The big illusion at the center of modern life is the belief that you will be loved and happy if you are successful in your professional life – which is to say, if you make lots of money and become well-known in your field of endeavor.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for success. Be successful, by all means. Have a great job; make lots of money; be acclaimed in your profession; and have people admire you for what you do. All of that is good and important – even essential in the scheme of things. But don’t think that that’s going to lead to love. It won’t.

And if being loved, and loving another, is essential for your happiness – as it is for most of us – than it won’t lead to happiness, either.

How then do we make sense of this bizarre paradox at the center of our lives?  As everyone knows, there can be no real fulfillment in life without professional success, however one may define it. And to varying degrees, every one of us pursues that success, not only because it takes money to survive, but because we are driven to express our unique talents.  Why shouldn’t we be rewarded with lettuce and love for the good work we do?

Unfortunately, the love we receive for our work isn’t the kind of love that nourishes, or heals, in that uniquely personal realm where only intimate love suffices.  In fact, the over-emphasis on professional life leads us away from intimate love, and from deep contact with self and with spirit.

The challenge facing us today – as it has been throughout human history – is captured in a rather simple question: How can I find and fulfill my heart in this life?  That challenge has been made especially difficult because the path to such fulfillment has been hidden from us, and therefore neglected by most. In the absence of any clear map, we are forced either to search on our own, or succumb to the pressures of society, which, for many reasons, pushes us toward work and productivity. The potential tragedy facing us all is that we could give our lives to our work, we could pursue wealth and status, and in the process lose our hearts and the experience of love in the process.

The Gender Path

Our pursuit of love and fulfillment unfolds in parallel paths that are opposite in nature. One path is yang, the other yin. The yang path is filled with activity. It is the path of work and of doing. It leads us outward, toward the world. Indeed, it makes us want to change and shape the world according to an image or dream that we possess inside of us. It can be an adventurous path, or a mundane one, but it is always about your interactions with your outer environment.

The yang path can be called the Gender Path. Out of necessity, we are forced by the Gender Path to create an identity that helps us interact effectively with others, and with the world at large.  Thus, the Gender Path defines you as a specific man or woman to the world. It gives you a function, a role, and place in society.  The Gender path is full of labels – people say such things as, I’m a healer, or a teacher, or a lawyer, or artist, or a doctor, or a truck driver.

One of the dangers of the Gender Path is that you can become overly identified with your role in society, as opposed to your connection with yourself, with your own heart, and with Spirit or Source. In fact, you’re not a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher or a truck driver. You’re none of these things, even as you perform one or another of these roles in the world. But by over-identifying with any one of them, you can lose yourself in your role. When that happens, you are limited to being whatever you say you are, which makes you incapable of loving in ways that are outside the limits of the Gender Path.

When I was just a young man, perhaps 26, I had a conversation with the great Bill Dufty, author of Sugar Blues, Lady Sings the Blues, and You are All Sanpaku, written for George Ohsawa. I was only a few years out of college and still writing journalism, but I had a book I wanted to write – which was Recalled By Life, Dr. Anthony Sattilaro’s story of recovery from cancer – and wanted Dufty to help me get a publisher. Dufty, then already in his late 50s, didn’t know me and was reluctant. In an effort to persuade him, I blurted out, “I’m a writer.” 

Dufty paused in order to clear the air. For a moment or two, he said nothing. And then, in a voice that was a little exasperated, he said, “Don’t say you’re a writer. Just say that you write.” 

With those two little sentences, he stopped me dead in my tracks. And I never forgot what he said, because he managed to capture so much in that moment.  We are more than our roles, our titles, he was saying. We are more than what we do.

The Heart Path

The yin path directs us away from the world.  It turns us inward to the mysterious, the wild, the scary, the tender, and the vulnerable places of the heart and soul.  The yin path can be called the Inward Path or the Heart Path.  Ideally, the Heart Path leads us to the increasing experience of love, understanding, wisdom, and compassion. It leads us to our most essential selves. The Heart Path offers us the knowledge of who we are and what we are meant to do in life. Ultimately, it leads us to reunion with the Source.

On the Heart Path, we engage the world of feelings, intuition, and inner knowing. We examine our patterns and come to understand ourselves. We find the part of us that is suffering – the victim-hero archetype – and allow it to speak its truth. A little boy or girl inside of us, a mature man or woman within, wants to tell its story of injustice, suffering, neglect, and abuse.  It wants to tell its story of its dreams and ambitions. It longs to reveal the hidden talents that we came into the world with and still yearn to express. It wants to share its inner-world experience of every day life.  And in the wake of such sharing, it longs to be loved and understood.

This part of us has secret blessings to bestow. It isn’t just the story of loss, fear, anger, and longing. It’s a story of enormous talents, of great joy and inspiration, and of dreams that still linger and wait to be realized.

The Two Must Nourish Each Other

Like the two strands of our DNA, the yang and the yin paths are designed to create a dynamic balance between opposites. Together they generate life energy, while providing healthy checks and balances on the other side of our lives.  

The Heart Path is a well of insight, ability, and inspiration – all of which long to be translated into action. The Heart Path must become the source for the Gender Path in order for us to be fulfilled in life.  We go to the well within, drink of its waters, and act in the Gender role.  The yin way must be expressed on the yang path. Otherwise, the yin way becomes empty words, powerlessness, and unhealthy patterns designed to avoid responsibility for our lives.

Each path offers its own unique challenges, lessons, and essential rewards. By giving ourselves to the challenges posed by each of these opposing aspects of our nature, we become whole and integrated. In the process, we come to know who we are, and live by the dictates of the heart and spirit.

Here is an overview of the two worlds that must be balanced and harmonized if we are to find ourselves.

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If Love Is To Be Experienced, Balance Must Exist

Every path has its own illusions and dangers, and these two are no different. Those who become imbalanced on the Gender Path – and thus turn away from the inward journey — get more and more seduced by the illusion that they truly are the lofty image that others hold of them.

They become increasingly identified with their Gender role, which often possesses power and is seen in heroic terms. People see you in this narrow context – within the context of your work and performance. For them, that’s who you are – and all that you are.

Yes, friends, co-workers, students, and the cheering crowds think you’re great. “What a wonderful person he is,” they say. “She is so wise, so strong. I admire her so much.” 

But gradually and inexorably, the heart closes.  And with the closing of the heart comes a subtle and life-altering confusion. We no longer pursue love as much as we do authority and power. I’m not talking about the kind of power that has us claiming to be king of the world. I’m talking about the power one wields over one’s wife, or husband, or children, and employees, co-workers, clients, patients, or the person at the grocery store.

The greatest danger to arise from the one-sided pursuit of professional success is that it causes us to lose our heart, our capacity for intimacy, and the experience of genuine love.  Meanwhile, the ego becomes ever-more inflated by our status and place in our community.

Crisis is inevitable. We reminded of the flight of Icarus, who was given a set of wings by his father, Daedalus, but was told not to fly too high, or too near the sun, lest the wax in the wings melt and the wings come apart.  Icarus, young and arrogant, became intoxicated by flight and went too high and too near the sun. The wings disintegrated. He fell earth and died.

When the Gender role dominates our own lives, and the psyche, we experience our own fall from grace. Separation from your partner, divorce, excessive spending, financial crisis, drug and alcohol addiction, and illness are among the common ways in which the inner world rears up and creates a crisis that can return us to our senses, which is to say, balance.

The fall is different when we are dominated by the Inward Path.  Here, the danger is becoming preoccupied with inner world and own pain and suffering, to such an extent that we become self-absorbed, needy, powerless and ineffective in the world.   It is not the Heart Path, which is innately courageous, but a flight from action, a retreat from the adult world.  The current on such a path is to lead us deeper and deeper into mental illness.


For Intimate Relationships To Work, The Heart Path Must Be Traveled

Don’t expect your wife or husband, lover or children, to be satisfied with your Gender Role, or the impersonal love that flows from that part of your life. Your lover, spouse, and children see through your Gender persona and into your wounded heart, even when you do all you can to cover over that vulnerable part of your being. The great Swiss Psychologist, Carl Jung, said it best when he said, “No wife will ever see her husband as superman.” 

Whether they know it or not, every one of us who is in an intimate relationship seeks the Heart Path in ourselves and in the one we love. Even those people who are trapped in their Gender role seek the healing offered on the Heart Path. The problem for most of us is that we’re terrified of the uncertainty and vulnerability that lies on the Inward journey.

For those brave enough to walk the Heart Path, the work is delicate, sometimes scary, but offers many of life’s greatest rewards. In essence, we must begin by allowing the part of us that carries our heart’s story to speak. That part of us, which I refer to as the victim-hero, is the part of us that experiences our doubts, fears, vulnerability, hopes, joys, tenderness, and deep desire to heal.  This part of us contains not only our life story, but our innate desire to be heard, understood, loved, and healed. It contains the secret links between today’s struggles and the wounds inflicted in childhood. And in this place we are freed

Recently, a couple in crisis came to me for a consultation. He is a doctor and a surgeon who was raised by parents who never acknowledged their son’s accomplishments.  To this day, the father is largely indifferent to his son’s achievements, even implying at times that he is disappointed in the man his son has become. The son, whom I will call Bill, continues to pursue his parents’ approval, especially that of his father, whom Bill says he still loves and admires.

Bill, who is in his mid-thirties, is a dutiful and loving son, visiting his parents at least twice a month. On these occasions, Bill’s wife observes the parent’s rejection of their son and feels enormous anger toward Bill’s parents. Bill is aware of the rejection, but doesn’t process his feelings. Instead, he makes excuses for them, or merely goes into denial.

Bill and his wife are just recently married and though he was always respectful and loving during their courtship, he has lately become aggressive and angry for little or no apparent reason. His wife cannot understand it, but admits that she has become afraid of Bill, who is otherwise a passive and gentle man. Meanwhile, a new pattern has emerged at work:  Bill feels disrespected by his colleagues and supervisors. He admits that he feels smaller in his own eyes, and in the eyes of those with whom he works. As his feelings of rejection mount, his anger rises all the more. He comes home and takes it out on his wife.

Bill has a big Gender role in society, but a very troubled heart. He was trained to avoid the Heart Path, which is where his healing lies. The more he avoids his inner world, the more troubled his inner and outer life becomes.  His marriage is in trouble, and there is little chance of healing until he explores his own heart.

That exploration alone will begin the healing process. Eventually, he will have to take action on the basis of what he knows, but for the moment all he needs to do is start confronting and expressing the truths that live inside of him.     All his problems can change, but not until he is able to come into communication with his inner world.

That process begins by asking himself a few essential questions, starting with what he truly feels while in his parents’ company; why are they acting as they do; why does he respond so passively; what would he like to have happen in his relationship with his parents; what would he like to say to them; and is he prepared to risk the loss of their approval (even though he isn’t getting it now) so that he can speak his truth and gain his own self respect? 

The Heart Path is opened to us whenever we ask ourselves an array of questions that go directly to the heart.  We can ask ourselves these questions in private by simply writing them in a journal. We can also ask a healer or counselor to help us explore these and other questions. But we want real love in our relationship, we must endeavor to explore the heart with the partner we love.

Here are just a handful of questions that you and your partner can explore that will lead you on the Inward journey and allow you to explore your heart. When you consider any challenging area of your life, or any area of your life that you would like to change, or improve, ask and answer the following questions. Let you partner share in that exploration. You and your partner must not judge or blame each other while answering these questions. That will close the heart and stop the process. Instead, stay with your own feelings and do not transfer responsibility for whatever you are experiencing on to your partner. Here are the questions.

  1. What do I feel about [insert the situation you are considering; in Bill’s case, he would ask himself what he felt when he was with his father, and with his mother, and when he is at work]?
  2. Why am I feeling this way?
  3. What do I want?
  4. Why do I want it?
  5. What do I want to say to those who are involved with me in this situation? What is my truth? 
  6. What is the goal, or vision, that I want to create in order to make a better life for myself and those I love?
  7. Can I give myself the time to explore my feelings, and speak to those I respect, without having to take any action until I am ready?
  8. When I am ready, what actions can I take to improve the situation?
  9. What are my fears that may be blocking me from taking action?
  10. Can I live with the situation as it is, and be proud of who I am, if I do not take action to improve it?
  11. What may I be trying to learn from the situation I find myself in, and who is the man or woman I am trying to become?
  12. What actions of faith can I take to feel more connected to my Source and more spiritually empowered to become the man or woman I want to be?

Exploring these questions, and sharing our answers, will lead us inevitably into the heart and the source of our healing.