The Art and Skill of Living From the Heart

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Book Reviews

What does it mean to live from the heart?  And why does it matter?

In my experience, every difficulty I’ve ever faced has manifested itself as a rift between my heart and my mind—between what can be known most profoundly when words are left behind, and what presents itself as a seemingly irrefutable conclusion of the mind’s learning.  When this happens we tend to look at circumstance as the genesis of difficulty, without realizing that our inability to greet circumstance wholeheartedly is the true cause of our suffering.

It takes but one short-fused moment with a loved one to realize we are fractured down the middle—one cross word, one violent thought if we’re paying attention.  We look quickly to reasons, to motivations of self and other, to life’s weighty conditions, when ultimately what we’re feeling is the way our mind’s considerations and our heart’s clarion voice have turned their back on one another.  When we are conflicted within, the result is conflict without: a moment or situation that has no solution, a pain that rings like a searing bell and cannot be silenced.

The greatest challenge I think we face in our world today is that of allowing the inner marriage of heart and mind to be consummated within us.  It is far from an easy task, for we are emerging from a time in which only that which is externally shareable is considered a valid form of knowing.  When our hearts whisper, they whisper to us, and us alone.  Trusting this voice is an indelicate proposition.  The heart whispers to us from deep within the domain of our individuality, from the sanctity of our own being, and the voice is oh so very tender.  The whispers do not withstand the mind’s indecorous demands for evidence and justification.  The voice of our hearts, like a seed dormant for centuries in the soil, will wait patiently for eons if need be, for the conditions in which it might emerge, and grow.

The whispers of the heart require the carrier wave of trust, sounded within the echo chamber of peace, to become sensible.  Peace is like an amplifier of the truth within us.  It builds it up into something we can contact.  But if we look too closely, with eyes sharpened by fear and doubt, we puncture the bubble, and it is lost.  Looking this way justifies itself.

See?  There is nothing there.  Just like I thought.

The heart and mind conflict when the mind usurps the heart by proving once again its chosen point of origin, and the beautiful skill and craft required to bring the heart and mind into union is dismissed.  We don’t like that there is an art to this, a craft innate to us whose importance we’ve forgotten.  We don’t like the idea that bringing heart and mind into alignment requires commitment, willingness and perseverance.  We don’t like that it’s at once subtle and messy, or that it adamantly refuses to be commoditized.

We really don’t like that the heart’s liquidity is predicated upon surrender.

The type of wisdom that resonates with me the most is the type that has punctured the bubble countless times, but gotten up again in equal measure, and ultimately learned how to cultivate the delicate touch of awareness that gives the bubble space to wobble and dance.  Dennis Ference is a person who carries this wisdom, and one of the great rewards of setting up virtual shop here has been the discovery of Dennis’ writing.

From the Water's Edge CoverIn his recently published book entitled From the Water’s Edge, I find page after page of insight regarding the truest of human arts: the sustenance of the delicate bubble of peace within.  If you haven’t read Dennis’ writing, I encourage you to visit his blog sooner than later, but also to consider getting a copy of his book.  His blog is great, but for me the book really shines because I can carry it with me to the river, to the city, to the parking lot, to the bus stand, to the stairwell, to the back porch, to the office cubicle, and to the park bench.  The words in the book are surrounded by space, and in their brevity you get a sense of the bounty from which they emerge.  Dennis recognizes that what needs to be said is actually so very little.  The pages—mostly blank—get the proportions just right in my opinion.  The space is an invitation.

In the journey towards unifying the mind and the heart, it helps to have a handy collection of bubble starters.  When we collapse, we need a point of beginning on which to build.  We need a point of entry back into the dance.  I think what Dennis has ultimately provided is an unerring set of beginnings.  It is then up to us to value and nurture that bubble, to protect it and watch it grow.  There’s suggestions from Dennis on that, too, but ultimately the cultivation of that wisdom is what this life is for.  We can’t read our way into this.  We learn the delicate touch of awareness that enables heart and mind to truly join by spending time with that fragile bubble as we walk life’s tightrope.  We learn through life’s unerring guidance how to respond, how to sustain it, how to keep it safe and to help it grow.

Dennis suggests in his introduction that the ultimate value of his words is to trigger a response, and I think he has this right, too, for it is only in giving what is ours to give that we discover what the quiet voice of our heart is really telling us.

Thank you, Dennis, for the light you shine on this path of peace.  It is a joy and a boon to call you friend and brother.

36 Comments

  1. This is a beautiful tribute to Dennis, his book and the mysterious journey of heart. I’m much better at popping bubbles than hearing the subtle voice of heart. Maybe I need to feed my peace more as the foundation. Kudos Dennis on your book, and thanks Michael for pointing the way.

    peace out brothers….

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks, Brad. Sustaining peace can be a challenging proposition, which is why I thought in writing this it is almost a skill. That’s not quite right either, because we tend to think some people have more of a particular skill than another, and that’s not true at all when it comes to sustaining peace, but there is a certain practice required to identify the patterns of thought that occur that are not conducive to peace, and defusing them… It is, in my experience, precisely as ACIM describes it: a willingness.

      Wishing you peace, bro!
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  2. After reading this, I will encourage my heart and mind to be friends, to consult and collaborate with each other. I’m reminded of the saying, “Follow your heart, but take your brain with you.” Thank you for sharing the whispers of your heart as we emerge.

    Liked by 3 people

    • My pleasure, JoAnna. It is really important I think, to bring these two great poles of our existence into union. It is interesting even to consider the valuation that our minds place upon our hearts, and to see when we rely upon one as opposed to the other. I would eve go so far as to say that we don’t typically understand the depth of either one. Much of the discord I think is related to a misunderstanding of our identity– the mind is far too occupied with means of furthering our identity, and/or establishing it, when the heart has a pretty good bead on this. If we can trust the heart more, I think it frees the mind to do what it does well, which for me is the translation of inspiration and knowing into tangible movements and communication…

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Ah! It seems that we are writing about similar things this week. I have a series on the importance of the body,mind, heart and spirit – and the heart of this wisdom is getting the balance right between these parts of ourselves. Each has its wisdom, but we usually have a preference, don’t we? Our culture does favour the mind, and the dangers of that imbalance is readily visible…lovely post xo

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Sara. I look forward to checking out more of your writing soon!

      In the corporate world there is a similar ideal: balancing the flow of resources and attention to clients and customers vs employees and providers, vs other stakeholders such as the larger environment, etc. And in some cases this term balance can end up, at the end of the day, becoming “compromise”. When this happens to us as individuals, I think it still leaves a little to be desired, which is why I really like the idea of uniting all of these aspects of ourselves into a singular whole. As separate “entities”, balancing them becomes an awkward juggling, but when they are unified they find ways to mutually support one another. Having said that, I get exactly what you mean! When it all flows together it does have a beautiful balance…

      And yes, I think we do have natural proclivities as beings, so that what is balance for one is not necessarily the recipe for balance in another.

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hey Michael, thank you for your thoughtful and thought provoking comment 😊 I think we’re talking about the same thing, just from different ends of the continuum. You’re talking about the end game, which is what I am aiming for too – integration and authenticity. I have written this at the beginning of the story, for people who are new to self knowledge and may benefit from understanding things as components before integration.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Yes, makes sense, Sara! It is interesting to me how our perceptions of these various facets of our being contribute directly to our picture of who we are. They influence the entirety of our experiences, so I think it is a very worthwhile topic to explore… I’m looking forward to the next entry in the series!

          Enjoying a beautiful day here with my heart, mind, spirit and body!
          Michael

          Liked by 2 people

  4. What a beautiful reflection on the language of the heart. I shall head over and check out Dennis’ blog right now. Thank you for sharing this writer who has spoken to the silence within your heart and resonated there.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Micheal, there was a lot in this that I can nibble on, but I seem to be fixated on one place; which is where I guess I am trying to take my bite from, Exploring the rift between the mind and the heart. I am a former biologist, so perhaps that skews my concept of heart, but I struggle, what is the difference between my mind and my heart? Just thinking out loud. Peace, Harlon

    Liked by 2 people

    • Phew! Great question, Harlon, and one of those I can only answer by saying that I’m not sure there is an ultimate distinction, and yet there are meaningful differences while they are separated or in conflict with one another. But neither is there perhaps a good way to pin either of those terms down into a particular, complete and simple definition. It’s a bit like trying to squeeze an entire jar of jam into one sandwich and squishing the bread together so it will fit in your mouth– not only is the entire exercise ill-advised, but the whole thing can never be contained in that form.

      So, that aside, when I wrote this piece I thought of the mind as the part of our being that first and foremost contains our working rules for perceiving ourselves and the world. It supplies meaning to events, formulates judgments, filters information, learns based on experience and forms rules intended to maximize outcomes and/or safety, manipulates symbols and language, and generally works through reason and logic. It seldom knows things directly, if indeed it ever does. It trades in concepts and generally tries to retain a logically consistent picture of new experiences and previous learning– meaning that by and large it will naturally attempt to understand the present moment in terms of its historical conclusions. We’ve all felt the way we jump to conclusions at times, for instance. It is difficult for the mind to accept meanings for experiences that produce conflict with what has already been learned, and so there is significant resistance in the mind to revising the basic symbolic-conceptual pictures of self, other and world.

      The heart I would describe as our point of contact with Love, or the origin of our being if you will. The heart needs no external validation to ratify what it knows, and it will never be dissuaded from knowing clearly, and without ambiguity or hesitation, the truth with which it is eternally connected. The thinking mind may hold all sorts of concepts about ourselves, the world, our limitations, our worth, our route to worthiness, etc., but the heart will not buy them. While it can be suppressed, ignored, ridiculed, or put to some very strange and meaningless tests, if given the opportunity it will always advocate for what is true of ourselves and the world.

      The heart is often thought to be the field of emotion, but that is not what I mean and I’m not sure it is the case per se. Emotions strike me as fast-acting signals developed within the medium of the body that alert us to whether or not what is happening (or perhaps more accurately, whether or not our interpretation of what is happening) is in accord with our self-concepts, our desires, our personal safety, etc. It’s almost like the feeling of emotion communicates the mind’s interpretation much more swiftly and immediately than a bunch of wordy thoughts.

      But the heart, when cast aside or in conflict with the mind’s continual need to assert its authority, can feel pain I think. Or the pain of inner conflict can be felt. This is one way we can know that what our thoughts are espousing is not aligned with the truth of our being.

      This could be quite a lengthy topic of its own, Harlon, so I’ll stop here, hoping this makes sense and is helpful!

      Peace, my friend!
      Michael

      Liked by 4 people

      • Thanks Michael, I may have estimated my nature to wear my heart upon my sleeve, or plays my cards on the table (I prefer the latter),
        ,
        Thank you for an elegant and thoughtful response. I shall savour and enjoy it and somehow, I have no doubt about this, I will find a way to integrate your words into my practice of being me.

        It doesn’t get any better than that.

        Peace,Harlon

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        • I can see that, Harlon– about your nature. I think those are admirable qualities, truth be told. The challenge of all this of course is to weave it into our individual -nesses, and transform the words and thoughts into something familiar and genuine!

          Peace
          Michael

          Liked by 1 person

    • I do hope you enjoy, Kim. I think if you weren’t familiar with Dennis’ writing before, you will find some lovely thoughts and expressions of the heart to add to your already joyful days!

      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am looking forward to my future ponderings, I love the simple, makes my thoughts complex in their simplicity…..thank you for turning me on to him my friend.
        Peace and good thoughts,
        Kim

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Yes, Michael. Love your description to Harlon 🙂 I agree with you that there is a “practice” here. Just as one may learn a new language or perfect a tennis stroke 😉 these things are not accomplished overnight. I, very recently, experienced something that had my mind and my heart in discord and the lengths that my mind went to…to override…or almost bully the truth that existed in my heart was quite extraordinary to witness. And when I say witness I mean “after the fact.” While I was embroiled in the distress the mind was very clear about what it thought it wanted. And I could faintly hear my heart but the mind had an argument or defense that was so strong it simply stomped the hearts musings into the ground. And I can tell you that when that kind of struggle takes place, at least for me, there is ALWAYS a physical manifestation of pain or illness. So when you say it is something we can learn to be better about I agree…I agree. And in the aftermath as I surround myself with the peace of my heart I want to honor it and caress it with love. And in the end the mind stubbornly admits that maybe it was wrong…and the heart NEVER says “I told you so!”
    Much love and many blessings of understanding to you Michael ❤
    And your dedication to Dennis and his book was one of the most beautiful introductions! I am so in love with his book…I read one of his “thoughts” and I am immediately inspired to write something in the white space that surrounds it…it is a beautiful experience and it makes me happy to have my words close to his. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Lorrie,

      There is a passage in A Course of Love your note here caused me to think of, and it is very near the beginning. There Jesus says that the ego cannot learn, and spirit has no need of learning, so what is it that is in the middle? What is it in us that learns, and that we ultimately come to find as our resting place– our true identity? He suggests it is the Christ in us, though what does that mean!?

      Here is a passage I like, “Christ-consciousness is the awareness of existence through relationship. It is not God. It is not man. It is the relationship that allows the awareness that God is everything. It has been called wisdom, Sophia, spirit. It is that without which God would not know God. It is that which differentiates all from nothing. Because it is that which differentiates, it is that which has taken form as well as that from which form arose. It is the expression of oneness in relationship with Its Self.”

      I think this “skill” we both sense is in some sense the deepening of our relationship to this wisdom within us. And I also know what you mean about how difficult those moments are. They hurt precisely because we are at conflict with ourselves. What you said about the heart never saying I told you so, is really great. I agree. When the storm is over, the heart is simply at rest again– grateful for the opportunity to extend and expand once again.

      Peace and Love dear friend!
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

      • I just love your ability to explain things that resonate with my soul!! I think I FEEL these things, but so often have difficulty being able to express it in words that people can understand. I am so grateful for you…for our friendship…for your ability to say things with words that make my soul AND mind rest in symbiotic understanding!! Best wishes for a weekend filled with love…and growth ♡♡

        Liked by 1 person

        • I am grateful for your friendship as well, Lorrie! I am glad our words resonate and bounce back and forth in happy and wholesome ways, too. I hope you had/have a great weekend and perhaps got a chance to play some tennis!

          Peace
          Michael

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature says

    Again, great piece, Michael. All the comments are as thought provoking as the book review. It is wonderful what Dennis has done, and you give him a wonderful tribute as well. I look forward to reading his book.

    The conversation between you and Harlon was a good read too!

    I have always listened to my heart more than my mind, I believe. I think where I have run into trouble before, is confusing the heart and emotions. Emotions can really be part of mind, or ego. I have been trying to consummate that marriage between heart and mind for so many years. It is certainly a process, not an event! For myself anyway. Haha, maybe it is a commitment issue!

    Thanks for another brilliant post.

    Love,
    Mary

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Mary,

      Yes, I’ve found the same thing– wanting to trust the heart when at the same time the emotions seem to be so intense, down in the muck, and difficult. Those emotions are not necessarily what I’d describe as the knowing of the heart and you seem to agree here with your comment. Emotions seem to be part of our process of perceiving. When we struggle, and at the same time we struggle to keep in contact with that foundation the heart’s knowing provides, then it does seem like pretty tough sledding, but that inability to access the heart’s know is brought on partly by the disconnect with the mind I think. It’s like those emotions are conforming to the very strange rules the mind has decided are so, and showing us what it’s like to be in a world comprised of those rules! And then the heart is silent! I think that’s why we have to quiet our minds sometimes, and let our emotions do their thing– let it all settle out so we can once again realize what remains, and what passes away…

      A commitment issue! Hahaha! I love that. I don’t see that in you at all, Mary. But it is a very human process. We are on our own perfect and unerring schedules… 🙂

      Peace and Love
      Michael

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  8. Thank you for the post. I’m struck with the thought that we actually use the mind to evaluate the heart, so of course it is biased! It is amazing to me when I shed the chaos of the mind for moment and dwell in the heart where life is clear and peaceful. The mind finds busy work for us between life and death, whereas the heart keeps us alive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes you’re right, if I understand you correctly. We too often use the mind to evaluate the heart on the mind’s terms, leading to a discounting of the heart’s innate knowledge. This is part of what leaves us split I think, and in conflict with ourselves. It is amazing when a moment of peace and unity arises!

      Peace
      Michael

      Like

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