In our lives there are two great sources of information for perceiving and navigating the world available to us: the rational, analytical way of the mind, and the soulful felt sense of the heart. The mind is the King of “conscious” reality and specializes in the logical, verbal, archetypal “masculine” realm of visible information, matter, analysis, clock time, science, technology, reasoned principles, ideology, judgments, the parsing of things into their individual components, and an emphasis on separateness and differences.
The heart is the Queen of “unconscious” reality and specializes in the intuitive, nonverbal, archetypal “feminine” realm of spirit, nature, darkness, mystery, dreams, poetry, the relationships between things, and our connectedness to all life. The mind thinks, but it cannot perceive mystery, or unconscious reality. The heart feels, but it cannot speak in words or be dispassionate and “logical.”
Two Paths: Mind and Heart
Of these two available ways of perceiving our environment the conscious mind completely dominates our modern approach to healing, life navigation, and decision making. The problem is not that we use our rational minds so well, or fail to value its achievements in modern science, technology, and civilization. The problem is that we don’t equally value and use the heart.
When our rational approaches fail, or even cause us harm, instead of consulting the heart, with its entirely different realm of experience and information, we go back to the failed approach and repeat the same plays from the same playbook of reason. We seek a “bigger hammer”: more data, more research, more words, a stronger medication, a different technology, another scripture verse.
At no point do we stop and ask the huge missing questions that dwell in the archetypally feminine realm of the body, soul, spirit, and earth itself: Who am I? What am I doing here on this earth, really? What is my place in the world beyond my job, possessions, favorite sports team, and social network?
We don’t ask those questions because we don’t have a social, economic, political, or religious system that honors the heart, the wisdom of the body, or balance with nature.
Heart Communication 101
In order to get clear on your spiritual center, you need to be able to perceive the subtle communications from your heart on a moment-by-moment basis. In their simplest form, these communications can feel like the three colors of a traffic light: a green (yes/move forward) signal; a red (no/stop this course) signal; and a yellow (caution/slow down/wait) signal. Like a traffic light, these three basic tones change constantly.
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Each signal can be physically felt in the body and is experienced as:
* A pleasant attraction or invitation (green light/yes)
* An unpleasant sense of repulsion or a feeling of disinterest (red light/no)
* An unclear hesitancy (yellow light/not yet)
Exercise: Experiencing the Heart’s “Navigational Guidance System”
To better illustrate these basic heart communications, here is an exercise to help you experience them as they shift back and forth, “as the light changes.” You will be sensing these differently felt tones, not thinking about them conceptually, through shifts in feeling, bodily sensation, imagery, emotion, and intuition.
- Sit comfortably on a chair with both feet on the ground. Take three deep breaths, exhaling slowly through mouth. Close your eyes.
- Imagine a person you love to be with. Picture that person in front of you. Imagine their clothing, posture, facial expression, eyes, and mannerisms.
- Holding that person’s image in front of you, draw your attention to your chest and belly area. Notice what you are experiencing there physically. Scan your body for subtle sensations and pay attention to where in your body you are feeling them. Take your time. Notice your breathing and inner feelings.
- Take three deep breaths and clear the image of that person.
- Now picture a real person you can hardly stand to be with; a person who may have hurt you or caused pain. Picture that person right in front of you. As before, clearly note their clothing, facial expression, mannerisms, and eyes. Now do the same body scan of yourself and notice what you are experiencing physically, in your body, especially in the chest and gut area. Take your time. Notice your breathing, and the area around your heart. Note anything different from what you sensed with the first person.
- Take three deep breaths and clear your imagination completely of this person.
- Now for a second time, imagine the person you love to be with back in front of you. Smile. See them smile. Again, do the body scan of your physical, felt response to the presence of this person in front of you. Notice the differences and where you are feeling these differences in your body.
- Clear your imagination, and repeat with the unpleasant person.
- Return now a final time to the person you love to be with. Enjoy that felt sense.
- Open your eyes. Take a few minutes to write down what shifts you felt in your body between each person, and where you felt those shifts in your body.
The Nonverbal Language of the Heart
The shifting physical sensations you experienced in the exercise above are the dynamic feeling tones of your heart. Feeling tones are the nonverbal language of the heart--and of spirit itself--experienced through your physical body.
When honored (carefully explored and skillfully interpreted) they can help you navigate complex life situations as reliably as a compass or GPS unit. Should you take this job? Marry this person? Move to a different state? Your heart knows the answer, and its navigational guidance system is locked on to your unique destiny, and no one else’s.
When ignored (as I ignored my own persistent body signals in law school) unfortunate things will happen and continue to happen, just as when you ignore the colors of a traffic light.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Bear & Company, an imprint of Inner Traditions Inc.
The Lost Art of Heart Navigation: A Modern Shaman’s Field Manual
by Jeff D. Nixa J.D. M.Div.
Offering case studies and troubleshooting help for common pitfalls and obstacles on the heart-centered path, this shamanic manual provides hands-on practices and ceremonies--including access to 4 guided audio journeys narrated by the author--as well as wisdom from the author’s own journey and the powerful teachers he has worked with. Allowing you to understand the precise contours of your authentic self and your visionary heart, this book offers a map to a vibrant new life aligned with your soul and deepest calling.
About the Author
Jeff Nixa, J.D., M.Div., is a shamanic practitioner, teacher, and writer. In 2010 he founded Great Plains Shamanic Programs, an array of counseling, healing, and education services, including one-on-one fire talks, seminars, university classes, outdoor retreats, and wilderness trips. Visit his website at https://greatplainsguide.net