Recently I’ve been going online more and more reluctantly. I’ve started noticing my Nervous System being less resilient and me feeling more overwhelmed easily, a sign that the digital space to me doesn’t feel safe right now. Bombarded with so much incoherent information, it seems like most people are engaged in some sort of fight over what’s true and I’m tired of it.
You will not convince another simply with logic and arguments. Especially not when there is so much emotional charge, because all of us are feeling unsafe in some way right now.
It doesn’t matter what side I’m on and what I believe and it doesn’t matter where you are standing either. We need another way of getting to the heart of the matter. We need to become heart intelligent and practice impeccable ‘emotional hygiene’, the same way that we started washing our hands!
I’m aware that talking about the heart and vulnerability in these times might be accompanied by some eye-rolling and scoffing. Because, what does the heart have to do with hard facts? What does it have to do with saving lives? Or being stuck inside for two months? What does it have to do with our economy going down the drain?
Yes, what indeed, does the heart have to do with any of it?
There is so much talk about the new normal. And rather than buying into some imposed idea of what that will be like, to me, it becomes increasingly clear that it will be what we will make it to be.
If anything, then this quarantine has taught us about the power of our choice. What to believe, what to listen to, where to put our energy and attention. Every moment, we have a choice of how we respond. That’s what becoming a master of your life means. There are many things you can’t control, except for your response.
So what if we chose heart intelligence? What would that look like?
Our Nervous System (NS) is a wondrous thing and I believe that one of the milestones of the 20th century is the deepening understanding of how it functions. Whereas in the past one might have been prone to judge another for being aggressive, incoherent, hysterical, and irrational, and to consequently label them a certain way, now we get to see that person (and ourselves) through the NS.
Rather than shaming them and making them wrong, we get to understand that different parts of their brain are activated when they behave a certain way. And it all has to do with feeling safe.
Fear, after love, is the most powerful force in the world and is responsible for the weirdest of human behaviors.
However, understanding that is not helpful if we don’t know how to navigate the treacherous terrain of our brains and help others to do the same.
How do we move from a fear response back to a place of feeling safe, a place of resource?
Our default pattern as humans has been to mostly live from survival, which is fear and that makes it almost impossible to remember how to shift gears, especially when the world as we knew it is crumbling all around us.
We can all be forgiven right now to feel triggered, overwhelmed, and unsafe. But let’s not use it as an excuse but a moment of choice and transformation instead.
This is where Heart intelligence comes in. There are some simple basic tools that help people access the intelligence of the heart, the space in which we create internal safety.
We have to be clear on our purpose in everything we do. That’s part of becoming conscious of why we do anything. What’s your purpose in watching the news right now? Do you simply want to inform yourself or do you want to feed your fear response? What’s my purpose in writing this article? Do I want to vent, discharge, or share some painful lessons and offer wisdom?
It’s so easy to go online, get triggered by a comment on a FB threat, and respond emotionally without understanding what’s driving your actions. It has happened to me countless times and the feedback I got was not always kind or constructive.
If I, however, had stopped, breathed, and even expressed my purpose in the beginning, I am sure I would have received a different response in return.
When you get conscious about your purpose in anything that you do (small or big) you gain more agency about how you want to do it. You create space and clarity for yourself to choose from. If you don’t know your purpose you simply run on auto-pilot. Being clear on your purpose also helps others to understand better where you are coming from which results in deeper empathy.
Your purpose is your compass for where to put your energy and attention.
2. Tracking and Presence
Most of us experience mild forms of fight/flight and freeze on a daily basis. We experience it more as background noise rather than an immediate threat (like when a wild animal is charging at you, for example. Nowadays the wild animal is more likely to be the news so we take its charge but we still have some control, we can turn it off.)
This gives us the opportunity to track, which simply means we can become aware of what state we are in, what we are feeling.
However, in order to track you have to be willing to be present with your body first.
A real-life example from our recent collective experience would be when you watch the news and start to feel worried or anxious. Next, you go on FB and you read a comment on Corona that doesn’t confirm your current paradigm. It confronts your beliefs, which instead of soothing your NS, triggers you deeper into a feeling of unsafety.
Things might be shit, but at least if there is consensus around it, we can find a way of moving forward together. If there is disagreement about what’s happening, however, it’s much harder to find a solution and that touches the very place inside all of us that needs to belong. Belonging means safety, stability, and a much better chance of survival.
Having your sense of belonging put at risk, you might feel a knee-jerk reaction to comment on the post, further firing up your stress response. Before you know it you have spent the day in a discussion online about what’s true. (Which at the moment seems to mean a competition about who has watched and read more and therefore is a better authority on the subject.)
You either keep defending your viewpoint or you might go into Freeze and decide that it’s way too much. The end result is feeling depleted, anxious, powerless, and despondent. You might lose faith in humanity and further go into yourself refusing to engage, shutting off any news, or discussions about what’s happening.
I know that I have been around this cycle several times on different levels of intensity, and I’m sure many of us have.
We have to understand that our NS fires up so fast that it’s really hard to catch it in the moment that it does. Especially when it slowly creeps up on you while browsing FB or watching the news. It’s not as concrete as a tiger and therefore much more subtle and cunning.
Therefore it really takes practice and commitment (which comes from being clear on your purpose) and your body is your key ally in it. So don’t make yourself wrong, it’s just the way it is and as far as I’m seeing it, we as humans are in the process of mastering self-regulation. And as humbling as it is right now, we got to start somewhere.
So what would have the above example looked like if it was done with Heart intelligence?
First, you become aware of your purpose for going online and ingesting any information. As you are watching the news you stay connected to your breath and your body and you become aware of your body’s response. If what you are watching is charged, you may notice your heart rate go up ever so slightly. You may notice the contraction of the body and that you are feeling less light, less happy. Or you may notice that you zone out, become indifferent and numb.
We all move easily from overcare to no care. The middle path is one of heart intelligent managed concern. Not fear, not ignorance, but informed concern.
When you are present to your body it’s easy to track where you are at.
If your purpose is to stay in a place of resource so you can be the best version of yourself, you will now take some time out. You will do something else than continue watching the news. You will get up, shake your body, dance, maybe voice your concern to a loved one.
You will take time to self-regulate until you feel yourself back in a space of capacity and strength.
Only from there will you continue to ingest more (online) information.
After starting to feel a sense of charge and separation with some friends online I chose to practice emotional hygiene and instead of engaging in endless discussion on FB threads, I chose to PM each one of them and to be vulnerable. That basic check-in helped me regulate my NS and brought back our humanness by remembering the below.
3. Unconditional Positive Regard/Loving Kindness/Respect
Everyone deserves respect. Everyone has their perspective and narrative based on their experience. You will never fully comprehend the depth of that.
Curiosity is the key. As soon as you think you got it all together and everyone else is wrong, you’ve lost. So again, whenever you engage in a discussion, ask yourself, what’s my purpose in doing this? Am I here to prove that I am right? to find evidence that will solidify my beliefs? or am I here because I’m truly curious about another way of looking at things?
This point of respect, of acknowledging the other's ability to think, to discern, to be aware but also the other’s need to be heard, seen, and acknowledged is so vital. It’s what opens hearts and brings us closer to a common goal.
If I can acknowledge your humanness (which includes your NS) and understand that you, just like me, share the need to feel safe, then I may be offered a glimpse into your world of how you are trying to achieve it.
The most important point here is to not make each other wrong. We need to go deeper than that and understand what the need is that is driving the action. We need to learn how to speak to that need without shaming.
In this age of ‘digital anxiety,’ it’s so easy to throw around words like conspiracy theory and put everything that’s not mainstream under that umbrella. But what does that actually mean?
There is a charge around that word and as soon as you are labeled a conspiracy theorist, you are indirectly labeled stupid, untrustworthy, and even dangerous. You are being made wrong, regardless of what truth you might be pointing to.
From a heart intelligence perspective, one could look at ‘conspiracy theories’ as different narratives that are reflecting the concern that we are not being told the truth. That the information we receive is not 100% transparent and with that also the fear of being controlled and manipulated.
Those concerns and fears are not without foundation. In the history of humankind, that very reality has come to the surface many times. It’s still stored in our collective memory, and as long as we carry it, like trauma it will surface its head over and over again.
Of course, there is a fine line between managed concern and paranoia. But that’s exactly why I’m writing this article. To help us find that space of curiosity, of radical self-honesty and therefore vulnerability, because none of us really knows what’s going on right now.
Reality is too complex to think that one can make sense of it alone.
We might be living in the Matrix, our brains plugged into computers and machines sucking on our emotional energies for fuel. Can you know for sure that’s not the case?
I know that I can’t. Admitting to myself the fact that I don’t really know is strangely relieving. It gives me permission to not just look for the answers through my mind and the accumulation of endless facts but makes me go deeper. If ‘facts’ are not reliable any longer, how will we manage to move into coherence from here?
The only way out is to look at the last point of Heart Intelligence:
4. What does our heart desire?
This point is more than just being clear on our purpose. This point talks about our vision. A vision that includes the wholeness of our being. It’s the vision of an open heart, a space of thriving and not just surviving.
Because as we are riding the waves of this strange dystopian reality we have found ourselves in so all of a sudden, one thing becomes really clear:
Is it enough for us to simply survive? Is that what our hearts truly desire?
As we are at home, stuck in front of our screens, do we feel satisfied being told what the ‘right’ way is, while we feel disconnected from our own ability to make sense of the world?
Is it enough to know the facts and to be right? Or is there another dimension of being felt, seen, and held that is not being taken into account?
This question of ‘what do we truly want’ is so potent and liberating.
And I believe a lot of the arguing online is because of the apparent fundamental difference in our heart’s desire, even if they have a common ground.
Some of us desire safety above all else and some of us desire freedom and self-expression above all else.
To me both are intertwined. In fact, they build on each other.
Only when you are taking care of your internal safety can you execute your freedom. And only when you are aware of your inherent freedom can you feel safe.
It’s the dimension of a higher order, a heart intelligent order, that brings the apparent polarity of thesis and anti-thesis into something new, into synthesis.
So what if heart intelligence was the new normal? What if we collectively agreed to practice emotional hygiene with the same dedication that we wash our hands now? What if we became fully honest with our purpose, our feelings, our limitations of grasping the complexity of what’s happening around us, and instead committed to our emotional self-regulation and loving-kindness the way we committed to this quarantine?
What if we became fully clear on what is most important to us? What is our heart's desire?
What if this commitment meant we would save lives?
Would we be willing to accept this as a new normal? Would we be willing to give up our self-righteousness, our arrogance, our right to ridicule others…our obsession with black and white facts?
What if our leaders were able to access this kind of level of emotional intelligence? How would we live through the next pandemic?
I believe that it’s not about finding the answers but keeping these kinds of inquiries alive. So we all stay engaged in a nourishing way, rather than get emotionally hijacked into Fight/Flight or Freeze.
If there is a virus worth spreading then I believe it’s this: waking up to our common ground as humans and becoming heart intelligent.
I hope you got infected.