THE LONGEST JOURNEY…….. I HAVE EVER TAKEN IS THE 16 inches FROM MY HEAD TO MY HEART.
This essay is about my introspective journey to become a more fully functioning human being and to be able to feel a range of emotions and understand those reactions. The conflict, heartfelt relationships and lessons along the way have been life-changing. They have cracked open my heart and resulted in some comical irony. My path has broadened and narrowed at the same time. I have developed a razor edge and an achey- breaky heart. My relationships have deepened and I have become happier as a result. I discovered some large stumbling blocks along the way- erroneous assumptions and unstated expectations. I have tried to eliminate my fear based assumptions. I tried to be honest and upfront about my wants and needs with those close to me. It’s all about learning to celebrate your authentic self, warts and all.
I agree with Brene Brown who said: “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
My first baby step toward becoming more of a feeling being, instead of analyzing everything, came with the hormones of pregnancy in 1982. Being pregnant cracked open my heart. I remember getting all teary eyed at Hallmark commercials at Christmas. I remember laughing at myself and figured it would pass after giving birth. It never did go away. Have you ever looked at your loved ones and just melted into the loving them so much? Your heart feels full. I have said to my son, so many times, “You have no idea how much I love you.” He would answer with an eye roll, “Oh Mom you have to say that, you’re the Mom.”
I knew I was having a boy, I thought about all the things that people my age struggled with. Most of the struggles were around making decisions. I was determined to provide Matt experience in making decisions. As a young child, I would offer him two options that were acceptable to me and then he chose one. That worked great because he learned to make decisions and since it was his choice, there was buy-in, and accountability.
The other thing I saw was that men had the hardest time expressing their emotions and asking for what they needed. For years, I thought men didn’t have emotions because my father had always been so stoic and reserved, until he exploded. I had wondered if this was because his mother died when he was only 12. I wanted to make sure that Matt could identify his emotions and talk about them. As a young child I would play games by making faces and having him guess what I was feeling. As he got older and could read, we would do charts with different emojis and he would say the corresponding feeling… a variation on the smiley face, but with frowns or wide eyes. The result is he can read faces really well, can express how he feels and is very empathetic and compassionate. But if it’s all about balance, he may be too empathetic. Plus he’s a fixer like me. Neither of us like to see people we love in pain, so we want to fix it. Sometimes this can be seen as disrespectful. Balance is a hard thing to achieve. A razor thin edge between problem solving telling people what to do.
I flew to LA 5 days after the birth of my granddaughter in 2011. The door opened and there was my big, goofy, gumby-bodied, sleep-deprived 27 year old kid with this teeny little baby on his arm and the biggest hug ever. “Mom, Mom, I get what you were saying. I get how much you love me!” He was in tears and I started to cry. My heart cracked open further. IT was his heartfelt journey that pushed me farther along from my head to my heart. I remember looking into to my granddaughter’s eyes and seeing back to generations that came before and seeing forward to the generations to come. It was like looking at 2 mirrors facing each other where the images goes on and on to infinity. The grand continuity of life. My heart cracked open more with love for the pure potential of this new person.
I wanted to change, I wanted the solid stuff of a good close relationship. I knew my problem solving head centered way was probably a defense mechanism to protect my heart. I had the words and language to describe how I was feeling but that was vulnerable and scary. I was very pragmatic about this. Wry grin, right? My first steps on The Longest Journey were when I decided that every time I would start analyzing my thoughts or try to “think my way out of a problem”, I would ask myself, “How do I feel about this” and Let the answer bubble up. I learned to be comfortable with the discomfort of being vulnerable. This was very, very uncomfortable for a long time, until I read about the Buddhist way of non- attachment and observing. Non-attachment is the ability to detach yourself from things that control or affect you in a way that does not serve your wellbeing. Then you can observe without judgment. I could observe myself and try to understand my feelings until I could recognize them better. An out of body experience!
There were several ways I was tripping over my own feet. I was pretty good at recognizing my erroneous assumptions and asking for what I wanted and needed, but something was still out of whack. As a member of the OH SO PERFECT HECHT FAMILY, I was knocking myself out to achieve perfectionism and worried about what people thought. Was being perfect the measuring stick of MY success?
I remember thinking for the first 18 years of my life that I was a slob. Well, next to Mom, Dad and brother I was. They had everything neatly folded and put away, my brother had his pens lined up like soldiers on his dresser. There was not a speck of dust or grime anywhere. And then there was me, always moving, outside at the beach with the dog, covered in sand, playing sports in and out of the pool, helping in the garden. More tomboy pigpen type than neat little girl. Being a slob was a source of great shame and feelings of not good enough…. A deficiency.
I was so relieved to get to college and get out of the house. Much to my amazement, out of the 12 other girls in our dorm, 6 were messier than me and 6 were neater. Wow- maybe I was normal! Maybe neatness and getting things perfect were not what made you a “nice, good person.” This epiphany had me question everything about my parents, their values and their way of life. My parents were really pretty racist, but I knew some very wonderful black people in high school. My father was sexist take a secretarial course because you’ll get married and have 3 kids. They were wrong about that too. What’s perfect for me, might not be perfect for you. Plus the self-righteous indignation that accompanies the judgement of perfectionism was just plain hurtful and obnoxious. An “I am better than you are” statement. How do people benefit from that? We are all human, kindness should prevail.
Playing tennis taught me a lot. Your worse self can show up with no warning on the tennis court when it’s crunch time in a competition. It’s much better to smack the tennis ball than to smack people. It’s a great frustration outlet, until you use it against yourself. You can do some real damage. My Dad waited until he was 35 to have his first child and I turned out to be a girl. No matter, girls can play sports. My dad would move me around the tennis court, back and forth and back and forth on the clay court until I skidded and skinned up my leg. He felt bad about that. But pushing the limits and achieving perfection became internalized. As a young singles player, I made some bad shots, I got by a lot because I was a good athlete and could run everything down. But boy did I beat myself up. My self-talk was brutal. “Who do you think you are stinking up the court like that? You call yourself a tennis player. Just go home. Then one day, I stopped. I started backtalk to my self-talk. Can you just imagine my poor brain? My own mental match! You stink! Oh stop, I’m doing the best I can. You call yourself a tennis player, give me a break. Shut up, so today’s not one of my better days, how can I change this match? Then my positive- give- myself- a- break self-talk won and I started complimenting my shots and realizing that I was pretty good. I was happier and enjoyed the game more and my body didn’t get so tight. When I was playing in an important match with a doubles partner I came to sense when we were both getting nervous and tight and started cracking jokes. I became a better player ,was winning more and enjoying it much, much more.
Perfectionism is another trap to unhappiness. When is good enough, REALLY good enough? It helps to give yourself and others a break.
Thank heavens I was in my early 30s when I figured this out and haven’t wasted decades on this. A big step for me towards authenticity. Am I truly being congruent with what I believe and how I act in my life? Do I do things to get positive feedback from others or because I believe in what I am doing? Being a trained seal, waiting for a fish for the seal of approval is Living a lie. It’s self- destructive and negates your entire being, Brene Brown’s wonderful book The Gifts of Imperfection, published in 2010, summed it up perfectly:
“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”
Another way to trip over your own feet, is to be happy, happy and positive. This is perfectionism- I want people to think I am spiritually evolved. This is just so impossibly false. To be fully human you have to experience the full range of emotions. Being human is messy. Always being happy, happy positive can be a numbing exercise called spiritual bypassing. Spiritual bypassing—the use of spiritual beliefs to avoid dealing with painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs—is so pervasive that it goes largely unnoticed.
I tried to become non-judgmental for about a year. That was impossible and I was beating myself up for being a failure. You know what I discovered? We need judgement to make order of our world, to decide if someone is friend or foe, if it’s safe where you are. More perfectionism. Robert Augustus Masters has written a wonderful book on this called Spiritual Bypassing.
Another trap is the achievement trap. I almost fell into that at the age of 35. I had been a real estate broker for 6 years, I was just getting my sea legs, feeling confident about my abilities and starting to make some good money. I was never a great sales person, but I have a great ability to anticipate questions or objections. I also liked to research things so I would have every question answered. I was educated as a teacher and all that training came into play to make up great listing packages and sell the properties. I found a great property for my client, Camino de La Sierra apartments in Tucson Arizona. I think there were 72 apartments. My commission was $48,000! Wow was I impressed with myself. So was everyone else. I was a big cheese. The cat’s meow. I celebrated with a new watch and a wonderful party with friends. The next day I woke up depressed, not because of a hangover as you might imagine. I thought to myself, “Okay, now what, how are you going to top that. “ The lightbulb went on in my dim head. So every deal was supposed to top that one? What if it didn’t, was I a failure then? What a trap that was!
But let’s expand on that. How many times have you said to yourself: Oh if my son gets into college, I’ll be happy. I want more for him. If I just had more sex in my relationship I’d be happy. I wish I had more money then I’d be happy. Or envy is the other side of the same coin. The envy of someone who has money: Oh look at him, how can he be in a bad mood, he’s rich. All of these conditional agreements with the “universe” take away your power to be happy in each moment. What a trap! Motivated by fear of not being good enough. AND what are you missing when you envy what others have? You are missing the present. The past is gone, the future has not arrived and all we have is the gift of the present. Don’t miss it, be present.
Another part of eliminating perfectionism is letting go of the “shoulds”. As my friend Marjorie Erway says, “You can just should all over yourself.” How much of my time has been spent doing things for people because I thought I should, not because I wanted to spend my precious time. Was this making me resentful? I started a self-talk test. Every time I thought I should do something, I would stop and ask myself WHY… I f I could answer that question, then I moved forward, but otherwise I dropped it. This led to less busy-ness and less resentment.
Perfectionism is rooted in fear- of not being good enough, that you are not smart enough, daring enough. That you will lose someone dear to you and not be able to handle the grief. People numb out with fear. They get busy instead of confronting their problems. I would say “I can handle it.” Then one time my cousin asked me, “But WHY? Why would you want to?” What if you got still and let your heart handle it, with compassion for yourself and others to sit with the problem until a solution arises? Maybe you don’t have all the information or the answers right now. That is okay, uncomfortable, but ok. The courageous, brave thing to do, is to confront these fears head on, not back down. The only way through the problem is to go through it and hopefully learn from the process. Its okay to say I don’t know!
I was a single working Mom and my schedule was cobbled around my son’s schedule until he went off to college in 2001. 9/11 happened 3 weeks after Matt left, then Dad died, then Florence died, who was like a mother to me and our favorite dog died. I was adrift and lonely. My heart cracked open at the loss of the people I loved. My head couldn’t make sense of it. The journey from my head to my heart pushed on, dragging me along too, in all my confused sadness.
Things were getting stale for me in Tucson and I needed a change. I was having a difficult time creating a solid relationship. Something was missing though, all my self-analysis wasn’t getting me to happy or even to content.
The Next Step in the longest Journey was a move. Nothing like a change of place to shake things up. I decided to move to Hawaii, just pick up and try it. I moved from Tucson Arizona to Hawaii all by myself, without really knowing anyone, it happened gradually in 2003.. I put all my stuff in storage and rented my house. Why Hawaii?
IN 1963 my family had spent 2 months in Kailua on Oahu visiting my mother’s best friend’s family and my godmother. I loved it. I spent my allowance on books on Hawaii: the history, the plants, the trees, and the culture. I soaked it up. The house we rented had plumeria trees. I remember smelling the fragrance of the flowers and thinking that’s what heaven must smell like.
My love affair with Hawaii continued in my 20s and when we went yearly to Kauai. One summer, several of us rented a house on Kauai close to Spouting Horn west of Poipu. This was adjacent to the Allerton Estate, which has now become the nationally renowned Allerton Botanical Garden. I would sneak in there every afternoon around 4 and try to avoid the gardeners. I took the path along the cliffs overlooking the ocean. It was an extraordinary, magical place full of private outdoor rooms all created with trees, bushes and flowering, fragrant plants. I was enchanted and amazed.
Things fell into place for me very quickly on the Big Island in Kona. A friend of my cousin has a coffee farm with a little apartment I could rent. I met another new friend at a yoga class, who turned out to be a friend of a tennis friend in Tucson. I had been a real estate broker for years in Tucson, but wanted to try something different. The neighbor who lived next-door offered me a job facilitating the committees at the Kona Kohala Chamber of Commerce. I met community leaders. I could go in the ocean all the time and had great fun playing tennis.
I was far from Tucson where I had lived for 35 years and had deep, long friendships. I hadn’t had to work hard to make friends in a long, long time. It was a Muscle I had not used. I realized I needed to start reaching out to people. I needed to be very open and welcoming. Vulnerable to strangers. This was so very hard, Finding common ground, things you like to do together, asking people to meet you, not taking it personally if they said no. More fear came up around this. I was used to being respected for my accomplishments in Tucson in land conservation and in leadership in the environmental community. I had to re-earn this respect in Hawaii.
After much analysis, I realized it was again about not being good enough. This leads to the need to be heard, recognized and to get attention. Intellectually I realized that I was not perfect, but why did that matter? Was I unlovable? Maybe I was out of whack. My heart cracked open a bit further and as I continued the journey from my head to my heart.
I devoured self-help books. One of my favorite gurus was Gary Zukav who said, “Until you can turn to face your own fears, you will be a prisoner of them… Intimacy is trusting that the universe will provide what you need, when you need it and in the manner most appropriate for you.”
I even came up with data! Over the years, I have been fascinated by the Meyer’s Briggs Assessments. I was pretty consistently an ENTJ which means Extroverted, Sensing, Thinking and Judging. I wondered why I frequently felt like a duck out of water, and realized less than 1% of women in the world were ENTJs. Over the years I had a fascination with this assessment and oddly circled back to retake it about every 5 years. Fast forward 5 years and the Meyers Briggs is starting to become more and more weighted toward becoming an INFJ which would be an Introverted, Sensing Feeling and Judging. The Extroverted / introverted part was evenly split. I am an ambivert- new word. Thinking/ Feeling part was almost split evenly too, but more thinking. I was making progress on the long 16” journey from my head to my heart. How ironic that I would choose to analyze my progress with a measuring tool… head centered. Also ironic, when stepping back to observe what was happening with me, I discovered that I started using different language when talking to close friends and family. Words like heartfelt, heartbroken, accompanied phrases like “it hurts my heart” and “from the bottom of my heart” I started collecting hearts. Even the language cracked open my heart along my journey.
Whoever is in charge, has a sense of humor to show us the lessons we need to learn. I became more vulnerable and more empathetic, which tends to break your heart sometimes. Lucky for me, I ended up in California where I could get help with my achey- breaky heart. My heart really was broken! I needed 3 ablations to solve the electrical problems and 4 stents to solve blockages. I needed a pacemaker to keep the rhythm of my heart. Amazingly, the blockages of the arteries hadn’t shown up on stress tests or echocardiograms. Was this me hiding my emotions? I have always believed that everything happens for reason and it certainly seemed that my fleet of Guardian angels were out in full force giving me heartfelt care.
Through all these contractions and expansions I have grown. It’s a bit like your beating heart muscle. Nerves hit the heart with an electrical impulse and it contracts, when there is no impulse the heart relaxes and fills. I found it was time to bring things back into balance. To balance my head with my heart. To know when the heart should lead and the head should follow. To live a Conscious Life. To be present. The realization was that the balancing never gets fully achieved, it goes on and on the great see-saw of life. Maybe your time on earth is finished when you finally get it right.
As Maya Angelou Said, “I learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. … I learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I challenge you to take this long journey, the 16 inches from your head to your heart and see what you learn along the way. It’s the work of a lifetime.
These words are from Ram Dass:
“ To live consciously you must have the courage to go inside yourself to find out who you really are, to understand that behind all of the masks of individual differences you are a being of beauty, of love, of awareness.
☽When Christ said, “The kingdom of heaven is within,” he wasn’t just putting you on. When Buddha said, “Each person is the Buddha,” he was saying the same thing.
☽Until you can allow your own beauty, your own dignity, your own being, you cannot free another.
☽So if I were giving people one instruction, I would say work on yourself. Have compassion for yourself. Allow yourself to be beautiful and all the rest will follow.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
– Marianne Williamson
Questions to ponder and discuss
- Are you more in your head or your heart?
- So you make decisions based on facts or trust your “gut” reaction?
- Does instinct play a part in decisions?
- Are you a perfectionist?
- What are your erroneous assumptions?
- Do you have unstated expectations that make you resentful?
- Do you “should all over yourself?”
- Take the challenge: Take the longest journey from your head to your heart.
REMEMBER… we are all part of the ocean. To watch this in a video go to: start at 36 minutes if you just want to hear the talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07qEBowSuXA&t=2233s