Thursday, February 14, 2013

Follow your heart... but what kind of heart do you have?

“One ought to hold on to one's heart; for if one lets it go, one soon loses control of the head too.” 

Friedrich Nietzsche


I thought this might be a good day to talk about... matters of the heart, since it is Valentine's Day. Actually, this kind of ties in with what I was talking about in my philosophy class this morning. Today in class, we were talking about Nietzsche's distinction between slave morality and master morality. I started by talking about Nietzsche's critique of Christianity and duty-based ethics, which is heavily based on the Protestant Christian worldview. Basically, Nietzsche's view, as I understand it, is that modern morality (especially Kant's notions of duty and moral law), in attempting to get people to conform to duty and be dutiful beings, ends up constricting the spontaneous creative energies of individuals, so that people who might otherwise unleash their creative energies and create great things with their lives are being constrained and even enslaved by the prevailing moral norms and notions of duty, which Nietzsche refers to derisively as "slave morality." Thus, instead of expressing their creative drives, these individuals second-guess their creative urges, and more often than not, end up simply conforming to the slave morality that the rest of the herd is following. This, according to Nietzsche (and according to me), is a great tragedy of modernity.

Nietzsche doesn't say very much about how to resolve this tragedy of modernity. Although he speaks of a necessity for the creation of new values in place of the values of slave morality, he is not in the business of trying to come up with a new system of morality. After all, every individual is uniquely different, and something that might work very well to unleash and give full expression to one person's creative drives may very well end up constricting and becoming a slave morality for another. And Nietzsche certainly doesn't want to create a new slave morality in place of the old one. So the Nietzschean world is a very scary but also at the same time a very liberating one: Every person needs to go within herself, and discover for herself a set of values that best works for herself.

I have a feeling that to some people, this might seem like Nietzsche is just telling us to follow our hearts. And maybe, in a way, he is: If unleashing and expressing the creative drive is at the heart of what it is for somebody to be an artist and to live life fully, then one certainly cannot live life fully without following one's heart.

But here's a catch: A person who is enslaved by slave morality will always have the heart of a slave. So that if you simply tell an enslaved person to follow his heart, he will simply follow desires and wants that will reinforce his state of enslavement. If you grew up believing with all your heart that it is wrong to listen to or make certain kinds of music, your heart will always tell you to not make such music, even if you have genuine talent for it. So expressing your creative drive is not the same as--indeed, for many of us, it may be totally diametrically opposed to--following your heart. So as a piece of advice that people often give to others in times of crisis, "follow your heart" is overrated, and may possibly even have tragic consequences for humanity.

I don't know why I'm ranting about all this here. I seem to have more things to say these days about philosophy than about my Ashtanga practice. But then again, maybe I'm just following my heart :-)


Well, I think I do have something to say about Ashtanga, after all. I am heading out to Bozeman, Montana, in a little bit to go study with Randa for the weekend (see this post for more details). Maybe, if my heart tells me so, I will post about things I learn from her workshop. We'll see. 


  1. i, for one, enjoy some western philosophy folded into yoga blogging. if you would explain leibniz, hegel, and/or kant for us in a post it would be greatly appreciated, as i remember all of those guys being particularly dense. stand by for a musicological discussion in my next blog...

    1. Hello Patrick,
      I can explain Kant and Leibniz, but my knowledge of Hegel is almost zero (a result of an unfortunate omission in my graduate education).

      I look forward to your upcoming musicological discussion :-)

    2. what you call an unfortunate omission i would call a dodged bullet. hard to make a head or a tail out of hegel

    3. Yeah, I think you are right on Hegel. I actually know a couple of people who teach Hegel whose knowledge is based on secondary commentary (i.e. commentaries written by Hegel scholars). Apparently, his original writing is that dense...

  2. 'follow your heart' is very controverial nowadays. I had that thought (housewife's brilliant thought) lately that I must be very carefull with the things I think I like (or dislike), because I am not conscious enough. and I am not mature or modest... and I do indeed feel like: "A person who is enslaved by slave morality will always have the heart of a slave". very much, very true. my 3 years of practice are the most fruitful time to my self-developement. but also I keep on and on waking up from that searching-for-master dream, that would ease my life, take huge part of responsibility. I free myself from one 'master' and immediately replace it by another. and I also use yoga for it. I make my yoga practice a duty, primary series the only way to do yoga, every (and quite often occurring) exception - a sin. the mechanism suprises me every time, which proves that I am too sure of myself, unconscious and slaved in so many ways...
    so I think that there is a long way before me to get to the begining of the way :-) I will be doing yoga in a meantime, but I have to wait to get to the point where yoga would become yoga. this life or another...
    thank you Nobel for sharing that Ashtangaless (is that so?) thoughts :-)