EngagePerspectivesWhen Our Heart and Mind Are Out Of Sync Can We Integrate?
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When Our Heart and Mind Are Out Of Sync Can We Integrate?

Mathematician, physicist and theologian Blaise Pascal lived just before what is conventionally thought to be the Enlightenment, or to some “the Age of Reason” (roughly 1685-1815). As this quote illustrates Pascal both anticipated the coming infatuation with reason and foresaw one of its blind spots. Namely, what does one do when one’s emotions are unable to be understood by one’s mind; when the way something feels and the way human processing on the heart level is out of sync with cognition.

Blaise Pascal, Lettres de A. Dettonville
Blaise Pascal, Lettres de A. Dettonville

The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.

—Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

Heart over Mind or Mind over Heart?

This disintegration of heart and mind can sometimes be cause for celebration. Often in literature, when one is in love, it is a good thing not to comprehend all of the emotions involved. Toni Morrison describes this in Beloved “Sweet, crazy conversations full of half sentences, daydreams and misunderstandings more thrilling than understanding could ever be.” Here the heart rules, and the mind is pleasantly left out.

In times of uncertainty and fear, however, many feelings can flood the heart which cannot be easily rationalized away or easily understood. The disintegration of heart and mind can feel jarring, frustrating and unsettling.

James Madison and many of our Founders, steeped in Enlightenment thinking, were wary of the “passions” especially for their power to be used by demagogues to disentangle people from their reason and allow for tyrannical rule. As discussed in The Federalist Papers and buttressed by ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, fear and anger were especially potent tools in the hands of a tyrant. Madison’s solution was to double down on reason and ignore emotions.

Integration of Mind and Heart

This brings up a complicated question. How do we integrate our heart and mind, while respecting the ways of each, not neglecting either, but not allowing one complete reign?

I think it is something that takes a lifetime to learn but one of the first steps is awareness. Knowing yourself and knowing what part of you is out of sync or taking up too much space. The other is patience with yourself. Knowing you might not understand everything you are feeling right now, and that is ok but telling your mind that you are “on it” and that you are seeking understanding; you do not plan on being carried away by a tide of fear.

Finally, clinging to something you know to be true. When I am in a difficult place I often remember another deeply uncertain time in my life. I was sitting outside near a pond with the man who later became my husband and we were deciding whether to take our relationship from friendship to something more. Throughout our conversation a person was walking around the pond wearing a T-shirt that said, “Hope not Fear.” Our conversation was emotional and I did not understand it but that t-shirt’s message gave me something to cling to in the uncertainty. Those three words continue to speak to me now.

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