“Follow your heart.” It’s the anthem of our age. It’s written on our billboards, our skin, our tote bags, and our consciences. Sounds nice, feels comfortable, and demands no change, courage, or sudden movements. It is the long-standing, beloved motto of the consumerism that gives us permission to feel what we feel and then do what we want, rebuffing both consequence and responsibility. We want something, we go for it, we obtain it, and we hope that it still satisfies when tomorrow comes.
Fact is, “following your heart” in the world’s terms is a dead end.
We live in a culture where subjectivity has become law and personal feeling has been elevated to infallibility. This is how we have become a generation so rich in potential, but so tragically truncated by entitlement. Where such incredible capacities lay dormant in people, and yet so little is expected of them. How did this happen? I dare say that our culture has let us down as it’s shouted from the rooftops and written on our latte mugs, “follow your heart,” and yet has never told us where to aim it, or where it should lead us.
However, what if we followed our hearts in a different way? Peeled back the layers of sentimentality and kitsch, dug past the obsessions, the wanderlust, the pride; the hunger for the spotlight and got right down to the bedrock. What would we find there?
Raw, soul-ripping desire.
Beneath every ephemeral “want” is a bottomless desire. We claw our way through life with our eyes on some sort of light at the end of the tunnel. Hope, happiness, fame, security, reward, whatever it is. It’s true that “our hearts are restless” and in constant pursuit of something that will satisfy (St Augustine, The Confessions). We all feel that. The question is, what are we looking for, and where can we find it?
If there is no hope at the end of the tunnel of this risky question, our restlessness is utter torture. We smell the feast but we never get to partake. But, if hope persists, our aching desires act like pulleys that hoist us up toward the Infinite from which they came. We all crave “forever.”
What if we followed the restlessness that runs rampant within; The part of us that is saddened at the end of a good meal, that leans in for one more kiss from our beloved, that is confused by the radical contradiction of death, and that sighs with relief at the sight of home. These soul-churning, abbreviated endings that keep us tossing and turning at night are like strong, sometimes severe winds that thrust our sailing hearts towards the shore.
Trick is, we have to be brave enough to throw up our sails in the first place. To feel deeply and choose bravely.
So follow your heart–but follow the part of it that burns. All there is to do in this life is surrender our sails to that Saving Wind over and over again, even through tears. To give ear to that constant, nagging pull in us that whispers, “there’s more,” and then run toward the voice that bids us “come.” Perhaps this universal ache is not the dream-crushing curse that we make it out to be when we want something so much it hurts. Perhaps this sweet agony is in us to ignite our hope, not extinguish it.
Lucky for us, there is an Infinite Love to match our boundless pinings. Restlessness, weariness, loneliness, and desire are not some insensitive cosmic joke. On the contrary, they are the very things that pierce our hearts open, set us ablaze, and toss us toward the endless Love for which we were made.
So take off running. Be not afraid. Forever awaits.
A word from George Herbert (from whom I borrowed the title to this reflection):
“The Pulley” by George Herbert
When God first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
“Let us,” said he, “pour on him all we can.
Let the world’s riches, which dispersèd lie,
Contract into a span.”
So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour, pleasure.
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay.
“For if I should,” said he,
“Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature;
So both should losers be.
“Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast.”
Painting: “Portrait of a Heart” by Christian Schloe