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Learning the Language of the Heart
Your heart is your compass. Learn to read it and all else will flow from it.
There are two voices inside of you.
The ego and the heart.
The ego only ever speaks in thoughts, the heart speaks in feelings.
As you grow up, you’re taught to cherish your big, beautiful mind. Intellect, reason, and capacity for genius are the most prized qualities in our society. Western society so heavily over-anchores on thinking as the only path to knowledge, it’s completely forgotten there’s an entirely different way. A world of wisdom residing in each one of us. The path of felt experience. The path of intuition.
All indigenous cultures know this and place equal value on both — if not more on the wisdom of the heart. Modern society has become addicted to the ego and its thought patterns. At the same time, emotional restraint has become a virtue of emotional maturity. This fundamental disconnection has produced a society in which a large share of the population finds itself trapped in the two most common states of ego consciousness - contemplation of the past (depression) and the future (anxiety).
The journey from the mind to the heart is the longest journey you’ll ever undertake. It’s the journey that’s at the core of practically every spiritual tradition. There are different ways to describe it, but it’s always the same path. From the mind to the heart.
This week, I’d like to offer you a perspective on why the wisdom of the heart matters, and how we can (re-)learn to listen and attune to it. Many of these teachings are influenced by my recent journey with ibogaine. So, in some ways, writing this is part of my integration. The medicine taught me that my purpose on this planet is to learn the language of the heart — and teach it. As I figure out what that means, which I have no doubt will be a life-long quest, I humbly offer you all that I’ve learned so far.
The Heart as the Only Compass for Truth
For many, the first step on the journey inward is the realization that you are not your thoughts, and your thoughts are not the absolute truth. Every single thought you have arrives through the filter of your egoic structure. Even the smartest, most educated minds are not a reliable guide to absolute truth. Truth that’s not objective or scientific but rather personal and felt.
Through meditation, you may learn to create space between you (the thinker) and the contents of your mind (your thoughts). But if your thinking doesn’t reveal the truth, what, then, will? If you don’t listen to the voice of your ego, what do you listen to instead?
Mindfulness is only the first half of the equation. The other, arguably more important and much less talked about part is embodiment. It’s through embodiment that you step into heart space. And its only through heart space that you connect with the Divine.
Embodiment encapsulates the felt experience of reality. It’s your capacity to let all emotional experiences flow through you without escape, denial or repression. It’s the practice of observing not only your thoughts but your physical sensations, and being with them without judgment. It’s the ultimate form of surrender. It’s through your body, not your mind, that you learn the language of your heart.
This is the essence of the spiritual journey. When you learn the language of the heart, all else will flow from it. Your heart has all the answers. Answers that are usually quite simple. Much simpler than your mind likes them to be. Complexity is an escape your mind creates in an attempt to control and involve itself. To return to truth, all you have to do is return to the subtle but clear whispers of your heart.
Now, you likely did not learn how to do this in school. All of our schooling is designed to strengthen the mind, none of it is about learning the language of the heart. If you were lucky, perhaps you learned from your parents. Even if you did, though, growing up in modern society likely made you forget.
Yet, you once not only had the ability but mastered this skill. As a child, you lived purely from heart space as your sense of self and the egoic structures that house it were in its infancy. You felt and expressed emotions as they arose, without judgment or repression. This emotional capacity and attunement to your heart is your nature. You spoke from the heart until you were taught not to. To return to it, you only need to remove all that’s in the way of experiencing your true nature.
Learning the Language of the Heart
Let’s begin with six important realities about the heart-mind dichotomy:
The mind speaks only through thoughts, the heart speaks through emotions.
The heart doesn’t discriminate among emotions, it simply wants to feel. For the heart, all emotions are good because emotions communicate the needs of the heart.
As a result, the heart never suffers. All suffering comes from the ego and its judgement and interpretation of certain emotional states.
Fear is the only emotion that doesn’t come from the heart. Fear always comes from ego, it is in direct contrast with love, the mother tongue of the heart. All discomfort arises from the distance between the two. The mind wants you to be secure, the heart wants you to be free.
Control is the ego’s attempt to manage fear. Any controlling thought never comes from the heart. The heart doesn’t fear or control, it loves and trusts.
To learn the language of the heart, you need to stay as close as possible to the level of physical sensation, because that’s the closest you’ll ever get to the truth. Even in the transition from physical sensation to feeling, the ego taints the truth through interpretation which is based on the stories you tell yourself.
There’s an important distinction to make with regards to fear. There are two different types of fear. There’s the fear that arises when you’re in actual, physical danger. It produces strong physical sensations and the well-known fight-flight-freeze response. Exposure to this fear is limited for most humans. The more prevelant fear is the one that stems from fabrications of the ego, which develops scenarios about the future. This is the fear referenced above. It never comes from the heart.
In fact, the heart never experiences either fear. It doesn’t fear death because it knows the ultimate reality, which is the divine nature of the place you return to when your soul leaves this plane. The heart doesn’t fear failure because it knows failure will provide whatever is needed to succeed in the future. The heart doesn’t fear sadness, heartbreak, or grief because it knows its strength and resilience. All fear comes from the ego.
Emotions vs. feelings
Let’s get clear on some key definitions before we proceed.
An emotion is a felt experience in the body — a physical, neurochemical and hormonal experience that arises as the result of something you sense in your external or internal environment (including unconscious thought). Emotions are nothing but raw data. Energy in motion that comes into your awareness through physical sensation. Emotions naturally last approxamitely 90 seconds. If they last longer, it’s because a part of you is keeping them alive. Emotions themselves are never the problem, all problems arise from your associations with them.
Those associations are what turn emotions into feelings. Feelings are how you interpret an emotion through the stories you tell yourself about it. Feelings are filtered by the mind and thus much more biased and influenced by mental misconceptions. They’re the bridge between your heart and your mind. Feelings, as opposed to emotions, can last months, sometimes even a lifetime.
The voice of the heart vs. the voice of the ego
Interpreting emotions (to explore what you’re feeling) involves mental processes. It can be confusing to differentiate the heart’s intuition and the ego’s assumptions.
Every time something arises in you and you’re not sure about its origins, you can refer to the table below. When you know what to look out for, the difference is actually quite drastic. During my ibogaine journey, I had the experience of absolute clarity with regards to the origin of each thought. The medicine showed me what to look out for by demonstrating how the heart speaks and then teaching me the information below to help me distinguish it from the ego going forward.
Open vs. closed hearts
One last point I’d like to address is the notion of “opening your heart”. Contrary to common misconceptions, your heart never closes. Like the sun in the sky, your heart always shines. Thoughts and repressed emotions might cloud it, but that doesn’t affect the open nature of the heart, only your experience of it.
The path of freedom is the path of freeing the heart. You remove all the blockages that are in the way of you and the experience of your open heart. This occurs, for example, when you don’t process your emotions in childhood (or later in life), often but not exclusively as a result of trauma. The energy remains in your system and commonly builds an invisible wall around your heart. To reconnect, you need to remove all that’s in the way and you will experience your open heart automatically.
Then, to maintain this new reality, you bring heart dialogue into your daily life through meditation, prayer, art, and embodiment.
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5 Simple Steps to Attune To the Whispers of Your Heart
Here are some simple (yet not easy) steps you can follow to learn to attune to your heart on a daily basis.
Cultivate. Be thoughtful about what you put in your mind. Everything you expose yourself to either cultivates the voice of the heart or the voice of the ego. Identify what amplifies mental chatter in your life and minimize or eliminate those things where possible. Some common places to look at are your relationships and the people around you, social media, and news consumption.
Meditate. The heart speaks in silence, so this is a critical step. It can be classical meditation (any style) or any activity that puts you into a meditative state. Breath-based awareness meditation is an excellent tool — every breath you return to in meditation makes space for the whispers of your heart. Through meditation, you’ll also learn to return to the more natural life cycle of your emotions by interrupting unconscious chains of thought patterns surrounding your experience.
Observe. When you notice an emotion, the goal is to stay as close as possible to the level of physical sensation. Refrain from the urge to interprent physical sensations as they arise but rather choose to lovingly be with them. There’s plenty of time to analyze once the emotion has peaked. If the mind doesn’t intervene, especially in its favorite way — “I shouldn’t feel this way”, emotions peak rather quickly.
Love. The next step is to learn to let your heart guide the ego. The easiest way to move from ego and fear space to heart space is by inviting in the language of love through kindness and compassion. Acts and thoughts of kindness (towards yourself and others) interrupt ego thought loops. Begin with how you speak to yourself and train yourself to default to love. This is how you become heart-led.
Practice. To maintain and strengthen heart-dialogue, develop a practice that connects you with this space inside of you. Embodied practices are best, flow states are ideal. Especially as a sensitive person, you need an outlet for flow, something that connects you with your heart, otherwise your ego will drive you crazy. Sensitive people have the loudest minds because they observe more from their internal and external environment, which contributes to “chatter”. This chatter can be overwhelming which is part of why sensitive people are more prone to numb it.
Honoring the Function of Emotions
Once we’ve allowed an emotion, what do we do with it? What do we use the raw data for that we’ve so carefully observed and collected, without judgement?
This is the final piece to the puzzle. Emotions communicate the needs of the heart, so each emotion you experience gifts you a clue as to what your heart needs.
Here are some common emotions and the corresponding needs.
Sadness: connect to self, others, or purpose; get attention; be held and supported
Anger: make things right after a boundary has been violated; change something
Disappointment: share needs; manage expectations
Disgust: get support digesting / metabolizing an experience; talk; share
Boredom: be engaged; rest; experience flow
Joy: savor the moment; share it with others; rest; smile
Fear: reconnect with the heart; find presence; cultivate safety
How these emotions show up is different for each person. The more familiar you become with your own subtle cues, the earlier you can shift into surrender. You’ll know you’re sad when you cry, but perhaps you learn to pick up on even earlier signs — heaviness in your chest, nose twitches, or any other sensations unique to you and your physical form.
The “emotional wheel” is a tool that’d been a huge help for me on this journey (it’s actually my phone screen saver). There’s also a version I discovered recently that combines emotions with the corresponding physical sensations (behind a paywall but you can preview here). This can be a good guiding tool, but remember, while some emotional experiences are universal, much of it will be unique to you.
Here are two books I recommend if you want to learn more about emotions:
Lastly, I’ll refer you to my previous writings on Internal Family Systems, a therapy model based on the multiplicity of the mind. One of the parts that constitutes your mind in IFS is the “Self”, which can be seen as the unbiased translator of the heart. In IFS, you work to strengthen relationship with the Self (heart) and resolve tensions and burdens of all your other parts (the ego).