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The Heart Has a Mind of Its Own

Science Confirms What the Mayans Knew in Their Hearts

by Carolyn A. Romano, Bliss Healing Arts
May/June 2008
 
For more than 50 years, anthropologist Robert Laughlin has been studying Mayan culture and one of its languages, Tzotzil, still spoken among the indigenous people of Chiapas, Mexico. In the late 1970s, Laughlin learned of the existence of a rare, Tzotzil manuscript housed in the library of Princeton University.  The manuscript, written by a Dominican friar in the late 1590s, was actually a colonial Spanish-Tzotzil dictionary containing more than 10,000 Spanish words along with their Tzotzil equivalents. The friar recorded more than 80 metaphors referring to the heart and reflecting the Mayan’s deeply held belief that the heart is the locus of all that is human.  The phrases, simple yet evocative, are touching and universal:
 
My heart aches:  I am in love. 
You perfume my heart:  You give me pleasure.
You console me:  You shape my heart.
I am upset:  My heart shakes.
 
Why or how the Mayans came to believe that the heart was the center of the soul is not known.  Yet, they are not alone in this belief.  Many ancient cultures including the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Babylonians, and the Greeks maintained that the heart was the principle organ responsible for influencing and directing the emotions and serving as a seat of morality. Similar perspectives are found in the Hebrew and Christian bibles as well as in Chinese, Hindu, and Islamic traditions.  According to Childre and Martin (1999), “[a]ll these conceptions have a common view of the heart as harboring an ‘intelligence’ that operates independent of the brain yet in communication with it.”
 
Science is confirming that this is the case.  We now know, for instance, that
 
(1) the heart starts beating in an unborn fetus before the brain has been formed.  Scientists do not know what triggers the beating; it appears to be self-initiated within the heart.
 
(2) a developing brain grows from the bottom up.  First the brainstem, then the amygdale and hippocampus (the emotional centers) emerge.  Then the thinking brain grows out of these emotional centers, saying much about how thought and feeling are related.  
 
(3) the heart doesn’t need to be connected to the brain to keep beating.  For instance, when someone has a heart transplant, the heart still knows how to function even though the nerves that run from the brain to the heart are severed, and surgeons don’t yet know how to reconnect them. Yes, the heart keeps beating even though there’s no longer any connection to the brain.
 
(4) the heart has an independent nervous system made up of over forty thousand neurons.  Called the “brain in the heart,” these neurons create a two-way communication system between the heart and the brain sitting in the cranium on one’s shoulders.  Scientists as far back as the 70s discovered that when the brain sent “orders” to the heart through the nervous system, the heart didn’t automatically obey. The heart’s response (or lack thereof) seemed to indicate that it had its own distinctive logic.
 
(5) the heart can send messages to the brain that the brain not only understands but obeys, seeming to indicate that messages from the heart can actually influence a person’s behavior.
 
(6) the rhythmic beating of the heart transforms into neural impulses that affect the brain’s electrical activity, particularly the brain centers involved in cognitive and emotional processing.
 
Indeed, a beating heart is more than just a diligent pump working tirelessly on our behalf for 70, 80, 90 years. It is the seat of an intelligence that significantly influences how we perceive and react to the world.
 
There’s an emotional brain long before there’s a rational one,
and a beating heart before either.
          —Doc Childre and Howard Martin, The HeartMath Institute

The heart has eyes which the brain knows nothing of.
          —Charles H. Perkhurst

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.
          —Helen Keller

The heart has reasons that reason does not understand.
          —Jacques Bénigne Bossuel

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. 
What is essential is invisible to the eye. 
          —Antoine du Saint-Exupery
 
Now that science continues to confirm what the “spirit” has always known about the intelligence of the heart, places such as the Institute of HeartMath in California are learning—and then teaching—that intelligence and intuition are both heightened when we learn to listen more deeply to our own heart.  As Childre and Martin explain:
 
“It’s through learning to decipher the messages we receive from our heart that we gain the keen perception needed to effectively manage our emotions in the midst of life’s situations and challenges.  The more we learn to listen to and follow our heart intelligence, the more educated, balanced, and coherent our emotions become.
 
“Without the guiding influence of the heart, we easily fall prey to reactive emotions such as insecurity, anger, fear, and blame, as well as other energy-draining reactions and behaviors.  It’s this lack of emotional management that brings incivility to our homes and streets and lack of caring to our interactions with others—not to mention mental illness and accelerated aging.”
 
At last, strategies for developing heart intelligence are being discovered, developed, and shared, strategies that not only affect how well we manage our emotions but also how well we manage and influence our physical well-being.  Childre and Martin talk about 10 key tools and techniques everyone should know to gain access to the heart.  It may take me a while to learn the “HeartMath Solution,” but I can live with that.  Or as the Mayans would have put it, “My heart is seated.”  I am at peace.
 
 
 
For more information on HeartMath, see www.heartmath.com.
 
Resource:  Childre, Doc, and Howard Martin.  (1999.) The HeartMath Solution.  San Francisco:  Harper Collins.
 
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If you are interested in understanding and examining the events in your life from other perspectives with the goal of effecting positive change, energy work and shamanic coaching might be for you.  Contact Carolyn for your free, 30-minute consultation in person or over the phone.  508-481-2547 or blisscenter@comcast.net


 

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