In the last few years, I’ve been challenging myself to follow my heart more.
I thought it would be fairly easy.
“Just follow your heart, everything will turn out fine” is a lovely platitude. The simplicity of that advice feels right, doesn’t it?
When I think about following my heart — which means tapping into my deepest desires and following the calling of my intuition — I feel lighter and brighter. I feel hopeful. I begin to believe that my dreams will be fulfilled and I’ll finally be happy!
But (and you know there’s always a “but” coming)… I’m finding that it’s much harder than I thought.
It turns out that my heart wants a lot of things, and some of them aren’t very practical or realistic, and sometimes they contradict each other.
I want structure and routine, but I also want to be free and spontaneous.
I want to travel the world, but I also want to stay home.
I want to earn a great income, but I also don’t want to work so hard that I become stressed or burned out anymore (been there, done that, many times).
All I want to do is learn how to cook like Ina Garten, decorate my home, learn photography, and write books like J.K. Rowling (if only I were as talented as she). But I also want to do meaningful work, help people, and become a successful businessperson.
Some of these things I’ve tried, with varying degrees of success (okay, very little success) although I’ve enjoyed the process along the way.
I’ve also run up against some obstacles: How do I earn a living? How much time do I have to devote to this? How much energy do I have? How much commitment do I have? What about making time for loved ones, and being respectful of their needs? What happens if no one notices my hard work and no validation comes? Can I do a little bit of everything, or do I need to fully focus all my concentration on one thing in order to develop mastery?
I think that as we grow older, we start to compromise on following our hearts’ desires. We know that it isn’t entirely realistic to follow them completely, and we have other responsibilities to think about. So we start putting those things into the “one day” category or forgetting them altogether.
We also get distracted by the things we think we have to do before we can do the things we want to do. And then suddenly the have to things get mistaken for the want to things.
Our reasoning goes something like this:
I want to pay my mortgage and put food on the table more than I want to devote my working time to being a creative artist. I would love to take off and travel the world, but I want my loved ones to respect me and love me more than I want to risk hurting them by temporarily abandoning them or forcing them to come with me. I have to work really hard and meet everyone’s expectations even though I want to just quit everything. I want to meet all my responsibilities so I can keep thinking of myself as a good person, even if I secretly resent them.
We are still choosing what we want — they’re just not the dreamy ideals. We call this “being realistic.”
And that is how we human beings have been taught that it’s irresponsible, flaky, and selfish to follow our hearts’ desires; there are more practical things to undertake and they’re what we should want to do. These practical things keep our families together, they are less risky, and they help us avoid disappointing others. We also avoid being disappointed in ourselves and the uncomfortable feelings of uncertainty or vulnerability. We convince ourselves that it’s safer to let go of those desires.
On the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of people suffer under these illusions; because our hearts’ desires don’t go away — they just get buried deeper and deeper under a whole load of denial. This suppression arises in feelings that we don’t understand: anger, sadness, stress, resentment, frustration.
When we expose the denial, but we don’t have a convenient way of lessening the consequences of following our desires, we end up in mental conflict. Our heads and hearts play subconscious tug-of-war. Do I or don’t I?
On the surface, it seems to be a zero-sum game: for one to win, the other has to lose. If I want to be a creative artist, that means that I won’t be able to pay my bills. For me to make my own desires a priority, I will have to disappoint or hurt someone else.
I don’t have the answers that will make this game a fair one.
I wonder, though, if there is a way to follow one’s heart’s desires without a corresponding crash and burn somewhere else. Is there a way to achieve a desire and have that add to your life, without necessarily taking something away from it?
Can there be a win-win option?
Can we follow more of our “wants” instead of “shoulds” or “musts”? And how do we communicate our desires and act on them with love, for the highest good of all concerned?
What would it feel like to let go of all those things we have to do, and then selectively pick up only the things that we want to do? Would it feel liberating or terrifying?
What do you think?
What do you really want? What would happen if you chose that thing over the thing you have to do?
Keep shining the insight light,