How is your heart?

By Ingrid Fetell Lee

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If you’re like me, when people ask you the question, “How are you?” sometimes you end up replying with a sigh and saying, “I’m soooooooo busy.” It may seem like an innocuous response. But “busy” does something to us that’s not actually too healthy: it makes us overly focused on what we’re doing, rather than how we’re feeling and experiencing the world. It works as an excuse for bring frantic or late or inattentive to others. And (worst of all, from this writer’s perspective), busy crowds out joy.

Think about it: when you’re busy, you don’t have time to stop and smell the roses. When you’re busy, you don’t have time to play in the park. When you’re busy, there’s no aperture in your life for spontaneity or silliness or celebration. When you’re busy, all those joyful things become work. Busy doesn’t give any pleasure and it doesn’t make any memories. It is an expenditure of energy with little apparent reward.

Busyness is easy to get under control if you know where to look. I learned a lot about this from a wise coach, and here is her excellent advice on the subject. (I don’t always get it right, but I’ve gotten better.) Today I came across a new idea for taming “busy” that I hadn’t heard before, in a piece by Islamic studies scholar Omid Safi called “The Disease of Being Busy.” To him, it comes down to the question we ask of each other in the first place.

In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is your haal?

What is this haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” When I ask, “How are you?” that is really what I want to know.

I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Examine your own heart, explore your soul, and then tell me something about your heart and your soul.

It’s not about the words themselves, though having that question baked into the language certainly helps. He’s saying: Ask about feelings, rather than doings. What a wonderful question to be asked—it signals to me that someone really cares, and isn’t just asking for courtesy. And I love this idea that we can prompt each other to shift our focus away from the errands and the inbox towards what really matters for each of us.

So, dear reader, how is your heart this morning?

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My heart would be happy, I think, if I imagined it covered in tiny flowers, like the one in this sculpture by Camila Carlow, who sculpts internal organs out of foraged vines, buds, and berries. (Though to be honest, it’s the lungs that really steal my heart.)

Link: On Being: The Disease of Busy
Images: Camila Carlow via DesignBoom. Prints available here.

November 10th, 2014


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    Discussion (6 Comments)

  1. Sherry Crowson on November 11, 2014

    Those sculptures are wonderful! And I’m with you, the lungs are really amazing! Think of the word . . . inspiration, breathing in. Lungs with such lively colors and tiny blooms would certainly bring you a new kind of inspiration!

    My heart this morning is struggling with clouds, meteorologically and metaphorically . The weather is changing, what is now a warm muggy morning with clouds and still air, will soon give way to a 20 degree drop in temperature, wind and rain and cold. My kids say I am solar powered, and I have to agree with them. When the weather is cloudy and there is little sun, I find my heart longing for heat and light. They tease me because even in the summer, because the air conditioning is always on here, I go out and sit in the truck to bake in the heat, warming my bones. The prospect of winter, even the mild sort we have here in the way South, is enough to knock me off my usually cheerful path into some darker woods.

    1. Ingrid on November 13, 2014

      I’m with you! Clouds just seem to weigh on me – I definitely need sunshine in my life. I was feeling down last night and this morning when I woke up and saw the sun everything seemed better!

  2. Susan Douglas on November 11, 2014

    Thank you for bringing your blog back to life! Really enjoyed the images and the sentiment of ‘How is your heart?’ A great meditation to start the day with 🙂

    1. Ingrid on November 13, 2014

      Thank you, Susan! Your comment my made heart feel happy 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. Monique van Gent Sidy on November 12, 2014

    So happy you are back!

    1. Ingrid on November 13, 2014

      Thank you, Monique! Nice to see you here again 🙂


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