The heart is the queen of the body, enthroned in the body’s core. The first organ to become functional, and the one that pulses with vitality from a few weeks after conception until the moment of death. She is hopeful but can become discouraged, radiant with affection at baseline but cold with terror or indifference when overwhelmed. The heart bears the burden of our hurts and and disappointments, but in a way that remains optimistic. No matter how oppressed we may feel, it doesn’t take the heart long to reawaken its natural state of wonder if it is treated with renewed care.
To soften and warm the human heart is one of the main goals of Mindful Biology. Of course, talking of the heart with this language leaves out the actual biology of the physical pump that moves blood through our bodies. We’ll cover that in due time. But each of us, even the most skeptical and unemotional, feels the occasional longing in the chest, or the occasional crush of deep sorrow. The heart region is a region that feels, even if we believe sensations that seem heart-centered are physically implemented in brain networks rather than the muscular organ.
Mindful Biology can help us heal the emotional heart. It may even help us recover from medical heart disease. By understanding both the actual structure of the heart and the information web in which it participates, we can grow more accepting. We can begin to meet our sadness and other difficult heart-sensations with less resistance. We do this by learning how to feel what the heart feels, by no longer turning away from the discomforts that rise and fall in the chest.
One of the legacies of trauma is disconnection from feelings, including those of the heart. In order to foster a sense of heartfelt living, we need to reconnect with our inner landscape of emotion. Key in this task is building a more intimate relationship with the stirrings of the emotional heart. In turn, this requires relaxation, an ability to meet life with less sense of terror. Here we come full circle, calming the physical heart through relaxation practices (which reduce heart rate and blood pressure), and soothing the emotional heart by fostering feelings of love and devotion for the beautiful organism that is our own human body. Learning about the body’s workings helps us in both tasks, as we gain more skill in relaxation and more openness to appreciation.