In western society, the mind is generally considered to be the apex of our being, and deep thinkers celebrated as the defining product of our times. In fact, it was not until I was in my mid-twenties until I came across the notion that the ordinary human mind may not be the be all and end all of human existence. What could possibly lie beyond the mind, I wondered? Well, we unconsciously answer that question every day when we gesture towards ourselves during a conversation – we point towards the middle of the chest, the place where we intuitively feel the core of our being. Hence if you are interested in pursuing the possibilities of self-discovery, then learning to live in the heart is a very good place to start.
So what differentiates the heart from the mind?
- Empathy. The heart is the place where we feel a sense of connectedness and goodwill with other people and the world – the phrase ‘my heart goes out to him’ says it all, I think. This is in stark contrast to the mind, which quite often resorts to stereotyping and seeing the bad qualities in others.
- Oneness. The mind works by gathering information, then classifying and categorising – a process of dividing which ultimately separates you from the object you are looking at. The heart, on the other hand, expands to identify itself with an object or situation, such that you actually feel connected with the thing you are focusing on.
- Spontaneity. The mind can become very jaded with seeing the same things and constantly requires new excitement to keep it happy, newness and freshness are an intrinsic part of the heart’s nature. For the heart, everything happens in the now, no mulling over the past, no worrying about what might happen. We can see this most clearly with children, running around inventing new games and discarding them in favour of new ones at the spur of the moment.
- Purpose. Often we have difficulty finding a purpose to fulfill here on earth, the thing that will make us most happy. The mind is very often no help here, vacillating between one option and another, heavily influenced by the unrealistic expectations of other people or society. Yet when we quiet the mind, we can feel an inner inspiration coming from the depths of our existence. When we get such an inspiration, it is often accompanied by a tremendous sense of inner joy and relief of the tension that came from your mental indecision. There is also a sense of certainty that does not depend on the result of the action; we inwardly know it is the right thing to do, regardless of whether it meets with success or failure.
So how does one explore the realm of the heart?
Here are a few exercises to practice for five or ten minutes every day:
- Use the breath. It is in the silence of the mind that you can then bring your attention to the heart. I found this simple breathing exercise to be quite effective: as you breathe in follow the river of breath, as it enters through the nose and enters into the core of your being. Similarly on the outbreath, feel the river of breath leaving your heart centre and leaving through your mouth into the universe.
- No mind. Let the power of imagination point you towards the heart centre. Feel and imagine that you have no mind, all you have is the heart; you can repeat to yourself “I have no mind; all I have is the heart”. After a few minutes you can go even further and say “I am the heart”, firmly identifying yourself with this reality in the core of your being.
- Mantras. In Eastern traditions this is considered one of the most effective ways to get into the heart. You can use ancient Sanskrit terms like ‘Aum’ or ‘Shanti’ (meaning peace) or instead repeat some quality of the heart that you particularly like, like ‘Love’ or ‘Joy’. If you place your hands on your chest whilst saying it; the physical sensation of the voice helps to bring your attention to the heart centre. As you repeat, feel that it is actually your heart centre saying the mantra in and through you.
- Music. Different kinds of music tend to affect different parts of our being, like our mind or our emotions. Likewise music created by people who live in the heart tend to also elevate our awareness and bring us closer to the heart. Just as the tide gets under a boat and lifts it up, so music can elevate you to places of peace and beauty inside yourself. When listening, resist all temptation to analyse the music, and in the words of my meditation teacher Sri Chinmoy, “let the music-bird fly inside your heart-sky“.