Navigating By Heart

By Laurel Elstrom

On a break between meetings, my phone rang. Caller ID told me it was Joe, a former friend who had caused considerable pain and disappointment in the past. I paused. Should I pick up? “Don’t answer,” the mind said. “That guy is nothing but trouble.”

Then I checked in with the heart. I have been cultivating a habit of regularly consulting my heart. The heart’s response came as a feeling, and the feeling was a definite “yes.” I picked up. Joe was excited to tell me about the dramatic changes in his life and the new perspective God had given him. He missed our friendship. Couldn’t we get together again? He was sorry for the past and now recognized how precious our friendship was to him.

The mind said, “Turn away! Remember the money you loaned him years ago? Remember that he has never repaid a dime? Remember the lies, the cancellations, the disregard for your feelings? It makes no sense to put yourself in danger of further pain.”

The heart said, “Yes. There is more here for you.”

As soon as Joe regained my friendship, he reverted back to his old behavior patterns: lies, broken promises, cancellations, and selfish behavior.

“Why,” you might ask, “would the heart lead you down the same path? How can you trust the heart when it gives such foolhardy guidance?” I trusted the heart because I was standing in a new place, even if Joe wasn’t. Through this last interaction, I was able to expose and release remaining knots in my own conditioning. The heart knew that lessons remained with this person, and it wasn’t afraid of any feelings.

Mind and heart have different goals— that’s pretty obvious. The mind’s goal is simple: Maintain the experience of a vulnerable, separated identity in a fearful world. In my situation, the mind was afraid, but it also wanted to maintain my conditioning. It fed voraciously on this new fuel, obsessing, processing, and evaluating the situation.

But I am driven to live as the Christ. I am coming to rely on the heart as guide, no matter what. The heart has a completely different goal. Where the mind wants to separate, the heart seeks to join. It wants to know, to see, to experience, and expose everything. If something is in the way of wholeness, it seeks to investigate and release the chains. Its priority is wholeness, and while it knows our broken places intimately, it is never threatened by truth and is willing to accept all feelings and experiences—even pain.

The ego has created its own paltry version of the heart’s voice, founded on romantic and family attachments, inspired by stories and magical ideas of finally being loved enough, belonging, and feeling whole. The pull toward love is genuine, but the mind offers a shallow substitute for unity. This pseudo-heart is hallmarked by personal softness toward certain people, drawing us toward others whose conditioning complements and reinforces our own. We cling to the heart of special relationships because this version of love provides a separated self with a much-needed outlet for a kind of joining. Personal love is severely limiting. It is often painful and disappointing. This ego substitute for love is as close as a separated self can get to what it craves.

How is the genuine voice of the heart different? What is its nature?

There may be an unconscious idea that the heart is sentimental, forever giving and open. We may think that the heart has only one feeling, love. Upon investigation, however, we can see that the heart enjoys a full range of feelings. It is not limited to the mind’s idea of love.

Consider the life of Jesus, the example life of one who lived as the Christ. Certainly Jesus experienced that soft, accepting extension of joining we call love. He loved everyone—children, his disciples, friends, followers, even his enemies. But what other feelings did he demonstrate? What feelings did he experience while overturning the tables in the temple? How did he feel when he found his disciples in abject fear of a storm, after years of teaching them to trust? How did he feel when he was betrayed by those he loved? Didn’t he cry out on the cross for relief? Did he feel grief, anger, frustration, apprehension, and even agony?

The human experience includes a full range of feelings. Jesus was not a loving automaton, a kind of God-robot. He lived a full human life, with all of its drama and horrors, as well as its beauty. He embraced all of it, including his feelings. We are called to do the same.

The heart is not a one-dimensional guide, always responding the same way. The heart is our connection to the experience of Self in form. It seeks wholeness always. Wholeness means everything is included. Nothing is rejected. The heart is strong enough and expansive enough to bring every feeling, experience, and moment into its embrace.

When navigating a life in form, we can trust the heart’s guidance. Its voice is not hard to hear. Unlike the obnoxious, persuasive voice of the mind, the heart speaks softly, through feelings rather than words. Its voice is always present and can be accessed beneath the chatter of the mind. We can literally shift away from the mind and ask ourselves, “What does the heart want?” Then we listen and follow the guidance. If we get hurt, so be it. Hurt is welcome in the embrace. If we make a mistake, so what? That, too, is loved and accepted. We don’t assume the heart only wants sentimentality or sweetness. We allow the heart a full range of feelings as we courageously follow its guidance, no matter what the mind says. This is the way of the Christ, living life wide open.

Yes, Joe disappointed me yet again. But because I was open to all my feelings, our time together revealed my remaining defenses and expectations. What a gift this encounter brought! Until I saw it, I couldn’t release it. It is often in relationship that our most hidden issues are exposed.

I can release Joe from my life while seeing him with compassion, without fear or self-protection. He’s only me, after all, expressing through a different human filter, experiencing a different life of form, doing the best he can. I don’t need to play a continuing part in his drama (unless the heart directs), but I can respect his complex and difficult journey. My heart can include his brokenness in my embrace because his brokenness is my brokenness. The heart proves every time that grace is big enough to love every weakness, all the broken human places, and every beautiful, noble, and courageous heart.

Laurel Elstrom is a certified professional coach and a teacher of A Course of Love. She shares her reviews of ACOL chapters and offers additional support on her website, Among her current projects is a written work, “An Inquiry Companion to the Forty Days and Forty Nights of A Course of Love,” to be published in 2018. For more information, go to or contact

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Three Poems

By Elliott Robertson


#1: Please Read Hafiz Tonight

How can I stand in who I am?
How do I let Christ be?
I’ve hid my light for ages now.
No longer do I see.

How can I meet my holy Self,
the one who longs for One?
I’ll listen to the crickets chirp,
watch moon receive the sun.

I’ll listen to my cat’s request:
“Please read Hafiz tonight.”
She knows I love his gentle touch.
Each phrase erases blight.

I’ll kiss the poet and his pen;
I ‘ll nestle in his hair.
I’ll listen to him cry, “Let’s dance!”
and I’ll be free like air.

I’ll stand in who I am today.
With Christ, I’ll celebrate.
No longer shall I hide my light.
No more shall I debate.


#2: The Message of Hafiz

My cat is smart. She often says, “My friend,
let’s read Hafiz.” She listens to the sounds,
not to the words.
She feels the depth of holiness
that flows under each line.
She’s open to the radiance of God.

She’s suffering these days from wounds.
Dog’s teeth cut through her skin.
I give her medicine with lunch
to ease the pain.
She’s healing now–she’s getting well–
I’m glad, truly most glad.

Her wounds do not distract her
from the message of Hafiz.
Her ears are always perked,

her tail gently twitches
each time Hafiz whispers,
“God sees you–God adores you–
you are loved.”


#3: Inviting Hafiz

If I were to write a letter to Hafiz
I’d ask my cat to help me
figure out just what to write.
Would Mittens want to celebrate
the poet’s vision of God’s light?
Maybe she’d want to praise the sounds
that came from his huge heart.
“The melodies are bright,” I’ll write,
“My cat and I agree.
Please come to her sweet funeral.
It may be soon, for she’s not well.
I’m writing to you now, my friend,
Because I wanted her to have the chance
to say, “Hello, I love you,” ‘fore she dies.

Elliott Robertson was introduced to Hafiz, ACOL and ACIM about 10 years ago and takes joy in each. He is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia. You can contact him via