Does your Heart still Sing?

I feel that this may be the first of a few posts about ‘What makes our hearts sing?’. It is a multi-layered question with many possibilites.

We all have our own passions, many things can make our hearts sing, and for each one of us those things are utterly individual. Many of us work so hard to keep our 21st century ‘balls in the air’ that we have little time to listen to our hearts or think about what makes us joyous.

In one of his last presentations Steve Jobs said, “It’s the intersection of technology and liberal arts that makes our hearts sing”

I feel this may be true for many of us in 2012. I love my computer, my iphone, and I drool at the sight of an ipad, because these things give me access to a world of communication and wonder, information at my finger tips, always. I feel that technology like this a gift. Although sometimes our lives and stresses can make it feel like a curse, I can remember phones that were attached to the wall in the kitchen and long walks to the post office, and of course rewinding precious cassette tapes by hand. The way that technology in our own hands has opened up the world for us, giving us access to images and music, opinions, passions and new friendships that were beyond our pre-internet communities, even for those of us who love libraries. I’ve been using a Mac since about 2000 simply because of the way that the software flows. I love flow, for me things have to flow well for my creative self to get all fired up. When I chose Apple over another Windows laptop, it was mostly because I found the operating system colour set up of Windows 98 jarring and the aqua of Apple delightful. My heart hums a happy little tune when a creative project comes together on screen and the ‘magic’ works.

Anyway, these things are all personal taste. For those who are vehemently in one camp or the other, in the eternal Apple or Windows debate, all I can say is “at the moment I’m using Apple”. Looking at Windows 8 and all its brightly coloured blocks, I would expect that I’ll be an Apple consumer for the next little while (actually I don’t really consume apples as my stomach doesn’t much appreciate them unless cooked), but I have no more desire to tell you what screen you should be looking at, than tell you what else works for you. We are all different, all individuals, each of us has our own passions and just because Mahler or my MacBook makes my heart sing, doesn’t mean that yours has to respond the same way.

So, what does make YOUR heart sing? In times that many of us are finding difficult and stressful, is this even relevant? Does it matter?

Yes, it does and I will tell you why:

Most of us are heavily stressed by many things; work environments, job loss, financial worries, parenting, aging parents, illness, frustrations and thwarted ambitions, amongst many others. These things seem to us of primary importance and as we seek to manage our daily lives we forget the good stuff. We think that, when we have managed or solved these more pressing issues, then we will have time for pleasures and the things that we enjoy. But we need those things now.

As we strive to solve the day to day stresses we have become stuck in a “flight or flight” zone because we feel under threat – those things that stress us threaten our feelings of well-being and survival, our adrenalin streams through our systems and cortisol builds up, we push and push, we become tired and thready and continue to push, neglecting our bodies, believing that we will rest when our problems are finally solved, when the threat is passed. So, many are finding themselves exhausted, in poor physical state and depressed, yet the need to push on remains.

This fight or flight response is an essential primal survival mechanism. The speed at which we live our lives and the stresses and pressures that consume us lead us to forget or put aside the things which make us happy, but as we do this we become stuck in adrenalin fueled primal survival circles.

Many of us ‘take the edge off’ our tensions and feelings with food and/or booze. This isn’t the kind of pleasure search that I’m suggesting, not because I’m no fun, but because this doesn’t actually deactivate the fight-flight reponse, it just numbs it. As soon as you are too full to eat another mouthful, or you sober up, the fight-flight response is back on AND you probably feel a bit rough, or guilty, to boot. That is just a part of our stress cycle, and it’s not really helping.

When we do things that make us happy our brains fire neuro-chemicals that are healthy for us – dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and opitates. These then make you feel better and restore balance to your system. Dopamine is an anti-depressant, getting this to flow will help you cope, serotonin helps us get things in proportion and aids our self-esteem and oxytocin makes us feel loved and appreciated, whilst meanwhile it is anti-inflammatory and helps prevent calcification of the arteries. I think we all know what opiates do! Taking time out to do something that you enjoy is good for your mind and your body – it will slow down that fight-flight spiral and give you clearer perception of solutions and how to manage the things that stress you.

So, how do you recover passion and remember what makes your heart sing?

The simplest and cheapest start is to smile. Go on, have a go! Smiling actually triggers some of the good stuff in your brain, just the movement of your facial muscles causes this, so even if you feel grim and pissed off, take a calming breath and for one moment, have a go. Sometimes trying to ‘feel happy’ is a bit of a challenge, but this way you can trick your brain into making the good neuro-chemicals that will make you feel better.

Then, also very quick and free, be kind to someone. Do something nice for someone, this can just be a smile or a heartfelt compliment (yes you have to mean it or it wont work for you), a helping hand or a silent wish that someone has a good day or feels better – something positive for someone else – this will get your neuro-chemicals going – Yes, being kind to someone else is scientifically proven to be good for YOU.

Then, list five things that you are grateful for. Dr David Hamilton calls this ‘A Gratitude Intervention’. If listing five things is easy (and you may include ‘chocolate’), list ten and onwards.

The first three are the best way to start, but I can’t help throwing in my favourite selfish act of kindness – HUGGING. Give someone a hug. Chose wisely, don’t leave a co-worker completely stunned by your enthusiasm if this is not normal in your workplace, but find someone to hug. Hugging has become a lot more common place amongst friends in the UK. When I was little no-one hugged. Give it a go and let the oxytocin flow!

If you are feeling stressed, as I feel most of us are, then you wont re-discover your passions all at once, and your heart might have forgotten its favourite tune. But the first and vital step is to stop the swirling vortex that is ‘overwhelming stress’ – fight or flight. Allow yourself to feel a little of the good stuff, you can incorporate it into your busy life without losing any “work” time in your day, and if you do this every day for 21 days, whether you feel the benefit or not straight away, you will start to hear the hummings of your heart.

To be continued. Please leave your comments. Tell me what works for you.


Emma Curtis
Emma Curtis is an opera and concert singer on the international stage, a teacher, a master breatwork practitioner and a Shamanic minister and teacher. She has taught singing for more than 25 years and works holistically through counselling or coaching and really good vocal technique, to help people feel inspired and confident in their speaking and singing voices, to feel empowered and in control.

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