To Whom to Listen to and When
This blog post was featured in the Huffington Post on December 5, 2016.
In April of (2008), I spent two weeks in India following a meditation guru from town to town.
This was my fourth visit to India, but I consider it my first real one. The other three were too touristy. Two were lecture tours, and I stayed in the best hotels, with warm water and the most excellent services money can buy. The third was for a Maha Kumba Mella, which is a gathering of Hindus on the Ganges River every 144 years. Sidhus descend from their caves in the Himalayas, and while it was an interesting experience to see them, it was not day-to-day India.
This time it was different. I slept in an ashram, was driven from town to town in terrible traffic, ate with Indians on the floor, and meditated with them. At my age (71), it was not an easy experience, but the guru was older (80-something) and he held on well, so who am I to complain?
What did I learn?
The meditation I was practicing is called sahaj marg, which means “the natural way.” The practice is to focus on the heart. No mantra, no focusing on the breath or on a candle or whatever, just listen to the heart by slowing down the mind.
I joined this type of practice because I believed I needed it. First, being Jewish, I spend most of my time in my head, and it needed some rest. Second, because I saw my dearest relatives and friends sent to their deaths during World War II, my heart has been closed all these years and it needed opening.
What does it mean to “listen to the heart?” How do you know, when you meditate, which thoughts are of the mind and which of the heart? Thoughts are thoughts, right?
No. There is a difference. You can argue with thoughts of the mind. You might toss and turn, and debate with yourself. But when your heart speaks, there is no argument. There is no discussion. There is no “Why?” or “Why not?” You are complete. You are at peace with yourself. The answer to the question “Why?” is “Because,” and that’s it.
That brought me to the next insight: If you really listen to your heart when you make a decision and your heart does not give you the answer, it means that you are not ready to finalize your decision. This is a case where it is better not to make a decision at that point in time.
That brought me to an interesting conclusion: When you decide with your heart, you cannot make a mistake.
Well, what is a mistake? It is always a conclusion you come to after the fact, right? It is a feeling of remorse and a judgment that you should have decided differently. It leads to self-accusations: that perhaps you did not deliberate enough, that you did not listen to advice, that you ignored facts, etc. All this is in your head.
When you make a decision with your heart, you are at peace with yourself. If, after the fact, you discover that your decision did not work out as you expected, you can not feel remorse because at the time you made the decision you had no doubts as to what to do, therefore you could not have done better. The fact that it did not work out is now only of academic interest. You can analyze what can be learned from what happened, but there is no place for remorse. You were at peace when you decided, and that was it.
Coming to this peace of mind when you decide with your heart is not a logical conclusion that you have reached after endless debates, internally or with others. It is beyond logic. It gives you a sense of completion, of integration, that almost defies logic. That is how you should feel when you decide to get married. That decision should be made with all your heart, not as a result of analyzing the cost-value relationship or an optimization model. When you make a decision with all your heart, as is the usual expression, you have the feeling of being integrated with your decision totally, wholly—maybe even holy. Mind, body, emotions, and spirit all feel at peace, united.
How does one come to such peace—usually we say “peace of mind,” though it would be more accurate to say “peace of the total body ” which is really peace of the heart—especially if there is a difficult decision to be made? You can do it by meditating. When you meditate you do not get attached to thoughts. Thus, you do not get into endless arguments with yourself. Instead, the decision eventually and automatically emerges as an insight.
If that description leaves you wondering how this insight can happen, let me share with you a story told to me by my one of my colleagues at UCLA, Professor Will McWhinney, that demonstrates this point. When McWhinney was a student at Yale, the fraternities held a contest for best choir. McWhinney’s fraternity had the worst voices at the university, except for one person whose voice was a pure, evangelical tenor. So they devised the following performance: The whole choir got on stage and began to sing where each person sang a different melody, which produced total cacophony. Then, slowly, one by one, each member of the choir stopped singing, except for the tenor, whose voice became stronger and stronger until it was alone, pure and crystal clear and totally enchanting. They won first prize.
This story is analogous to what happens in meditation. You have many voices in your head competing with each other. The more difficult the decision is, the more voices you hear, which can overwhelm you. When you meditate, the voices calm down one by one, while your heart’s voice grows stronger and stronger, until you simply “hear” the answer to your question and feel at peace with your decision.
But not only the head and heart think. We often say, “I have a gut feeling,” as if the gut is doing some decision processing.
That fact brought me to think in (PAEI) terms. The (A) processing is in the head. The (I) is processed by the heart. Where is (P) then? Sunil my associate suggested that if we follow the chakras, it is below the belly button, where our sexual organs are. Their role is survival of the species. That is where we feel instinctively. That is where the fight-or-flight reaction is processed: When we get scared we tighten the rectum, and the pelvic floor muscles.
Some people think with only one part of their body. Those who only react to their instincts are the (P)s: Act first, think later (if at all). Some do not listen to their instincts and use only their brain: These are the (A)s. Some people are only (E)s: all ideas and exciting priorities without considering what the repercussions of these ideas could be. And some people are all heart: They let their feelings for fellow humans or animals or whatever be the exclusive factor that determines their decision. These are the (I)s.
When a person processes information with all his faculties, the first one to respond to a new situation is the (P): His instincts of self preservation urge him to do something. Then the left mind, (A), gets activated: “Let’s think about it.” Next the right side of the brain gets involved, the (E), bringing new ideas to the table, while all along the heart, (I) is crying out, “Hey, listen to me too.”
To put it another way, instinctively you have the urge to do one thing, (P), but you think, (A), that it might not be prudent to do it, so new ideas, (E), come to mind, while you constantly check with yourself to see whether you feel at peace with the decision, (I). All these voices run through you at the same time. It is like a committee meeting where all the different styles compete with one another for attention. It’s a pure mess. Thus it’s not strange that when you have a really big problem to solve you get physically and emotionally exhausted. Your whole body hurts.
There is a difference between processing the (P), (A), (E), and (I) roles—between processing information with your instincts, mind, gut, or heart.
In processing (P), (A), and (E) roles you try to manage the process as best you can: You debate with your gut feelings, you challenge your instincts, and argue with your thoughts. When processing (P), (A), and (E) , you “talk” to the various parts of your body. You disagree with them. You may even get mad at them. It is as if you are the center and they are on the outskirts.
With the heart, (I), it is different. You do not argue with the heart, you listen to the heart. It is as if you subject yourself to something bigger, more powerful, than you. You are not the center any more. You say, “My heart tells me…” Compare that to what you say when you activate your mind: “I have to think it over.” Thinking it over, and over again, means that you are having a debate.
Now the weird stuff: Assume that “out there” is a cosmic, total, ultimate data warehouse. But it is not just data or knowledge, it is the ultimate wisdom based on values, the ultimate truth. It is endless, fixed energy with consciousness. (For me, that is God.) To connect to this cosmic energy you need to open your heart, to listen to your heart. It is as if the heart is the way to connect to God.
How do you hear the heart? How do you listen to it? Through meditation. Not through prayer. Prayer is like trying to manipulate God, pleading and begging him to act. If he does not listen to your prayer you might feel cheated, angry, and deceived.
When you pray, you talk to God. In meditation you listen to God. When you pray you make requests. Perhaps meekly, but no matter how nicely it is packaged and how much you are offering to “pay,” that is, what sacrifices you are willing to make, it is like a purchase order. When you meditate you listen to what God wants from you, not what you want from God. That is the difference.
Listen to your heart. That is where the truth is. Listen to the heart and you will not feel you made a mistake when you decide. If your heart is not ready to decide, you are not ready.
How should you make a decision then?
How should you decide? Here is the optimal path, the road less traveled. This is the lifecycle I suggested for organizations in my Managing Corporate Lifecycles book: Start with (I). Start with your heart first. Ask your heart first what is the right thing to do. Then go get some ideas about what to do, (E), but in doing so do not violate what your heart dictates. Then check those ideas to see if they make sense, (A), and finally be ready to act, (P) but first go back to the heart and check if you are at peace.
If more people would start with their heart and not with their penis, (P), maybe there would be less war, less divorce, less crime. Maybe we ought to teach meditation in prisons. Scientific tests of transcendental meditation have shown that when a certain percentage of people in a community meditate, there is less crime.
In yoga, they say that the mind is a terrorist. It often terrorizes our bodies, making us do things that are not good for us. I once saw a bumper sticker that said, “Do not always believe what you think.” For me this is profound because we Jews not only honor the mind, we worship the mind. With our Talmudic minds, we often complicate problems even when they are simple. We overdo and over-complicate our decision making, sometimes to the point that we cannot solve the problem. We do not listen to our instincts very well. In order to survive two thousand years of persecution, I wonder if we have not closed our hearts except to each other.
Ichak Kalderon Adizes