The Wisdom of the Heart

Is the heart just an organ that pumps blood?

Recently I heard someone vehemently assert, “The heart is just an organ that pumps blood!” I saw flashing images of the pumping action of the pistons in a steam engine. This brief statement sparked reflection about the heart: What is the heart, exactly?

Indeed without the physiological functions of the heart, our bodies wouldn’t be alive. Our hearts are involved in (although not exclusively) blood flow and the circulation of oxygen and other vital nutrients throughout our bodies, and they are driven by a wonderfully complex electrical conduction system.

The heart has many other wonders not commonly known. Recent research explains how the heart influences much more than the physical body, and how it plays an remarkable role in our lives. Schools, universities and even Fortune 500 companies are making use of science-based techniques that engage the unseen power of the heart. The researchers at HeartMath, Inc. have studied the heart’s intelligence.

This short 2.5 minute video is a great synopsis:

As science and technology evolve, we are more and more able to see what exists beyond the capacity of the naked eye. Until microscopes were discovered and developed over time, we didn’t know the cause of infectious diseases and thus, we were unaware that microscopic pathogens contributed to many infections and deaths. Likewise, the telescope allows us to explore the heavens beyond ordinary human perspectives. Advances in modern day science and technology have begun to provide the ability to measure energy, brainwaves, electromagnetic fields and things even further away from the capability of the naked eye. As shown in the video above, the heart emits an electromagnetic field in the shape of a torus which can be measured up to 12 or 15 feet away from the body. The heart’s electromagnetic field changes in correspondence with our emotions. It is also through this field that the heart communicates with other organs (as well as through the more commonly known route, circulation).

Have you ever wondered why it is in the heart area of our body that we feel deep sorrow, grief, love or joy? The late Candace Pert, PhD, neuroscientist and pharmacologist, helped to discover opiate receptors in the brain and went on to research the physiological impact of emotions on the body. In her book, Molecules of Emotion, she discusses her pioneering work on receptors and the peptides that correspond to them.  She explains that our bodies have more neuropeptide receptors in the heart, throat and stomach, which is why we physically and vividly feel emotion in those areas of our bodies as opposed to in our little toe!
Intercultural linguists maintain that a culture’s language reflects patterns of thought and ways of living, and the reverse could also be true. In the Japanese language there are many words for heart. “Kokoro” literally translates as heart, but it is the heart of things, the spirit or the will, as in a person has a "heart of gold." In our English language we have many idioms that address the heart: heart wrenching, light hearted, heartbreak, heart warming, cold hearted, and so on, and so forth. We say you know something “by heart” if it is memorized; something “near to his/her heart” is of great interest or concern; if a person has their “heart set on” something they wish for it intensely; if you do something to your “heart’s content,” then you do it until you are satisfied; people who “have a heart” are compassionate or merciful; if something is “in one’s heart of hearts,” then it is one’s private thoughts or internal deep feelings; if your “heart is in the right place,” then you are fundamentally kind and well intentioned; if you “cross your heart,” then you are affirming the truth and your integrity.

At a lecture I attended by Gerald Epstein, MD, he explained that the heart is a “sensory organ,” not solely a physiological organ that pumps blood.  He reminded us that in our society we say that a person is “cold hearted,” not “cold brained.” He states “The heart is an organ that has to do with our relationship to love.” It’s undeniable that as Valentine’s Day rapidly approaches, there is an abundance of heart shaped boxes of chocolate and hearts on cards. Everywhere you look, there are hearts. When a patient comes in showing a heart disturbance, Dr. Epstein follows standard practices to address organic issues, and then he inquires on the possibility of heartbreak, etc. He routinely employs imagery exercises (as we do in hypnotherapy) to help establish a patient’s own inner power, the power of the mind.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the heart is an organ related to the Fire element. It is the ruler of the other organ networks, which means that the other organs will sacrifice for the heart. The Chinese believe that the spirit is housed in the heart, and thus mind and perception reside in the heart. 

For centuries Western medicine thought that the brain was the body’s command center, however, current research suggests that the heart influences much more than originally thought. Our heart maintains an intricate dialogue with our brain and other organs in our body. It communicates with other organs through its electromagnetic field, not just through circulation.  The brain emits an electromagnetic field, but the heart’s electromagnetic field is 60 times more powerful than the brain’s. The heart’s neurons, which have both short-term and long-term memory, send signals to the brain which can affect emotions. The heart sends more information to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. Positive emotions help the brain with innovative problem solving, making good decisions and with creativity. Positive emotions can generate physiological benefits in your body. You can improve your immune system by conjuring positive emotions, whereas negative emotions can wreak havoc on the nervous system and body.

But we don’t need science to prove what is inherent to human nature. We don’t need a microscope or other measuring device to tell us the difference between disappointment or deep grief; between love or joy. We inherently know and feel the pure qualities of the heart: love, joy, gratitude, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, passion and more.

To have courage means to fearlessly face challenges and act in accordance with one's beliefs, despite criticisms. The root derivation of the word “courage” is the French word “cuer,” which translates as “heart.”
It can take great courage to tap into the heart’s intelligence because in our society we are taught that that's risky. We are taught that having an open heart renders us vulnerable, susceptible to injury or harm. The opposite is true. When the heart is closed and you try to protect it, you become more vulnerable. An open heart is protective. Through your capacity to love, to have compassion, to forgive – you set yourself free. You become invincible through your loving; able to stand steady no matter what is unfolding in your path.

Do you let your heart guide you? Mythologist and author Joseph Campbell summed up his life philosophy with the dictum “Follow your bliss.” He explained that he came to the idea of bliss because “in Sanskrit, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping off place to the ocean of transcendence,” one of which is bliss. That feeling of bliss, of intense joy, is clearly a heart quality. What he was saying was follow your heart.

The heart is a primary filtration system through which we navigate through life. It is the fulcrum, a compass, a wise guide. Following your heart is not the same as simply reacting to your emotions. It is not about tapping into reactivity or jealously, or the avoidance of pain. It is about developing sensitivity to the heart’s intelligence and trusting it. It’s that intuitive sense that we are all equipped with. You know when something feels good and when something feels bad. You know when you have made the wrong turn or the right turn.  One of the wisdoms of the heart is right timing – knowing when to speak, when to stay silent, when to act and when to overlook. When you are in your heart and filtering through your heart, you make the right choices, at the right time, and you can trust it. You allow forgiveness, let go of the past, have more compassion and empathy for others, feel more gratitude and appreciation, have more genuine love to give and feel more joy. 

The heart is not just an organ that pumps blood. The heart is a wise guide, and those who live from the heart exhibit right timing, right action and right choice. When used wisely, the heart will not lead you astray. 

From my heart to yours,