Growing up in New York City, I was surrounded by intellectuals and an analytical culture. Both my father and stepfather relished doing the Times crossword puzzles every day. My father even undertook the Sunday diagram-less ones, sketching them out onto graph paper. He was stingy by nature but never scrimped when it came to learning. He'd pay for any course I wanted to take to "better myself." Meanwhile, my mother and stepfather spent every evening discussing politics and theatre. Naturally, as a teenager that's what I emulated. For "light reading" I chose novels like Sophie's Choice and The Sound and The Fury. In high school, I following current events so I could sound knowledgeable but towards the end of my college years, I began to wonder about all of this critical analysis and the pursuit of a 'life of the mind.'
My first inclination that maybe this wasn't the exact path for me was when I took a class on Eastern philosophy and religion. One student presented an argument juxtaposing 'critical anlysis' or breaking things down in order to understand them, to a Buddhist concept of embracing the whole. I suppose that conversation planted a seed because after that I was never quite the same. Yeah, I could banter and hold my own dissecting a film or criticizing a political perspective but I'm no intellectual, not in the way many of my family members were, and I started to see that I was moving in a different direction anyway. After all, wasn't I more than just my mind?
As I let go of the obsessive need to follow the daily news and began my own inner journey, reading books and finding teachers, I kept encountering this idea, to live from the heart. I didn't know what that meant or how to do it- so I went searching. One of the things I learned was that the mind isn't in fact all there is. It's just a muscle that likes to think it's in charge. It'll boss you around forever if you let it. It can create countless fantasies, both good and bad, is a master at imparting fear and loves to judge BUT if you tame it, it can be an amazing machine.
When we choose to approach the world from the place of the heart, we allow ourselves to open up to the experience rather than the constant narration our head's telling us about what we 'should' be seeing or doing. We defer judgment or rationalization and allow ourselves a more holistic and accepting view. People often say the heart is the home of intuition, the place where your true self lives. I would argue it is also the place of knowing.
So to live from the heart isn't about not using the critical mind, being lazy or for people who are intellectually inferior. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Leading with your heart invites a person to tap into innate knowing as well as honing the mind to do the heart's bidding. Then we can live from a place of purpose and fulfillment instead of criticism and arrogance.
I know sometimes now when I go out to dinner with my family or intellectual friends in New York, they think I'm weird. Instead of tearing down the latest production of Macbeth, I prefer to talk about the talent. Or better yet, important subjects like the meaning of happiness or success. I'm sure that after some of these evenings my friends go home scratching their heads but at the end of the day, I feel peace and clarity, am not relying on Xanax or Ambien to alleviate my anxiety and sleep like a baby, contented.