A handsome older man dressed in full military regalia sent me a beautifully kind email on social media.
A younger me would have thought, "Maybe this is my knight in shining armor." Those movies about two strangers who meet and end up falling in love always stuck with me. In my mind, I kept replaying the story of the woman who found "The One" in an online community. My mind began ruminating as fluttery feelings of romantic love welled up inside me. Maybe this was my chance for a "happily ever after."
Then I heard the words often echoed on social media and Hallmark movies: "Listen to your heart." Other love songs would start playing in my head, filling my head with messages like "take the chance" and "risk it all for love." The man's message conveyed the most universally desired message: that we are valued and respected. When I begin to doubt, I'm urged to "trust my heart."
Then, however, my better judgment kicks in. I remember the stories of Manti Te'o and other people in a long line of being catfished. It's reminiscent of those "other" tales of girls who "fell in love" with a guy they met online, only to be duped out of their money.
Reverse image searching led me to the conclusion that this was not a picture of "David Campbell," but rather a respected general in the United States Army. This headshot was snagged from an old newspaper photo.
I decided to report the profile. Ignoring logic and "trusting the heart" isn't always a good idea. It won't be a "happily ever after" for me.
What is "the heart?"
The heart is portrayed as the core of emotion in today's media and advertising. Our hearts, not our heads, are the ones we're encouraged to "trust" or "listen" to. But our feelings do not originate in the heart. They are seated in the limbic system of the brain.
When our emotions take over, we stop thinking clearly. When we are taught by modern "feel-good" culture to "trust our heart," we come to believe that our feelings will always guide us toward the best decision. Frequently, this is not the case.
Think about your feelings, especially the powerful ones like love, anger, and despair. These feelings have a way of leading us into hazardous circumstances. Our feelings may push us over the edge and cause us to kill or be killed.
I laughed when I heard Zava from Ted Lasso talk about passion:
He played with passion. "Passion" is a word we use when we talk about love. It is also a word we use to describe a crime. Sometimes it is also a fruit.
In other words, passion is mostly about what we do with it. We can use it to fuel a career or just an episode of our lives. Or we can see it as something that briefly passes through us like a piece of fruit.
Not that these feelings don't have merit; far from it. These feelings are quite "real," especially when we feel them in our bodies. You might feel your "heart" flutter because there is a system of nerves that branch over your chest.
Just as our senses tell us where to focus our attention, so do our emotions. It doesn't imply any particular action with respect to them. They often show us the blind spots in our consciousness.
Where does this 'heart' even come from?
It wasn't always the case that the "heart" represented the center of our emotional lives. The liver or the bowels were once thought to as the "seat" of our emotions and desires in several older works of literature. In fact, the liver actually holds a lot of emotional stress. Maybe in another 500 years the throat will be thought of as the place where feelings are housed.
Therefore, following our hearts does not mean letting our emotions rule every choice we make. The key is to look past them and our relationships to find something more substantial. Our spiritual rather than emotional core is located in the "heart," though it's less of a physical space and more of a spiritual one.
According to the Sufi mystic al-Hallaj, God dwells in this spiritual heart. Le point vierge, or the "virginal point" deep within us that is unspoiled by our attachments and aspirations, is how French scholar Louis Massignon, who studied the life and teachings of al-Hallaj, described it.
In their discussions of this "heart center," Massignon and al-Hallaj were not so much concerned with feelings as with logic. This point vierge, uncontaminated by memories, sentiments, or social norms, was important to the story. That tender moment of connection with God is the kiss of the soul. Its message echoes within, if we listen carefully beyond the five senses.
Our actual heart serves as a useful metaphor for this interior core, yet this region has no physical location.
To aid those who seek to experience it for themselves, mystics have attempted to describe it, yet they readily concede that their words fall short. It defies definition since it goes beyond intellect, feeling, and perception. It goes far beyond them.
In the future, when you are told to "listen to your heart," think beyond the immediate sensation. Relax your body and your mind, and wait for the solution to come to you from le point vierge.