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
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 and how, years later, it saved my life.
This story is also part of a larger story… a story of becoming. Perhaps you’ll see your own life reflected in aspects of this story. If you’re moved to listen to your heart in a deeper way because of this story, then my deeper purpose in sharing this story will have been fulfilled.
The story I’m about to tell you is rooted in the values and culture which I was born into. I was raised by strict German parents with an authoritarian parenting style, whereby my gentle demeanor was often suppressed by strict parental punishment. Consequently, my parents primarily emphasized education and the attainment of financial success, which they thought would enable me for success in life as they saw it. My upbringing placed little importance on the discovery of the authentic self; instead, it was understood that I would abide by the unyielding laws of the socioeconomic class I was raised in and unquestioningly fulfill its unspoken obligations.
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 sincerely 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 girlfriend did not get along with my strict mother.
My partner and I explored much of what California had to offer. We discovered life on our terms: we got married, 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 partnership.
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 resolved to ‘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 a feeling vision rather than an optical vision, though it nonetheless had a visionary quality to it since it allowed me to “see” and feel simultaneously. It emanated from the center of my heart. This is what I saw and felt:
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, out of touch with myself, 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 Expectations
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 safe but superficial marriage, 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.
Soon after the vision (I don’t remember exactly when it had come to me), I met a woman that ‘checked off all the boxes’: she was intelligent and beautiful… as well as ambitious and materialistic. Not surprisingly, my strict girlfriend got along splendidly with my strict 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 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), the 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 continued, “Boulder is a compromise between my desire for a big city and your comfort level with small towns.”
Suddenly, my heart’s inner knowing bubbled up to the surface, aided by the memory of the vision I had received years earlier while walking in a forest.
This is really happening. 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. 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.
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 and the rediscovery of my authentic needs. That included grieving for what had been lost but not fully grieved over (the loss of my former), celebrating what had been gained (a deeper awareness of my gentle, authentic nature), and accepting responsibility for the role I played in all of my decisions and actions. Most importantly, I found joy in slowly rediscovering who I am and what 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 I now cherish what I need to live an authentic, heartfelt, and precious life.
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, 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.
On Grief and Love
It’s been said that grief is love with no place to go.* Grief itself comes from love; for what, if not love, would yearn for a beloved? The terror of grief I experienced — the harsh, unyielding, and crushing terror — eventually had to be allowed to run its natural course. For that grief was nothing but a response to my heart’s deepest needs gone unmet, and it’s precisely those needs I had to hear, hold, and love. It wasn’t up to me to determine the shape and duration of my grieving — that was up to the mystery of Love. Today, I keep in touch with both of my former partners (we have formed genuine, heartfelt friendships) and they look forward to the day I will be happily partnered again.
* Source: Jamie Anderson
On Success and Authenticity
I was raised — pressured — to succeed economically. But what is true success if not to be who I am? I was not raised with that insight, and had to come to it on my own — painfully so. Now that I’ve gained perspective on what’s truly important to me, I discovered that economic success and authenticity are not mutually-exclusive, but, in a positive sense, mutually-enhancing: the irony is I’m now creating prosperity in a way that matches my natural talents and interests.
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 seem to prove our ability to predict the future 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 happened (as well as is happening, and will happen) within me as latent potential. Wired Magazine as well as Psychology Today both have two excellent articles on the mysterious nature of time.
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?