“Follow your heart”—that’s one of those clichéd, feel-good, self-helpy idioms people love to throw around.
Feeling lost in life?—Follow your heart!
Stuck in a meaningless, soul-wilting job/relationship/life situation?—Just follow your heart!
It sounds simple, but for some of us unlucky schmucks, the path our hearts lead us on is an arduous, fitful, rollercoaster ride of crushing heartbreak and monotonous melancholy.
At times, it can feel like following our heart only unleashes carnage in our lives. When that happens, when we follow our hearts off a cliff into turmoil and chaos, it doesn’t mean we made the wrong choice, it simply means the journey is not yet complete.
When I followed my heart after graduate school and pursued freelance science writing instead of a traditional career for someone with a PhD in molecular biology (academic research or the pharmaceutical industry), my first destination was massive debt and despondent depression. I hit the nadir of my life—rock-bottom—right around my 30th birthday (interestingly, this is the time of the Saturn Return, for all you astrology fans).
But in that abject despair, I found meditation, which literally saved me and gave my life a sense of purpose. Furthermore, my teacher utilized career as part of the spiritual path, which led me to financial as well as mental stability. Through tremendous pain and uncertainty, my heart led me to security and moments of bliss.
My teacher was not much help, insisting we each had to find our work on our own. Her main piece of advice was “You’ll know it when you find it—balls to bones,” quoting “The Matrix.”
Consequently, I began to suffer once more, trapped in the corporate morass of project management in Big Pharma, knowing I was meant to do something else, but struggling to figure out what.
I had other interests, but too many to figure out which might be my work. I always loved writing, and music, and the outdoors, and meditation and yoga quickly became new loves. But which of these, if any, could be my work, my dharma, my path to give back to the world in a way that fulfills and nourishes me?
Does this dilemma sound familiar, Dear Reader? It can be daunting and disheartening, struggling to find our dharma, especially after we’ve followed our hearts and still haven’t found our place in the world. But we mustn’t lose hope! We just have to keep listening to our hearts and continue down our path, even if the way is harrowing at times.
Once again, at age 40, it was time to follow my heart and take another blind, seemingly foolish, leap of faith. I left my comfy life in the San Francisco Bay Area and spent the next two years between the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica and the Northwoods of Wisconsin (home of my family). I didn’t know exactly what I was seeking, but my heart knew I needed to do something different.
The radical change in lifestyle of living in the tiny village of Montezuma, Costa Rica jarred me out of the rote stupor I had succumbed to in San Francisco and helped me begin the process of finding myself and my place in the world. (I wrote about these experiences in my blog.)
During those two years, I met interesting people from all over the world, with wildly contrasting worldviews, enjoyed countless mind-opening experiences, and generally reawakened my belief in magic—but I still didn’t find my work.
Then, in October of 2020, exactly two years after leaving the SF Bay Area, I returned to Marin County for a month-long, 200-hour yoga teacher training led by MC Yogi and his wife, Amanda Giacomini. (If you’re not familiar with the music or yoga classes of MC Yogi, I highly recommending checking them out).
They said the course would be life-changing, and I expected it to be powerful, but I had no idea how radically transformative it would be. We were totally immersed: eight hours a day, six days a week, completely removed from our everyday lives. Through practicing yoga every day, delving deeply into the philosophy and meditative aspects of this ancient tradition, and being absorbed in that loving, safe, supportive, accepting environment, my heart cracked open—thoroughly, completely, absolutely wide open.
For the first time in my life, I unconditionally let my true self show, I let my heart shine, holding nothing back. To my great surprise, I was not only accepted, but celebrated. In the past, I had been around loving, accepting groups of people—my family is supportive and I’ve had amazing friends—but I never fully let my heart shine, mostly due to my past conditioning and trauma. But there, in the safe space of the training, I finally felt like I could let go of all of that and just be me in all my glorious weirdness.
The “final exam” was to teach half a yoga class to all the other students and teachers, and I poured my heart into it, holding nothing back. I led the second half of a gentle vinyasa flow, which ended with a luxurious, heart-opening supported backbend, a seated heart meditation, and a luscious savasana.
Teaching that class, guiding people to open their hearts and let love in, felt perfectly right, in a way nothing else before ever had. I felt like I was in my element, doing what I was meant to do on this Earth. And I think other people felt it too. MC Yogi gave me a standing ovation, another student said it was one of the best savasanas she’d ever experienced, tears ran down a couple of faces.
I’ve finally found my dharma, to help people open their hearts to the love that’s all around us. Yoga and meditation are just the start; I also want to use writing and music, incorporating all of my interests into this sacred work. This feels absolutely right to me—balls to bones.
It might be a grueling, torturous journey, but this is what’s possible when we follow our hearts. The heart often does not make logical sense or have a rational goal in mind. That’s okay—we must maintain faith and not let our analytical minds talk us out of pursuing our path.
So don’t give up, Dear Reader.
We all know, deep in our hearts, what we’re meant to do in this world. Even if we can’t consciously articulate it, we know. We must have faith and continue listening to the heart, even when she leads us off a cliff, trusting that she’s guiding us exactly where we need to be.
We can do it—all of us!