When I was a child, the only real rule in our house was loosely derived from the book Summerhill, by A.S. Neill.* It was more or less this: You can do anything you want, as long as it doesn't hurt or annoy anyone else, and as long as you don't hurt yourself.
Even as a child, I found this rule elegantly simple and fascinating in breadth. It covered everything, really. As long as you weren't infringing on anyone else's rights, as long as you were acting with an eye to your own safety, you had pretty much absolute freedom to follow your heart.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
There's a lot of talk these days (maybe especially in the bloggy world?) about following your heart. Or following your true path, erasing the word "should" from your vocabulary, getting unstuck in your life, etc. I suppose these aren't exactly new, blog-world-related themes—consider the idea of "finding yourself." I have no real evidence to support this, but I feel like that one's been around for forty or fifty years or more, like it goes hand-in-hand with the advent of beatniks and hippies and "following your bliss."
(Still, I'm clearly a product of my own generation—I find the current incarnation of these ideas far more appealing. Give me Jen Lemen's beautifully articulate musings on what it really means—and how painful it can be—to follow your heart, and her scrupulous commitment to honesty, kindness, hope, love, joy, and really seeing, over the seemingly somewhat simplistic "follow your bliss" any day.)
I believe in these things—as core values, really. I'd be the first one to tell friends to follow their own hearts, to be true to themselves. If a friend is feeling stuck, I'll tell her to make a change, even if it means ignoring how she thinks she "should" behave or risking the disapproval of others.
And on the surface of it, all of these ideas seem to fit in nicely with the house rule of my childhood. And yet, for all my unwavering support of friends, when it's about my own heart, I find myself wondering: Where are the edges? At what point does following my own heart crash headlong into someone else's needs? At what point do I decide that that simply has to be okay? At what point do I decide that it might be necessary to toss out the house rule, buckle my seat belt, and knowingly cause that crash? And if I cause it, how much damage will I have done in the long term?
How can I be at peace with following my heart, knowing that I’ve hurt someone else? Or that the person I’ve hurt doesn’t understand, or disapproves, or perhaps will even come to hate me?
Most of all, can I trust that truly following my own heart is a way of plugging into a kind of universal balance—that even if my actions hurt someone else's heart for a time, if I'm being as honest with myself as I can be about what I need, then it will all work out for the best for both of us?
I don’t have answers.
But I don’t believe we can afford to spend our lives with our hearts slightly broken by our own resistance to doing what feels right for ourselves. It’s no way to live a life, and frankly, it seems disrespectful to those who love us, because if our hearts aren’t well tended, we just don’t have access to all the love we’re capable of. The kind of love we all deserve to give and to receive.
Because as much as we love the half-assed around here, half-assed love is really never okay.
*Am I supposed to say something here about how clicking that link will not in any way earn us one cent--or any fraction thereof--here at HAMAMA? Okay then. Consider that done.