I’ve been thinking about these words:
“Listen to yourself; Know what makes your heart sing.”
That’s a chapter title in my book, The Art and Spirit of Leadership. And since almost always when I write something, I have learned that I am supposed to pay attention to it myself, I’ve been thinking about it.
I must admit that I don’t know where that title came from. One day it just popped into my mind. And it kept returning. As is my practice as a poet, I took note of it. I listened. And I continue to ask myself what it has to teach me. What it asks of me. What does make my heart sing? And what does that song ask of me?
This time of year, the beginning of January, is often a time to set goals for ourselves, to create targets we want to hit. Yet perhaps we should instead make this a season to listen to ourselves, to know what makes us feel most alive, what makes our heart sing. Not an easy matter to sort that out. Often we stay too busy to take stock in this way. Sometimes we are too busy with what made our heart sing, once, and has become a habit. Or we are too busy struggling against various challenges. Or we are so committed to a great cause, that we don’t have time for listening to ourselves—it seems like selfishness in the face of a great cause. Or we are living with limitations that seem to constrain our ability to act on what makes our heart sing. Or we are afraid that if we admitted what made our heart sing, we’d quit our job, throw in the towel, leave the house that needs a new roof, and head off into another life, leaving behind some kind of irresponsible chaos. The singing heart doesn’t counsel irresponsibility. It isn’t a command to seek a different life, but news about the life we have.
A ways back somebody asked Johnny Mathis how long he planned to keep singing. Now 77, Mathis has been singing for 56 years. He said “I don’t think about retiring. I think about how I can keep singing for the rest of my life. I just have to pace myself.”
I think this pacing notion is important for each of us, not just for those like Johnny Mathis who have reached the third thirty years of life, but all of us. Those who need to think about the place, and the pace, of what makes our heart sing. Who need to think about the way that our heart’s song might serve, here and now, at this point in our lives. Why? Because whatever our circumstances, the energy of the singing heart is a wondrous resource in meeting each day.
In the last couple of days I’ve watched two videos that point to the power of this resource. The first is about a group of older Taiwanese men, constrained by health challenges and mourning the loss of their loved ones, who decide to take a motorcycle trip around Taiwan. The second is of a man in ill health, with few resources who decides to take his meager resources and buy harmonicas for children, and give them lessons on how to play them. And of course many of us know the story of the African pilot who loses his job when the airline goes out of business, and decides to start a symphony in the Congo.
These ask of us how throughout our lives, every day, we can keep close to us the threads, the themes that make our heart sing. For me those threads have always been time in nature, a view of the water, wonderful conversations, quiet, music, friends and family. It’s different things for each of us. For the older men in Taiwan, it was motorcycles. For my brother, it is messing around with wooden boats.
Interested in pursuing this a bit further?
Ask yourself what moments, perhaps only tiny moments, in the past day or so have made your heart happy. What does that tell you about yourself? About what you long for, what brings you joy?
Keep an eye open for more of those moments, and lean into them. Keep a log of them and see how many you can find in your life.
Tell those around you (why keep this a secret?) about those moments, no matter how brief, that touch your heart’s song. They, too, can bring more of them to you.
Have conversations with others about what makes their own heart sing, when are they most alive.
And when the things that no longer make your heart sing, that did once, but don’t now, show up, take a breath before you say yes to them out of habit. Practice a graceful declining where you can, so that more time opens up for the heart songs of this time in your life.