Heart vs. Mind

心 kokoro

Heart, Mind, Spirit

Yesterday, I listened to a discussion of a book titled Coming to Our Senses. The author, Jon Kabit-Zinn said something that practically shocked me. He said that in many Asian cultures, heart and mind have the same word. I was so surprised, I looked it up to verify this was true. It is true. In the Japanese culture, that word is kokoro.

It was a surprise to me, because for most of my adult life, I have been aware that my thoughts are usually divided between my heart and mind. Typically, each comes up with its own resolution to the issues I am thinking about.

Thinking with my mind is thinking as an adult, using logic and organized, rational thoughts to come to a resolution. The decision is usually very black and white. When I think with my heart, I use emotion and desire, and the possible outcomes may be as varied as the colors of a rainbow. This internal skirmish happens so frequently in my decision making that I affectionately call it The Battle of Janice (Adult/Mind Thinking) vs. Yoiko (Child/Heart Thinking).

Being half-Japanese, I grew up hearing about many philosophies and traditions from my mother. So, I was surprised to hear that the Japanese have the same word for heart and mind – kokoro. There is such a distinct difference in the way my mind and heart thinks that it’s almost beyond my comprehension that the word for each could be the same.

Here are a couple of examples where Janice and Yoiko duked it out: (At least the ones I’ll make public.)

  1. When my daughter, Andrea, was about twelve, she wanted to go to a movie with a boy. Oh, did Yoiko want to let her go. She remembered the feeling of young love, the excitement of being in the presence of a crush, the desire to be like everyone else who got to go to movies with boys. But Janice knew Andrea was too young. Period. Janice won that battle, and Andrea thought she was the meanest mother in the world. Period.
  2. I have had relationships where these two have scratched and clawed at each other, usually for quite some time before one of them wins. Though Yoiko’s emotions (love, desire) fought a hard battle with Janice’s logic, in most cases, Janice won. The thing is, Yoiko is not a gracious loser, and she sometimes returns to the battlefield to push Janice off her victory pedestal.

Though this is getting a little silly, I hope you get the picture. I typically come to resolutions with my mind, as an adult. Like a child, my heart – Yoiko – isn’t always happy with those decisions, and she does not always go quietly into the night. But, there’s third player in this little game, and that is Life. The few times I have let Yoiko win her battles, Life has come to the battlefield . . . in the form of hard lessons.

How do you think? With your heart, your mind, or both? Do you have such internal battles? Or, am I crazy?

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27 Responses to Heart vs. Mind

  1. rochellewisoff says:

    I can relate to this. I’ve never given my inner child a name of her own but, I think, women in particular are more likely to decide with the heart. As an artist, I’m as far from pragmatic as you can get. And I’ve had those same battles with my sons.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jan.


    • janmorrill says:

      Thanks, Rochelle. I agree that women tend to think with their hearts. You should come up with a name for your inner child. It makes “the battle” a little more entertaining. 🙂


  2. mgmillerbooks says:

    Well, you’re not exactly…crazy 😉 I’ve followed my heart and I’ve followed my mind, and yes, the two often battle it out. But if I’d always listened to mind over heart, I’d never have experienced or been enriched by some of the very best things in this life.


  3. I’ve never gotten in trouble following my heart or my mind. Now my body . . . well . . . she has led me into trouble from time to time.


  4. Mendy Knott says:

    I would say my heart wins over my mind most of the time. However, the idea that the mind and heart are one and the same appeals to me and I want to know more, so I will pick up this book. I think we do relegate matters of the heart to childhood (childishness) more often and let the adult (mind) make the decisions. Somewhere “in that field where there is no right and wrong” (Rumi) perhaps the two shall meet and be at one. Thanks for this post, Jan. Came at a perfect time.


  5. The mind without heart is sterile. The heart without mind is sentimental. They are like two wings of a bird, and must be equal in strength or we may fly in circles or fall to the ground. We must nurture each daily, to grow in wisdom and compassion. I need to be sure to put that on my daily planner!


  6. rgayer55 says:

    Wow, I love Kimberly’s explanation of how the two work together to bring balance. Nuture them both, what wonderful philosophy 🙂


  7. Madison Woods says:

    Most of the time, my mind is terrified of what the heart dictates. If I had followed my heart, and allowed my mind to perhaps control the details instead of the decisions, I might have suffered less grief along the way. Decisions made from the mind might have been less frightening at the time I made them. I’m trying to listen to the heart more, because it’s a lot like the gut… usually right. And when I do make up my mind to follow my heart, they are of the same frame then.

    I guess experiences can differ based on how the mind has been trained. Mine was trained from very early childhood to fear much from the world at large.


    • janmorrill says:

      Madison, sometimes it amazes me how similar our life patterns are. Much of my fear comes from my mind, but I notice as I get older, I learn to follow my heart, somewhat in a more brave way. Whether or not I’ll ever be fearless, well, that’s a whole other blog post. 🙂


  8. Sharon says:

    Interesting. I love Jon kabit-Zinn. I think that it is all about balance, a little of heart and a little of mind, to make us whole and healthier. I remember when I worked in the corporate world, I read somewhere that neckties separated the head from the heart, making it easier for men to operate purely from their heads to make decisions. Guess we can see how that has turned out………………..


  9. Linda Joyce says:


    I love this post because it made me dig deep. I read it when you first posted it, however, since I’m ever the plodder, I had to mull this over.
    I believe the English equivalent for kokoro might be: Wisdom – a deep understanding with the ability to apply perceptions and judgments to actions.
    For me, I think with my mind and feel with my heart. Often, I will experience a heartfelt-emotion that my brain is not able to put into words as succinctly as I would like. Also, understanding may come from my intuitive sense.

    Domo arigato gozaimasu,
    Linda Joyce


  10. Mary Coley says:

    Jan, I’m with you – it’s heart and mind all the way. Usually the two of them come to a concensus, but not always. I am also a firm believer in intuition, which I think is the combination of the two!

    That said:
    I’ve nominated you for the Liebster Award. The Liebster is a pay-it-forward kind of award, meaning that now that you’ve received the award, you can pass it on to others. The rules are as follows:

    1)Thank the person that gave you the award in a post on your own site
    2)Nominate up to five blogs with less than 200 followers
    3)Let the nominees know they’ve won by leaving a comment on one of their posts

    Add the Liebster image to your blog (you can cut and paste it from http://londoneats.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/liebster-award) so all your readers know that you are generally awesome

    *Note: There is no general committee that bestows this award. It’s just a recognition from one blogger to another for how awesome they are. Kinda like a really big Internet hug! Congrats!


  11. Mustang.Koji says:

    A tardy chime in… 心. Indeed, when I messed around with shuji (calligraphy), kokoro was one kanji I practiced on. In Japanese society, it is the driving force. At least amongst the older generations. Its what got many of them through war… And no, you are not crazy. Or maybe you are being part Japanese. 💜


    • Jan Morrill says:

      Better late than never, Koji! I was fascinated by the concept of kokoro, and after finding the kanji character and reading about the philosophy, I understand why. 🙂


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