Here are some notes I made regarding the role of the heart in nondual spiritual teachings:
One of the problems with talking about the heart is that we need to define what we mean by heart. It is so often thought to be feelings, or emotions. But “follow your heart” doesn’t mean follow your feelings, such as your anger, jealousy, hatred, guilt, or sadness. As everyone intuitively knows, following your heart means following the feelings that come from your deepest Self: feelings of joy, love, peace. And yet, we talk about a broken heart. However, the broken heart is not the spiritual heart but refers to the human heart and human feelings, for the spiritual heart is not affected by the events in life.
Opening the heart is opening the spiritual heart. When the spiritual heart opens, you feel joyful, relaxed, at peace, loving, content, at one with life. This happens to everyone, sometimes many times a day or, for some, only occasionally. After awakening, when that awakening includes the heart, then the heart is open much of the time. Instead of being an occasional experience, it is more of one’s ongoing experience. In short, when you awaken, your heart opens; and when your heart opens, you awaken (at least momentarily). Awakeness and the heart are the same thing. Devotional practices are a means of opening the heart before awakening and getting to know what that experience is like. After awakening, devotional practices are a natural celebration of an already open heart.
We also need to define what we mean by mind. The egoic mind (the voice in your head) creates the illusion, the false self, what we need to awaken out of. Another aspect of mind is, of course, our intelligence, which we use to inquire into the egoic mind to discover its falseness. We use our intelligence to unravel the egoic mind, that which is false about our thinking. This is what spiritual inquiry is about. Inquiry is an important part of awakening, because unless we can step back some from the egoic mind instead of being identified with it, we will remain under the spell of the false and fearful thoughts of the ego.
When the falseness of the egoic mind is seen, that is an awakening of sorts, a waking up out of the mind: You see what is not true, what you are not. With further spiritual unfoldment and deepening, the spiritual heart opens, and you come to know what you are, which leads to a natural outpouring and embracing of life.
Waking up out of the mind is characterized by a sense of witnessing, which can feel detached from life: Awareness is witnessing what it is witnessing, but not one with it. When the heart opens, on the other hand, it is an experience that you are everything and not apart from anything. In my experience, this experience of unity and oneness began as just a taste of being everything, and then that gradually became a fuller and deeper and more pervasive experience of unity, but still quite subtle. Waking up out of the mind frees you from form, what some might call the Illusion, and opening the heart makes it possible to embrace the world and be an expression of love. When the heart is open, love and devotion for life naturally flow from you.
The more we see through the false self, the easier it becomes to experience our true nature (i.e. the spiritual heart). Awakening involves waking up out of the mind—seeing the truth about the mind, the false self—and then the potential exists to discover more deeply what the truth is, which lies in the experience of the present moment or what some call the heart.
There can be a point in one’s spiritual growth where someone has seen through the false self but has not seen very deeply into the truth about reality. Some people have deconstructed the false self and seen that it is false, but they haven’t experienced the depth of the truth that would open the heart and cause them to fall in love with life and all creation. That is true devotion—the state of being in love with all creation. It is what we feel when we are in touch with our true nature and its qualities: love, peace, contentment, wisdom, and acceptance.
Someone can be kind of stuck in between the mind and the heart—they have seen what they are not but not what they are. When you have only seen through the false self, there is a tendency to distance yourself from life. That realization isn’t integrated into life, and you don’t know how to live or fit in very well. Once you’ve seen more deeply into the truth, though, and not just seen through the false self, you fall in love with life and all creation, and you know how to move in life. The heart must be open to be integrated in and embrace life. If only the mind has been opened/freed, you may not be integrated in life. You may see life as an illusion, something to transcend.
Devotion is natural when you have some connection with the subtle realm, including other dimensions, because you know the magnificence of life and you know and feel the love behind life. Then the only response possible is love. When you see the truth about life, that naturally evokes love and devotion. Love and devotion are the same thing. If you practice devotion, you are inviting/evoking the experience of love, of your true nature. When you experience that often enough, you become familiar with it, begin to long for more of it, and move more and more toward it in your life.
One of the ways to facilitate awakening is to do practices, such as chanting, meditation, and prayer that make it possible to experience your true nature and its qualities: love peace, unity, compassion, wisdom. Spiritual practices practice what those who have awakened do naturally. These practices help establish you in the spiritual heart. The more experiences we have of the spiritual heart, the easier it becomes to live from this place. At a certain point, through Grace, you awaken and find less need to practice, because you live from the place of the heart. When you do meditate after awakening, it isn’t a practice as much as a desire to go more deeply into the place of the heart and explore it.