The Social Heart: Energy Fields and Consciousness
In physics, it is generally accepted that “distant” particles can act with instantaneous “knowledge” of each other’s state because the order of the whole (the cosmos) is nonlocalized and enfolded into all parts. More recently, it has become evident that the whole of biological life is, in some fundamental sense, present in all organisms, and that it is this “knowledge” of the whole that accounts for their behavior and evolution. There is even compelling evidence that the individual members of social systems are connected to a group field that can be accessed by their brains as implicit “knowledge” of how the social group is organized as a whole.
Such awareness of wholistic order—of the global organization of systems and their relations to their context— is the broader meaning of consciousness we use here. To have consciousness of a whole involves connection to the medium—the field—into which information about the whole is recorded and distributed. This requires an energetic form of information, in which patterns of organization are enfolded into the waves of energy of system activity distributed throughout the system’s field.
In science, a field is a force or a medium for interaction, not directly measurable, the effects of which are distributed to all parts and locations throughout a given space. The organization and processing of information in these fields can best be understood in terms of holographic principles.
(Holographic organization is based on a field concept of order, in which information about the organization of an object as a whole is encoded as an interference pattern in energy waveforms distributed throughout the field. This makes it possible to retrieve information about the object as a whole from any location within the field.)
There is substantial evidence that information is embedded in and communicated via the electromagnetic fields generated by the body’s physiological systems. For this discussion, we will focus primarily on the magnetic field generated by the heart and on the fields connecting social systems.
The Heart’s Field
Interactions Within the Body
Until recently, it was thought that conscious awareness originated in the brain alone. It is now understood that consciousness—both sensory and cognitive—actually emerges from the brain and body acting in concert. Evidence suggests that of the bodily organs, the heart plays a particularly significant role.
Far more than a simple pump, as was once believed, the heart is now recognized by scientists as a highly complex system with its own functional “brain.” Research in the new discipline of neurocardiology shows that the heart is a sensory organ and a sophisticated information encoding and processing center. The heart’s intrinsic nervous system (or “heart brain”) enables it to learn, remember, and make functional decisions independent of the cerebral brain. Moreover, numerous experiments have demonstrated that the signals the heart continuously sends the brain influence the function of higher brain centers involved in perception, cognition, and emotional experience.
In addition to the extensive neural communication network linking the heart with the brain and body, the heart also communicates information throughout the body via electromagnetic field interactions. The heart generates by far the body’s most powerful and extensive rhythmic electromagnetic field. The electrical component of the heart’s field is about 60 times greater in amplitude than the electromagnetic field produced by the brain, and permeates every cell in the body. The magnetic component is approximately 100 times stronger than the brain’s magnetic field and can be detected several feet away from the body with sensitive magnetometers, while the field generated by the brain can only be detected up to an inch away from the scalp.
The heart generates a continuous series of electromagnetic pulses; the time interval between each beat varies in a dynamic and complex manner. The heart’s ever-present rhythmic field has a powerful influence on processes throughout the body. At the HeartMath Institute, we have demonstrated, for example, that brain rhythms naturally synchronize to the heart’s rhythmic activity, and also that during sustained feelings of love or appreciation, the rhythms of diverse physiological oscillatory systems entrain to the heart’s rhythm. We have also shown in laboratory experiments that changes in the cardiac field can affect the growth rate of cells in culture.
(In one particularly intriguing experiment, healthy human fibroblasts—skin cells—and human fibrosarcoma cells—tumor cells from the same lineage—were both exposed to the same coherent heart signal. We found that the growth of the healthy cells was facilitated while the growth of the tumor cells was inhibited.)
We propose that the heart’s field acts as a carrier wave for information that provides a global synchronizing signal for the entire body. Specifically, we postulate that as pulsing waves of energy radiate out from the heart, they interact with organs and other structures, encoding their features and dynamic activity as interference patterns of energy waveforms that are distributed throughout the body. In this way, the encoded information acts to inform (literally, in-form, or give shape to) the activity of all bodily functions, thereby operating as a global organizing mechanism to coordinate and synchronize processes in the body as a whole.
Extensive research at the HeartMath Institute shows that information pertaining to a person’s emotional state is also communicated throughout the body via the heart’s electromagnetic field. The rhythmic beating patterns of the heart change significantly as we experience different emotions. Negative emotions, such as anger or frustration, are associated with an erratic, disordered, incoherent pattern in the heart’s rhythms. In contrast, positive emotions, such as love or appreciation, are associated with a smooth, ordered, coherent pattern. These changes in the heart’s beating patterns create corresponding changes in the structure of the electromagnetic field radiated by the heart, measurable by spectral analysis techniques.
More specifically, we have demonstrated that sustained positive emotions appear to give rise to a distinct mode of functioning, which we call heart coherence. During this mode, heart rhythms exhibit a sine-wave-like pattern and the heart’s electromagnetic field becomes correspondingly more organized. At the physiological level, this mode is characterized by increased efficiency and harmony in the activity and interactions of the body’s systems, encompassing phenomena such as entrainment, synchronization, and resonance. (Correlates of physiological coherence include: increased synchronization between the two branches of the autonomic nervous system, a shift in autonomic balance toward increased parasympathetic activity, increased heart-brain synchronization, increased vascular resonance, and entrainment between diverse physiological oscillatory systems.)
Psychologically, this mode is linked with a notable reduction in internal mental dialogue, reduced perceptions of stress, increased emotional balance, and enhanced mental clarity, intuitive discernment, and cognitive performance. In sum, our research suggests that psychophysiological coherence is important in enhancing consciousness— both for the body’s sensory awareness of the information required to execute and coordinate physiological function, and also to optimize emotional stability, mental function, and intentional action. Furthermore, as we see next, there is also experimental evidence that psychophysiological coherence may increase our awareness of and sensitivity to others around us. It is because of the significance of these findings for the improvement of health and socioemotional well-being and the development of consciousness that the HeartMath Institute has created practical technologies such as the Inner Balance HRV coherence training system, and techniques that all people can use to increase heart coherence for stress reduction and enhanced performance.
Interactions Between Individuals
Most people think of social communication solely in terms of overt signals expressed through language, voice qualities, gestures, facial expressions, and body movements. However, there is now evidence that a subtle yet influential magnetic or “energetic” communication system operates just below our conscious awareness. Energetic interactions likely contribute to the “magnetic” attractions or repulsions that occur between individuals, and also affect social exchanges and relationships. Moreover, it appears that the heart’s field plays an important role in communicating physiological, psychological, and social information between individuals.
Research shows that when people interact, important aspects of their physiology can become linked and entrained. Studies of married couples and of clinician–patient exchanges have documented heart activity synchronization between individuals during empathetic interactions.
Experiments conducted at the HeartMath Institute have found remarkable evidence that the heart’s magnetic field can transmit information between people. We have been able to measure an exchange of heart energy between individuals up to 5 feet apart. This research shows that when people touch or are in proximity, one person’s heartbeat signal is directly registered in the other person’s brain waves, and elsewhere on the other person’s body. Additionally, we have evidence that when two people are at a conversational distance, one person’s brain waves can actually synchronize to the other person’s heart. Furthermore, when an individual is generating a coherent heart rhythm, synchronization between that person’s brain waves and another person’s heartbeat is more likely to occur. These findings have intriguing implications, suggesting that individuals in a heart-coherent state become more aware of the information encoded in the heart fields of those around them.
The results of these experiments have led us to suggest that the nervous system acts as an antenna, which is tuned to and responds to the magnetic fields produced by the hearts of other individuals. We believe this capacity for energetic information exchange to be an innate ability that heightens awareness and mediates important aspects of true compassion and sensitivity to others. Furthermore, we have observed that this energetic communication ability can be intentionally enhanced, producing a much deeper level of nonverbal communication, understanding, and connection between people. We believe that this type of energetic communication between individuals also plays a role in therapeutic interactions between clinicians and patients and, when activated, promotes the healing process.
Finally, there is intriguing evidence that heart field interactions can also occur between people and animals. In a study of a dog and his owner, we observed that when the owner consciously felt love for his pet, there was a synchronous shift to increased coherence in the heart rhythms of both of them.
In short, energetic communication via the heart field facilitates development of an expanded consciousness in relation to our social world.
The Heart’s Field and Intuition
To this point, we have reviewed research findings showing that the heart’s electromagnetic field plays a direct role in psychophysiological communication within and between individuals. But there are also new data suggesting that the heart’s field is directly involved in intuitive perception, through its coupling to an energetic information field outside the bounds of space and time. Using a rigorous experimental design, we found compelling evidence that both the heart and brain receive and respond to information about a future event before the event actually happens. Even more surprising was our finding that the heart appears to receive this “intuitive” information before the brain. This suggests that the heart’s field is linked to a more subtle energetic field that contains information on objects and events remote in space or ahead in time. Called by Karl Pribram and others the “spectral domain,” this is a fundamental order of potential energy that enfolds space and time, and is thought to be the basis for our consciousness of “the whole.”
Moving from the individual heart field to the level of social groups, a similar process operates to generate a consciousness of the group whole. The great French sociologist Émile Durkheim called this the collective consciousness, and saw it as the “consciousness of the consciousnesses.”
In the same way that the heart generates energy in the body, the social collective is the activator and regulator of the energy in social systems. Studies of mother-infant interaction, adult relationships, and social collectives have documented how information about the organization of the social whole is generated and transmitted to members of the collective via a field of positive emotional energy constituted from bonds of attachment or love.
A body of groundbreaking work shows how the field of socioemotional interaction between a mother and her infant is essential to brain development, the emergence of consciousness, and the formation of a healthy self-concept and ability to self-regulate and form positive social bonds. These interactions are organized along two relational dimensions—stimulation of the baby’s emotions and regulation of the aroused emotional energy—and together form a socioemotional field through which enormous quantities of psychobiological and psychosocial information are exchanged. Coherent organization of the relations that constitute this field is critical; this occurs when interactions are charged, primarily, with positive emotions (love, joy, happiness, excitement, appreciation, etc.), and are patterned as highly synchronized, reciprocal exchanges between the pair. These patterns of mother–infant interaction mediated by the socioemotional field are imprinted in the child’s brain, and thus encode the neurological templates that influence psychosocial function throughout life.
Communication in Adults
At the adult level there is evidence, from research on the social organization of speech, of an affectively-based energetic field through which nonverbal communication operates subconsciously to inform the organization of verbal interactions. For instance, a study of interviews between a talk show host and his guests found evidence of an inaudible low-frequency nonverbal signal in the energy spectra of vocal communication. This energetic signal appears to affect the collective organization of social interaction by encoding and transmitting subconscious information about the relative social status of the individuals involved.
Organization and Function of Social Groups
In a longitudinal study of social groups, it has been shown how a group’s collective consciousness can be mediated by a field of emotional energy that interconnects all group members where information about the organization of the group as a whole is enfolded. Coherent organization of the relations ensures an optimal flow of information, and thus the emergence of consciousness of the group’s collective order. In turn, the degree to which the collective consciousness is a coherent order is directly related to the group’s future viability and ability to manifest effective action. Remarkably, once the group field is established, even when most members leave the group and are replaced by new members, the group’s social structure is perpetuated. The only way to explain such perpetuation of the group’s collective consciousness is if the “template” for the group’s order is recorded in an actual field of socioemotional energy that operates according to the information processing principles of quantum holography.
Synthesis and Implications
From an energetics perspective, the heart field and social field share certain commonalities in organization. Each is a field in which the waveforms encode the features of objects and events as interference patterns, as energy moves throughout the system. This creates a nonlocal order of energetic information in which each location in the field contains an enfolded image of the organization of the whole system at that moment. Because information about the order of whole—awareness or consciousness of the whole—is distributed throughout the field and therefore informs the operation of the system, the processing of information in the field is best understood in terms of holographic principles.
Another commonality is the role of positive emotions, such as love and appreciation, in generating coherence both in the heart field and in social fields. When the movement of energy is intentionally regulated to form a coherent, harmonious order, information integrity and flow are optimized. This, in turn, produces stable, effective system function, which enhances health, psychosocial well-being, and intentional action in the individual or social group.
Heart coherence and social coherence can also mutually reinforce each other. As individuals within a group increase heart coherence, psychosocial attunement is increased, thereby increasing the coherence of social relations. Conversely, the creation of a coherent social field by a group can facilitate the generation and maintenance of heart coherence in its individual members. Through this two-way process, access is amplified to information enfolded in the implicit order of the energy fields in which everything is embedded. By reducing the “noise” from normal cognitive and emotional processing, such field coherence creates a purer channel for receiving energetic information. An expanded, deepened awareness and consciousness results: of the body’s internal physiological, emotional, and mental processes, and also of the deeper, latent orders enfolded into the energy fields that surround us. This is the basis of self-awareness, social sensitivity, creativity, intuition, spiritual insight, and understanding of ourselves and all that we are connected to. It is through the intentional generation of coherence in both heart and social fields that a critical shift to the next level of planetary consciousness can occur—one that brings us into harmony with the movement of the whole.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #63.
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