What does it mean to “follow our heart”?

Suppose we have to decide about complex and consequential issues such as choosing a career, a life-partner or a spiritual teacher. We may be told, or we may believe, that we should follow our heart. 

But how do we differentiate our heart from the impulsive part of us that sometimes misleads us? The Bhagavad-gita identifies that misleading part as the mind (06.06). 

How can we avoid being misdirected by our mind? By refusing to listen to any ideas that come from inside us? That will make us feel choked. And if we don’t listen to what’s inside us, who do we listen to? Someone external? If those we follow are malevolent, we will end up exploited. Even if those we follow are benevolent, they may not always be available to us. Whenever we do get to consult them, they may give us broad principles and tell us to follow our heart regarding specific choices. 

How can we ensure that we are following our heart, not our mind? There’s no ready-made formula. Still, scriptural study, introspection and prayerfulness helps. 

Scriptural study helps us conceptually differentiate the mind from the heart: the mind is the locus of our passing infatuations, whereas the heart is the locus of our enduring aspirations. Introspection, aided by tools such as journaling, helps us discern which of our inner drives run how deep. Prayerfulness helps us access divine guidance internally (10.10), further helping us differentiate our superficial infatuations from our deeper aspirations. 

Living according to our deepest aspirations enables us to be all that we are meant to be, fulfilling our God-given potential. To align ourselves with those aspirations is to follow our heart. To thus take responsibility for our choices is a concluding call of the Gita (18.63).

One-sentence summary:

To follow our heart, cultivate scriptural study, introspection and prayerfulness. 

Think it over:

  • What’s the problem with listening to whatever is inside us?
  • What’s the problem with relying entirely on external guidance? 
  • Is there any consequential decision you need to take? In taking that decision, how can you follow your heart? 

***

18.63: Thus I have explained to you knowledge still more confidential. Deliberate on this fully, and then do what you wish to do.

Author: Chaitanya Charan

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