A Message from the Heart
“Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time? That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.”
—Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse
Life is a mystery, isn’t it? We think it’s so well-defined—that there’s a here and a there, a this and a that, a past, present, and a future, and so on—but once in a while all of our well-formed and deeply-rooted assumptions about reality come crashing down and reveal an intelligence far deeper than that of the conscious self.
The story I’m about to tell you reads like a tale out of a science fiction book. And yet, it’s an accurate account of what happened: I will tell you how I once received a message from my heart from what I believe was a future self — and how that message changed my life forever.
It is a story of how I discovered, lost, and then found my way back to an authentic life.
The story I’m about to tell you is rooted in the values and culture which I was born into. I was raised in what can be referred to as an authoritarian parenting style, whereby my gentle demeanor was often subdued by strict parental punishment and contrasting reward behaviors which were designed to mold my character, rather than allow it to naturally emerge. Consequently, my parents placed primary emphasis on values such as education, career advancement, and the attainment of financial success, which would enable me for success in life as they saw it. Of significantly lesser importance was the playful discovery of my being and my relationship with the natural world. Instead, it was understood that I would abide by the unyielding laws of the socioeconomic class I was raised in and fulfill its unspoken obligations at any cost.
Even though I mention my strict upbringing, I’ve been blessed with loving parents who deeply cared for me. Their parenting style was in itself an expression of their love for me (they felt a strict upbringing would help me maximize my potential), and to this day I’m cognizant of the enormous love, sacrifice, and hard work my parents have offered up on my behalf. I deeply love and appreciate them.
So it is no surprise then that I—as many young adults have done and continue to do—rebelled against ‘the established order’. After graduating from an upper-class East Coast college (graduation was my last, big promise to my mother—my father had passed when I was young), I went forth into the world. Instead of becoming an employed, clean-cut, well-paid professional, I did the opposite of what I was raised to do: I grew my hair long, moved to California, attended West Coast hippie gatherings, and even managed a yoga studio. I also met a sweet love, a woman with a heart of gold… and a free spirit. Not surprisingly, my free-spirited and loving girlfriend did not get along with my strict but loving mother.
My girlfriend and I explored much of what California had to offer. We got married, moved around, and discovered life on our terms: we soaked in hot springs, participated in ecstatic dance festivals, and mingled with interesting people in interesting places. It was not always easy (life rarely is when you’re in your trying twenties), and after six beautiful and soulful years, we dissolved our intimate relationship.
I was devastated.
The pain of love lost felt nearly unbearable, especially since it had been the first time I had been able to truly be myself in a long-term, loving partnership. Grieving heavily, I spent a grueling winter and painful summer in near complete reclusion, tending to my tender heart and mind. But no matter how long I cried, the pain would not go away. After months on end of heavy grieving, I reached a point where the pain no longer felt bearable, and I decided to take matters into my own hands by cutting off the pain and moving on with my life.
Logic dictated that by suppressing the grief and love in my heart I would be safe from the pain of failure and loss; I thus engaged in one of the most destructive acts a human being can engage in: the denial of the heart.
Haunted by the conditioning of a conservative upbringing with its emphasis on social conventions and socioeconomic success, I thought: A conventional, mainstream wife wouldn’t have left me; I should have listened to my parents after all. Another thought arose within me: that I had failed in love, work, and all other areas my parents had raised me to succeed in.
By now in my early thirties, I thus resolved that I would ‘get my act together’ and seek to become ‘successful’ in mainstream life and work; and that I would find myself a stable and reliable woman, because surely the pain of loss could be avoided with a stable partner by my side who also embraced such qualities.
One day—it must have been several months or a year after the breakup—I went for a walk in the forest. Out of nowhere, a vision struck me with such force and intensity that I was instantly brought to tears. I cannot explain how this vision happened, or why — only that it did happen; it was more of a feeling vision rather than an optical vision, though it nonetheless had a visionary quality to it.
I was living in Boulder, Colorado, and was on my deathbed, surrounded by a wife I was alienated from, as well as by my children and grandchildren, at the end of a long life; I had achieved outward success and material prosperity (but they had not brought me satisfaction). In short, I had achieved all the things I was raised to believe constituted success. However, as I lay in bed dying, in my final moments on Earth, all I could feel was a despair at having lived a life of meaningless materialism, as well as the sweet love I still felt for my former, which I so desperately had wanted to banish from my awareness. The pain throbbing in my heart was beyond imagination: I had spent a lifetime in denial of it.
The vision came and went in a flash, but it left me grief-stricken. The vision didn’t feel like a casual imagination of the mind—it felt real, as real and yet as intangible as the clear forest air I was breathing that day.
The pain from having denied my heart for an entire lifetime felt awful, far worse than even the pain of loss. The vision had given me a glimpse of a reality I did not yet know I was heading into. But as time went by, the vision receded into the background, soon to be forgotten.
Conforming to Society
As I nursed myself to a logic-based approach to living, I began living in service of mental ideas, which by definition also meant living in suppression of my heart’s deeper wisdom. Ideas of obtaining success as defined by society, of having a conventional marriage and nuclear family, and of receiving all the perks of a mainstream life were now taking hold in my mind and creating new habits to ensure the desired outcome. My fundamental life orientation began to change; I sought out mental ideas and impulses over heartfelt connections and celebrations.
About one or two years after I had had the vision (I don’t remember exactly when it had come to me), I met a woman that checked off all the boxes of a stable and successful life partner: she was intelligent, beautiful, ambitious, and… materialistic. Not surprisingly, my strict but loving girlfriend got along splendidly with my strict but loving mother.
My girlfriend and I decided to get married in the summer of 2013. To my mind, our union made sense: the numbers added up and she fit the bill of a woman who could support the life I was building. But my heart, deep down, knew that this was not the wellspring of a deeply loving and nurturing companionship (although it had other beneficial qualities). Indeed, there were many warning signs, but I effortlessly rationalized them away.
The ominous, foreboding feeling of a misalignment in our core values continued to arise periodically. For example, at the time we met I was still engaged in writing a book. While she was initially intrigued by my book, the primary concern over the course of our relationship eventually became how I was going to make money with it. After all, having children was around the corner: we needed to plan things out in advance!
I felt a pressure to “get with the program” and start providing. But my self-employment income at the time wasn’t enough for her wants, and the nature of self-employment was too far removed from her comfort zone. The message I received was that a mainstream, conventional job would do just fine.
In this area, as in others, I slowly caved into her pressure out of a desire to make the relationship work. I consented to moving to San Francisco—a city I didn’t want to move to and hated living in. In short, over the course of my new marriage, wanting to make it work, I engaged in a slow, ongoing capitulation. Our relationship, meanwhile, also continued to deteriorate.
Eight months after we got married, in February 2014, we decided to get away and took a one week vacation to Boulder, Colorado. By that time I had completely forgotten about my vision in the forest years ago and didn’t think twice about our destination.
Upon our return to San Francisco, things got even worse. I briefly moved out, only to then redouble my resolve and determination to make things work through sheer effort, logic, and determination.
In the summer of 2014, six months after our trip to Boulder (we had never spoken about our vacation since), our relationship hit rock bottom; it was at that moment that she exclaimed, unannounced and on her own accord:
“Let’s start over with a clean slate; let’s move to Boulder and have a family.”
After all, she said, Boulder seemed like a nice “compromise” between her desires for a big city and my comfort level with small towns.
It was in that instant — when she said those words in the summer of 2014 — that I remembered the vision from what seemed like another lifetime ago.
This is really happening. The realization hit me with a thud. This was not a future I wanted to be a part of. Despite my ongoing doubts, I knew, deep down, what my heart had always known: that I was not in a workable relationship, that our needs were too different from one another, and that we wanted different things from life. Now was the time to get out: now or never. Realizing the predicament I was in, I needed outside help (for I had capitulated to the point where I no longer felt I had the strength to leave on my own).
Recovery of the Heart
“There are three mysteries in this world: air to the birds; water to the fish; and humanity to itself.”
It’s been said that the longest path is from the head to the heart. With the help of a friend, I found the strength to move out, filed for divorce, and began intensive, weekly psychotherapy for an extended period of time. Thus began the long, hard road to recovery — the recovery of the heart. That included grieving for what had been lost but not fully grieved over (the loss of my former), celebrating what had been gained (a friendship with both), dealing with the shame of having married and divorced a second time, and accepting responsibility for the role I played in all of those decisions and actions. Most importantly, I found joy in slowly rediscovering who I am and what, exactly, it means to live in alignment with my heart.
I’ve continued to make mistakes since then, of course, but the difference now is that I’m no longer willing to compromise on my inner feeling-knowing for too long: I now course-correct and don’t abdicate that responsibility to someone else. As of the date of this writing, it’s been nearly four years since I made this big life change and it has given me an entirely new lease on life: I got to start over. The difference from when I was younger, however, is that now I know who I am and what I need to live a truly happy, healthy, and productive life.
On the Nature of Time
My sense is that the vision I saw was a genuine look into my future—a future where I did, in fact, move to Boulder, “started over with a clean slate,” fathered children there, and lived in denial of my heart’s wisdom. And somehow a deeper, subconscious intelligence saw it fit that I, the ‘me’ writing these words today, should be made aware of its impending future so that I would be allowed to choose again.
From a scientific standpoint, to have sensed a future that on some level already happened doesn’t seem to be too far fetched: there are countless documented cases of people who have had foreboding feelings and other premonitions of the future. There have even been scientific experiments that appear to prove our ability to predict the future, if not consciously, certainly on a subconscious level.
One scientific theory, biocentrism, says that time and space are pure constructs of our senses. Although I’m no scientist, biocentrism as a scientific hypothesis makes intuitive sense to me: it offers a feasible explanation of how a part of me relayed a lesson ‘back in time’ since the future event already existed within me as latent potential. Wired Magazine as well as Psychology Today both have two excellent articles on the mysterious nature of time.
On Success and Authenticity
I was raised to “succeed”. But what is success, truly, if not to live and act in accordance with who I am, naturally and authentically? Material success is important to me — for the more I have, the more I can share and enjoy — but if material success is pursued at the expense of authenticity it’s empty and I want no part of it. However, now that I’ve gained perspective on what’s truly important to me, ironically I’m on my way to creating more material success than ever before, and in a way that’s in alignment with who I am. True success and authenticity are not mutually-exclusive, but, in a positive sense, mutually-enhancing.
True love, in my experience, never disappears. For once perceived, love is recognized as the never-ending power that it is. For example, the love I feel in my heart for my former partner has not diminished one bit; its meaning, however, has transformed: rather than implying an intimate partnership, it has become a celebration of our friendship as well as a reminder of just how much love my heart can hold toward my fellow human beings. My life becomes that much richer whenever I consciously acknowledge and experience the power of love in my life and in my heart.
In a way, there is no conclusion, because today I’m going to make new choices: over, and over, and over again. Time (like Hermann Hesse reminds us in the quote at the beginning of this essay) is not just a river, after all, but also an ocean of possibilities, waiting to be explored. I have learned that the most loving way I can experience any future that might come my way is by tapping into the feeling-dimension of my heart where I can respond with care and attention to this arising moment and the gentle whispers of my heart.
(The following exercises were shared with me by my friend Stevie Koller; I’m including them here because they may help others as well.)
Here are some questions that might offer guidance as you traverse the path from the head to the heart:
- If I were to die today, what would I regret the most?
- If my friends were to speak candidly about me and my life, what would they say? Would what they say be in alignment with the vision I have of how I would like to live and be?
- How do I feel when I encounter certain situations? What is the physical response I feel in my body (for example: am I “sick to my stomach”, do I feel “an ache in my heart”, etc.). How aware am I of these physiological responses and my feelings? Am I honoring them or am I dismissing them?
- What do I love?
- How did I express my love for others today?
- Have I loved myself today?