Self-study and internal listening have been a primary and foundational aspect of my life for coming into my power and sovereignty, as well as for living my life purpose. As spiritual beings having a human experience, it is up to each one of us to individually reconnect to the Source within, to help guide us to healing and fulfilment. It is our inherent gift. It is our birthright. Healing the mind, emotions, and body to be able to listen to our inner voice of Truth—and finding the courage to follow through with it—is perhaps one of the most significant journeys of our lives.
Why is self-study and cultivation of internal listening so important?
As conscious beings alive in this universe, we all have a self. We are individuals. We think, feel, and act from a singular point of consciousness, which we also identify as our own individual “me.” Our life may have an objective narrative to it, that can be understood through the facts of what has happened to us along our journeys, but it is our own personal experience and perspectives of our journeys that drive us and shapes the stories of our lives. In other words, how we see things and how we feel about things is the deciding factor in the creation and experience of our lives! The ancients taught the wisdom of “know thy self” because when we know who and what we are, we are able to live a life of balance, harmony and happiness. In order to know ourselves, we must become the students of our own inner experience. Why do I think the way that I do? Why do I feel strongly this way or that way? Why do I have this pattern of behavior? What motivates me? What do I care about? Why do I care about what I care about? All of these questions are entry points to self-study that may bring us to a deeper understanding of who we are.
Many of the people alive today do not necessarily ponder these questions, let alone go deeper. We are conditioned to accept the cultural narratives of who we are, and even discouraged from seeking to understand more about ourselves. The focus is on the outer world, and often our inner world is ignored. While this may allow for a nonconfrontational flow with the world around us, it also leads most of us to live inauthentic and uninspired lives, devoid of a greater sense of purpose or meaning. If we accept the framework we are given without question, we negate the gift of our own lived experience as individuals and miss out on knowing and experiencing the deeper truths of being. However, if we dare to question who and what we are and why we are here, we open ourselves up to the great mysteries of life, and to the opportunity to have a deeply meaningful and rich life.
As we begin to explore who we are as an individual self, and what the nature of self is, we begin to cultivate the skill of inner listening. This is truly a game changer. All of us—each and every one of us—has our own inner voices of truth. Our bodies have deep wisdom and speak to us about what we need in order to feel safe, loved, and in our power. Our hearts have an even deeper wisdom still, and speak to us through the language of our emotions and feelings. When we learn to quiet the mind and come into the present moment through embodiment, our ability to sense and know about what is right for us and what directions to take in life—from the most mundane situations, to the most profound—becomes clear and simple.
How does inner listening work?
On the physiological level, our inner guidance system may be viewed as functioning through not only our brain, but also our gut and our heart. The brain has 100 billion neurons, the gut has 100 million neurons, the heart has 40,000 neurons, which really equates to 3 whole different brains in our body. However, while the gut-brain and head-brain have more neurons, our inner guidance system is truly anchored in the heart-brain. Researchers at the Heart Math institute have been studying the intelligence of the heart for decades and have found that both the brain and the gut defer to the heart. In other words, when our brains and our guts communicate to us (e.g. we have conscious thoughts or gut feelings) it is only after the heart has first communicated to the brain and then the gut! The signals the heart sends to the brain can even influence perception, emotional processing and higher cognitive functions. Research shows that the heart actually senses and knows what is coming before something happens and before our conscious mind even perceives it! Thusly, the heart is tapped into a form of intelligence that is beyond typical parameters of time and space.
This is where we come to the spiritual level of how out inner guidance system functions. Spiritual traditions from around the world and throughout time have taught about the central role of the heart as our primary source of wisdom and connection to the divine. In the Hindu, Yogic, Buddhist, and Tantric traditions the heart is known as the Anahata which is the Sanskirt word for the heart chakra which means “unstruck, unhurt, unbeaten.” In these ancient schools of thought, they understand the Anahata as the pure and divine source of wisdom which helps us to make decisions outside of the realms of karma. In the school of Jewish Mysticism knowns as the Kabbalah, it is taught that we establish essential harmony within ourselves through the heart, and that the heart is our source of higher understanding. The Ancient Egyptians believed that the heart, rather than the brain, was the source of human wisdom, and considered quality of our heart to equate to the quality of our soul and the life that we lead. In Christianity, Jesus Christ is often depicted gesturing to his open and radiating heart, reminding us that the way to God is through the heart. From the Americas, the Ancient Mayans believed that our highest path can only be seen and known from the heart.
Whether we approach the question of how our inner guidance speaks to us from the physical or the spiritual, the answer is the heart. The skill of inner listening is indeed the practice of listening to our own hearts. In doing so we tap into a wisdom that is beyond time and space—a wisdom that is grounded in agape pure love—a wisdom that is sure to lead us to our highest good each and every time we connect to it.
How do we use the heart to engage in self-study and inner listening?
To listen to the heart, we must first disengage from our addiction to the mind. In our modern day society we have equated who we are to our mind (think about the lesson from Decartes: “I think therefore I am.”) and overemphasized the role of the mind in our lives. Albert Einstein said, "The intuitive mind [or the heart] is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." For most of us, we were not brought up to listen to our hearts, and instead brought up to de dependent upon our minds for making decisions in our lives. As such, perhaps one of the most important hurdles is to learn to quiet the thinking mind by letting go of our thoughts, so that we can begin to perceive the more subtle voice of our hearts.
By using tools like mindful meditation were we deliberately focus in a open and gentle way on one aspect of our experience like our breath or bodies, we begin to flex our muscle of the heart and create detachment from the mind. Especially when we first begin this practice we may have our focused pulled away by the thinking mind again and again, with the mind in almost a constant struggle for our attention. However, over time, as we continually return our awareness with compassion to our mindful focus on our breath, body, or heart, we reconnect to our innate ability to be in stillness, and to thusly receive the guidance and wisdom from our hearts in that stillness.
When we learn to quiet the mind and go within, we are bound to come face to face with aspects of ourselves that we have long hidden from our own consciousness, also known as our shadows. These shadows may carry with them heavy emotions like sadness, anger, anxiety, fear, regret, and disappointment. However, they are coming to our attention for a reason: for healing and integration. When we face our shadows, or the parts of ourselves that we have rejected, and offer them love, compassion forgiveness and acceptance, we not only learn more about who we are and what matters to us, but we also are able to reintegrate these aspects of self back into our conscious self, which allows us to become whole. Additionally, what this process equates to is the truth that when we face and love our shadows we inevitably find more of our own light! Furthermore, the more we engage in this process the stronger our connection to our heart becomes. Each time we face our shadows with love we know more deeply who we are, we love and accept more of ourselves, the more whole we feel, the more we find we can live our lives with confidence and trust, and the more readily we can hear our own heart’s wisdom guiding us along our journeys. With courage and compassion, following our heart, wherever it may lead us, is our greatest ticket to living a meaningful and happy life.
With love and gratitude,
Alicia Sunflower (aka Alicia Gleason, MS, LMHC, NCC)