“There is a wisdom of the head, and…a wisdom of the heart!”
Charles Dickens, Hard Times

“Where my heart lies, let my brain lie also.”
Robert Browning, “One Word More”

“It is the heart which experiences God, and not the reason.”
Blaise Pascal

There is a new trend these days toward becoming more heart-centered, one that is a positive trend in our move toward wholeness.

What do we mean by “heart-centeredness?”

Actually, the term “heart-centered” may be a bit misleading, as it might indicate a move from the head to the heart. I prefer, instead, to look at it as opening the heart up, a “heart-openness.” (And, as we shall soon find out, current scientific research shows that we may already be more “heart-centered” than we know.)

As a believer in wholism and in being whole, I feel that we are healthier and more whole when we develop and use more of our faculties and abilities. In the present context, this means that we want to use our heads and our hearts (as well as our guts, our intuition, etc.) – and have them all working together in a seamless whole. So, in order to become more heart-centered, we don’t want to stop thinking! We just want to open up our feeling center more and feel while we think and think while we feel. (We may not need open-heart surgery, as much as we may need heart-opening surgery!)

The move toward “heart-centeredness” in Western industrialized societies is truly a step toward wholeness. And it is not just Western societies that are starting to inch toward wholeness: interestingly, there is also a move in less industrialized “third-world” societies that have traditionally been more heart-centered toward developing their rational, head-oriented faculties more (technical, analytical, etc.) – and thus embracing their wholeness.

So, why aren’t we already “heart-open?”

The Age of Reason has propelled our Western society increasingly into our heads. And our contemporary materialistic focus has served to cement us there. As we have become more “rational,” we have tended to discount and dismiss the “non-rational” (i.e., heart-centered faculties) as beneath us or as lesser attributes, and not to be relied upon. The rational, empirical, and pragmatic alone are to be trusted. Interestingly, even if we have tended to see ourselves as left brain or right brain, we are still viewing ourselves as in our heads, as these are still head-centered faculties. (Of course, if we want to be head-centered, we could always be whole-brain, rather than half-brain!)

Thus, our “rationalism” has led us to disown our feelings and live in our heads. And, if we do get into our feelings, we tend to talk about them, rather than genuinely feel them.

Certainly our age of specialization has led us to be more one-dimensional, relying on only one facet of ourselves and leading us to be less than we can really be.

When we layer in on top of these factors another influence that we have seen in our society in the last 30 years – that of hiding our feelings – it is easy to see why we are not more heart-open. There has been increasing pressure in our society not to show our emotions (or “wear our hearts on our sleeves”) and thus be vulnerable. We must protect ourselves by appearing “cool.” This tendency has been further aided and abetted by our advertising and popular media that have encouraged us to be image-conscious. In addition, increasing urbanization and crowding, and an increasing crime rate have led us to protect ourselves by putting our emotional armor on and erecting walls between ourselves and others.

And, if we’re not image-conscious or acting cool, we may have closed down emotionally. The extreme emotional sensitivity and past pains of some of us may have led us to feel pain more easily than pleasure or happiness. Our hearts may have become figuratively scarred (because we’re scared?) – and closed off.

It’s no wonder, then, that some of us close our hearts off, live in our heads, or fall into habits of negative thinking (cynicism, fearfulness, etc.).

So, why should we even want to become more heart-centered? What is so special about the heart?

Physically seated in the chest, protected by the ribs, and actually fairly tough, the heart is pear-shaped and consists of four chambers. It is composed of muscle and is a little bigger than a fist. Health-wise, the heart can be affected by hypertension, clogged arteries, etc. A healthy flow in the heart is vital to its health (just as a healthy flow is desirable in our overall energy flow).

Figuratively, we know the heart as “the seat of emotion,” the place where our “inmost thoughts and feelings” reside. It is also seen as “the vital or most essential part; the real meaning; the core.” (Webster’s Unabridged)

Interestingly, we have always accorded the heart a special place in our world, almost as if we have an innate sense of its complex importance. We use phrases like “with all one’s heart,” or “to set one’s heart on.” While we have apparently always had an intuitive awareness of the key role of the heart in our emotional well-being, scientists may have tended to dispute the validity or empirical value of these idioms and have therefore discounted this folksy wisdom.

It is interesting that we have traditionally viewed the heart in these two ways, both as a physical organ and figuratively as vital and involved with emotion, because, ironically enough, recent scientific research has yielded some provocative findings that show a basis for such a wedding in terms.

I was fortunate enough last summer to attend the annual IONS conference (Institute of Noetic Sciences), where I was introduced to the work of the Institute of HeartMath (IHM) in California. Aside from research into phantom DNA and subtle energy (they’ve also invented an instrument that measures subtle energy), they have done extensive research into the heart, which sheds light on the question of heart-centeredness. I’ll share some of their research here, but, should you want more detail, you can visit their web site (http://www.heartmath.org) and read their research for yourself.

They point out that the heart is the largest wave generator in the body. The waves it generates (as measured by an EKG) can actually entrain the brain’s waves (as measured by an EEG)! (Entrainment involves a synchronizing of two wave or energy systems.) And the heart’s waves can actually entrain our whole physical system (brain, immune system, etc.). Shades of wholeness!

“The heart generates an electrical information field that not only permeates every cell in the body, including the cells of the brain, but also radiates out into space.” (Joseph Sundram, IHM, “The Heart of Change Management”) The heart’s electrical field has been detected and measured five feet away from the body.

And one person’s heart waves can affect and show up in someone else’s brain waves when they touch each other.

There is also an intelligence and consciousness in the heart: “…the heart has unusual perceptual and intuitive information-processing capabilities….and has its own frequency range of intelligence that is not controlled by the brain or the autonomic nervous system. The heart is autorhythmic, which means that it beats on its own without requiring input from the brain or nervous system.” The heart and brain communicate with each other via nerves and hormones, and the heart’s communication to the brain “directly affects perception, reaction speeds, balance, intuition, and decision-making ability….” The “feeling and emotional perceptions of the heart,” when communicated to the brain, trigger “chemical changes in neurotransmitters and hormones throughout the body.” (All italics mine) (Doc Lew Childre, IHM, “A White Paper: Women Lead with Their Hearts”) This means that the heart affects our consciousness and our understanding, so that, in order to truly understand, we need to have our hearts open while we are thinking. Thinking with the mind alone (extreme intellectualism), while divorcing the heart while in the act of cogitation, leads to sterile thoughts devoid of true understanding.

The heart also affects the health of the immune system, hormonal balance (including the production of DHEA), thinking ability and creativity, DNA, entrainment, healthy cell growth, and inhibition of tumor cell growth!

When you actually read some of the results of IHM’s research, you feel blown away by the importance of that little bitty organ located in your chest.

Now, what makes the difference in whether the heart’s effects are positive or negative?

Interestingly enough, it is the type of emotions we have that affect our heart function – and, thus, how they entrain our whole physical system, how they affect others, and how they affect our own health.

Because emotions affect the wave patterns of the heart.

Dan Winter, a psychophysiologist, has mapped emotions in the heart. He has twice spoken at SFF (Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship) meetings, and I was serendipitously fortunate enough to hear him both times. He has shown how coherent emotions (creating a wave pattern with waves that are in phase with each other) – i.e., love, appreciation, etc. – affect the braiding of DNA.

At IHM they have researched how coherent emotions affect the heart and health. Coherent emotions produce a heart wave pattern that is smooth and symmetrical; noncoherent emotions (anger, frustration, resentment, caustic humor, etc.), by contrast, produce a jagged wave pattern.

Coherent emotions produce heart rate variability, vital for life and health, whereas the negative emotions do not. Noncoherent, or negative, emotions close the heart down and cause constriction. (There’s that “flow” factor again!)

As if it weren’t enough just to feel those noncoherent emotions and feel angry, resentful, etc., they also have the following ill effects: suppression of the immune system; hormonal imbalance; inability to think clearly; cardiovascular strain; negatively impacting others; tumor growth; and a negative impact on DNA. Indeed, recalling an angry memory for just five minutes can suppress the immune system for five hours. (On the other hand, just suppressing anger can also have ill health effects.)

It is through feeling – not thinking about, but really feeling – coherent emotions that we optimize health, reduce stress, promote longevity, optimize our thinking and creative faculties, have intuitive intelligence, have true understanding, entrain our physical system (for wholeness), have a healthy flow of energy, and positively affect others. (And we now have some scientific justification for ideas about wholeness and energy flow!)

And, if that weren’t enough, coherent emotions and an open heart allow for more connection to others and to our world.

But wait: there’s more!

IHM research also indicates that “the quantum electrical field of the heart is where love, or Spirit, enters the human system…where Spirit meets matter.” (Doc Lew Childre, IHM, “Building a Bridge Between Science and Religion”) So an open heart also opens us more to “Spirit”uality.

All of this – health, wholeness, flow, true understanding, connection to others, spirituality – from feeling love, appreciation, etc.!

But how do we start to feel coherent emotions more in our stressful contemporary lives?

Well, there are two techniques that I am aware of at the present time. One is the “Freeze Frame” technique devised by IHM (and delineated in the book, Freeze Frame by Doc Lew Childre), which incorporates recognizing the stressful feeling by becoming consciously aware of it (conscious living), shifting your focus to your heart for ten seconds, recalling a “positive, fun feeling” and re-experiencing it, asking your heart what would be a more efficient response to the stressful situation, listening to your heart’s answer, and writing down your response. Please note that this is a bare outline of the technique and does not give full justice to it. IHM conducts workshops in this technique and also provides consulting services to corporations, the military, etc. (You may contact them at (408) 338-2161.)

The second technique is called The Natural Process technique. It, too, is more of a meditative technique, but contains more elements of spirituality in it.

Information on The Natural Process technique was received by Margaret Keen in a near-death experience (NDE) she had in 1978. She was told, however, in her NDE not to release the technique until 1993. I was fortunate enough to learn it in 1994.

The Natural Process simulates a near-death experience and through it one experiences love, peace, knowing, the light, perfection, and oneness. It is truly a technique that enables one to move towards “heart-centeredness” and heart-openness in a positive way, facilitating one to feel coherent emotions and experience positive benefits in one’s body and feeling pattern. And one can experience transformative and lasting effects from it as well.

I’m sure, as time goes on, we’ll see more techniques facilitating the opening of our heart and allowing us to move more toward wholeness.

What an exciting time we’re living in! And who would'a thunk we’d see science giving us more and more of a basis for and validation of spirituality? What more lies ahead???

This article was first published in "Innerchange Magazine" in the April-May 1997 issue.

Author's Bio: 

Diane Brandon is the Host of “Living Your Power” on the Health & Wellness Channel of VoiceAmerica.com, as well as an Intuition Teacher, Integrative Intuitive Counselor, and Speaker. She is the author of "Invisible Blueprints" and several articles on personal growth topics, as well as a contributing author to "Speaking Out" and "The Long Way Around: How 34 Women Found the Lives They Love." Her private work with individuals focuses on personal growth, working with dreams, and personal empowerment, and she has done corporate seminars on intuition, creativity, and listening skills. More information may be found on her websites, www.dianebrandon.com and www.dianebrandon.net.. She may be contacted at diane@dianebrandon.com.