Have you ever been wracked by a decision in which your head and your heart seemed at odds? Perhaps a good friend told you to “follow your heart,” offering a nourishing counterweight to ruthless reasonableness in a world that can feel heartlessly over-analytic.

The heart is a treasured advisor, but sometimes its impulses come with a shadow.

It may be deliciously fun to run away for a weekend on a whim, but certain decisions we make, like a marriage or an adoption, trigger lifetime consequences. Following your heart has sparked great romances, but has also led people into marriages doomed to failure, resulted in financial decisions that precipitated ruin, and encouraged people to listen to their basest emotions heightened by manipulative hatred, leading to some of the world’s worst genocides.

Your heart, unquestioned, can lead to fairy tales where you can be swept away by the happy ending and never ask who had to clean up after Cinderella’s ball.

When it comes to big decisions, I believe “Think with your heart” beats “Follow your heart.” Listen deeply to your heart, and then bring what you learn into a dance with reason.

A heart that can think

It appears your heart has its own ways of thinking, physiologically. Researchers at the Heartmath Institute are exploring (very cool stuff) how the heart is more than a mechanical blood-pumping machine. According to their studies, the heart is the body’s largest organ of perception. The heart actually sends more information to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. The heart tells your brain what to do even as your brain sends direction signals to your heart.

Since your heart does its own version of thinking, it shouldn’t be too much to occasionally ask it to join forces with facts and reasoning, especially in service to a good cause.

This weekend I needed my heart and my reason to think together…

Anatomy of a decision

Can you imagine a gentle dog in need, helpless, hurting, and abandoned, without wanting to help? I can’t.

Last Friday, an email alert was sent out by the regional English Springer Spaniel Rescue America association (ESRA) informing members that a stray Springer, picked up in Seattle, was in bad shape and needed to be taken out of the Seattle Animal Shelter–asap. Traumatized already, he was doing poorly at the shelter. ESRA was working with the Shelter and they needed someone to pick up the dog and foster him until he could be checked out by a vet, and possibly adopted.

“I wish I could,” I thought, as I read the email. I knew that taking in a dog made no sense for my husband and me. We had already held a “Can we have a dog?” discussion over the New Years holidays. and reason, in the form of “no-dog-for-now,” won out.

But as I read about this gentle dog, named “Riley” at the Shelter, I felt heartsick. Why would anyone abandon such a dog?

My husband Steve, who understands my love of Springers, brought me back to reality. “Where will you ever find the time to take care of this dog?” and “Won’t he traumatize our old cat, Barry?”

Right. With his words, I lurched out of my sentimental, “Honey, can’t we do this” nostalgia and considered the realities. No, a dog didn’t make sense.

But as I described Riley’s conditions to Steve. I started crying…

The morning after

Sleeping on our decision, I woke up the next morning to the light of reason. I e-mailed the association and wrote “If you have another option take it. We’re too worried about our elderly cat.”

Decision made. Crisis averted. Except that by afternoon, I was still thinking about “Riley.” I e-mailed asking for some news about him (my downfall) and learned that he had been rescued from the shelter by a very kind, dog-savvy couple. But one of their dogs was attacking Riley so their home wasn’t working out. He still needed a foster home.

Dang.

Sunday morning

My husband and I reviewed the facts: Riley was mostly blind and deaf, very arthritic and geriatric. Maybe even senile. There could be other problems. Not your picture-perfect pet.

The clock was ticking. Action was needed, for Riley’s sake.

I looked at my husband, who didn’t say no, and called the folks who had pulled him out of the shelter to arrange a pick-up. They graciously drove him to our ferry dock, gave us a generous goody bag of treats for him, and then said a teary goodbye to Riley.

Then, with Riley panting like a steam engine with bad breath in the back of our car, we sailed back to the island.

Fairy tales don’t always come true

My husband and I reviewed the facts: Riley was mostly blind and deaf, very arthritic and geriatric. Maybe even senile. There could be other problems. Not your picture-perfect pet.

The clock was ticking. Action was needed, for Riley’s sake.

I looked at my husband, who didn’t say no, and called the folks who had pulled him out of the shelter to arrange a pick-up. They graciously drove him to our ferry dock, gave us a generous goody bag of treats for him, and even left us with a doggy mattress. With tears, they said goodbye to Riley.

Then, with Riley panting like a steam engine with bad breath in the back of our car, we sailed back to the island.

Fairy tales don’t always come true

In the heart-warming fairy tale version of the story I imagined, Riley would recognize me as his person, collapse into my arms, and start wagging his tail.

It wasn’t like that.

Riley has had trauma and needs time to trust. He is slow to cuddle and I’m not sure if his very arthritic tail will ever wag. It doesn’t matter. Every day he seems perkier and warms to us more.

In another fairy tale, doctors would find a fix for his more severe problems and Riley would rebound and have several good years ahead.

In the real world, we don’t know what will happen to him. The vet may decide that a “hospice” program of comfort care is what he should get, or that it would be kinder to euthanize him. (Ouch!)

In a fairy tale, my husband would fall in love with the little guy as soon as he saw him.

That one came true.

Why did we do it?

As the philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote,

“Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point.”

The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.

Our hearts may point us towards action, with an unseen logic, but then our actions depend upon working with the reality we encounter. Riley is changing our home life with his many needs.

As we plot his future care, we’ll need good facts, data, and solid thinking. Reason will be our friend, along with ESRA and our local vet.

What happens to Riley can’t be based on sentiment, but it can be informed by love.

Why did we do it?

As the philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote,

“Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point.”

The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.

Our hearts may point us towards action, with an unseen logic, but then our actions depend upon working with the reality we encounter. Riley is changing our home life with his many needs.

As we plot his future care, we’ll need good facts, data, and solid thinking. Reason will be our friend, along with ESRA and our local vet.

What happens to Riley can’t be based on sentiment, but it can be informed by love.

Does fostering a dog really matter?

Some would argue that in this world of so much extreme need, fostering a dog does nothing for the world’s problems.

But who knows?

Maybe anything helps that opens our hearts to love.

Our minds show us how to navigate the world and act. Our hearts? They open and break. And anyone who has loved an animal knows they can be heart-breakers.

But if Leonard Cohen (R.I.P.) is right, the cracks in our hearts will allow more light to get in to make the world, even in its darkness, a little brighter.

 

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