Thursday, May 28, 2015

Follow the Heart, but How?

Spiritual and self-help literature often advises people to "follow their heart". What it means is: go with your feelings.

This advice bears some close investigation.

In an infant, feelings are, to borrow a phrase from the visual field, monochromatic. They are of a single flavor.  Either the infant is happy, or sad, or fearful, etc.  There aren't multiple conflicting feelings which have to be resolved.

As the infant grows up, and even in some advanced mammals like a pet dog, it is possible to have multiple feelings at the same time, usually as a result of learning.  The child or the pet dog might be desirous of a candy, but might be apprehensive of what the parent/master would do or say.

In fact, growth or domestication are synonymous with restraining one's instincts, or in moderating the expression of one's feelings.

The more a man gets socialized, the more stops are put on just acting out on one's feelings.  A man might want to make love to the beautiful woman he just saw on the road, right then and there, but extensive socialization tells him to behave himself.  An overweight woman might want to eat another tub of ice-cream, but her knowledge about the calories she would consume and would need to burn via exercise, makes her give up the idea.

A pet which acts out and has no fear of the master, or a human which does not restrain himself, is called wild or a brute.  The unruly pet is taken away and put down, and an unruly human ("a law unto himself") is imprisoned.

The advice to follow one's heart assumes that there is a dominant "pure heart" whose voice one must listen and act upon.  That one should disregard the "mind", and the socialization-caused "fears" and just follow one's "inner truth".   But it is logically obvious that if the "pure heart" is  indeed dominant, or if the feeling is without its opposite, one will act it out without the master's advice or the self-help literature. 

It is only in cases of conflict that one seeks guidance.  In cases of conflicting feelings, it is generally true that one feeling is the instinctual one, and the conflicting one is due to the force of socialization.  The self-help advice is to act out one's instincts and disregard the "imaginary" consequences (they won't be imaginary for very long, unfortunately).  The fear of imprisonment if one steals an attractive watch from a shop window is about an "imaginary" future, but that imagination is not without a foundation.

Some seemingly intelligent and educated gurus like Mr Jaggi Vasudev or Osho were fond of extorting their followers to see their fears as born of their past and projected into their future, and hence unreal (!).  Yes, they are unreal now, but try to disregard your fears, and see how soon the law or the society catches up with you.

To follow one's heart is good advice only if one has become over-socialized, is overly scared and worried, and is hesitant to take even little risks.  But for the vast majority of humankind, to live with conflict between the instincts and the social influences is a form of discontent (ref Freud's "Civilization and its Discontents") that has to be endured.

Self-help and Spirituality advise a regression to the id, when its conflict with the superego becomes too much to handle for the ego.  In such cases, the id and the superego are both strong and constantly in opposition.  It is important to lessen this friction (e.g. by sublimating one's instincts, or by finding valid avenues for their natural fulfillment) but it is not recommended to want to be free of this friction altogether.

Everybody wants to revert to the simplicity of childhood and to the way of heartful living.  But one forgets that a child had the protection and supervision of its parents.  The parents were an externalized superego.  An adult, to protect himself, has to internalize his superego.  He can no longer depend on his parents to guide or protect him throughout the day.  And therefore, he is comprised and burdened with both the child-nature and the parent-nature.

This burden and this friction is entirely natural.  To seek to be free of this burden is to misunderstand our nature and to indulge in fantasy.


Anonymous said...

Follow your brain, heart, limbs, stomach or just about any organ of the body you want to follow .. the main thing is to understand the purpose of each one of them and how they work together to keep the balance. People seem to love to fancy themselves as followers of the brain as if that is the most superior organ..unless you understand its purpose even following that will be a meaningless venture.

Anonymous said...

No one is following the brain per se, they are learning how to use it's intelligence to become 100% responsible for whether they remain tyrannized by the blind reactive passions of a child, an animal, a dictator or a belief system.

Arun Kumar said...

Nice article! For me "follow your heart" triggers only in situations when my heart and mind do not agree on something but following heart does not put me in a socially awkward situation. So kinda follow your heart but "conditionals apply" :)

One thing which keeps bothering me is why life keeps becoming more and more complex as we grow (e.g. superego comes into picture). One may say that its the way it is.. but that does not solve the riddle!

Anonymous said...

Harman said: "The parents were an externalized superego. An adult, to protect himself, has to internalize his superego. He can no longer depend on his parents to guide or protect him throughout the day. And therefore, he is comprised and burdened with both the child-nature and the parent-nature."

I see the parents more as the child's protective intelligence which is copied by the growing child until they no longer needing to depend on the parents for guidance or protection. The adult can think for themselves now and is comprised of both the carefree spontaneity curiosity of the child-nature and the exemplary intelligence of the parent-nature. To me ideas like external or internal and superego need not arise --- unless one still see value in perpetuating that old egotistical 'self' protective culture in a child. I don't.

Visitor said...

Gurus don't recommend this. Gurus seem to suggest follow reason. I was part f both Art of Living and Isha and gurus never said" Follow your heart". Isha did at times. AOL - follow responsibility.

Osho always said follow your heart.

zrini said...

Would like to interpret this as: follow thy healthy heart. of course it implies that heart health must be maintained using morality and if necessary, spirituality. The alternative to this - follow reason, is heartless and does not have the base case of taking into human necessities (of the heart) - so this indirect route. a truly healthy heart absorbs as much reason as possible with the necessary distortion due to its needs and wants.

shitesh sachan said...

Its true that whatever we think comes from both heart and Mind. The only thing we need to do is right choice as per situations.
Dr Andrew Armour, a neurologist from Montreal, Canada, discovered a small but complex network of neurons in the heart, which he has dubbed ‘the little brain in the heart’. These neurons seem to be capable of both short and long term memory. Which is now known as cellular memory. Why should the heart even have neurons and the ability to remember? Well, for one thing, there is a lot of muscle co-ordination that goes on in the heart in order to allow it to function properly. The fact that hearts can even be transplanted shows that there is a long-term memory stored in the heart for its rhythms. When a heart is removed, it is cooled and can stay alive for up to four hours. Once the heart is connected into its new recipient, as blood enters it, it begins to beat again. It is almost certainly the ‘little brain in the heart’ that is enabling the heart to remember how to beat.
We have past examples "A number of years ago, Claire Silvia from Boston, USA, had a heart transplant. Pretty soon she started to experience strange things. “It was like a whole new rhythm, a whole new feeling,” she explains. And when a journalist asked her, soon after the transplant, what she now wanted most in the world, the words “I’d die for a beer right now!” suddenly popped out of her mouth, much to her embarrassment and surprise – she didn’t previously even like beer! “Little by little,” she says, “other things started happening until I was convinced I was living with the presence of another within me.” Claire not only noticed changes in her tastes, her preferences for foods and drinks, but even in her handwriting. All she knew of the person who had donated her heart was that he was a young man who died in a motorcycle accident, strict confidentiality rules mean that organ recipients aren’t allowed to know the details of their donor. Then one night she dreamed of her donor, and the name ‘Tim L’ popped into her mind. The next day she rang her transplant co-ordinator and told her about the changes she had experienced, and asked her if her donor’s name was in fact Tim L."
I think intelligence is distributed throughout the body, and only now is evidence beginning to catch up with intuition in this and many other areas. This opens up the wider implications in the gulf of understanding - trust even - between intuition and science.
There is good reason why we refer to "the gut" for instinct and "the heart" for emotion, feeling and love, and there is extraordinary evidence from heart transplant patients, who relate that their emotions and interests changed post-operatively, to those of their donor. We should listen our heart, our brain then do the right things as per situations.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@shitesh: this is pseudo-science.