How to Follow Your Heart

redwoods, love, energy, spiritual awakening, spiritual awakening process
I and many other people in the spiritual, self help, self improvement, and other venues often talk about following your heart. Follow your heart and you'll enjoy your work and your life because you're doing what you love. That's the gist of it, right?

But what does that mean? What does that even look like?

Sometimes, people confuse fun and amusing past times as being something that they want to do for a career, and let's be clear: career and past times are two very different things. There are some things that you're happy to do full-time and deal with all the other aspects of the work that would surround it. There are definitely some things that you would not want to do as a full-time job. A lot goes into converting a passion to a career, and many of the essential parts of work that you'd have to do could suck all the life out of the central passion you are trying to turn into a full-time job.

So let's talk about the practical aspects of following your heart. As always, the path to following your heart starts by going within.

Going Within to Know What you Love

Many people don't know what they love. Many people don't even know what love is. Often, people think of love as something that they enjoy, but especially when it comes to building your life around love, you are going to find plenty of aspects that are not enjoyable. For those who are turning a passion for art into a career, you're going to find all kind of things like accounting, creating a business model, marketing, and other things that you may like to more or less extents...sometimes, a lot less. So I want to immediately help dispel the notion that following your heart is about enjoying all the things you do. Sure, you can choose to be at peace with all of this, and the deeper we go in our inner journeys, the more we can enjoy a lot of things we wouldn't have enjoyed before. That's part of the gift of inner work.

But most people aren't this clear and free of inner pain when they start following their hearts, and there are a lot of naive notions about being happiness and blissful all the time that are simply not how most people experience life. And trying to cling to good feelings brings all kinds of inner disaster, disappointment, and even despair.

So before setting up shop as an art therapist, full-time novelist, dance instructor, yoga teacher, or something else, go inside, and begin to look at your very ideas of love. What does love mean to you? What are you ideas and feelings that you have associated with it. Journaling is helpful as is talking with a good friend. This can help you start to understand your notions of love because some of those very ideas are blocking you from love itself.

Heart Openings and Spiritual Love

Going Deeper Into Self-acceptance

When I talk about love, I'm talking about pure acceptance. Through accepting ourselves and life exactly as they are, we can see what is really going on. The most important part of acceptance starts with ourselves because it is the lens and medium through which we see and interact with life, respectively. If we are upset and angry with ourselves, the tendency is to interact with the world from that space of upset. So if you are feeling lonely and unhappy, you may cling onto friends, co-workers, and anyone else to try and get away from your lonely feelings. In this way, you are not accepting your lonely feelings. You're trying to get rid of them.

The only way through loneliness or any other feeling is to accept it. Then you sit with it. That sitting part is key because it seems like if we are too busy and agitated, we can't really relax into the feeling to see what it is all about and resolve it. When you can start to really feel it--and this tends to feel awful--then something reveals itself. Through discipline and patience this relaxation can work amazingly well, and this kind of work is fundamentally driven by self-acceptance. You accept a feeling fully, and you listen to all of its memories, energies, emotions, and sensations. Then, at some point, this feeling dissolves, and you are a little bit freer.

What does this have to do with following your heart?

Well, a lot of times people are using career passions and other passions to mask feelings such as loneliness. People find something that is moderately enjoyable, and they try to avoid their deeper issues by doing this other thing. However, this can ruin a passion, and a lot of times, these passions aren't even particularly true to the person. They're what the person knows can make them feel temporarily good like the person who loves alcohol and becomes a bartender or professional brewer. When someone thinks they're "following their hearts" in this way, they could actually be on the path to self-destruction. Self-destruction is ultimately built out of self-rejection. So accepting yourself is a central part to knowing yourself and being clear enough to follow true love and not pleasurable diversions.

Continuing Your Inner Work While Exploring Life

Many people do realize that they have no idea what love is or what they even care about. This can be a great sign. It is a sign that the person is finally paying attention to themselves, and this, in turn, means they can explore life with greater awareness. When people have these spiritual realizations, they seem to naturally tune in more deeply and this can illuminate a lot of hidden beliefs and assumptions.

There is something about assumptions that is particularly blinding. When we assume that we like someone, something, or doing something, we stop really looking at those people and things. We assume they are going to feel a certain way, and we also tend to get lost in fantasies. But when we realize that there are important things that we don't know, this can inspire us to look more deeply at life, including our assumptions. That sincere gaze lends itself to greater clarity. We start discovering more about where our assumptions and ideas come from. We can question them and explore them. You may realize that some of your assumptions are wrong, but you may also find confirmation for others. That empowers you to take the next step and to explore life again.

While some people may be dismayed at first, I encourage you to take heart. Enjoy the exploration! You don't need to have all the answers now, and it's best to be slow to assume you have "all the answers" for your life. Life is an ever-changing organism. You have to learn to change with it, and that may at times mean that how you follow your heart changes. One day you are pursuing a career as a restaurateur. Then later on, you decide to become a full-time yoga teacher. This isn't fickleness, mind you. This is allowing your inner flow to show you where to go. Some doors open, and other doors close. Following your heart is about having flexibility with life as much as it is about having a dedication to the things and people upon which you set your heart.

Dedicating Yourself to Your Heart

I have to follow up my comment about having the flexibility of change with a comment about having the dedication to build something long-term. Even if what you are building is a relationship with another, dedication and stability are key aspects of maintaining a long-term relationship. Being fickle and/or indecisive makes relationships with another difficult because the other person cannot rely on you. If the long-term relationship is a business partnership, a lack of dedication can kill a good business. Running a business is hard work. Even when a lot of market forces and such are on your side, it's easy to have the business fail.

So after doing inner work and exploring life, you may have found someone or something that sincerely calls to your heart. Now you have to develop the discipline to follow it through and take care of yourself. Even in the midst of a new venture/relationship, your inner work is still key. Any time you take on more things in your life, that can draw up issues. Resolving those issues opens you up to more of your innate power and the power of love to engage with the challenges that this venture may present you. In this way, following your heart is about dedicating yourself to your divine self. That inner divinity is the cornerstone to anything you create in your life. If that cornerstone is neglected, then the house you are building on top it is already in trouble.

How to Embrace True Power

Educating Yourself and Asking for Additional Support

Especially in regards to building an organization or career around something you love, you're likely to need additional support. Part of a the heart space is a genuine humility. We all have to recognize that there is only so much we can do on our own. There's only so much that we even have an interest in learning. So at different points of your journey, you'll want to ask for additional support, even if it is just someone to listen to you brainstorm ideas.

Humility and the Prideful Intellectual Ego

Additionally, being clear about yourself and your heart helps you to see where you still need to learn more in life. In this way, learning about yourself helps you choose what to learn about from the physical world. A lot of times, people get education based on what others tell them to learn and not what matters to their hearts. As many of you know, that can be pretty miserable. It's not a lot of fun to learn things because you are told you have to learn them, and I am sure many of you have forgotten a lot of those things you had to know (trigonometry anyone?) in your adult life. It can leave a bad taste in many people's mouths around education. So please consider that learning about something you actually are interested in can feel different. There is an aliveness to learning about something you care about, and that can transform your experiences in education. That transformative power is yet another beautiful aspect of following your heart.

Realizing When You've Stopped Following Your Heart

Strangely enough, we can do the inner work and feel clear about following our hearts, and then somewhere along the way, there's a fork on the road. Somehow, we miss it. It happens. Our heart goes one way. We go another. Usually, there's some belief at work. We believe an idea about how life should proceed rather than the heart-truth of where we actually want to go. So in trying to serve that ego belief, we split ourselves apart. Or rather, it's like one part of us goes and sits on the sidelines while the rest of us trying to carry on playing the game.

A couple ways you may know this has happened include:
  • Everything has gotten a lot harder
  • No matter how much you work, things keep falling apart
  • You are becoming excessively drained from work that once felt energizing
These are a couple signs that you've stopped following your heart. They may also be signs that you need to return to your inner work or to take a rest. Never under-estimate how important a vacation can be.

Embracing Life's Contractions and Times for Rest

Journaling can be a helpful way to trace back where things changed. You may also talk to a friend or spiritual teacher to get a little extra help in piecing together where things veered off course. Once you know what it is, then you have to make the change or decision that you missed before, and that can get back in the flow of your heart energy.

Evaluating Past Times and Careers

One of the last points I'd like to make is the difference between a fun past time or hobby and a full-time career. Like I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of additional elements that go into building a career. You may love dancing or art, but to turn them into full-time careers involve a lot of additional things from figuring out business licenses to renting a space for your work to learning how to connect with clients and much more. Some times, a love of dance should just remain a past time that you fully enjoy for yourself. Or perhaps, it can be a random hobby that you share with a couple of friends and friends of friends. You may even work your way up to a part-time job with something, and if you are financially supported in other ways, you won't have to make the same types of sacrifices you would if it was a full-time career.

Especially for highly creative and physical passions, you want to consider how much time and energy you have for them. Being a full-time copywriter takes a ton of creative energy. It's easy to burn out on that. Being a full-time yoga teacher or a massage therapist are pretty physical jobs; is this something you could do for the rest of your life? Are you happy with a passion that you do for ten or twenty years and then transition? Not every passion you turn into a career needs to be the career you do for the rest of your life, and your heart wisdom can help you see this truth.

Following Your Heart to Deeper Inner Peace

To be sure, finding something you love that translates well into a full-time career is awesome. I love being a full-time spiritual teacher. But doing this work brings challenges such as figuring out the changing world of the Internet again and again, and that's not necessarily an enjoyable part of what I do. But the rest of the work makes it worthwhile.

So as you get to know yourself and as you know what love is, it should be easier to know what really is in your heart. That can be being a full-time parent, a CEO, a park ranger, a yoga teacher, a spiritual teacher, a nomadic gypsy traveling from town-to-town picking up odd jobs, a parking attendant, the President or Prime Minister (depending on where you live), or just about anything else. What matters is that aliveness inside of you. What matters is the way your heart and soul flow through your days and your work, especially on the hard and difficult days. And when you do something you really love, you may also find that your heart has lead you to a place of deeper peace, and that's quite a beautiful reward to receive.