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The Physical Heart
Listen to the heart, The pulse of life The cosmic rhythm Beating and renewing us each moment
The subject of the Heart is so encompassing that we first need to define it physically before we can discuss its ramifications. Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines the heart as follows:
1) A hollow muscular organ of vertebrate animals that by its rhythmic contraction acts as a force pump maintaining the circulation of the blood; breast or bosom; something regarding the heart in shape;
2) The whole personality including intellectual as well as emotional functions or traits;
3) The emotional or moral as distinguished from the intellectual nature — generous disposition: compassion, love, affection, courage, ardor;
4) One's innermost character, feelings, or inclinations, e.g., "one after my own heart";
5) The central or innermost part — center, the essential, or most vital part of something; to learn by heart.
This broad definition opens our eyes to this unique and creative organ that is the master of our life and/or death in the body. Its functions encompass the realm of the physical and take us into the realm of feelings, emotions, love, beauty and spirit.
Let's conduct a simple experiment together. Get paper and pen and from the word "heart" follow an association of words or expressions in your mind that represent or use the heart. Please take the time to ponder when making your list; then compare it to mine (shown in Table 1 on page 5) and feel what these words or expressions have meant in your life.
The physical heart is a hollow, four-chambered muscular organ placed between the lungs and enclosed in the cavity of the pericardium. See figure 1 on page 6. The broad attached end (or base) is directed upward to the right and corresponds to the interval between the fifth and eighth dorsal vertebrae. The apex is directed forward and to the left and corresponds to the interspace between the cartilage of the fifth and sixth ribs. In an adult it is about the size of a fist. The upper chambers are called auricles and the lower are called ventricles.
The auricles symbolize the female or intuitive aspect (receiving), and the ventricles represent the masculine (activity or doing). Each half contains elements of the other, thus achieving a totality by sharing each other's polarities. This correlates a belief that American Indians have about "shields" in the heart. For them, an adult male carries in his heart both the boy and the adult man, as well as a little girl and grandmother. An adult woman carries in her heart a little girl, the adult woman, as well as her little boy and grandfather. The heart represents the whole human being.
The Chinese call the heart "the Mother of the blood" because it regulates the flow of the blood. It is the central vessel of exchange and carries animate life. It circulates the blood through the blood vessels in all parts of the body, supplying it with nourishing material at the rate of 4,000 gallons a day.
The heart receives the impure blood in the right auricle, passes it to the right ventricle and sends it to be revitalized in the lungs. The left auricle receives the revitalized blood, passes it to the left ventricle and distributes it to the body. This means that both right chambers, auricle and ventricle, have blood which could be called mature (with experience) and both left chambers (auricle and ventricle) have pure (or virgin) blood to circulate back to the body. The vital "Tree of Blood" is the tree of respiration and exchange between interior and exterior.
In the Old Testament (Lev. 17:11) it says, "The LIFE is in the blood." And in the same chapter, 14th verse: "For the life of all flesh is in the blood." The circulation of blood symbolizes a flow, an interchange or sharing — free circulation of all that is required for right human living. Circulation is life, everything alive is in motion, stagnation is death.
The heart and blood are agents of distribution of the life force. The purity and vitality of the whole body depend on that of the blood, but conversely, all the organs cooperate toward its continual regeneration.
The heart is the center and governor of the complete organism. For although the lungs are activated by the air and fire that they breathe in, the heart is the center and motor of the circuit that regenerates the blood in them. It is the agent of combustion of the terrestrial food which is to become assimilable nourishment. The functioning of the organs (stomach, spleen, pancreas, intestine, and kidneys) can be improved through the intermediary of the heart; and the state of the heart depends on the balance of the organs serving it.
Even in its physical functions, the heart is the organ of peace. It is a mediator; by its nature it tries to establish peace and harmony. For example, the heart responds to the aggression of the liver and/or spleen with nonresistance, merely restoring the balance and repairing the damage. The extraordinary power of the heart must be understood so we can appreciate its influence on our total being. One of the best explanations of the heart's functions comes from Dr. Godei, a French cardiologist. In L'experience Liberatrice he tells us:
The heart is engaged in the mysterious work of keeping the whole organism in balance, which is more than just a matter of blood vessels and changing pressures. To correct the effects of injury or disequilibrium, it has remarkable methods of compensation justified by thousands of years of experience. This Wisdom of the Heart has come to us by heredity, as a quality of our species. The heart possesses an ability to repair damage affecting itself without for one moment interrupting the flow of energy it provides. Thus it is rightly a symbol of unfailing generosity. In the practice of cardiology, we have had to recognize that the heart's power to maintain life is almost unlimited, so long as it is allowed to use its own methods and has unrestricted access to its natural resources. Only too frequently, however, the unfortunate intervention of the psyche, especially in the form of anxiety, turns the course of events into catastrophe. A strong heart, with little damage, has often been known to fail in a few hours under the influence of acute anxiety. One emotional storm can demolish completely the marvellous structure of homeostatic defenses, which, with the Wisdom of the Heart, has come down to us from the depths of time.
The Rhythm of the Heart
Medically speaking, the definition of life is based on the heartbeat, the pulse of life. A few days after conception, the heart begins to develop. In its early stages it is essentially a muscle-wrapped tube that contracts and pushes the blood through itself. These contractions are slow and irregular, gradually accelerating and becoming synchronized to a regular beat. The sounds of the heartbeat are the snapping shut of the valves, first immediately after the auricle where the blood is carried into the ventricle, and second after the ventricles contract and the pulmonic and aortic valves snap shut producing a sharper sound. After the two sounds there is a brief pause so that the sequence is actually in three parts. The complete cycle is a wave of activity consisting of pulses, muscular contractions and resultant sounds, followed by a pause or silence.
The mother's heartbeat has a strong effect on the developing child. In one hospital experiment, babies were placed in a room where a heartbeat was played through loudspeakers. These babies gained more weight, developed more rapidly, and cried less than babies who did not hear the heartbeat. This rhythm, which is the cosmic universal sound, continues without a break day and night for the duration of our life. It varies in different persons and beats the tempo of our life, be it fast or slow. We cannot stop it, yet emotions — excitement, fear, or passion — can quicken it. Each heartbeat fills us with a realization of existence and with a true understanding of Being.
The great sea of life is swelling and receding, rising and falling. The alternating movement of dilation and contraction is an example of the two powers, both necessary as an act of balance. The earth itself expands and contracts. Dilation is an expansion into oneness, a gesture of union, an absorption into the cosmos. It is without selection, it directs us toward the impersonal. It symbolizes the breaking of boundaries, the fusion of all, the opening of the heart without reserve.
Contraction is the opposite; it symbolizes materialization, personal will, limitation. Each movement is inevitably followed by the other. All things are subject to this alternation. The heart achieves a wonderful balancing act between personal and impersonal.
Listen to your heart for a moment. Simply put your hand over it and feel the pulses or throbs against your breast. One of my favorite ways to listen to my heartbeat is when taking a bath. Put your head in enough water to cover your ears and then listen. It sounds like the beat of a drum. Try it!
The drum is also another way of tuning the self. By playing a drum with a simple beat (or pulse) for a long period of time, you come in contact with the rhythm of the cosmos, and feel a balancing of the self by expressing this rhythmic life force. It must be done consciously, letting the rhythm flow through. You can actually "journey" as the shaman or medicine healer to seek visions.
What makes the heart beat? Ask yourself, for that is the mystery.
The Spiritual Heart
Know the flame within the heart Its purifying fire transforms the Self Its clear light unites us with the Source
People are beginning to understand more and more that all that exists in the visible world exists as well on an invisible level. The physical organ of the heart is actually the servant of the spiritual heart, the seat of the Presence. Our solar system has an active center, the Sun, whose globe is animated by the invisible sun, the center of all its powers. In turn, the "sun" that vitalizes the physical heart is the spiritual heart, the center of spiritual fire, source of the intelligence of the heart.
Along the dorsal spine, which is the human axis from earth to sky, our column of light, there are seven main energy centers or chakras. These chakras are located in the etheric body or the invisible body. The word chakra derives from the Sanskrit word "wheel" or circle, indicating that the order and the law inherent in these centers is also that of all wheels. The outside of the wheel is kept in place (and in motion) by radiating spokes from an inactive center. Eastern scripture speaks of the entire universe as a giant mandala or spiritual wheel, containing myriads of microcosmic wheels. The vibrations that emanate from each of these chakras have a particular transforming effect on certain bodily parts or organs.
Each of the seven chakras has its external counterpart in one of the major glands of the body. They interact with one another in a most mysterious way. When an organ is not functioning properly, it usually means that the chakra nourishing it is either unbalanced, overactive, or closed.
The Heart Chakra
The Heart Center, or Heart Chakra, is located between the shoulder blades, in the first thoracic. It relates to the thymus gland of the endocrine gland system. It is the fourth chakra and the center for the energies of life. This divine life energy is distributed to the other six major chakras, and then in turn to all the cells and centers of the body.
Its colors are green and pink. Green is the symbol of harmony, sympathy, creativity, health, abundance, of nature in general. It is the merging of yellow (soul) and blue (spirit). Green appears in the spectrum at a balancing point between the first three rays (which are more concerned with the physical aspect) and the last three rays (which relate to the spiritual aspect). Green reaches outward in a horizontal manner, blue reaches upward in a vertical manner. Together they form the cross which is the symbol of life. This color, which is radiated everywhere in nature — in fields and forests — restores and gives new energy.
Pink symbolizes softness, tenderness, affection, love. It is made from red, a color associated with life, courage, and passion, and white, the symbol of light, purity and peace. Thus the red of life softened and purified by the white light.
The heart is viewed as the place of God. In many societies people pledge their oaths by placing a hand upon the heart, as the symbol for truth and love. Mothers carry their babies close to their hearts. The heart exerts a calming influence and unites the heart of the child to the heart of the mother, creating the heart-to-heart link that unites them.
During my workshops many people who are in the process of opening their heart chakra see a flower — very often a rose — unfolding in their heart. All flower symbolism, especially the golden-pink rose, is an expression of unfoldment, of beauty filled with spirit. The physical heart corresponds to the "Heart of the Sun" and therefore to the spiritual source of light and love. It is the center that triggers responsibility and regeneration in the unfoldment of human consciousness. The Chinese call the heart "the Lord and Master of the House." It becomes the organ of intuitive mind, spiritualized feeling, or all-embracing compassion, in which the cosmic abstract is transformed into personal human experience and realization.
The Egyptians believed that life is the manifestation of spirit in matter, that life is not limited to physical existence but includes the possibility of a continuous experience in the beyond. This idea of everlasting life relates to the sun's existence. The sun rises each day in renewed strength and vigor, giving life, power, stability, health and joy. The heart (called "ab") is believed to serve the following functions: (1) source of life; (2) fulcrum of balance; (3) conscience.
The heart is not only the seat of power of life, but also the fountain of good and evil thoughts. The word "ab" has a dual meaning for its functions are dual. The physical heart was viewed as the sun in the body, but it also represented the solar-moon principle.
The solar activity in the heart brings movement, energy, substance, form and quality. The lunar passivity is maternal, reflects light, gives understanding. Lunar understanding was considered the consciousness of the heart — the direct conception of what is perceived without analysis, or thoughts of comparison. It is what we call intuition or the wisdom of discernment. When we reverse the letters of "Ab" we get "Ba" which signifies the soul, that which absorbs the universal spirit.
At the time of death, the heart is weighed upon the scale against the feather of the Goddess Mat to determine the fate of the deceased. Mat, whose symbol is the ostrich-feather, represents judgment, truth, and law. Metaphysically, she represents equilibrium, essential wisdom, cosmic harmony, universal consciousness, the Consciousness of all consciousness. The individual who is able to acquire awareness of his or her consciousness fulfills and realizes his or her own Mat, and this highest consciousness is integrated with the universal.
Such a movement (of consciousness) is a movement of return toward the Unity through the elimination of opposition and personal limitations — the Mat, the good to be sought and acquired during one's existence. It is the way of return, but with the acquisition of consciousness.
If the heart had not been "realized," it was consigned to oblivion to be eaten by Ammit, the devourer. This monster of animal nature was a hybrid symbolized by a crocodile's head, lion's chest, and hippopotamus* hind quarters, which signify the elemental states in which each absorbs what belongs to it — the greed of nature. In other words, having lived as mere matter it dies as mere matter and no more, devoured by Ammit who represents the world of pure carnality uninfused by spirit.
When the death judgment was favorable, the heart was guarded with special care and was mummified separately. It was preserved in a jar; incidentally the hieroglyph for the heart was a jar, which represents the container of life. Preservation of the heart was so important that a text was introduced in the Book of the Dead (also called the Book of Great Awakening) at an early period with the intent of providing the deceased with a heart in place of the one which had been removed in the process of mummification.
In Chapter XXVI, "The Chapter of Giving a Heart to the Deceased," the text reads:
May my heart be with me in the House of Hearts! May my heart be with me in the House of Hearts! May my heart be with me and may it rest there, ... I shall understand with my heart, I shall gain the mastery over my heart ...
Excerpted from healing the heart by Daya Sarai Chocron. Copyright © 1989 Daya Sarai Chocron. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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Part 1: THE HEART
1. The Physical Heart
2. The Spiritual Heart
3. Symbolism of the Heart
Part 2: HEALING
6. Healing and Opening
7. Color, Crystals and Gemstones
8. Shared Experiences