If you could see your heart, you would see what fulfills your life. Here's a glimpse of what's inside you.
I can vividly recall my first encounter with the heart during my early laboratory explorations of the human form. As a budding anatomist, I had many assumptions and preconceptions, and when I finally came face to face with the inner space of the body that I was exploring, I was taken aback. Behind the chest wall, I saw the two lungs on either side of a central mass covered in a fibrous membrane—a physical trinity, completely motionless. And in the very place where I felt myself to be most present and alive, in the cadaver, I perceived nothing—an empty place.
The stunning miracle of life is often overlooked until the dead are witnessed. And if there’s one thing that separates the dead from the living, it is movement. The heart is at the very core of our life, and in our hearts, we are always moving. Give yourself
a few moments to feel the truth of that statement. Lying down or seated, breathing without effort, relax, and allow yourself to notice the sensations generated from your heart. When you are thoroughly relaxed, you will find that your heart’s motion will actually be visible, gently rocking your whole body with its pleasurable pulsation. Literally 100,000 times a day, our hearts are leaping within us.
Life is Relentlessly writhing inside our chests, rhythmically drumming every cell in our bodies.
The heart communicates through percussion and sonic waves, thumping directly upon the liver, rolling against the lungs, and resonating in the stomach. These organs listen and feel for the heart’s moods and harmonize their own activities accordingly The heart listens to itself through sonic emanations echoed back from the surrounding rib-basket. Like the waves which form in ever- greater circles when the surface of water is touched, heart waves are manifested in three-dimensional space around the organ.
The electromagnetic effluence of the heart radiates off our bodies, perfusing the space around us with the signature impressions of our person. The mix of our own and others’ waveforms constitutes the patterns and matrices of our relationships. The particular qualities of those relationships are directly shaped by that which flows from our hearts.
Our Heart's Pattern
The quality of our heart’s movement deeply reflects our emotional and spiritual patterns. Wherever I am, there too is my heart, perfectly mirroring in its movement my habits, dispositions, and choices. Research has shown that the variability of the heart rate meaningfully reflects heart health. The person whose heart demonstrates the more variable movement, as opposed to extreme regularity, is the healthier one. A heart in a “movement rut,” repeating a pattern of limited dynamism over and over again, is more prone to physically fail. With enough rigid patterning and repetitive conditioning, our hearts will incremen tally lose their range of motion.
“Phase space” is a term borrowed from physics which we use to reference all the space the heart might occupy when moving freely over a period of time. How much phase space do we allow our hearts? Is our phase space shrinking? Have you ever found yourself holding your breath as if bracing against your life? I know I do this at times. I have also experienced the deep pleasure of my heart. I am regularly bringing forward to my conscious awareness the ways in which I confine the movement of my heart. If we examine our lives, seeking to know the places where we refuse to move, or where we deny our deepest longings, we will know the ways in which we limit the phase space of our hearts.
The Rivers Within
Pour water from a bottle or watch it come out of the tap at the kitchen sink. You will see that the normal tendency is for water to braid itself. Watch a stream. You can witness the same spiraling, vortical movements in the freely flowing water, especially at the cold-core of the current. The propensity for water to twist and writhe and fold upon itself, to dissolve or flow with ease past every apparent obstruction, is both the sheer joy of its movement and the bane of canal-building engineers. On our spinning planet, which is itself spiraling rapidly through the galaxy, every attempt to confine and channel the movement of water generates resistance. Water is nature’s child! You must eventually repair the walls of a canal, as the water eventually grinds up and scours away those artificial limits. Maintaining water’s confinement is a constant effort against its essential tendency to flow freely Ourbloodisastreamingfluidthatshareswater’sessential nature. The supple, fractally branching path of the blood vessels—our vasculature—is the arms and legs and head and gut of our whole heart—the ocean and the rivers are one. Anatomical divisions are mental constructs. Like rivers, our blood vessels are flexible stream beds, allowing our blood to spin freely from the center to the periphery and back over 60,000 miles of tributaries. The heart’s shape both facilitates and reflects the movement of our blood. Through a great spiral of muscle fibers and the braiding branches of the aorta and pulmonary trunk, the blood is wrung, revitalizing its movement. The moving center of our heart is like a “crazy straw” for our blood, whose dynamism as well as nutritional chemistry wanes by the end of its long journey But then it zips back through the heart, braiding and spinning itself once more.
When the Heart Is Tense
With the movement of water still in mind, hypertension is the bodily equivalent o f “canalizing” the bloodstream. Stiffening tension in the heart and its branches, a direct result of emotional and behavioral patterns, is like a straitjacket for the blood. W hat is normally a slightly alkaline internal environment turns more acidic. And just as water attempts to break itself free from the constraints of a canal with its relentless vortical movement, so too does the blood rail against those stiffened vessel walls. Its ir repressible movement and altered chemistry wear away the self-imposed “canals” which would limit its unrestricted flow. Under these altered conditions, we reduce the status of the heart to a mere pump, and its once supple and yielding tributaries become mere pipes. We go through the motions of life while pushing through the resistance we ourselves are generating.
Our bodies are astoundingly resilient and respond adroitly to the demands we place upon them. When resistance to our heart’s free movement generates excess friction for the blood, and an acidic internal milieu injures our delicate vasculature, we grow plaques and calcifications which can better endure the insult. They are our fingers in the dike! Our livers will produce more cholesterol, a mild antioxidant, to address the altered blood chemistry. These symptoms are not the problem. They are an intelligent and automatic response to their circumstances, for which we can be grateful. They indicate underlying issues which are well within our immediate power to improve.
Coffee and Chocolate?
People often ask me what happens to the heart when we eat this or that. What happens to anyone physiologically, relative to a given substance, is so variable and dependent on context that I wouldn’t dare generalize about it. Coffee and chocolate with a potential lover after a candlelit meal could lead to lovemaking. For a couple with kids getting in trouble in the background, it could just add stress. Coffee puts one person to sleep and awakens an other, depending upon their consumption patterns and liver toxicity Wine is an un-inhibitor, but for the angry alcoholic it un-inhibits nastiness, negatively affecting blood chemis try and limiting blood “spin.” Wine may help a shy person to come out of his shell in a positive way, increasing blood spin as it changes blood chemistry I believe that it is not what goes into the mouth that renders the heart “impure.” The heart itself is in fact potentially the ultimate purifier. In our hearts, we can neutralize and transform even the most tragic circumstances. Ultimately, it is the patterning, projections, and intentions streaming forth from the heart that defines one’s character and affect one’s health.
Living Whole Heartedly
Our bodies are gifts to be used, and ultimately to be used up. There is neither fault nor harm in winding down the party and heading home! There’s only a problem if we show up at the party but refuse to dance; if that’s the case, we may want to reevaluate our choices, stretch our hearts, and take life for a spin. We can take our cue from the whirling dervishes. Stretching their arms and arching their backs, they intentionally open, turning and let ting go of themselves in a manner that accelerates the spinning potency of their hearts: as above, so below. Or as the old Shaker song has it, “By turning, turning, we come down right!”
Remember the story of King David, who danced, naked and joyful, in the procession leading the Ark of the Covenant, the sacred container holding the Ten Commandments, up to the newly built temple. Within the Ark lay the direct communication between the people and their Source. The Ark would come to rest within the inner sanctum of the completed temple, the Holy of Holies. The ecstatic dance and the resting point in this story are complementary aspects of the same divine movement.
Within our bodies, themselves temples of the spirit, likewise resides an Ark, our sacred heart, within whose irrepressible movement we can find rest. Ever present within our own holy of holies, direct communication with our Source is always available. We can relax and let go, trusting our guidance. When we hear our Source speaking to us, when we listen and allow ourselves to be moved by our hearts, we become radiant. Stripped of all encumbrances, like King David, we are overcome with joyful movement.
Opening Your Heart
Sometimes our hearts ache, filled with grief or bitterness or loneliness. To avoid these feelings,
we often close our hearts, and may gradually forget what an open heart feels like. Reopening then can be a delicate operation, yet access to the sensations o f the heart are avail able to every one of us, at a pace perfectly reflecting where we are right now. That access is our pulse.
STEP ONE / Sitting comfortably, take a few slow, easy breaths on purpose, and choose to focus on the physical sensations of your heart. Place your right wrist facing up right into the palm of your opened left hand. Let your left fingers gently curl around the right wrist, so that your left finger pads settle and lightly press at the thumb-side groove between the tendons and the small bony prominence of the right wrist. Pause. Notice the sensation of rhythmic throb bing beneath your finger pads. Just sit with that, appreciat ing the movement of your heart at your wrist. It’s quite the miracle, right there at your wrist.
STEP TWO /Raise the left-hand finger pads ever so gently up to the groove at the right side of your neck, just between the bulk of muscle at the side of your neck and the central structures of your throat. Avoid pressing, as the movement of the heart here is full and close to the surface. Breathe slowly and comfortably while you feel the sensations of your heart reiterating through your neck: your heart really is a whole-body phenomenon. After half a minute or so, return to feeling the wrist pulse and notice that you may continue to feel the rhythm in your neck simultaneously STEP THREE /Gently lie on your back comfortably on a couch, bed, or the floor. Breathe easily while reveling in the fact that allowing a few nice, relaxed breaths is a genuine gift to yourself which you absolutely deserve. Rest your hands over the center of your belly, just beneath the rib margin. Spend at least a minute or two just resting like this. Having already accessed the finer movements of the heart whispering through your wrist and neck, you may find it easy to sense the grander flourishing of your heart’s movements in your belly, stirring beneath your hands, in your chest, and even deep in your back along the front of your spine. Just let it do its thing, and notice the variety of sensations that accompany the movement of your heart.
After repeating the steps of this practice over the course of a few days, you will soon find it easy to allow the motion of blood spinning through your heart to rock your whole body. It’s fun and relaxing and brings you into a pleasant connection with yourself. Tour heart is always there for you. Enjoy!