My intent in this article is to provide a perspective that can help identify the subtle guidance signals the heart sends to us, and encourage a greater awareness of them.
The number one signal is that life stops working.
This happened to me, in spite of my best efforts to do what I was supposed to as a principled respectable person. From the outside I looked (and was) relatively successful – so I had to be happy, right? My heart should be singing. But on the inside I was finding it more and more difficult to function.
The more I struggled to figure it out, the worse it seemed to get. Frustration, disappointment; confusion and emotional chaos were my constant companions. And the burning question was, “Why, if I was doing what I was supposed to – being reliable, responsible and reasonably well behaved – was I feeling so miserable?” It took me many years to understand that this was a signal from my heart.
My heart was singing alright, but it wasn’t the kind of song I expected to hear.
The exact circumstances of this kind of experience, when it happens, are irrelevant – although they don’t seem so at the time. But it’s a common enough event and it’s scary when it happens. For me it surfaced as a realisation that nothing made sense any more – and the possibility that just about everything I believed about the world was mistaken. What used to have meaning and purpose became empty – lip service to convention. I found myself just going through the motions.
Noticing this is actually a great place to arrive at. It’s a great place because the heart’s energy is in compression and is bursting to put us on the path of real joy. Paradoxically the measure of that joy is the depth of the misery that brings us to the realisation that nothing’s working.
Just to be clear, misery comes from resisting the path that the heart is urging us down. So the heart signals to us through both joy and its absence.
But to take the path of the heart we have to let go of (or be prepared to let go of) many of the ideas and beliefs that we’ve embraced in creating our sense of who we are. Those beliefs are simply decisions we’ve made about what something means, and that includes ourselves.
This is a matter of consequence, because we’ve been making up that meaning since we’ve been conscious physical entities. It gets built up into an identity and we inhabit that identity as if it’s who we really are. But it isn’t; it’s an invention.
When life stops working it’s an opportunity to re-invent ourselves.
What we believe about ourselves, and the world we live in, is largely a story we’ve made up to explain ourselves to ourselves. It’s nothing more than an interpretation of our experience of events and an anchoring of that interpretation through our emotions and feelings. The context of that story is the culture that we’re born into, and into which we contrive to fit ourselves. That culture itself is nothing more than a pre-established collective interpretation – a convenient fabrication that society subscribes to.
Most of our story gets made up before we’ve developed much in the way of intellectual, analytical or critical ability that would enable us to see its arbitrary nature. If the narrative we concocted seemed to fit the circumstances we’ll have embraced it and moved on. By the time we acquire sufficient analytical skills to de-construct our story it’s too late. The story is recognised as fact and we’re too busy making it work to question it – until we can’t make it work any more.
Understanding the arbitrary and subjective nature of our early interpretations and our intensely personal identification with them is a secret key to self-empowerment. One that lies buried in the depths of the unconscious.
We are not victims of life but of our interpretations of life.
This understanding is vital because without it there’s little likelihood of real transformation. We simply won’t give ourselves permission to break the rules we’ve defined ourselves by, even if we can see the need to, unless we’re clear on this fundamental principle.
The point to remember is that the entire process of self-invention is experiential. That’s to say although we might have thought it up, we didn’t plan it. It was a reactive response to the perception that something had happened, or been done, to me – and that’s important to the perception of being a victim and feeling powerless.
Our interpretations are anchored in the physical and emotional responses of the time of a particular experience. This sets up unconscious triggers, rather like the uncharacteristic behaviour triggers induced by a stage hypnotist. Because of this the approach to making a sustainable shift – transforming ourselves – cannot simply be intellectual. There has to be another component that reaches beyond the intellect.
This is why although deciding to change is important, it’s not enough on its own. It’s just the first step.
If we made the story up then it should be ours to revise and edit. And so it is, but we can’t change what’s happened. What we can change is our interpretation of the people and events concerned – how we see them. This is a second step.
A third step is to allow our feelings to surface and be present with them as a conscious compassionate adult. No-one knows how they will emerge from this, except that it will be a different version of the person that began the process – and that’s the adventure.
Just in case you’re wondering where Wonderland is, I have to tell you it’s right here and now. It’s the world we inhabit as conscious human beings.
“Dear, dear! How queer everything is to-day! And yesterday things went on just as usual, I wonder if I have changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!”
Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland