Head! This is Heart. Can You Hear Me?

Via Valerie Carruthers
on Nov 19, 2011
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Maybe it’s because my Sun is in Libra (the scales) that I’m always seeking balance. When something’s off the beam to me I can feel it in my bones.

What’s set me off lately began when Ed and Deborah Shapiro posted Why Your Intellect Is an Obstacle in Yoga. Next came Carol Horton’s impassioned rebuttal, Why Your Intellect Is (or Can Be!) an Integral Part of Yoga. Here were two viewpoints that couldn’t have been more contradictory.

It felt like the pendulum swung really wide first one way and then the other. Then my intuitive Scorpio Moon kicked butt, impelling me to dig deeper. That got me to thinking about how the spiritual seeker’s journey has been called “the middle path.” And about how in yogic spiritual practice there are specific uses for the intellect, which I’ll get to in a moment.

First, let me say that the Shapiros and Carol Horton are among the truly conscious writers on EJ whom I admire. (Full disclosure: I  posted a comment that the Shapiros’ line, “When we’re about to die it won’t help to remember what page of a text we were meant to be on,” was absolutely classic.) Carol Horton also scores a major point in writing that “when we bring the full power of our intellect to engaging with something like the [Yoga] Sutras, it can be a vital tool in igniting our hearts – and our spirits.”

But the issue with intellect stems more from our contemporary western culture’s inherent extremes. Not to mention the psychoanalytic matrix in which those extremes are encouraged to thriveA kind of spiritual schizophrenia results.

There’s the tendency to hypermentalize everything including our self-judgments about our Yoga and meditation practice. Or else there’s the tendency toward complete ambivalence and apathy. Spiritual teachings, such as those in the Bhagavad Gita and philosophical texts can be used to analyze and debate yogic topics. Yet they can equally become pathways to our inner divinity—the spontaneous, joyful and wondrous being we long to know.

Yoga embraces those pathways and many others, recognizing that all roads lead to Home. To keep yourself centered on whatever path you’re on, the practice of viveka can help because it employs the intellect as a spiritual tool.

Viveka means intellectual discernment, discrimination (if the latter has too much baggage, use “differentiation” as Wikipedia does). Instead of seeing only the relative truth of what we are experiencing—relative to how it’s filtered through our ego’s pinhole perception–-viveka gives us a zoom lens to the greater reality. By consciously applying viveka (ideally at all times) you can distinguish the real from the unreal, the eternal from the temporal, the infinite from the finite.  In determining whether what’s happening has eternal staying power—as unconditional love does, for example—you cut through the tangle of your emotions. When there’s high power clarity, there’s more possibility for living in the state of genuine love and happiness.

Here’s a really simplistic example: I can max out my plastic buying pricey designer yoga outfits, believing that these outfits alone will make me happy because I’ll look so hot practicing in them. But my happiness is temporary, conditional. The outfits will wear out. I’ll get tired of wearing them.  And I’ll be angry with myself when paying down the bill wipes out my paycheck.

Alternately, I can focus on feeling the expansion of my heart in Camel, or the inner lift of Dancer that makes my spirit soar. With my practice comes a blast of energy that gives me more time to serve those I love or the causes I care about.

By practicing viveka you’re continuously using the intellect to hear the heart’s inner wisdom and take a bigger step along the path to freedom.


Photo: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Earth-We-are-one




About Valerie Carruthers

Valerie is a maverick yogini who loves teaching and practicing Yoga and meditation as well as writing for magazines and the Web, not always in the same order or on the same day. She first practiced Yoga in New York City back when there were mainly “Hatha” classes and no soundtracks. When performing an asana had absolutely nothing to do with toning one’s ass. Based in east central Florida, she has taught classes to diverse populations for the past decade. Valerie is currently focusing on teaching workshops that combine Yoga and art-making for all levels. When wearing her freelancer’s hat, Valerie writes about a) how to devolve from the world and evolve spiritually and b) whatever fascinates her about where the social face of Yoga in its rapidly shifting manifestations merges into the cosmic face of Yoga in all its blazing glory.


12 Responses to “Head! This is Heart. Can You Hear Me?”

  1. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Lovely article and it turned out visually perfect! 🙂

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Join us! Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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  2. Love this Valerie! It's such a tough balance…sometimes my heart doesn't want to listen to my head and vice versa too!

  3. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage. Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook.

  4. Valerie Carruthers says:

    Thank you, Tanya. The learning curve is definitely worth it!

  5. Valerie Carruthers says:

    Thank you, Kate. You got that right—it gets like a teeterboard sometimes.. Doesn't it always come down to the listening, though?

  6. Valerie Carruthers says:

    Awesome, thank you!

  7. vishnudash says:

    Your point about scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita being used as the pathway to divinity is one that is too overlooked in today's mentally driven world that prefers to "analyze and debate yogic topics." Debate may be helpful but only if it spurs the inner journey, while analysis of yogic topics is most expansive when applied to one's inner state rather than scholarly jousting. Intellect is critical to success in yoga. Gita speaks of "buddhi yoga" or "the yoga of intellect," and your post brings to mind this verse from Chapter 2 ("The Yoga of Discrimination"): "Endowed with the yoga of intellect, one can be free from both good and evil in this life itself. Therefore, take to yoga. Yoga is the art of getting things done without attachment." [from the translation by Swami Sri Atmananda available at http://www.satpub.net

  8. I couldn't agree more with this Valerie. Keep up the great writing!

  9. Valerie Carruthers says:

    Thank you for your wonderful insights, Vishnudash, and for the Gita verse. It's a reminder that Yoga makes perfect use of every faculty we possess to get us to the ultimate goal. And yes, it's those pesky old attachments that can stand in the way.

  10. Valerie Carruthers says:

    Thank you, dear Micki!