Are you guarding your heart?

A friend introduced me the concept of guarding your heart last year. She’d landed a new position, and over coffee she told me her husband had warned her he’d be checking in regularly. To see if she was guarding her heart!!

It caught my attention, being so unusual. After all, she’d just got something she really wanted: a great job. So why – when things should be awesome – would he be saying that?

Perhaps because he was smart enough to know that even good things bring challenges when they’re new territory. There’s a bunch of learning involved. And stretching.  New skills to develop. And, because no job’s ever perfect, disappointments were bound to surface along the way. He wanted her to know he cared, and he wanted her to be watching out.

His idea was based off an old proverb which goes,

Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life”

This concept of guarding my heart’s taken hold in my head. I can see the wisdom in it. It’s a version of working on your health. Only, the health of your emotional world rather than your physical body. So, I wondered if the same questions might help you, too. Here’s what I’ve figured out about guarding your heart so far:

Why focus on my heart?

Although technically our heart’s merely a muscle which pumps the blood around, symbolically it’s so much more. Our heart represents all we care about. It’s the source of our dreams and the place that we feel from.  We give our hearts to others when in relationships with them. The state of our hearts matter to us.

There’s also a strong correlation between the feelings in our heart and the thoughts running round in our heads. We tell ourselves stories to make sense of the emotions we’re experiencing. I suffer a setback, and feel disappointed. Then in my head I decide ‘I’m no good. It’s just not worth trying.’ The combination of the feeling experience and my end conclusion shrinks my expectations of what might be. I become a little bit smaller because of what’s happened to my heart.

The source of life?

I’m convinced this is where the ‘source of life’ idea comes from. When you’re feeling good, it’s as though everything about your life’s playing in 3D technicolour on a giant screen. The more you feel your disappointments and failures, the more life seems gray – or black – lifeless, and less inspiring. What’s happening in my heart impacts how I measure the quality of my life.

It goes even further. The state of our heart – in connection with the words and meanings we attach in our heads – has a direct correlation not only to the perceived quality of our lives, but also the health of our bodies. Happier people live longer lives, have better relationships and healthier bodies. Are you convinced that guarding your heart is is worth thinking about yet?

Guarding sounds somewhat antiquated…

Well yes, at first glance I thought that too. Images of castles and knights and old style battles was my starting place when I first thought about guards. Hardly relevant to 21st century living? But, then I thought about the bodyguards hired to work for important people, the armoured guards in the vans ferrying cash around, and the life guards on the beaches saving us from drowning. Each of them protects something valuable. And I decided – maybe the image wasn’t so bad.

Is this defensive?

Perhaps an alternative word to guard might be protect. Or maybe defend. Only, I suspect it isn’t merely a defensive thing we’re to do. Otherwise we’d be tempted to set up barricades – such as we’re inclined to after being hurt – and hide behind them. But I don’t want to live my life in fear. Do you?

So, while guarding your heart may have some elements of defence – say, recognising when you’re vulnerable and taking measures to be careful – I’m also thinking it’s proactive. Because I don’t wish to end up washed out, disillusioned and bitter, I’m going to figure out now some of the situations that might cause those things. Then I’m going to take steps to avoid contexts where they could happen. I’ll also put in some early detection processes, so it won’t take a crisis forcing me to react but rather a preemptive think which triggers a warning. Then I can try to head things off at the pass and minimise potential damage.

Ideas for guarding your heart

Rather than talking more theory, I thought I’d suggest five ways you could start guarding your own heart.

  1. Grab yourself a cup of coffee (or glass of water/something) and find a place away from others. For 5 minutes do a sober review of the current state of your heart. Overall, are you more positive or negative? Ask yourself if you’re happy about that.
  2. Do as above, only instead of considering your heart generally, think about the dreams you have. Do you have any – or has the craziness of life drowned out the quiet whisper of what might be? If you decide you’re suffering from a limited horizon, change that by making space for a dreaming session or two. Then record your new dreams and keep them somewhere close as a reminder.
  3. Review your key relationships, giving a green label to healthy ones, an orange for those which need some caution, and a red label for those which are dangerous. (I’m hoping you don’t have any of them!) Now you’ve identified any potential problems, what can you do to limit your exposure to those which can/do affect you badly? Minimising time with such people would be an obvious first step…
  4. Instead of relationships, do the same type of review around all the things you’re involved in, or the events that’ve been happening to you. Becoming aware of issues (or potential ones) gives you the power to choose whether proactively guarding your heart is necessary at this time.
  5. All the above suggestions are one-offs. But why not schedule ten minutes into your diary a month hence, and ten a few months after that, to review how you’re looking after yourself in this way? Go on, grab your phone and put it in today! (‘Are you guarding your heart?’ is the name I’ve put mine under!)

Just like nurturing a small plant, this idea will grow and build into something bringing good into your world. Here’s to happy and strong hearts everywhere!