Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pa has a happy heart

I don't have a TV for many reasons, one being that most shows are complete drivel and my child gets enough of that from me. Another big reason is that I am utterly in love with TV. Television is one of my favorite things; I'm moderately addicted. Like many people who can't control their sugar or alcohol intake, I have to maintain a primarily abstinent relationship with TV. At this point I'm too disconnected from TV to really even miss it, but I do have one lingering indulgence that I share with my daughter Lucia. On her 8-inch portable DVD player that I bought for long airplane trips, we watch vintage Little House on the Prairie episodes (I bought all of Season 1,2 and 3 from Amazon).

A few weeks ago we were watching a scary episode where a mean man tried to drown little puppies in the river. After asking if I was sure Little House on the Prairie is rated G, Lucia buried her head in my armpit and told me to tell her when the scene was over. Ultimately, the brave and wise Laura and Mary (respectively) dove into the river and rescued the puppies. Later in the episode, Pa railed on Laura and Mary for bringing home three puppies that would need to be cared for and fed. Lucia started to bury her head in my chest again, fearing what Pa might do with the puppies, but then she stopped herself and refocused on the DVD player. "Pa would never drown puppies in the river" Lucia said assuredly, "because he has a happy heart." I asked Lucia how she could tell that Pa had a happy heart, "Because look at him Mommy," she chirped in her 6-year-old, know-it-all voice, "He's happy." For the record, Pa did not end up drowning the puppies.

When the Dalai Lama came to speak several years ago, some of the neuroscientists on a panel I watched talked about the intelligence of the heart. They suggested that the heart, like the brain, has intelligence. This idea begs the question: How do you nurture and develop that muscle? We can't practice algebra with the heart or read the classics. But these scientists reasoned that decisions we make, actions we take, are influenced, not just by our minds, but by our hearts. My knowledge of the topic is minimal, but when I think about my own life, I know that decisions I make when I am operating from a more connected place feel different. I can tell the difference between a heart-motivated move and one that is more isolated to just the brain because, regardless of outcome, when I am connected with my own feelings, I feel happier.

For example, in this remodel I'm doing at The SweatBox, there are a million decisions to be made-- where to put walls, what fixtures to use, what color to paint, how to negotiate with the landlord. Some days, I just barrel through, checking things off my list. And, regardless of what I've accomplished, at the end of the day, I feel scatter-brained, depleted. Other times, I slow down, get connected to what I am feeling, and make a decision. It's remarkable, but there's a difference. I feel lighter, happier. Today, for example, I encountered a potentially disastrous hurdle. Before I made any moves, I took some time to feel what I was feeling- scared, pissed, annoyed, exhausted-- and then I approached the relevant parties in the conflict and we worked it out. Going into the negotiations, I was calmer because I was more clearly connected to my own feelings about the conflict, so I was operating from the head and the heart. I felt happy not just to have solved the problem, but with how the problem was solved.

In many ways today I felt like Pa in that puppy episode. Pa could have drowned the puppies. I could have screamed and threatened and turned blue in the face, and alienated the very people who were doing work I needed done. But we each found a different way, a way that was motivated by the heart-- away that left each of us feeling happier.

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