Intellect: friend or foe?



I am doing my Ph.D in neuroscience, and my intellect is my greatest strength and my very worst enemy! I have a deep love and connection to Babaji and Yoganandaji and I feel an intense yearning for liberation. However I tend to over analyze everything. Eg. when a spiritual teacher advises me, I tend to constantly question their true motive and I get scared that I may be sucked into a cult ! My intellect will not allow me to follow my heart..I feel hopeless sometimes..can you please help me

—Ashwin, Canada


Dear Ashwin:

It feels to you that your head and heart are in conflict, but in fact, reason follows feeling. This is one of Paramhansa Yogananda’s precepts. Analyze yourself sensitively and you will find it is always true. Whatever the predisposition of the heart, reason will support it.

That is why highly intelligent people can be so blind sometimes about situations that are obvious to others. Such people are so accustomed to trusting the intellect above all other forms of perception, that they don’t notice at times how prejudiced the mind can be.

So what you have, in fact, is your heart at war with itself. You love and you also fear. The fear is a feeling first; the reasons come afterwards. Your mind is agitated by your anxious heart and fills your awareness with mental chatter.

Swami Kriyananda once said people speak about meditation as calming the mind. Actually, meditation is calming the heart. For when the feelings are still, then the mind also comes to rest. And calm feeling is the doorway to intuitive perception.

What I suggest is that you practice experiencing life through your heart in ways that are less frightening than the idea of being drawn into a cult.

Create relationships that can’t be run by the intellect. Spend time with babies and young children, or elderly people, animals, even plants, and flowers. Learn to dance, sing, or play music. It isn’t about becoming highly skilled; it is about giving you positive, heart-centered experience so you can get to know – gradually to trust – that side of yourself.

Devotional spiritual practices would also benefit you, especially chanting. If you don’t already have a harmonium, perhaps you could get one and learn to play it. But don’t wait; start right away with recorded chants. But don’t just listen passively, learn the words and melodies and sing along. If you sing badly, then sing in private, but put your own voice into it.

You might not feel uncomfortable at first, doing things that engage your heart, but the whole point is to explore unfamiliar territory.

I don’t know what spiritual teachers are advising you, or what advice you are afraid of, but for the time being I suggest putting it on a shelf. Don’t throw it away, just move it out of the center of your consciousness. Don’t let it define your spiritual life.

After you have more experience living from the heart, look at that advice again. When your feelings are calm, your reason will see the situation quite differently.

Nayaswami Asha