It’s appropriate to expand our awareness about what constitutes heart health. Medically you’re bombarded with information about statin drugs as if they hold the answer to all of your heart issues. Nutritionally, you can be confused about all the miracles being offered being offered by alternative sources, many of which are truly wonderful. But on a day like today it’s a good time to relax and see things in a slightly different focus.
In Chinese medicine the Heart not only controls the functioning of the entire vascular system and circulation, but is considered the abode of Shen, the spiritual aspect of a human being. The classics state:
The Heart is the Supreme Master of the organs and is the home of Shen, the Spirit. If the Master is brilliant, his subjects are peaceful. If the Master is disturbed, his twelve officials are endangered. *
In other words, if you’re stressed out everyone suffers! Not only the people around you but your internal organs (twelve officials) as well. This is an established fact. Medical researchers have concluded that stress plays a part in 80% of all doctors’ visits and is a contributing factor in the six majors causes of death. Stress affects the absorption and processing of basic nutrients from food, plays havoc with endocrine function, opens the brain to more destruction from environmental toxins, disrupts the rhythm of the physical heart, etc….the list goes on and on.
When I was working full time as an herbalist in Los Angeles I never talked to a single person who wasn’t stressed out. In fact if they said they weren’t stressed then you knew they were really stressed. It’s a fact of life and a little bit of stress is good for you. What determines the amount of damage on a physical level is your outlook on life and now we’re back to the heart or Shen aspect of a human being. After working with thousands of people I came to realize that true healing could never occur without a lessening of stress and an opening of the heart.
Shen is hard to define and has many attributes, which fit it well but fail to describe it in its totality. It’s really just a name for the spiritual land of the Heart. Since it’s all has to do with the aspects of the Heart organ system I’m going to refer to it mostly as Heart capitalized to differentiate it from the organ heart.
Heart is the seat of the emotions and controls consciousness. It anchors the inner spirit and determines your passion for life. If you are feeling really alive and in the moment you can bet something has happened to activate your Heart. The opposite is also true. Feelings of insecurity and lack of self-confidence often reflect an unopened Heart.
If you live life with an open Heart things seem to come easy to you and life’s little setbacks are merely a chance to grow. A Heart centered person often appears humble yet aware and experiences clarity of mind that few possess.
Chaung Tzu, the great Chinese Sage, once wrote:
“When the shoe fits the foot is forgotten,
When the belt fits the belly is forgotten,
And when the Heart/Shen is right,
For and against is forgotten”.
Remember that time when you first fell in love? Or you held your newborn child in your arms for the first time? Time stood still as you marveled at the presence of your future mate or gazed down at beauty of a new life cradled in your hands. You personally experienced Einstein’s theory of relativity. Time is relevant to your present circumstances. It seems rare when it happens only because we seldom approach life as a mystery and something to enjoy and not control.
I once read a book by Deepak Chopra describing a medical intern who had been assigned to the cardiac ward with 40 new heart attack patients. He decided one night to ask them why they had a heart attack. He braced for the worst thinking he’d probably be cursed at or punched; yet every single one of them answered and attributed it to something they failed to do in their personal life. Not a single person talked about food choices or lifestyle but that they avoided an emotional situation that required speaking truthfully from the heart or might have caused them to look deep within themselves.
Dr. David Hawkins MD., PhD. Of the Institute for Advanced Spiritual Research, states that the difference in power between a loving thought and a fearful thought is so enormous as to be beyond the capacity of the human imagination to easily comprehend. (Power vs. Force) One individual with a completely open Heart counterbalances 750,000 unconscious people. Wow! Don’t ever think you can’t influence people.
Modern research at the Institute of Heart Math shows that the heart has a magnetic field 5,000 times stronger than the brain and can be measured several feet away from the body. The hearts rhythmic energy has an influence on every cell in the body. Sustained feelings of love can harmonize the entire body and brain. I guess the classics were right: the Heart is the Master of the organs.
One of the great lessons of life is taking in all experiences, however hurtful they may be, processing it and moving on. Only when we learn this lesson can we truly understand the depthless wonder of the Heart. One of my favorite Rumi poems sums it up well:
The way of love is not a subtle argument.
The door there is devastation.
Birds make great sky-circles of their freedom.
How do they learn it?
They fall, and falling, they’re given wings.
The reason I’ve wrote this today is not just because it’s Valentines Day. That was just my excuse for making you read this. I know the Heart is about more than supplements and cholesterol and that it holds the power of transformation. I know because I experienced it myself and became an herbalist because of it. I only know a lot about herbs because I learned it to be able to pursue my own heart opening. When I walked into that store with chronic fatigue I didn’t stay because I thought something there could cure me. I stayed because I heard someone describe an herb as “putting wings on your heart” and something stirred in my chest that I had never felt before.
So today I hope for you the company of friends, family and much shared love. Hug more than usual, smiled contagiously and savor the moment. I leave you with one last poem, which runs through my head every single time I consult with someone in person, on the phone or at a speaking engagement. It’s from the book “I Heard God Laughing—Renderings of Hafiz” by Daniel Ladinsky. It’s my wish for you.
My Brilliant Image
One day the sun admitted,
I am just a shadow.
I wish I could show you
The Infinite Incandescence
That has cast my brilliant image!
I wish that I could show you
When you are lonely or in darkness,
The Astonishing light
Of your own Being!