Listening to My Heart (It’s Not Just For Disney Princesses)
I feel like the progression of my life experiences has been a little out of the ordinary. Some things have happened earlier in my life than most people experience them and there are other things that I have come to embarrassingly late in life.
– I took my first international flight at 6 months old but I did not get my driver’s license until I was 21 years old.
– I attended over 8 different schools over the course of my education but my first graduation ceremony was not until I graduated from college.
– I had friends who were Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, and agnostic growing up but the first time I truly experienced being personally disliked (maybe hated?) because of who I am was not until I was in my mid-twenties.
– I have lived in multiple cultures and countries including some with incredibly complex societal norms but I was 28 years old before I encountered a situation where I truly had no idea what the “right” thing to do was.
I like making good choices and following the rules and doing the right thing. I have developed strong critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills and I am comfortable with most of my decisions. It is also a life-long battle to keep this inclination from becoming perfectionism. I truly enjoy searching for the greatest good even in complicated scenarios but I want my choices to come from a place of true desire and not an external need to do the “right” thing.
Somehow I made it 28 years old before I found myself in a situation where I could not see any good choices. And the situation was not an easy one. It was seriously life altering and included a million smaller decisions that were all just as convoluted. All of the options laid before me and all of the options I vainly tried to think up seemed awful. I spent months stuck going around and around trying to figure out what to do. It was an awful carousel ride from hell. I just wanted someone, anyone to point out the right thing so I could get off the carousel and head that direction.
Week after week I met with a therapist who kindly and gently asked me questions like, “Putting aside for a minute what you think is right or wrong, what do you want to do?” “In your most idealistic image of an outcome, what does it look like?” “What is your picture of the life you want to move toward?” And all I could do was cry and answer, “I don’t know. It all seems ugly and painful and awful. I don’t want to choose any of the options.”
So finally he asked me, “What does your heart say? How do these decisions make you feel? Does thinking about one choice make your heart softer or harder? Does making this decision make you feel closer to the heart of God or further away?” I laughed and my first response was, “I don’t believe in Disneyland.” But then my second response was slower and deeper and took a little while to bubble up from deep inside me. My second response was a deep sigh of relief.
It is embarrassing to admit that it took me 28 years to allow myself to make decisions based on my heart response and not an analysis of pros and cons, right and wrong. Not that I did not include my heart and soul in decisions I made before but I always felt like I had to justify them analytically. I felt like my mind could be trusted but my heart and soul could not. Finally giving myself permission to make decisions (however difficult and painful) based on my heart response (while still including my mind and soul) has brought me such great freedom.
I am still exploring this new (to me) way of decision making. I still want to include my mind heavily in life decisions and situations but I am letting my heart lead the way more than I have before. It has been deeply contemplative and life-giving to stop for a minute from time to time and check in with my heart and ask: Is this making my heart feel softer or harder? Do I feel myself moving closer to God or further away? Do I feel more loving or less loving in this direction I am heading?
I am sure I will continue to grow and develop and integrate the way I use my heart, soul, mind, and even body in making decisions but for now I am enjoying learning to listen more closely to my heart. It is much louder and more sensitive and more passionate and truthful than I knew. I have found it to be just as trustworthy (and untrustworthy) as my mind. So why not give my heart a chance to lead the way for a while?