Follow your heart

“Listen to your heart”, was the advice I received from Starry Song when I said good-bye. I had gone to the Arizona Mountains to take part in some native ceremonies at a time that, by coincidence, was a cycle-changing period in my life. The advertising agency I was a partner of was undergoing a division, with some of the partners leaving the firm, and it had to find new paths. At the same time, my relationship of a few years with my girlfriend, which I thought would be forever, had come to an end. At that moment, I had to reinvent myself. “Follow your heart”. I took those words with me, they gave me strength, and I made a number of decisions of both a personal and professional nature that were proven a mistake. A few months later, in the midst of the turmoil my life had turned into, I used the holding of the annual summer solstice ritual as an excuse to go back to Arizona. I found Starry Song seated on his rocking chair on the pleasant veranda of his house. He was happy to see me. Once I was comfortably settled, it didn’t take long for me to confess to the shaman that following my heart had proven to be a disaster, considering the outcome. Even worse, I sensed that the worst was yet to come. He looked at me as if I was a cry baby, lit his unmistakable red-rock bowl pipe and, after a few puffs, he said: “There are two aspects in your discourse that you seem not to understand. The first is that, at times, we are so stuck to the old ways of living that we must demolish everything until no stone is left unturned so that a new reality, based on a different understanding of the self, can be rebuilt. One cannot build a good house with rotten pillars.” He gave his pipe another puff and continued: “Another aspect, also quite important, is about listening to your heart. It is always valuable advice. However, it cannot always be done; first, you have to learn how to listen to it.”

I disagreed. I thought that saying to a person to follow his heart at a time he is disoriented, not knowing which way to go, facing the crossroads of life seemed to me cowardice or meanness. That was precisely the time to take him by the hand and lead him through the darkness of the path. The shaman furrowed his brow and said, seriously: “To believe that we know what is best for others is for foolish people, whether they lead or are led. Each one is their own master, and their wisdom is dormant in their hearts.” I said that I was surprised that he insisted on this theory, which seemed to me the easy discourse of those who do not wish to help others. Starry Song turned to me; in his eyes I could see sincere, sweet compassion. He said: “We always listen to our voices. There is nothing complicated in that. What is hard is to identify the origin of each one.

 Not only the heart speaks to us. The shadows too, through our fears, wishes and sorrows of different types, like jealousy, envy, vanity, pride, greed, among others, which lead us to develop crooked reasons for the ego’s self-justification, when misaligned with the soul. There are other voices we dialogue with, like cultural conditionings, that prompt us to decide to aim for approval and social applause; prejudices of whatever kind, which are so ingrained in ourselves we do not realize they exist; memories we would like to forget but they still bleed as open wounds. In short, to listen to one’s heart one must identify his voice in the middle of a crowd that shouts from inside the self.”

“The heart is the spark of the sacred that dwells inside ourselves. Only there we will meet the Great Mystery to speak with and to know Its face. This spark is lit and, as a flashlight, illuminates the self and understands the part it plays in the whole; to know the whole means to know the part. The heart will always be guided by choices that lead to plenitude through the five healings of the spirit: freedom, peace, dignity, love and happiness. The medicine for all spiritual ailments has virtues as an essential ingredient. If the choice is not moved by one or more of the noble virtues, be sure that the voice that advised you was not the one from the heart.”

“Humility, compassion, sincerity, kindness, mercy, courage, happiness, joy, among many other virtues, are the instruments of the Path. In addition to love, or course, the virtue of virtues because it is present in all the others. Love is the remedy and the cure.”

I asked him if he would teach me how to listen to my heart. Starry Song warned me: “I can only show you the door to it. To cross it depends on you.” I said that I accepted his condition. On that very day, by twilight, we went hiking in the mountains until we reached a plateau that gave us a beautiful view of the valley. We stretched the colored blankets and the shaman sang some ancestral songs at the rhythm of his two-face drum. Next, he explained: “Speaking with the heart is a personal ritual, each one has their own; they are all beautiful and valuable. Music helps me find the sacred hidden in the mundane by making me more sensitive and perceptive. However, I reach my heart through prayer. For me, prayer makes it possible to find my own light, the divine that dwells in me. This is how I can listen to Him.”

I closed my eyes and Starry Song sang other songs until he became quiet. He withdrew without saying a word and left me by myself. For a number of times I had to start over my prayer. I would do well up to a point; then, my mind was flooded by different events of the past that insisted on diverting my thoughts from the prayer. Twilight turned into night and I fell asleep without fully concentrating in prayer. Starry Song came back in the morning with some fruits for breakfast. When he asked me how the experience had been, I told him I had not been able to reach my heart through prayer, because I was constantly interrupted by unpleasant memories of situations I did not want to recall. The shaman smiled, pleased, and said: “That’s the way it is. To reach one’s heart we must be devoid of the lies we tell ourselves; of the characters we have created for ourselves believing we will better face our existence. The heart is the place of truth; to reach it, one must be enveloped in truth, the truth about oneself. To fully know oneself is required for the journey to one’s heart. By definition, the heart is not a escape route; just the opposite, it is the road towards truth for self-knowledge.”

“When we are assailed by unpleasant memories during prayer, they are of those situations that our heart understands need to be pacified inside ourselves so that we can move on. This is the primary goal of prayer. Do not reject, smother or deny these memories. Just the opposite, embrace them with love. Understand the pains that they cause to you. Sufferings stem from choices and understanding. Therefore, go to your roots to understand and choose differently and better the next time a similar situation comes up. Hence, you will replace the pain of having been mistaken with the excitement of love to move on. Forgive those that have hurt you; each one gives only what they have available in their heart at that time of their existence. We cannot demand flowers from a heart filled with rocks. On the other hand, forgive yourself for the same reasons, for the wrong choices you made at certain moments of your life. This is the road to your heart; this is the healing treatment. Accept that we act in the precise limit of our awareness and ability to love. The mistake is the blueprint to make things right and an impulse for improvement. Use it to strengthen your spirit, so that you do not trip the next time; This is how we evolve.” 

“Understand that behind the thoughts there are feelings that move them. Feelings must be appeased to educate the thoughts. Use prayer for that. Dense feelings make us sail in dark waters; we need clear waters to see in depth, without which we will not find the heart and the sacred that dwells in it.”

We remained some time without saying a word so that I could process all those ideas. Next, he took me to see some nice spots at the mountain. We spent the day having pleasant walks and idle conversation. Starry Song was happy and good humored, and always made me laugh. By twilight we went back to the plateau. He asked me to concentrate on my prayers and told me he would be back the next day. Differently from the previous day, on that night I did not push away the thoughts, but embraced them as they invaded my prayers, in an attempt to pacify the thoughts that moved them. First, facts from my last relationship came to mind. The fights and disagreements. Little by little, I came to realize that despite the mutual attraction we felt for each other – she was really a charming lady – we were not in love. We had expectations and gazes about life that set us apart. Forcing proximity to one another was an offence against our own selves, and one ended up blaming the other. A childish mistake, but very common. I accepted that affection and admiration of one for the other should and could continue, but not as a couple anymore. Therefore, I could be really free to start a new relationship and would be fully capable to bless hers. An odd and yet pleasant sense of lightness pervaded me.

I continued with my prayer until I was assailed by memories of the termination of my advertisement agency. We were four partners; two went on to set up a new agency. Of course, during the process of liquidation, all sorts of dissent came up. Professionals of the original team had to decide whom they would work with; clients had to decide who would take care of their account; cases of the past involving veiled resentments surfaced, among other situations and details one had to deal with. Every cut bleeds; learning how to heal them is an art of the heart. Until the day we are able to understand that, in fact, there are no cuts; only freedom. Yours and everybody’s. This is worthy, this is love; this builds peace and freedom. The pleasant sense of lightness took over me again, but this time I did not think it odd.

Contrary to what one may think, my prayer did not last minutes, but was extended into the night. When I realized it, the hue of the sky was ranging between pink and orange, typical of dawn. Despite having spent the night awake, I was not tired or sleepy. A happy vibration kept me excited, in a state that ranged from joy to composure. I was sure I had talked to my heart. The sacred that dwells in it had manifested itself in truths that would guide my choices.

As soon as Starry Song saw me, he smiled. I did not have to say a word for him to know that I had had an important encounter, perhaps the most important of my life. The shaman also knew that this was to be the first of the many conversations I would have with my heart, and how that would change my life from now on. I smiled back, feeling grateful. I thanked him for the lesson. Starry Song shook his head and said. There is nothing to thank. I only pointed you to a door. Crossing it was your choice. Your effort, your merit.” 

I said that now I understood that until that day I did not know how to use my eyes to see truth. I learned that in order to find truth, I had to speak to my heart. For that, it was essential that I closed my eyes. I had to look into myself to know me. This is the password that opens the door to the heart. Starry Song smiled once again, picked up his two-faced drum and beat a deeply-felt melody of communion with the Great Mystery, the heart of the universe, the origin and destiny of all hearts. Yet another son had learned the significance and the way of speaking with his own heart. 

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

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