Pop culture and pop psychology propagate the advice to “follow your heart.” You’ll encounter countless inspirational or motivational quotes about following the heart in social memes, promising magic and destiny, praising the courage it takes to follow the heart, and even warning that if you don’t follow your heart you’ll spend the rest of your life regretting it.
Some say if we follow our heart, we may lose our comforts, the life we know, and even friends, but in the end, it’s worth it.
Even the great Sufi mystic poet Rumi wrote about the strong pull of the heartstrings as ultimately reliable guidance: “Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”
And another favorite line often quoted from the controversial 20th century author Anaïs Nin conveys the stirrings of the heart that may lead one on a life journey: “I’m restless. Things are calling me away. My hair is being pulled by the stars again.” It seems that following her heart led Nin into a life of extreme complication–a “bicoastal” life divided between two marriages, with a husband in New York and another in Los Angeles, and a personal assistant devoted to helping Nin keep each husband unaware of the other, a secret she kept from them until she was on her deathbed 30 years later.
If “following the heart” can lead to the life of your dreams and fulfillment of your passions, or to complications that follow you to your deathbed, how do we know if we are on the right path? What does it actually mean to follow one’s heart?
I can speak from experience–following the heart is not for the faint-of-heart, and, I believe, requires a true connection to the spiritual heart, not just the emotional heart. But the rewards of journeying into the heartspace and learning to live from the heart and its guidance can truly be “beyond your wildest dreams.”
I certainly would never have imagined for myself the life I’m now living when I began to feel the tugs from my heart leading me into new directions about ten years ago. Though my journey began by the simple act of beginning to pay attention to what was pulling at my heartstrings, and what desires and longings were emerging, I have learned that true, reliable guidance from the heart requires a greater understanding of what the spiritual heart offers, and experience in cultivating connection to this center of awareness. If I had that awareness and deep relationship with my heart center ten years ago, I may have been able to avoid a lot of the heartbreak I caused and experienced in my attempts to be true to myself and my heart’s callings.
Indeed, it may be true that “the longest journey you will make in your life is from your head to your heart” (attributed to the Sioux people of the Great Plains). It may also be the most important journey to take in this beautiful and messy human experience–and, I think, the sooner the better.
The Sacred Temple Within
Mystics in wisdom traditions across cultures teach that the heart is a sacred space within. The spiritual heart is an energetic space that can be felt buzzing at the center of the chest. Most are familiar with the emotional heart–we can feel the surge of love and affection and even pride welling up within the center of our chest. Other emotions, such as fear or anger, may be felt more in the stomach.
The spiritual heart is a place of peace, love, and compassion and is not the same as the ebb and flow, or whirlwind, of emotions that may course through the emotional heart.
The spiritual heart, known as a center of Divinity within, serves as our own sacred temple available to us anytime, anywhere. It is within the peace and stillness of the spiritual heart that we can access unconditional love, hope, acceptance, peace, vitality, and gratitude, regardless of the challenges and vicissitudes in life. It is here that we discover our true nature of lovingkindness and the nature of the Divine as infinite, ever-present Love. We learn more about ourselves and our ever-expanding capacity to express courage, strength, patience, willingness, enthusiasm, joy, contentment, appreciation, and more. The spiritual heart knows no limits, can’t be broken, and is an ever-present sanctuary of wholeness, light, creation, and Divinity itself.
You can develop an acquaintance with the spiritual heart and learn to cultivate its divine qualities through spiritual practices such as meditation, contemplation, writing in a journal, yoga, devotional singing, walking in nature, in service, or another practice. I’d love to know your favorite way to enter your personal heart temple and to commune with the Divine within!
The Heart as your Personal Compass
Once you have “awakened” the spiritual heart by centering your awareness on it and enlivening the qualities of peace, love, compassion, gratitude, and so on, the heart becomes a great center of wisdom, intuition, and reliable inner guidance. It has been called the “inner GPS,” providing a map and route for your life journey, and giving us the opportunity for course-correction when we take a wrong turn or experience a temporary setback.
The compass rose has been used for centuries to indicate the cardinal directions, with the north star and other celestial bodies, or 8-12 “winds,” as the compass points. Greek, Roman, Arab, and Polynesian navigators used the compass rose with varying reference points. In indigenous traditions of the Americas, the Four Directions or Four Winds comprise the Medicine Wheel representing a cosmological worldview by incorporating not just the cardinal directions but the elements, seasons, stages of life, aspects of the self (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual), and many other concepts that can be represented in sets of four.
The human body can stand in as a compass rose, with the spiritual heart at its center. It can be a lifelong practice to become acquainted with this heart center and to learn to follow its guidance. But the practice becomes imperative when we feel disheartened, experience a loss of faith or another form of loss, feel stuck in our work or relationships, or feel estranged from our connection to something greater than ourselves. As Matshona Dhliwayo says, “A ship that sails without a compass will get lost at sea.” He also advises, “You don’t command wind in the direction it blows, but you command a ship in the direction it sails.”
While we may not be able to control the external circumstances of our lives, we can more effectively navigate change and create desirable conditions for ourselves when we live from the heart, when we connect to the True North of our own inner guidance and our connection to the Divine wisdom, peace, and clarity within.
When we become intimate with the sacred gifts and presence of divinity the spiritual heart contains, we are able to chart a course in life filled with purpose, meaning, clarity and greater success. We are able to face adversity with courage and strength and self-compassion, and we can more easily extend forgiveness and compassion to others on our way.
As Louisa May Alcott wrote in her classic Little Women, “I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” When one is connected to the spiritual heart and its inner guidance, life becomes an adventure of discovery and grace. We become clear in our connection to the divine and to others. Our relationships flow with more understanding, heart-to-heart connection, and joy. Our work and creative pursuits shine with divine light. And, we have more fun along the way.
I’ll leave you with one more inspirational quote which relates to this spiritual inner compass: “Don't spend your entire life building a ship, without ever tasting the salt of the ocean” (Alexander Den Heijer). While we may develop a relationship with our spiritual heart through meditation or contemplation, the joy of living from the heart emerges when we courageously follow the impulse to love and forgive more, give more generously, laugh more often, create something beautiful, express our soul gifts, sing, dance, and follow that dream that was seeded in the heart space from our very inception.
A Special Invitation
I am offering a retreat in the "Heart of Mexico," San Miguel de Allende this August in which we will delve into practices connecting to our Spiritual Heart. I'm collaborating with a beautiful, heart-centered Watsu healer, Mimi Camarillo, from Ojai, California to give six days of nurturing heart connection, Heart Alignment Yoga, Watsu in the hot springs, and more. For more information go to the event page on this website or the Facebook event page: