Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Living from the Heart

Living "from the heart" is the message of many a new age wave.  Another phrase for this is being "true to oneself".

Before one starts being true to one's heart, it might be useful to see what the heart contains, and how it came to be that way.  The easiest way to do this is to look at an infant, as yet unsocialized and uncivilized, and who is living completely from the heart.  Because it is not capable of living any other way.

The infant lives for its needs and wants, and does not care about others' feelings, expectations, moods, or anything other than its own interests.  For an infant, the universe pretty much revolves around itself.  Not that the infant is being a prick, its brain has not yet developed to feel anything other than its own needs and wants.

Developmental psychologists generally agree that the recognition of other human beings as conscious and subjective entities happens at a certain stage, and is not there in the first few years of an infant's life.  During those first few years, the infant regards others in its perceptual field as provider entities or familiar entities or likable or unlikable entities, but not entities who need to be thought about or cared about.

An infant is an inconsiderate human being.

An infant is also, it so happens, living from the heart and being true to itself.  It is easy to do so for the infant, since consideration of others does not (can not) enter the picture.  The infant can cry loudly when it feels hungry or wet, and can sleep when it wants, and throw away what it does not like, and grab onto what it does like (even if it belongs to someone else, or even if it is someone else, say a bunch of hair).

To do what one feels like is the same as being inconsiderate or indifferent to others.  For an infant, that is expected behavior and for it, everything is forgiven.  After all, it doesn't know any better than to be a selfish, inconsiderate "prick".

Similarly, an infant is true to itself because not only does it not know any other way (civilization is, if nothing else, being untrue to oneself) there are no consequences for it to be that way.  It has no reason to be untrue to itself.  And its acting in a supremely selfish manner is what everybody expects.  There is no punishment for an infant to do just what it wants to do at some moment.  There is no expectation of civility, or decorum, or restraint, or delayed gratification, et al. from an infant.  Perhaps, when it is slightly older and when we expect it to use its mind and not be so mindless.

Mindfulness needs a mind, which is still unformed in an infant.

Not only is an infant oblivious to others, it is oblivious to cause and effect, and to the consequences of its actions.

It is a capital mistake, if you are an adult, to try to live as an infant.  Not only are there expectations from you, which obviously you resent, but there are severe consequences if you reject those expectations and start living from the heart and being true to yourself. More than anything, you are supposed to know that there is something called cause and effect.

There is also an additional complication, which I hinted at near the beginning of my article.  Sometimes it may not be clear as to what the heart is saying, or what being true to oneself entails.

Let me provide a few, elementary, examples:
  1. You like something in a shop window.  Try to grab it without paying for it and yo will go to jail.  The heart wants it, but the heart also doesn't want to go to jail.  Which heart to listen to?
  2. You feel an intense attraction to a person of the opposite sex walking on the street and want to do something unholy then and there. The heart wants it, but the heart also doesn't want approbation and misdemeanor (if not rape) charges and the effort of arranging a bail bond.  Which heart to listen to?
  3. You feel an intense urge to eat a large tub of icecream. The heart wants it, but the heart is also afraid of the gain in body weight and all that it will unfortunately entail.
Civilization is the very name of this complexity.  To be civilized is to accept that there are unfulfilled desires of the heart because one needs to be considerate of others.  To be fair to libertines, society doth sometime intrude too much into the private cavorting of two consenting adults, especially in less developed societies.  But nobody would disagree that social sanction and the legal process, though at times over-reactive, does more good than harm.  We want there to be laws and punishment for those who break those laws.  We want there to be acceptable forms of behavior when we go to a public place.  We want people to behave themselves according to the situation, and so on.
An adult who finds the burden of civilization and its discontents too weighty can be forgiven for wanting to live "free as a bird", with a "song in heart", always "true to oneself" and "beholden to no one".  
But as I said, that would be a capital mistake.
Not only is an adult's heart a complex organ, with conflicting desires and fears.  An adult would come across swift correcting action from others if its acts violate or offend others' rights or expectations.
Not only the expression of positive or accumulative desires, but the expressions of sadness and anger are also severely limited in modern society.  An adult crying or wailing loudly will attract a lot of, perhaps unwanted, attention.  An adult throwing a tantrum by banging the table or throwing away food will get a stern feedback rather quickly, in addition to the bill.
The question people forget to ask when they advise others to live from the heart or true to themselves is this:  Why does an adult not live from the heart in the first place?  If the advice is good and practical, then what is the reason that this advice even needs to be given?
The reason adults do not live from their heart is simply because they are adults and have to think of others as well.
It is quite true that sometimes this thinking about how others would react can become overpowering, can lead to bullying or emotional blackmail from others, and inhibit action which would be natural, healthy and sane.
As long as society has existed, neurosis has co-existed with it.  Too much thinking about how others would react can lead to a kind of resentful paralysis.  There are always emotional bullies who take advantage of the less assertive by expecting too much from them and getting all angry or irritated if others do not do as per their bidding.
Or if someone is too afraid of expressing even adult desires, then such a situation definitely calls for some strong advice.  "Grow a pair" might be a better phrasing than "be true to yourself" in such cases.
I characterize these repressive situations as forced adolescence.  As an infant, you are expected to care little for others and all is taken care of for you.  As an adolescent, you are supposed to make decisions only with the concurrence of your parents who then support you if the decision goes bad.  And as an adult, you are supposed to make your own decisions and suffer the consequences yourself.
If an adult is not being socially or emotionally allowed to make his own decisions, then such a society is a repressive society forcing adolescence on its citizens.  In such a society, a bit of "living from the heart" or "being true to oneself" advice can provide some courage and confidence to a timid adult, if the decision is otherwise a matter of personal choice and is not hurting anybody.
But there will be consequences even there: hurt feelings of those who profess to "care for one", perhaps some social ostracizing, etc.  But in a repressive society, sometimes a little rebellion goes a long way in blazing trails for others to follow.
In some life choices, being true to oneself can mean doing what is emotionally more satisfying than what is more expedient or prudent or monetarily fulfilling.  Becoming an artist rather than a clerk, if the choice truly exists, might call for some heartfelt decision making.
I find that the sign of a healthy adult in a healthy society is that his doing what "feels" right makes him feels good, and makes others feel good as well.  In such a society, an adult will not need exceptional courage to do what his heart is telling him, and his heart will not tell him to do stupid or harmful things in the first place.
There will always be some resentment or unfulfilment as long as there is a tension between the individual and the society, and as long as individual desires are conflicted within.  
To continue to lessen this tension and conflict should be the goal of individual and social intervention.

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