In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the Heart is deemed to be the sovereign ruler, the emperor, the monarch. The Heart is the organizer of all aspects and activities of the bodymind. The way of the heart is that the most powerful doing is accomplished by doing nothing at all. This capacity to ‘just be’ is called wu wei. It is the space of emptiness of unknowing and of awe. Maintaining this peace and clarity then allows us to respond to all the myriad life situations with equanimity, calm and compassion for others and ourselves.
Each of the five elements of TCM has its own ‘spirit’ or unique life force. The spirit of the Heart (associated with the Fire element) is called the Shen, which is sometimes translated as consciousness. A basic belief in TCM says, “The heart takes the hit.” When there is a great shock or surprise to a person that he or she cannot process, the overwhelming energy goes first to the heart. The heart starts racing to prepare the person for fight or flight. The heart goes out of balance and the excessive energy is then distributed to the meridians, some of which subsequently go out of balance. Acupuncturist Lin Cao said, “If the basic energy is not stabilized, the spirit is insecure.”
In her book Five Spirits, Lorie Eve Dechar suggests that the Shen spirits are Yang and, like precious wild birds, they seek heaven. Unless they are entranced and nurtured by the Yin essences of the earth, the Shen rise up and fly off back to the heavenly realms. This is exactly the physiological response that happens when we experience some severe shock or trauma. She goes on to say that in order to maintain a suitable resting place for the Shen, the heart must remain in a state that is close to its original nature - serene, accepting and open. The light of the Shen radiates from such a tranquil heart to illuminate the lives of all those it touches. The wise person’s only concern is maintaining the tranquility of the heart so that the luminous wild birds of the Shen will have a suitable resting place.
I love this metaphor, and I have first-hand experience of how this works. I have actually fainted and lost consciousness when something has been too overwhelming to digest in the moment. For instance, when we were studying shiatsu in New York, one of my brothers was in a car accident which broke his neck. My mum was telling me about it on the phone, and the next instant I was unconscious on the floor. And I do not see myself as a fragile Victorian lady who has attacks of the vapors, but in that moment the shock was just too much.
Western medicine is also starting to consider the heart as more than just a pump which circulates oxygenated blood to all the cells and organs in the body. I remember reading a book by Michael Crichton (of Jurassic Park fame). He had always wanted to be a writer, but his father wanted him to be a doctor, so he dutifully went to medical school. When he was doing his cardiology rotation he asked all of his patients, “What do you think caused your heart attack?” The reply was always some heartbreak event, some emotional pain like a separation, divorce, death, or loss of some expectation a parent had for a child that the patient spontaneously reported.
Our hearts are the part of our anatomy which directly equates to love. Not sure how that happened or where it came from, but the reality is that when we see hearts, we usually appreciate them as symbolic of love.
Bruce Lipton calls the quest to continuously feel ‘in love,’ “The science of creating heaven on earth.” And science has spoken about such things, writes Lipton. For example, HeartMath researchers have found the impact of love itself is real and biochemically measurable:
“When subjects focus their attention on the heart and activate a core heart feeling, such as love, appreciation, or caring, these emotions immediately shift their heartbeat rhythms into a more coherent pattern. Increasing heartbeat coherence activates a cascade of neural and biochemical events that affect virtually every organ in the body. Studies demonstrate that heart coherence leads to more intelligence by reducing the activity of the sympathetic nervous system—our fight-or-flight mechanism—while simultaneously increasing the growth-promoting activity of the parasympathetic nervous system.”
As a result, stress hormones are reduced and the anti-aging hormone DHEA is produced. Love actually does make us healthier, happier, and longer-living.
Paul Pearsall has done some amazing research with heart transplant patients and has written about it in his book called The Heart’s Code. He states, “We believe it’s the heart that loves and feels.” Pearsall and fellow researchers went further to find out that the heart also thinks, remembers, communicates with other hearts, helps regulate immunity, and stores information that constantly makes waves through our body. In other words, researchers found that it is love that leads to physical and mental health.
Many years ago, a young man went to his Flower Essence therapist and, having read the first edition of my book Energy Medicine – Healing from the Kingdoms of Nature, asked his therapist to make him a formula which contained all the Essences which resonated with the Heart meridian, the Heart Protector meridian, and the Heart chakra. At the time it turned out to be 20 essences. His therapist said, “Oh no, that is way too many Essences.” And the patient replied, “If I don’t heal my heart, I will die.” She heard him and took the risk. This leap of faith on her part, this intuitive knowing on the part of the patient, was the birth of our Heart Spirit Essence which has healed many, many hearts over the past 30+ years.
So let us tune in to what our heart might need in order to be the wise monarch who has cultivated the abilities of tranquility and equanimity. Or as Lao Tzu said, “Make your heart like a lake, with a calm, still surface and great depths of kindness.”
Run in that direction.”