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How to Use This Book
Tell me, can you love life and let love find you when you are lost?
—Oriah Mountain Dreamer
Of all the organs that make up the human body, the heart and the heart alone is considered to be the guardian of the complex emotion we call love. Love, our heart-felt attraction to another and our heartfelt acceptance of ourself, has deep and tangled roots. It begins in utero with a unique blood bond when this life-giving fluid is exchanged between the heart of the fetus and the heart of the mother. From conception on, this bond is complex. The mother's blood is the foundation for the uterine lining to which the fetus must anchor itself. The health of the mother's lifeblood determines the health of that first fetal environment. Even as the fetus's liver begins to manufacture its own blood supply, the mother's steady heartbeat orients this new life to the rush and roar of the maternal heart's functions. This bond not only keeps the fetus alive, but it allows the fetal heart to record the biochemical messages that will prepare it for other kinds of bonds—emotional, physical, spiiritaul, and psychological—after birth. The prenate's heart is being prepared for a capacity for love, compassion, and empathy. After birth this original heart-to-heart relationship has to widen and develop sensitivity to others if the infant is to relate to the rich and varied complexity we perceive as life.
As children, we are taught logic and reason as the primary tools for discerning the accuracy of our perceptions. But few of us are encouraged to listen to our hearts, whose nonverbal responses may at first be less clear but are far more unbiased than those of our brains. There is no surer way to find out whom you are truly meant to become—your life's purpose—than by learning to listen to your heart. Across the years, as your life grows increasingly more complex, your heart can guide you as you seek to identify your true self. To ignore your heart-centered input would be a major loss.
Over and over our heart gives us nudges and clues about our unlived or ignored life possibilities. What we learn too late in life is that the very qualities and talents that we so want to support or that we admire in others are the very talents and qualities that we know in our heart are right for us. Any time I find myself admiring a particular quality in another person, I always turn to the intelligence of my heart and ask myself, "Where is this quality or talent hidden away and yet to be claimed in me?" And equally, any time I find myself strongly disliking someone or something about another I turn to my heart and ask, "Where is this attitude or trait or fear in me?" I have never found this question not to yield a meaningful, and often life-changing, response. The way of heart-centered living is unabashedly honest—it is not for the timid or the indifferent pilgrim.
Reducing Heart Stress by Reclaiming the Wisdom That Is Yours
We live in a very stressful world. The everyday necessities of living, like commuting, jobs, and children, require more flexibility and attention to intrapersonal resources like fortitude, faith, courage, and confidence than ever before in our history, as we are drawn ever deeper into a global community. Daily we are faced with decisions and choices unique to these times—many of which we feel ill equipped to manage. Most of us intensify our search for answers when we are under stress—feeling caught up in the complications and pressures that surround us. During this period of time the rhythms of our brain and our heart become out of synch with one another, we feel this as a lack of focus, an imbalance of mind and body.
Your body radiates energy called an electromagnetic field. You know when it is working well and in balance because you feel centered and filled with energy. Your heart's electromagnetic energy is 5,000 times stronger than that of your brain. In fact, research shows that your heart has its own capacity for intelligence that is controlled neither by the brain nor by the autonomic nervous system. No one can yet explain exactly why the heart is able to beat independently of control by the brain or the influence of the nervous system, but it does. Energy cardiologists tell us that the heart has its own "little brain" that enables it to act independently of the big brain and to produce feelings, directions, and solutions all on its own.
As you learn to access and trust the wisdom of your heart's intuitive intelligence, you will find that your brain and heart rhythms will become smoother, more synchronized, just as they do with a feeling of deep love, or meditation, or beauty. Even if you are in distress, accessing this capacity for heart guidance will immediately begin to reduce your stress level, especially if you are able to combine it with the genuine intimacy of relating to another, heart to heart. When you feel related, you also feel renewed, reassured that you are more in tune with the depths of your own humanity. No matter how frightened or ill you may be, you will feel empowered by the inner sense of unity that your sharing brings.
A clear example on a national scale of this immediate heart felt healing response under dire circumstances was our instinctual reaching out on September 11, 2001—to strangers, to friends, to family—to anyone who was willing to meet us heart to heart. Our intellects could not grasp the enormity of our loss. Our hearts could.
Simply turning and listening to the heart that loves you is one of the most protective things you can do for yourself and for humankind. The entire world seeks healing—healing begins with love and love begins with bone-honest relating—from the heart.
So let's look at how you can use this book to get to know yourself intimately from the depths of your heart while uncovering your destiny, your unlived life.
The Purpose of This Book
First, I have written this book to help you uncover the unlived truths in your life, to find what your heart can tell you about your soul's purpose, about your destiny, that you are unaware of or yearning for but afraid to create. Layer by layer you will carefully brush away the debris of your mistaken beliefs and unearth your deepest self by turning to your heart and its intuitive intelligence.
This book is simply written, but its message is anything but simple. It is serious, it is sincere, and it is absolutely real. Whether you believe it or not, your life has a purpose that transcends your ordinary everyday existence. You have a soul that is alive and vitally present within every cell of your body and that can be found very readily by turning to your heart. This incarnate energy is intelligently and eternally connected to Universal Soul, whether you call this Spirit, Brigid, God, Sophia, Buddha, or pure chance. Your dreams, your yearnings, even your addictions and your symptoms are all ways in which your soul is speaking to you about your essence—your core self. I am inviting you to develop a relationship of love with That Which Loves you through your heart's wisdom and unplumbed energy. I am inviting you to recognize how deeply you are loved so you can look at stranger and friend alike and find a soul connection.
I believe every life has an unlived purpose. It's called destiny. If you are fortunate enough to recognize this purpose and live it consciously, intentionally, your life unfolds in a deeply fulfilling manner Joseph Campbell, author and mythographer, in referring to a person's revitalizing connection to this inner source of direction coined the phrase "following your bliss." Living even a portion of your life's purpose is the closest you ever come to true happiness—to bliss. Your dreams, your yearnings, even your symptoms can give you insight that will help you identify your unlived desires—your destiny. Does this guarantee you'll never have a heart attack? Of course not. What it does do is strengthen your personal sense of purpose which increases your sense of wellbeing which improves your immune system which reduces your stress which is not a bad way to live at all.
Second, and maybe of even greater importance, I have written this book out of an ongoing concern about the rapid increase in heart disease in our culture. Heart attacks and strokes, once believed to be largely a male health problem, have become a significant factor in the quality of everyone's health, especially during our later years. Many factors contribute to this growing concern about the increase in heart disease. For example, as life expectancy increases, it is important that we cultivate ways to reduce overtaxing the heart in order to enhance the quality of life in elderhood. Knowing ourselves well at an early age from the depths of our heart surely will help. In this book I explore how the unlived life of our dreams and our yearning contributes to the stress that damages our heart's healthy functioning.
Another example is the number of heart attacks that occur shortly after the workday has begun on Monday mornings. Social scientists have strongly suggested that when a person feels trapped in a deadening and demoralizing job that she must keep in order to survive, the psychological and physical results negatively affect her heart. In other words, the heart simply breaks.
Heart disease isn't limited to physiological influences alone. What we think, what we feel, whether we perceive ourselves in this world as effective and autonomous beings or ineffective and choiceless victims plays a very large and influential role in our heart health. In our technologically advanced society, with its emphasis on cure, the very real statistic that heart disease is the number one killer of women is often obscured by the continuing debate about hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and its contribution to heart health versus its effect on cancer and osteoporosis. This debate in and of itself continues to create enough stress among women trying to determine whether to undergo HRT that it has probably contributed more to poor health than to providing clear information that would reduce stress and allow for a confident and informed choice.
You will find some of the simplest and most healing principles for claiming and maintaining your heart health in the pages that follow. Even if you have had a heart attack or have heart disease, these principles will decrease your stress and allow you to live a deeper and more fulfilling life. Too many of us repress our grief until we have a broken heart and then, frightened, do all we can to further disguise the body wisdom that is teaching us openly and consciously to claim our grief in order to strengthen, not weaken, the heart. Too many of us defer our heart's desire for a later time—some day—some-how—and mean while we live lives of quiet desperation or sadness as we watch the magical someday pass us by. Meanwhile we learn to ignore the heartache and live with the stress it engenders.
The Organization of This Book
This book is written so that you can take your time with a single chapter, or a single topic, and then spend a week (or more if you care to) working with the exercises called Heart Notes that appear throughout each chapter. These exercises will help you discover how to recognize your Heart Sense and discover your unlived life. This format is intentionally designed to inspire a deeply personal exploration of your life's purpose from which you can glean deep insight, draw strength, and take delight. You will want to provide yourself with a journal just for recording your work with the book's exercises.
Each chapter contains contributions from readers who have begun this exploration themselves. The entire book is written in an easily read conversational manner, with stories that offer something for everyone.
The chapters are divided into different categories of heart sensing, like What Your Heart Loves, When Your Heart Is Broken Open, and so on. Chapters 2 and 3 (The Seventh Sense and Meeting Your Heart) are especially important because they provide an overview about our cultural and scientific symbolism and misunderstandings concerning the heart and soul. They present two foundations that firmly ground this book. The first is that while we moderns are inclined to regard the soul and destiny as mystical or unfounded in truth, these concepts have deep and enduring historical roots. The second is that your physical body is a small personal model of the cosmic universe. Your cellular body reflects a multitude of the "mystical" truths of the ages. Both of these foundations lead to one truth—that your soul is an embodied reality whose presence and purpose is expressed by your heart's energy. Further, in these two chapters I discuss how science is showing us evidence of this truth.
After reading these two chapters I am confident you will agree that it is self-diminishing for anyone today to neglect to know and celebrate the extraordinary intelligent spiritual complexity that is the body. It is a significant personal loss to scoff at intuitions or be self-deprecating about one's embodied wisdom. One might call me an "embodied feminist" I feel so adamant about resacrilizing the body and its wisdom.
In the following chapters, I will explain how to access your embodied language and insights from a number of perspectives, each designed to allow you to resacnlize your relationship with your essential self.
Chapter 2: The Seventh Sense asks you thought-provoking and soul-searching questions about your personal relationship to your heart in order to help you begin to discern the presence of heart-centered messages.
Chapter 3: Meeting Your Heart lays out the relationship between your physical heart and the emotional bonds that are created by its energy. This chapter explores the importance of the in utero blood bond between the fetus and its mother and how this bond develops into a cellular capacity for trust and openness. Also, we explore how doubts and fears block your ability to access your intuition.
Chapter 4: What Your Heart Knows discusses the relationships among dreams, emotions, and the ability to calm yourself. Identifying what your heart knows will enable you to discriminate between a broader sense of wisdom about your entire life and the more selective guidance of what your heart wants concerning selective choices from the general range of insights and possibilities.
Chapter 5: What Your Heart Wants introduces you to Sharon and Marianne and their questions about the difference between fate and destiny. This chapter teaches you how to value, honor, and make manifest those signals that are life changing. You will discover that many of the places and activities that you find attractive are actually reflective of your soul's preferences.
Chapter 6: What Your Heart Loves invites you to differentiate between who you love and what you love. This chapter looks at the complexity of love and its many meanings as they affect your life.
Chapter 7: Where Your Heart Lives invites you to soul search and describe the geography that your soul vibrationally responds to. You will be asked to imagine how you might literally live in one of the geographical places you love and, if you cannot, to imagine how you can create some of that environment where you live now. We will discuss travel as sacred and place as reflective of your inner terrain.
Chapter 8: When Your Heart Is Broken Open takes you into the realm of deep grief and inexplicable loss. You will learn how to allow your heart consciously to break by uncovering the depth of your capacity for feelings, and how to do this with meaning in order for you to expand your relationships and take in life fully. We talk about grief and healing and resiliency and deep sorrowing.
Chapter 9: When Your Heart Celebrates reminds us of the wide variety of experiences that the heart's knowing celebrates throughout the entire life cycle, from birth to death and beyond. This chapter will remind you of all that you have uncovered during your ever-deepening relationship with your heart-centered wisdom, emphasizing the strength and self-awareness that comes with consciously creating the rituals that celebrate life and death.
Working in a Recovery or a Self-Exploration Group
If you care to use this book in a six- or eight-week, two hours weekly, workshop or group format for members of a heart health or self-discovery group, the participants would read the chapter at home on their own and then come to the group either to do the exercises or discuss their experiences having done the exercises at home.
Because this book is both a guide to ward a deeper relationship with your heart and contains a great deal of new information about your soulful embodiment, it can also be used as a text in a discussion format. Reading one chapter at a time and then discussing it in a group can take from eight to twelve weeks.
When I teach this material I use a heart-centered body prayer, Spontaneous Contemplative Movement, with movement, music, and art. You may wish to incorporate similar activities into your group's work. A list of possible music choices is included in the Resources at the back of this book.
Excerpted from Heart Sense by Paula M. Reeves. Copyright © 2003 Paula M. Reeves, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Foreword by Robert Romanyshyn
2 The Seventh Sense
3 Meeting Your Heart
4 What Your Heart Knows
5 What Your Heart Wants
6 What Your Heart Loves
7 Where Your Heart Lives
8 When Your Heart Is Broken Open
9 When Your Heart Celebrates