My heartfelt thanks go to French mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal, for elucidating such profound observations about the human heart.
He provides the perfect context for the subject matter of this first, in-depth exploration of the human heart in my ‘Heart Matters’ blog trilogy.
In this first post I wanted to explore the fundamental questions about the function of the heart in our everyday lives as well as looking specifically at heart health challenges and well-being in later posts.
Mysteries of the Human Heart
Is the heart merely a muscle, a complex pump that powers blood, oxygen and nutrients around our body, or does it actually have a mind of its own, as Blaise Pascal suggests it does? Is it the seat of our emotions and the source of love? Perhaps it serves in both capacities?
David Malone explores the human heart, juxtaposing the modern scientific view of the heart as a mere pump, versus its long history as a symbol of love and the centre of innate wisdom and human character:
The heart has been written about in every age and culture. It is the subject of poetry, prose, stories and parables. For the romantics it is an ‘organ of fire’.
“When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object.” ~ Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being)
The immense use of the word ‘heart’ in language reveals our long-held obsession with its mysteries. Here are more than a few references to the heart, covering the whole spectrum of human emotion:
Heartfelt, heartbroken, heartache, bleeding heart, heartless, purple heart, kind hearted, soft hearted, cold hearted, black heart, heartless, heartthrob, heartbeat, sweetheart, weak hearted, big hearted, disheartened, heartily, hearty, heart of the matter, open hearted, half hearted, down hearted, free hearted, lion heart, heart centred, heart burn, a heart of stone, sickness of the heart, bless your heart, a change of heart, absence makes the heart grow fonder, after my own heart, be still my heart, eat one’s heart out, by heart, cry heart out, follow heart, faint of heart, give someone heart-failure, heart of gold, have a heart-to-heart, follow your heart, heart in the right place, heart in mouth, heart sinks, heavy hearted, heart skips a beat, heart flutter, home is where the heart is, heart’s not in it, with all one’s heart, young at heart, with a light heart, set heart on, take to heart, steal heart, out of the goodness of heart, pour heart out, to one’s heart’s content, lose heart, have heart in mouth, let heart rule head, in one’s heart of hearts, wear heart on sleeve, close to one’s heart, win heart, have a heart!
Perhaps to describe a person as heartless is the worst insult you could level at them, it implies that the very essence of what makes a human being is absent…
Shakespeare’s references to the heart:
The very instant I saw you, did My heart fly to your service. (The Tempest, Ferdinand to Miranda) ~ You draw me, you hard-hearted adamant (Midsummer Night’s Dream, Helena to Demetrius) ~ My five wits, nor my five senses, can Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee. (Sonnet 141, 9-10) ~ Tell me thou lov’st elsewhere; but in my sight, Dear heart, forbear to glance thine eye aside (Sonnet 139, 5-6) ~ JAQUES What stature is she of? ORLANDO Just as high as my heart (As You Like It) ~ A heart to love, and in that heart Courage, to make love’s known (Macbeth, Macbeth to Macduff) ~ Tell me where is fancy bred, Or in the heart, or in the head? (Merchant of Venice, song) ~ What infinite heart’s ease Must kings neglect that private men enjoy! (Henry V) ~ My old heart is cracked, it’s cracked (King Lear, Gloucester to Regan) ~ If thou ever didst hold me in thy heart, Absent thee from felicity a while, And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain To tell my story. (Hamlet, Hamlet to Horatio) ~ Go to your bosom; Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know… (Measure for Measure, Isabella)
Shakespeare as you’ve never heard him before! I think the Bard would dig this jazzy interpretation:
Definitions of heart
- A hollow, muscular organ, which, by contracting rhythmically, keeps up the circulation of the blood.
- The seat of the affections or sensibilities, collectively or separately, as love, hate, joy, grief, courage, and the like; rarely, the seat of the understanding or will; — usually in a good sense, when no epithet is expressed; the better or lovelier part of our nature; the spring of all our actions and purposes; the seat of moral life and character; the moral affections and character itself; the individual disposition and character; as, a good, tender, loving, bad, hard, or selfish heart.
- The nearest the middle or centre; the part most hidden and within; the inmost or most essential part of any body or system; the source of life and motion in any organization; the chief or vital portion; the centre of activity, or of energetic or efficient action; as, the heart of a country, of a tree, etc.
- Courage; courageous purpose; spirit.
- Vigorous and efficient activity; power of fertile production; condition of the soil, whether good or bad.
- That which resembles a heart in shape; especially, a roundish or oval figure or object having an obtuse point at one end, and at the other a corresponding indentation, – used as a symbol or representative of the heart.
- One of a series of playing cards, distinguished by the figure or figures of a heart; as, hearts are trumps.
- Vital part; secret meaning; real intention.
- A term of affectionate or kindly and familiar address.
- t. To give heart to; to hearten; to encourage; to inspirit.
- i. To form a compact centre or heart; as, a hearting cabbage.
All emotion emanates from the heart. It is the first organ that develops in a growing foetus, even before the brain.
“It is in the heart that the values lie. I wish I could make him understand that a loving heart is riches, and riches enough, and that without it intellect is poverty.” ~ Mark Twain
It makes sense to me that emotional intelligence comes from the heart and intellectual intelligence comes from the mind. The two are separate yet cannot exist without the other, the yin and yang of our physical existence. It seems that our creator trapped us in a biological duality of heart and mind, where our challenge lies in finding balance within the dichotomy of reason and passion.
It is a question pondered by greater poets than me.
Heart and Mind
SAID the Lion to the Lioness – ‘When you are amber dust, –
No more a raging fire like the heat of the Sun
(No liking but all lust) –
Remember still the flowering of the amber blood and bone,
The rippling of bright muscles like a sea,
Remember the rose-prickles of bright paws
Though we shall mate no more
Till the fire of that sun the heart and the moon-cold bone are one.’
Said the Skeleton lying upon the sands of Time –
‘The great gold planet that is the mourning heat of the Sun
Is greater than all gold, more powerful
Than the tawny body of a Lion that fire consumes
Like all that grows or leaps…so is the heart
More powerful than all dust. Once I was Hercules
Or Samson, strong as the pillars of the seas:
But the flames of the heart consumed me, and the mind
Is but a foolish wind.’
Said the Sun to the Moon – ‘When you are but a lonely white crone,
And I, a dead King in my golden armour somewhere in a dark wood,
Remember only this of our hopeless love
That never till Time is done
Will the fire of the heart and the fire of the mind be one.’
~ Edith Sitwell (1944)
The heart and its mysteries will always be at the root of popular culture. I don’t recall Elton John singing, “Don’t go breaking my brain.” It doesn’t sound right and it doesn’t feel right…
“If my heart could do my thinking, and my head begin to feel, I would look upon the world anew, and know what’s truly real.” ~ Van Morrison
So how do we attain the ideal marriage between the heart and mind? That state of alignment and inner peace, which promotes optimal health and a feeling of good will to all man, of spiritual connection?
“It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
Increasing one’s intellect is sometimes an arduous task, and for some of us, there’s only so far our grey matter will take us (thanks genes). I’m all for constant learning. I’m a learning junkie. But the heart’s capacity to love knows no limits and is not dependent on knowledge.
The Heart — an organ of truth and emotion
It turns out that living a heart centred life isn’t a sound bite of new-age mumbo jumbo, it’s based on hard science. Positive emotions and living in alignment with our strengths, virtues, passions and purpose creates coherence with the mind. Scientists have discovered that the heart has its own neurons which communicate with the brain more than the brain communicates with the heart. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
“I think… if it is true that
there are as many minds as there
are heads, then there are as many
kinds of love as there are hearts.” ~ Leo Tolstoy (Anna Karenina)
History of the heart
The ancient Egyptians recognised that the heart represents truth. The heart knows when we are in love, it gives us that ecstatic yet unsettling fluttering sensation which is beyond our control. The swelling and warmth we feel when we think of those we love. Whether we are being true to ourselves, or being less than truthful, it beats steadily or erratically accordingly. We may be able to fool others, but we can’t fool our heart.
“Alas! there is no instinct like the heart…” ~ Lord Byron
That’s why many organisations use Polygraph tests when questioning suspects and witnesses, so they can measure potential physiological changes that take place during questioning. The lie detector tests measure pulse, blood pressure, respiration and skin conductivity, all of which are controlled by the heart and cardio vascular system.
“The heart is the perfection of the whole organism. Therefore the principles of the power of perception and the soul’s ability to nourish itself must lie in the heart.” ~ Aristotle
Could it be that the voice of conscience we hear in our head actually has its Head Office located in our heart?
- A great article from Stanford: A History of the Heart
“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” ~ Kahlil Gibran
It has been discovered that the heart emits its own powerful electro-magnetic field, and that our hearts are linked energetically to those we love regardless of distance. Science tells us that we are all connected at the quantum level.
Mysteries of the Heart:
The Heart’s Intuitive Intelligence: A path to personal, social and global coherence:
An interesting and enlightening TED Talk from Howard Martin, one of the original leaders who helped Doc Childre found the HeartMath Institute. I think he eloquently answers my questions!
When he talks about how human heart energy interacts and affects the planet’s ionosphere; it’s quite fitting that an anagram of HEART is EARTH.
To bear malice is ultimately affecting us more adversely than the person or thing we are scornful of. A Happy heart is a healthy heart.
Until the next time, from the bottom of my heart!
“It is our heart working in tandem with our brain that allows us to feel for others … It is ultimately what makes us human… Compassion is the heart’s gift to the rational mind.” ~ David Malone