Much of what we call the spiritual journey involves a shift of attention from the head to the heart. Although they are only a short distance from each other, they are worlds apart in terms of experiencing life.
We live in our heads when we are lost in our thoughts. It is easy to do. To live in our head means that attention is largely centered in the forehead- what Jean Klein, one of my main teachers, playfully calls “the factory of thought.” We can sense it in ourselves and others. “They are in their head,” we will sometimes say when we encounter people who are dryly mental, abstract, and not much in touch with their feelings or their bodies. It can happen to us when we spend too much time looking at the screen, anxiously ruminating, or engaging in a superficial conversation. When this happens for me, there’s an uncomfortable sensation of heat in the forehead that brings to mind the image of an overheated car engine. It is a signal for me to pull over and take a break from whatever it is that I’m doing.
Thinking itself is not the problem. We often need to think- the clearer, the better. The problem arises when we believe our thoughts and identify with our thinking. We let our thoughts define and confine us and, by extension, everyone and everything else. When we believe our judgmental thoughts, we are in prison. When we confuse thinking with reality, we suffer. We then radiate our suffering out to others.
When we begin to realize that awareness is distinct from thought, attention becomes more spacious and free. As we learn to see our thoughts as thoughts instead of reality, attention naturally drops down from the forehead into the heart area. This is usually a slow, gradual process of reorientation, although there can be many initial forays of attention into the heart along the way. Whenever attention shifts from the head to the heart, the heart becomes increasingly familiar and less foreign. In time, we sense it as our new home.
The heart is, above all, the center of deep feeling and sensitivity. When the heart area is illumined, we have a vibrant sense of the wholeness of life. What thought divides, the heart unites. Our argument with reality ends when our attention is deeply seated in the heart. It’s not that we become passively resigned. Instead, we first accept things as they are and then become available to respond creatively. On occasion the response may be quite fierce and forceful, but it will not carry the residues of personal insult, shame or self-righteous anger. Every situation contains a solution. When our attention rests in the heart, we feel our way to the solution with much greater grace and ease.
Try this experiment: Where does your attention center?
Close your eyes, take a few breaths, and turn your attention to the interior of your body. Without trying to change anything, notice where your attention is seated. Where does it center? Is it in the forehead? This is the most common home for those of us who rely a lot on thinking. Is it in the heart area- the center of feeling? Or perhaps is it lower down, in the belly? Become acquainted with a sense of this localized attention.
[re-published with the author’s permission. J.Prendergast. (2015). Soundstrue. In Touch: How to Tune into the Inner Guidance of your Body and Trust Yourself. Felt sensing and the Subtle Body. SoundsTrue Inc., Boulder, Colorado. (pp. 32-33).]
Join master psychotherapist and spiritual mentor John Prendergast in the course Sense of Inner Knowing, where he will gently help you open your own heart. In seven vibrant sessions, John guides us back to the deep intelligence available through our bodies. Every class includes a guided meditation based on somatic ways of inner knowing. You’ll experience how to recognize subtle signals of resonance or dissonance. These signals can guide your choices and help you navigate life’s challenges. Learn More Here.
Tina Stromsted’s course Coming Home to the Body explores how you can foster a feeling of safety, resilience, and ease through bodily experience and natural movement. It offers case examples and practical tools to help you reconnect with your deeper inner resources. Learn More Here.
John J. Prendergast, Ph.D. is the author of The Deep Heart and In Touch, and the senior editor of The Sacred Mirror and Listening from the Heart of Silence.More Posts by John Prendergast
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