What is it with the intellect (the head), and the emotional state, (the heart), that makes life so challenging? As has been commonly recognized, men are more in their heads/intellects, and women are more in their hearts/feelings. On the surface, this might sound like an argument for the superiority of women, but it’s not. Both are needed for effective living. We need the male and female aspects of our psyches to be integrated. We want to live in the “yin yang” of life.
The intellect has gotten a bad reputation over the years because it has run roughshod over the heart in so many ways. This is what happens when patriarchy reigns. When men are overly dominating a society the head tramples the heart in people’s thinking. Life is approached with cold eyes and little feeling. Things get reduced to a math problem or a jigsaw puzzle. The dominant intellect says, “Its a “dog eat dog world”, “the survival of the fittest rules life”, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”, “money is the goal of life”, and, “boys don’t cry”. Nature is reduced to a means of economic gains. People are tossed into the streets with an “everyone has to take care of themselves” cultural attitude. Brutality is justified with an “ends justifies the means” rationale. Being cut off from deep feeling we can be confident of our aggressive actions without considering the impact on other people, animals, or the earth itself. War is entered with an ignorant, dangerous gusto.
When the head leads decision making and we end up in bad positions we usually hear ourselves say things like, “I knew he was a player when I married him”, “I knew this house would be a money pit”, “I didn’t trust my gut on that car purchase”, or “I got talked into this job.”
When the heart dominates the mind in an overindulgent way, the feeling can submerge reason. We become over-emotional, touchy, hyper-reactive to challenges. We might become mired in self-pity, anxiety, helplessness, or hopelessness. We can be “love addicted” to others – “I can’t get her out of my mind”, be easily manipulated, find ourselves once again rescuing the “poor” friend, be overly soft when firm decisiveness is called for, or taking care of the forty-year-old son who “needs me”, etc. An overweight woman complains, “But I love ice cream so much.” A sexually addicted man argues, “I just love women.” Life gets arranged around a need to tend to our very sensitive feelings or the feelings of others.
As we all have the male and female/yin & yang of life within us, life is most effectively handled when these aspects are balanced. This can be achieved in different ways. If you had a distant or abusive father it may be a good idea to enter therapy with a man who can be nurturing as well as firm. If you had a withdrawn, neglectful mother, you may want to enter therapy with a loving, gentle female therapist. We internalize both the positive and negative attributes of our father and mother. If our parents were not able to embody the best aspects of their male or female attributes they will not be able to pass them on. They may have “nothing to give.”
What about “following your heart”? This is good advice. Due to the heavy influence of patriarchy, many people are directed by family and society to make major life decisions by following the intellect. This puts the heart in the second position when it should be first in decision making. When the intellect is in charge of decisions you might get married because, “I’m getting older”, or “He has a lot of money”, or “My family wants me to marry her.” You could get into a job because, “the money is good”, or “Its the family business, we all go into it”, or “My mother wanted me to be lawyer, doctor, accountant, etc.” These “head” decisions can lead to deep regret, a mid-life crisis, and a life riddled with depression or anxiety.
The heart is the place where clear intuition arises, a polestar for guiding the right decision making. It has recently been found that the heart has its own brain or intelligence. When it is allowed to open and guide a person’s life it also emanates an electromagnetic field that affects those around them and the world as a whole. I have friends that it just “feels good” to be around. Being in their presence can be enough to open my heart more.
The heart is the natural leader to the authentic life. It shows where your true work is, what your mission is, who is the right partner, where your gifts are. The intellect should be in service of the heart. For instance, you might be in love but he wants you to give him a lot of kids when you have no interest in being a mother, join his religion you don’t agree with, and move to Antartica (brrrr), etc. This may be where the head steps in and says, “Not a good idea, there’s other love out there for you.” Maybe you found a house to buy you just love and your head looks at it and says, “That house looks shaky. You need to check the foundation. It’s probably a money pit.” My friend was once in escrow for a house she loved with a realtor she loved when the realtor said, “Umm, this house doesn’t have a foundation, it sits on the dirt. But you can lift it up and pour a foundation. People do it all the time.” She canceled escrow and got another realtor. When the heart leads and the head agrees you know you are on track. You got the Corvette at a great price, the dream house passed inspections with flying colors, the man you love is doing work you respect and wants dogs instead of children. You think, “Yeah, no diapers, no throwing up for weeks, and I get to paint!”
An integrated person with a balanced intellect and heart is nurturing, rational, and able to take action when needed: Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Nelson Mandela, Harvey Milk, George Harrison, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the Dalai Lama, Justice Sonia Soto Mayor, Melinda Gates, etc.