Spirit Leaves: Residence in the Heart


red-feather-wideWhen we first feel romantic attraction, a resonant pulse like the beating of wings flutters over the chest. When someone insults us, a stinging flood surges through the heart. Intense emotions throw us for a loop — they take away our sense of control. No wonder we often want to escape the heart and live in the mind. Why do we not, instead, find the courage to remain in the heart, our true core? After many winters, I recognize that living in the heart affords a full and authentic existence.

I began as a loving, shy, compassionate child. I was tall, with liquid brown eyes and an adult’s mind. A girl in my sixth-grade class carried a portable typewriter to school each morning. She lived directly across from the school in a brick row home. Still, there was a long sidewalk and large schoolyard to traverse, and the diminutive girl struggled to bear her cargo’s weight over the distance. Joyce was short, so the box with the brass closure nearly brushed the ground. I watched as she shifted the weight of the cumbersome object from hand to hand, sighing heavily.

One morning I said to her, “I’ll carry your typewriter. I’m tall.” Reluctantly, she handed it over. She hardly spoke a word after that as I greeted her and carried her typewriter each morning. After two weeks, I went to pick her up and extended my hand to receive her burden, but this time, she said sternly, “No. I’ll carry it myself. Wendy said you’re stupid to carry my typewriter.” Wendy was the most popular girl in the sixth grade.

Previously full of good intentions, I felt saddened and ashamed. My heart was broken.

I nevertheless proceeded through the next several decades of life in a similar manner, kind to others because it was natural for me to do so. I wasn’t acting from some principle or demonstrating random acts of kindness: I lived from the heart, which always knew the right path.

My sophomore year in college, I fell in with a group of rather dark, brooding and brilliant artists. I quickly learned to hone the qualities of arrogance and shrewdness. I was initiated into an elite circle of “A” students. The English professors doted on us; we were literary aficionados who fed their passion for teaching. We wrote brilliant papers, shared music and poetry. Now notorious, I excelled in literature, art and theatre. I played Feste the Clown in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. I was high on my own persona.

Two failed marriages, several jobs and many homes later, I would arrive at the point where I had started. My focus returned to the spiritual. I had never really left it completely; rather, I had become caught up in the distraction and self-possession of an insecure person in her twenties. All that I had deemed vital to an impressive life — academic prowess, theatrical talent, artistic ability and social approbation — now seemed horribly trivial and unworthy.

Living from the mind is a grand deception. Selfishness erodes the spirit. During my extended stay in the brain, I was consumed with arrogance and judgment toward others. My soul was frozen. It was upon making the conscious choice to move back into the infinite space of the heart that my spiritual journey accelerated.

My goals have been redirected from personal appearance and acquisitiveness toward the cultivation of an affinity with all beings: yellow monarchs zigzagging through a powder blue sky; stately woodpeckers querying a wet burgundy branch for insects; frenetic squirrels scampering across frozen snow — all of these are literally my relatives.

I feel compassion for the misfortune of others, rather than rejoicing that it is not my own. I send only positive intention toward the friend who has misused my good will. How could I wish for anyone to feel the same heart pain of the 11-year-old girl, betrayed by the very friend to whom she had been so kind?

In living from the heart, I am able to be a more positive influence upon all other beings; and ironically, I selfishly gain the benefit of true happiness within.

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Janet Michele Red Feather, J.D., M.A., is a ceremonial singer who has learned over 60 traditional songs in Mandan and Lakota and sings in nine different languages. Janet was a full-time defense litigator in California for nearly eight years. Her life changed significantly after she traveled to North Dakota in 1993 to fast and pray for a way of life. A regular columnist for The Edge, she has also appeared in Psychic Guidepost, FATE Magazine and Species Link. Her book, Song of the Wind (2014, Galde Press), dealt with her experiences as an empath, and her journey through Mandan spiritual culture. She is currently a full-time, tenured English faculty member at Normandale Community College, having taught Composition and Literature for a span of 20 years.


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