Saturday, April 3, 2010

The heart of the matter

While the males in our population have long been accused of having a second brain in their pants, every one of us has a brain in our chest as well as in our head.

Thoreau said "The intellect is powerless to express thought without the aid of the heart." Science is proving more and more that our experience of the world is first perceived by our heart, which thinks about it, responds accordingly and sends information to the brain for further processing.

Around 65% of the cells in the heart are neural cells, clustered in ganglia and connected to the neural network of the body through axon-dendrites just like in the brain. The heart is a specialized brain hooked into the central nervous system making and releasing its own neurotransmitters and with its own memory.

The neurons in the heart store memories. This is why when Grandpa gets a heart transplant from Julio Vasquez, he starts liking salsa afterward when he couldn't stand it before.

Wild, huh? This stuff completely blew me away and is from Stephen Harrod Buhner's book The Secret Teachings of Plants: In the Direct Perception of Nature.

These neural cells in the heart have a direct connection to the brain and are constantly chattering back and forth with the brain and the two, together, decide how to respond to incoming information. Neurons in the brain alter their behavior in accordance with the signals embedded in each heartbeat and send it to the central nervous system to make physiological and behavioral changes almost instantly.

The heart's ability to perceive meaning from the world even has a name: aisthesis which literally means "to breath in." It is that moment when the life force of one living organism communicates with and moves into another one. We live in a world that is alive with awareness and intelligence. It is up to us to acknowledge and allow this intimate exchange kind of like the Navi in Avatar plugged their tails into something to connect with it.

Even though we are trained out of using our heart as organs of perception early on, the skill still exists and can be developed. Think of seeing the Grand Canyon or any postcard worthy scene. There is a real, palpable reaction in the body as the energy, the power of the thing is felt.

The brain is an organic computer processing data and acting as a clearing station for central nervous system functioning. Unlike the heart, the brain is linear and to use it as the primary organ of perception reduces life analytically to a mechanical process with little meaning.

Because of my brain injury, I was forced to rely heavily on the perception and intelligence of my heart. I have learned to trust it and listen to it. You know what? It is much wiser than my brain ever was. Using this type of intelligence and perception, I truly feel connected and just know the right direction for me at each turn. I used to be hopelessly disconnected, lost, and did not have a clue. I was always looking externally to others and things to give me the answers here.

There is a great power and wisdom in the world around us. The challenge is to notice it, develop it, and invite it to play a bigger role in our lives. To begin to use the heart as an organ of perception and communication allows us as a species to become, once again, a respectful, integral part of the web of life of Earth and allows us as individuals to begin to live more fulfilled and authentic lives. The problem is our heart intelligence is in kindergarten while our mind intelligence has already graduated.


  1. Debbie,

    What a wonderful post. brokenbrilliant wrote about the heart/ spine/ mind connection very recently and I've been thinking about it ever since. Did you read 'My Stroke of Insight'? The writer, a brain surgeon who had a stroke, writes about how her intuitive side took over when her rational side was incapacitated by her stroke. I've experienced something similar, though on a much more minor note, and I've found as I have (by necessity) redeveloped my analytical, rational side, the intuitive has diminished.

    In our hyper rational world, it's hard to find the stillness necessary to let the heart feel fully, particularly, as in my case, injury has lessened the barriers to distraction. But the heart/ mind balance is something to work towards . . .


  2. Tim, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I did read "My Stroke of Insight" early on after my brain injury, and it was so inspirational and gave me so much hope and motivation. I think it can do so for anyone with any condition, not just a brain injury.

    As a society, our rational, analytical thinking and intelligence has been so reinforced and rewarded. Our heart intelligence is like a super power we all have and have completely forgotten. Developing it and trusting it will help us find peace and survival as a race and meaning as individuals.

    We HAVE to find the stillness to encourage this. It is magical. Keep working towards it in your own life.

  3. Hi Debbie,
    When I read your writing, it absolutely stirs my heart. It exudes love. It is full of wisdom and a true sense of being on this Earth, of being fully tuned to it's rhythm.

    I enjoyed reading what Tim said and your response to him. And, I agree that finding the stillness and wisdom beyond rational thought is magical. Well said!

    Thanks for another wonderful post, Debbie. Keep up the great work! I'll be reading.

  4. Lori, howdy! Thank you for your oh so kind words, and I feel the same way about your writing. There is nothing like wisdom and compassion learned "in the trenches."

    The challenges in our lives have also been blessings as they truly have given us many gifts as well. One of my favorite sayings is "If you like where you are, then you can't complain about how you got there."

    It is a fascinating journey, and we all have so much at our disposal we don't even use. I feel like I have discovered super powers that everyone has and that I had all along. It is about taking a giant leap and always trusting your cape.

  5. In my time in the desert, Jesus taught me that to develop our Sacred mind that the ego must become a servant of the heart instead a slave of the mind. I guess he already knew the science of the heart. Great article. Thanks,

  6. Yes, there is a natural, innate, comforting even feeling to move to the heart yet our society teaches us to do and values anything BUT that. Good for you for heeding this message and following that path early on and helping others to do it in your work. Keep on!

  7. Debbie, I would prefer that you called me a thin zero instead of a big fat zero. That I could handle. But to be a number above zero would be even more astounding. I would love to called a big fat 10 or 9 even. Thanks for the wonderful information. Keep up the tremendous work.

  8. Tony, I don't think you meant to post here, but good to hear from you. You are a big fat 10 in my book!