The heart is a barometer of how we feel about everything, including ourselves–how we feel about our thoughts and emotions, our behaviour, and about the choices we make in life.
Listening to the heart’s signals is the first step. The second step is to make use of those signals, to ask the heart questions in such a way that we get clear indications. Slowly, we get the hang of it, and the more we listen, the clearer the messages become. When we don’t listen, we lose the art of listening to the heart. Neuroscientists describe it as losing the neural circuitry or pathways that we do not use. Then it takes a lot of effort to reactivate them. The more we use the neural pathways, the stronger they become.
Now comes the third step: having listened to the voice of the heart, do we have the courage to follow it?
You probably know the story of Pinocchio, whose nose grew longer every time he lied. It is easy to tell a white lie to avoid conflict and unpleasantness, but what happens to our heart when we do? It starts pumping fast. When purity is compromised, the heart becomes heavy and anxious. Then, what takes over? Discomfort, followed by guilt and regret. We start disliking ourselves: ‘How could I have done such a thing!’
Sometimes, people lie to avoid hurting another person, but even then, instead of lightness, joy and confidence in our heart, we still often feel compromised. There are situations, however, where our heart chooses relationships above truthfulness as an ethical choice, avoiding danger or trouble. For example, what happens when we need to protect someone we love? There is quite a famous case of this in a painting, depicting a small boy during World War II being questioned about the whereabouts of his parents. Of course, he knew his parents were hiding in the cellar, but he also knew that if he told the soldiers they would kill his parents. What would you do in this situation? Tell the truth or protect your parents? Again, it is your heart that will guide you. This art of listening to the heart brings contentment; we feel integrated, whole, and at peace with ourselves as a result.
Learning to listen to the heart is one thing, but there is an added dimension to this process: our heart is not static. Our inner environment is constantly changing as we expand and refine our consciousness, or restrict our consciousness, as the case may be. The field of consciousness is fluid, so the reference point of the heart is dynamic. And everything about it is tied to our state of consciousness: the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the habits that slowly adjust to our changing level of evolution. We are always in a state of continuous improvement, a work in progress. But it happens that sometimes we choose to go against our conscience, because our desires and mental justifications push us to make another choice. And until we change our thinking, we will keep on recycling those experiences and habits. So what do we do? There is always a choice. We can either do nothing or we can choose to rectify the situation. There is a very effective heartfulness practice we can do: At bedtime, feel the divine presence in your heart, and repent for anything you have done wrong, even if unintentional. There is no recrimination in this process. While deep in your heart, prayerfully resolve not to make the same mistake again. You will feel as if a burden has lifted.
You can also present any questions and confusions to your heart right after offering prayer. There is no need to seek an answer right away. Often, by the time you wake up, you will know the answer. Even if the answer comes in another form than words, you will surely have the solution.
Kamlesh D Patel is the fourth spiritual guide in the Sahaj Marg system of Raja Yoga meditation. He travels extensively and is at home with people from all backgrounds and walks of life, giving special attention to the youth of today.