Head or heart?
Head or heart?
New Age spirituality and pseudo-spirituality constantly calls for us to be “heart centred” – to trust our feelings. And yet, a life path directed by emotion is going to be a roller coaster of ups and downs. A constant seeking of highs and running away from lows. A constant swinging between hope and fear. Hope and fear are indeed two sides of the same coin.
The Amygdala, the part of the brain where emotion arises has no fine shades of grey. It is black and white, all or nothing, on or off. It produces the same “hit” of emotion when we are a few minutes late for an appointment as when our life is seriously in danger.
The philosophers of the ancient world from Socrates onward suggest that our greatest gift as humans is our power of rational choice. Rational choice gives us perspective – the ability to see things as they really are and appreciate their consequences.
Yesterday, I was indeed late for an appointment. As I realised that I was in fact in the wrong town, for a few moments, emotional chaos broke loose, as waves of disappointment and self- recrimination broke over me. However, sweet reason took charge soon I was back on track arriving for my appointment only a few minutes late.
Emotion told me that I couldn’t live without this appointment, that I couldn’t stand the shame of mistaking the address and it was terrible, horrible that I would be late. Reason told me that even if I had missed the appointment completely, at worst it would have been no more than inconvenient for me and the person I was meeting. In the greater scheme of my life, and the even greater scheme of the Tao, it was a small matter.
Am I talking about suppressing emotion?
No, I am not! It would be pointless to try and do so. Emotions just happen. In a sense we are not responsible for our emotions. They are not within our sphere of control. I cannot tell you to be happy, or sad, or grateful or whatever.
All we can do is accept our emotions. It’s okay to be sad, or anxious and annoyed sometimes.
Enlist that power of rational choice as the gatekeeper between our emotions and our actions
What we can do, is to enlist that power of rational choice as the gatekeeper between our emotions and our actions. Feel your feelings but let reason guide your actions.
Shomo Morita had a simple formula, one that serves me well every day. Accept the situation. Accept your feelings about it. Then get on and do what needs to be done regardless of your feelings.
I am going to be even more radical and suggest that the gateway to being truly heart centred is not to wallow in the mire of your emotions, but to fully embrace your gift of rational choice.
When you see clearly with the light of reason, something almost magical happens
I’ve come to call this perspective “radical realism”. When you see clearly with the light of reason, something almost magical happens. A great burden of ego-centred feeling drops away to reveal the true nature of “heart” as interbeing – profound experience of connection and compassion for all beings and the entire universe.
I think this is what the Buddha really meant by the Bodhisattva Vow – or as my Zen teacher says: How do actually save all sentient beings? You save them from you!
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Who Am I?
I am Nicholas Hudis an author and mentor dedicated to the path of self-cultivation. After 25 years as a therapist/coach, I see that the need is not for therapy but for cultivating the skill to live wisely, ethically and purposefully. I am no "sage" but the wisdom of Confucius, the Buddha and the Stoic philosophers guides me on a daily basis. My desire is to share this inspiration, through my writings and personal mentoring, and make a difference to your life too.