able to do work you love, use your inherent talent, and follow your passion.  But don’t take it all too seriously or become overly attached.

Life is constantly unfolding.  You never know what will happen next.  Dreams can be snatched away without warning.  However, when you are centered in your true self you are able to flow with change and be content in almost any circumstances.

Ultimately, the whole point of the spiritual path is to recognize it’s not about “you”.  Being overly focused on your self only brings tension.

When you really think about it, it’s an incredible privilege to even have the chance to follow one’s heart.  You and I are not among the 27 million people enslaved worldwide.  Let’s be grateful for the freedom to choose.

What do you think?  Is it always best to follow your heart?  I would love to hear your thoughts.  Just click on the comment bubble below the post (on the right) to add yours.

I appreciate your presence!  If you liked this article, please consider subscribing for free updates by email.  With love, Sandra

 

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17 Comments

  1. Thought provoking-post. Especially when I was writing a post about 6 hours ago about why you should listen to your inner-voice. I’m definitely one of those people who listen and follow my inner-voice and it has ALWAYS led me astray. haha joke 🙂

    It has usually led me to the right place. But I definitely don’t trust myself alone. I sit over the decision, let it simmer, get outside perspectives, pray for more clarity and see if the decision or action is really right for me. I think some kind of inner-reflection or mindfulness practice on life’s importance decisions and choices can help us discern if it’s ego-based action or truly right for us.

    My favorite line is being love, instead of doing what you love 🙂 And strongest message – don’t attach myself to the outcome! Thank you Sandra.

    • Hi Vishnu,

      I think you have found all the right ways to listen to your inner voice, Vishnu! Your suggestions are a great model for all of us – letting it simmer, prayer, and so on are all ways we can begin to discern if this is a purer message or our own ego speaking. We do need to listen for clarity otherwise we could be stuck in non-action and that wouldn’t be good either. Thanks for giving us the methods for listening effectively!

    • Sandra,
      I can clearly recall two regrettable decisions made in my late teen years when I chose to follow my heart, rather than listening to what the wee small voice in my gut and my head were saying. Though I am introverted and usually mull things over before acting I didn’t do that back then. I was not acquainted with my inner self. I operating as an ego-driven ambivert “in love” and was so positively focused I couldn’t see beyond my nose.

      “How do you differentiate between a pure voice, idea or vision and all the layers of ego along with its best friends, attachment and aversion – the seeds of unhappiness?”

      Those two ego driven decisions I made were not well considered, not timely and met none of the excellent criteria you cite in your article. The suffering they lead to following the death of my babes and the end of an abusive relationship, within which I almost died, was very deep and the pain endured for years. For decades recalling those two bad decisions and traumatic events they lead to triggered PTSD flashbacks but I have enough clarity and strength not to be triggered now.

      Cognitive therapy, mind training, music and art therapy have helped me become my own healer. I can and do celebrate the turning point in my life when I set myself free from my past. It was then that I recognized my best decisions are made when my pure voice evidenced by all three voices (my head, my heart and my gut) are in alignment.

      What Vishnu says above applies to me as well: ” But I definitely don’t trust myself alone. I sit over the decision, let it simmer, get outside perspectives, pray for more clarity and see if the decision or action is really right for me. I think some kind of inner-reflection or mindfulness practice on life’s importance decisions and choices can help us discern if it’s ego-based action or truly right for us. ”

      Thanks you so much for your thoughtful writings and for creating such a loving community. Though I still struggle to comment I am feeling safer by the day and that’s worthy of celebration too.

      • timethief,

        This is a chilling testimony to the need to weigh our decisions carefully. In our innocence and need, it’s easy to make poor choices, which we may only see in retrospect. I’m grateful that you have survived and healed the trauma and can be an inspiration to others who struggle with similar challenges. It takes tremendous courage to face trauma and set yourself free.

        Vishnu’s comment resonated with me as well along with your judicious advice to balance the voice of your heart, head, and gut.

        I feel blessed by the community on my blog. There’s so much inspiration, help, and wisdom in the comments. I feel honored by the depth that is expressed here.

  2. jean sampson

    Hey, Sandra! An amazing post! Made me think, think feel!!! 🙂
    Approaching this subject is like trying to get near a horse with the reputation of kicking! Gotta come at him from the front, and gently 🙂 This might ruffle a lot of New Age feathers, but not the ones on the old birds who have been around awhile. Following one’s heart has got to happen after one (that is you and me) has done a tremendous amount of inner work and healing, at least that is the only way it has worked for me. Before I could get accepted into the Art Center (which I tried, off and on, to get into for 20 years), I had to do a MLM business selling a health product that was a huge part of my physical healing. I had to learn, not only about health and well-being, but also about business, something I was totally ignorant of and was totally uninterested in. I even had to take a course in public speaking which was terrifying to me! I wound up staying in the business for 7 years, was SO GLAD to be out of it, even though my next gig was cleaning toilets, etc. But I had gotten a college education in persistence, courage, dealing with people and handling my own fears! I needed ALL of that to teach and be a public figure at the art center! Who knew? And I learned so much more about myself in my work in Reevaluation Counseling, and did SO MUCH healing, all of which I needed to “follow my heart.” Can you see where this is going? Yes, absolutely, follow your heart! But know that sometimes all of the preparation takes nearly a lifetime (at least it did with me) and if you hang in there and be present to all that presents itself in your life, you will get to live your heart’s dream, and in the process, have a wonderfully rich ride getting there. It is ALL just part of the process. And, yes, it really does have to do with helping other people, in my case, through teaching non-artists how to find and enjoy the artist inside ALL of us!!
    Sorry for the length but I had to tell the story in order to make the point! And, I AM a wordy little critter anyway 🙂

  3. Jean, You’ve brought a whole different dimension to the conversation. Thanks for sharing your personal experience. It’s so true that it can take many years of healing on a deep level and pulling back layers of delusion and deceptive messages before we can find clarity listening to our deepest voice. The big message I read here is to have your dream but be present to what unfolds and keep flowing! I don’t mind the length at all. I appreciate the wisdom in your post.

  4. Dear Sandra,
    This really is such an important post! You’ve seen a crucial point and thought deeply about it. Thank you very much for sharing your insights with us!! ♡ I even printed it out -:)
    I feel that, again, the awareness of impermanence, as stressed by the buddhist masters, is a very important point. How free is your “inner voice” from attachement and/or aversion to the ever changing part of yourself – or how well one can stay in the eternal, never changing “view” that is behind all the sensations? – In my experience, it’s most important to look in a loving way at your thougts and feelings – only than letting go can occur… In the Aura-Soma system there is a saying: there is no change without pink. Pink is connected to the unconditional love that doesn’t judge and looks with loving eyes and also a certain distance, at all that is… ♡ Blessings to you, dear Sandra – Ephrem

    • This is a beautiful reminder, Ephrem. When we can look at a loving way at our thoughts and feelings, it creates more spaciousness and brings us closer to seeing reality as it is. I love the symbolism for pink. I used green in this photo because it is also connected to the heart in some traditions. Thank you for your thoughts and your continued support. Blessings to you!

      • Yes, for sure, the very intense pale green is very well chosen!! And stands for spaciousness and the way and the truth that one can find in the heart – and it’s a very beautiful picture. – Thank you again, Sandra! -:)

  5. This is such an important topic. I, too, have noticed all the “follow your dreams and live happily ever after” advice running wild in the blogosphere. I have been, like, a professional dream-chaser and I know how it doesn’t always work out. I love how you brought ego into the issue, that’s a great point.

    “when you are centered in your true self you are able to flow with change and be content in almost any circumstances.” – Yes! In my opinion, the way to figure this out is: become centered in your true self… Determine if the desire is flowing from a deeper part of you. If it is, you can never go wrong. Even if you fail miserably, you’ll still be content that you are expressing YOU.

    • Hi Andrew,

      I’m glad this post resonated for you. I think it is possible to let go of ego but it takes a lot of training. In the meantime, I agree with you that we have to try to connect with the deepest most true part of ourselves when we are making life decisions. And when we “fail”, it’s all food for the path!

  6. Wow, you have a very bold new look! Took me a minute to get the hang of it, but now I’ve got it. And what a great post. As you know, it took me a long long time to figure out the wisdom of following my heart. Now I do all the time. So much easier to live this way!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Galen! Finding the “wisdom” in our heart is an art and you are a great inspiration in this way.

      I’m glad you like my experiment with the Spun theme. In the end, I decided it wasn’t user-friendly enough. Thanks for sticking with me nevertheless!

  7. Yes I talk about listening to your heart whispers 🙂 What I also do is listen to my body as Sonia Choquette says trust your vibes. I also use tummy testing and that supports my intuiton well too.
    Your writing is very thought provoking thank you

    • Hi Suzie,

      Listening to your body is a good addition to the mix. So many of us get in trouble because we don’t listen to our body. It’s part of being present with mindfulness and awareness, isn’t it? This body is a precious vehicle for transforming our mind in this life. Thanks for your thoughts on the topic!

  8. There is so much wisdom in this post, Sandra. I’m very taken by the four “More important than…” bullet points that you offer near the end of this article.

    And it makes me realize that the thing I value most, what I am most passionate about, isn’t a particular job or vision or dream. It’s an aspiration to simply be aware and awake in my life, as much as possible.

    We have this funny thing in the English language and in Western culture, in general… we tend to separate the heart from the mind and think it has to be one or the other. I’ve always appreciated the Japanese word “Shin” which means something like heart/mind. It’s from that place of nonduality between my heart and mind that I aspire to live.

    • So nice to see you, Maia! I really like what you said about your passion going to the core of simply being aware and awake in life. We never know how life will unfold; we have far less control than we may think. But we can perfect remaining spaciously aware and less impact by all the passing thoughts, emotions, and circumstances. I’m with you!

      There are other cultures too that don’t separate heart and mind. I wonder what our culture would be like if we grew up with this different view. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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