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At some point in most of our lives, we experience the difference between “knowing” at a mind or brain level and knowing a truth in our hearts. That difference, and the ability to recognize it, can take years of practice and soul-searching.
This is one of the most important reflections that arose for me in the last months, in the course of recovery from a brain injury. During the time I spent in an intensive concussive rehab program, I had realizations that I may not have known at an intellectual level — but which I had known in my heart for a long time.
No matter how deeply I may know something at a heart level, there can still be a struggle between the head and the heart. I can say without a doubt: there are truths my heart knows before my head.
But these revelatory, deep-soul, enlightening experiences are not the type of thing that is easy to explain to someone else. Likewise, someone could have tried to tell me these things before, but I probably would not have understood.
Ultimately, heart knowing must be experienced for yourself at the soul or heart level. It can be difficult to describe and feels strange if you aren’t used to it.
That said, many people have felt and experienced this at various moments in their lives. Often those moments are the tough ones when we’re going through a difficult period, and our hearts cry out with the clarity that we need. I know, for instance, that I am thinking and feeling many truths in a different way right now as a result of a tough moment in my life.
This time, however, I am choosing to approach this type of heart knowing with acceptance. That’s a big difference from how I approached what my heart told me at certain times in the past.
Allowing and accepting are the keys that can unlock heartfelt truths. And, this kind of knowing is a huge strength.
Heart-knowing truths are incredibly useful since they connect us to others, as well as to nature, our ancestors, and that which connects us all. I don’t need to explain to you that for too long in the West we have really focused on a false mind-body divide, privileging ‘rationality’ over what our bodies and hearts know.
But by using our intuition and other ways of knowing we can tap into problem-solving, and solutions, that might otherwise not be possible.
Putting Heart Knowing to Work
For as long as we have been building Productive Flourishing, a key piece of my work has been around self-care, belonging, meaning, boundaries, relationships, and elevating people.
That's the core of who I am; it is the work I am passionate about doing that I can't not do. I moved into this work from an education as a trained sociologist. Clearly, I've always been very interested in how people, groups, and communities work, and at a larger level, how societies mesh, and how social change happens.
But a lot of that interest was at a mind level, at an intellectual level, more than at the deepest heart and soul level. And so my journey over the last 12 years, since leaving academia, has been taking that intellectual, brain-based, mind knowing, and marrying it with my own heart and soul knowing.
What I know about myself is that I can help and elevate others more when I’m showing up, holding space, and operating at a heart-knowing level.
With my recent brain injury and its symptoms — my brain functioning differently, vision and balance issues, and mood changes and swings — it became apparent that so much of the way I lived and worked was going to need to change.
What I had known at a deep heart level became an external reality that I could no longer ignore: it was going to take a lot more help and support, allowing, and acceptance for me to be able to live and work in a healthy way.
We’ve all heard it said many times: you teach what you have most needed to learn.
That has always been true for me and holds true with this current journey, as well: heart-based leadership is reliant on teams, not individuals, and I have had to lean into that more than ever. I believe it has made our team stronger.
Heart Knowing Often Arrives in Crisis
Over the years there's been a certain knowing at an intellectual level that I couldn’t continue in the direction I was going. There was no way I could health-fully be the caretaker of our nuclear and extended family, as well as take care of my health and work full time in our business. But I didn’t take action — I didn’t honor my heart knowing.
There are many reasons it’s difficult to accept our heart knowing. Our minds work based on the way we are socialized, or the way we think we ought to feel, react, or live. I had expectations of myself that were unrealistic, and my socialization about “women’s work” was hard-wired on levels so deep that it was nearly impossible to unearth. And all of this despite the fact that on a conscious level, I didn’t agree with the messages I learned in the world around me growing up.
I couldn’t (wouldn’t) let go of the caretaking and extra shifts because someone had to do it. I knew there was a body of work out in the world that called to me, so like many women I tried to do it all. And it hurt.
For me, it took another “job” (an intensive post-concussive rehabilitation program) on top of the other three to make this truth clear to me. It felt almost like I had to feel the pain so badly that the heart knowing won out.
I know I am not alone in this: sometimes it takes a point of crisis before change finally happens. I reached a point where it was impossible to hold things together in the ways I had before. And, I wouldn’t change this crisis in our lives. It has been the biggest of blessings.
What it does illustrate is the importance of heart knowing — of following your inner intuitive voice, of listening and honoring it before you get to a crisis point. It is there and available long before that point arises. We each have to decide when we will finally honor that important part of our intelligence.
The true gift of even our most difficult experiences is that it can bring us closer to our heart knowing. It is from this place that we’re really capable of transforming, both ourselves and the world around us.
I would love to hear from you if you have an experience of this that you would like to share. Have you experienced a shift in your life where you moved from head knowing to heart knowing? What was that like for you? What new possibilities showed themselves?