the tyranny of ‘shoulds’

white faced heronToday, I avoided an attack of the ‘shoulds’ and followed my own heart on a long wintry walk along the Dandenong Creek which fortuitously involved cheesecake. As there was no one about, I could happily chat to myself about new projects, practice an upcoming talk, as well as delight in harriers and kestrels, scarlet robins and blue wrens, white faced herons and egrets.

Rather than preventing me from ‘getting on with things I should be doing’, I came back refreshed and could easily devote myself to fruitful hours of work. My heart was full of wonder and contentment and I could feel it.

Our hearts are such mysterious places. D H Lawrence described the human heart as another universe:

that we know nothing of, that we dare not explore.
A strange gray distance separates
our pale mind still from the pulsing continent
of the heart of man

Yet, the more we dare to explore the universe of the heart, then it seems the more easily we can sense what is true for us. We get to know our distinct personal truth when we let ourselves cross that frontier.

I can feel it when I allow myself to enter that realm; it’s the space where I sense wonder, possibility, and deep feeling. Colloquially we talk about our heart being the source of love, passion, affection.  The strong connection between the brain and the heart (as well as other organs) carried by the vagus nerve, that neural wanderer, offers us an understanding of the signficance of the information coded along that pathway. With practice, although we may not be able to sense what is being transmitted along the vagus nerve, we can begin to sense the heart, and we can allow that connection between heart and mind to strengthen.

I avoid the heart zone most effectively by sticking strictly with the ‘shoulds’; those obligations that I ‘think I should do’ rather than those actions, tasks and notions that I ‘know I need to do’. They are different, they call and beckon and invite us to be courageous enough to follow them. They can grow insistent, particularly if we’ve neglected them, so may keep reappearing in slightly different guises, whispering, wheedling, even shouting. ‘Remember, you are a poet, a farmer, an engineer, a dancer, a baker, a knitter, a crafter, a singer, a walker…’ And we feel the immense relief when we sing, or build a bridge, bake a cake or shimmy a few steps.

If I’m not careful I can catch myself deep in consideration of ‘shoulds’ that are measured against some worldly ideal I actually reject. When I’m deep in the embrace of ‘shoulds’ I may also try to take on someone else’s way of operating in the world, when what I envy is their devotion, their willingness to commit to whatever is in their heart and it’s the ‘how’ I need to heed rather than the ‘what’.

Of course, we don’t always get that resounding ‘Yes!’ after a heart consultation. Sometimes we get ‘Maybe’ or ‘That’s quite a good idea.’ It’s when we are half-hearted that  we can learn to allow our hearts a larger say. Sometimes it’s a ‘maybe’ because we really need to try something out, or it’s a ‘maybe’ until something is tweaked, or because it’s simply utterly wrong. This is an ongoing area of research which becomes easier, the less our souls are congested with stale habits and undigested reactivity. So, if we’re confused, we can take a walk, talk with a friend, a professional listener, or our journal. We can practice some creative activity which encourages heartfulness and allows us to sift past our old patterns and reactivity to the deeper feeling. It’s no accident that my heartful walk come after a friend had generously hosted me in a little creative exploration of where I was at the day before.

Heartful activity is also not as simple as ‘following our bliss’ although there’s a generous sprinkling of what brings us joy within it. What pulls at our hearts will almost always present deep challenges, but they are the kind of challenges that we long to sink our teeth into rather than those which make us feel burnt out, bored or stymied. We don’t get that stale soul feeling when we contemplate these challenges. We may grow a bit nervous, a little afraid of our daring, but we long to work it out and find the support that will help us to do that.

And it’s not that we ever forsake our canny heads. Combining heart and mind consciously makes us fully human.

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