I always heard as a child to not follow my heart. I was told the heart was stupid, that it “didn’t really know,” and that intellect was always the better choice. Rationality! However, over two years of meditation has led me to the conclusion that this is really just wrong. First of all, many of us (I am guessing) are not really in touch with our hearts, so we think “listening to our hearts” means to do something rash or impulsive. Second of all, intellect is a mess. Meditating for less than five minutes will prove this to you, if you are in doubt. Just sit quietly, and watch your own thoughts. Let the games begin.
So the heart. I was first introduced to my heart through an audio program titled “Mahamudra for the Modern World,” wherein Dr. Reggie Ray gives an introduction to the energetic heart. I was surprised to feel pain when I breathed into my heart center. While doing heart-opening practices such as metta, I even cried due to the emotions evoked. I suppose I had tried to protect my heart for a long time. All the “protection” did was make it more vulnerable to perceived outside threats.
Slowly, over time, my heart center became a place of warmth and solitude, as opposed to rawness and pain. I was more willing to be open to people, because I understood that my heart could not really be hurt by anything. Being formless, it has no true substance (even though it energetically can be found in the chest). Its perceived negative reactions are not cause for concern. And I have seen that, overall, my heart knows when a thing ought to be done and when it ought not to be done. The only problem I can see (and I don’t think it’s actually a problem) is that the heart doesn’t speak in the form of thoughts. It’s the energy itself that speaks.
If this sounds too airy-fairy, I really don’t mean anything occult or supernatural: just feeling the sensations of the heart center. Thoughts are one thing, and have their own agenda (or seem to think they do, and it is usually to try to create and preserve some virtual self-image), but the heart is experienced as a center of warmth (or, as may be the case, rawness or pain). As you fall asleep, while you may not be aware of it, this warmth deepens and spreads throughout your entire body. It is the beginning of dreamless, formless awareness sleep (or so I feel–my experience here is limited).
All of this is to say that much of our pain comes from following the intellect–the thoughts–and believing that they know something of value. They do not. Trungpa Rinpoche used to refer to thoughts as “rat shit.” This is one reason (I believe) that Achaan Chah told his students if they attained anything, even if it was peace, to throw it away. If they decided to hold it, then they would “think they know something.” I think the thinking part is the problem (or believing in the thinking), because then the heart-mind feels it has something to lose. It does not.
If you read this and feel an interest in exploring your heart, an easy posture is the “hands over heart” mudra: resting your right hand over your heart (not too high, but not too low, somewhere between your pectorals–or wherever you feel the warmth or inner feeling). Then you can just feel the energy there. If you would like to breathe into the heart center, you can. You can couple this with other practices, but just feeling the energy is fine.