Living A Heart-Centered Life
Drawn from the inspiring words of Stephen Harrod Buhner in his book Secret Teachings of Plants: The Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature.
Between 60 and 65 percent of the cells in the heart are neural cells—the same kind of cells as those in your brain. The neural connections between the brain and heart cannot be turned off. Information is always flowing between the two. The heart is directly wired into the central nervous system and brain, interconnected with the amygdala, thalamus, hippocampus, and cortex. These four brain centers are primarily concerned with emotional processing, sensory experience, memory, spatial relationships, the extraction of meaning from environmental sensory inputs, problem solving, reasoning, and learning.
The heart makes and releases its own neurotransmitters as it needs them. By monitoring central nervous system functioning, the heart can tell which neurotransmitters it needs and when, in order to enhance its communication with the brain. The heart also has its own memory. The heart stores memories—specific emotional experiences and the meanings embedded within them—which affect consciousness, behavior, and how we perceive the world. The more intense the emotional experience, the more likely it will be stored by the heart as memory.
Analysis of information flow into the human body has shown that much of it impacts the heart first, flowing to the brain only after it has been perceived by the heart. What this means is that our experience of the world is routed first through our heart, which “thinks” about the experience and then sends the data to the brain for further processing. When the heart receives information from the brain about how to respond, the heart analyzes it and decides whether or not the actions that the brain wants to take will be effective. The heart routinely engages in a neural dialogue with the brain and, in essence, the two decide together what actions to take.
When the brain entrains to the heart, connectivity increases between brain and body. Sympathetic and parasympathetic nerve pathways directly link the heart and brain, allowing communication and information to flow freely. Messages flowing from the heart to the brain during this shift to coherence significantly alter the brain’s functioning, especially in the cortex, which profoundly affects perception and learning. A new mode of cognition is activated…the holistic/intuitive/depth mode.
This kind of synchronization does not occur spontaneously, unless people habituate heart-focused perception. Since we have been habituated to the analytical mode of cognition through our schooling, and taught to locate our consciousness in the brain and not the heart, this type of entrainment must be consciously practiced. Even though the brain entrains with the heart through heart-focused techniques, the brain tends to wander in and out of entrainment. Because of the brain’s long use as the dominant mode of cognition, this entrainment is not permanent. Practice in entrainment helps the brain and any other system to maintain synchronization for longer and longer periods of time.
Impacts on Health and Disease
The heart is the most powerful oscillator in the body and its behavior is naturally nonlinear and irregular. One measure of the irregular, nonlinear activity of the heart is called heart rate variability (HRV). The resting heart, instead of beating regularly, engages in continual, spontaneous fluctuations. The heartbeat in young, healthy people is highly irregular. But heart beating patterns tend to become very regular and predictable as people get older or as their hearts become diseased. The greater the HRV, the more complex the heart’s beating patterns are, and the healthier the heart is.
It is not surprising, then, that our culture’s focus on a type of schooling that develops the brain to the exclusion of the heart—that fosters thinking instead of feeling, and detachment instead of empathy—leads to disease. Heart disease is always accompanied by an increasing loss of non-linearity of the heart. The more predictable and regular the heart becomes, the more diseased it is. Loss of heart rate variability, for instance, occurs in multiple sclerosis, fetal distress, aging, and congestive heart disease. To be healthy, the heart must remain in a highly unstable state of dynamic equilibrium.
Since emotional experience comes, in part, from the electromagnetic field of the heart, a disordered, narrow, non-complex electromagnetic field will produce emotional experiences that are themselves disordered, narrow, and restricted in scope. Holding the consciousness to one state of being—the verbal/intellectual/analytical mode of cognition—necessarily produces a diminished heart function, a shallower mix of emotional states, and an impaired ability to respond to embedded meanings and communications from the environment and from the self.
Conversely, increasing heart coherence and heart/brain entrainment has shown many positive health effects. Increased heart coherence boosts the body’s production of immunoglobulin A and produces improvements in many disorders, such as arrhythmia, mitral valve prolapse, congestive heart failure, asthma, diabetes, fatigue, autoimmune conditions, autonomic exhaustion, anxiety, depression, AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
One specific treatment intervention study, for example, found that high blood pressure can be significantly lowered within six months, without the use of medication, if heart coherence is reestablished. And as heart/ brain synchronization occurs, people experience less anxiety, depression, and stress overall.
Lack of cognitive focus on the body (habituation to the verbal/intellectual/analytical mode of cognition) results in disconnection and increased disorder in organ function and is the foundation of many diseases, including heart disease. When attention is focused on different sensory cues, such as heartbeat, respiration, or external visual stimuli, physiological function shifts significantly and becomes healthier. It becomes even healthier when specific kinds of emotions are activated: Feelings of caring, love, and appreciation enhance internal coherence. The more confused, angry, or frustrated a person becomes, the more incoherent their heart’s electromagnetic field.
In the healthy heart, the varied and complex emotional mix we experience each day—generated by contact with our internal and external worlds—produces a range of heart rate patterns that is nonlinear and constantly shifting.
Heart Communication with the External World
Renee Levi, Ph.D., a researcher on collective resonance, says that biological fields are “composed of vibrations that are organized, not random, and have the capacity to selectively react, interact, and transact internally and with other fields.”
An expert on child development, Joseph Chilton Pearce, wrote, “Our body and brain form an intricate web of coherent frequencies organized to translate other frequencies and nestled within a nested hierarchy of universal frequencies.”
Living organisms, including people, exchange electromagnetic energy through contact between their fields, and this electromagnetic energy carries information in much the same way radio transmitters and receivers carry music. When people or other living organisms touch, a subtle but highly complex exchange of information occurs via their electromagnetic fields.
Refined measurements reveal that there is an energy exchange between people, carried through the electromagnetic field of the heart that, while strongest with touch and up to 18 inches away, can still be measured (with instruments) when they are five feet apart. Of course, our technological ability to measure electromagnetic radiation is very crude; electromagnetic signals from living organisms, just like radio waves, continue outward indefinitely.
Energy encoded with information is transferred from one electromagnetic field to another. In response to the information it receives, the heart alters its functioning and encodes in its fields, on a constantly shifting basis, its responses. Those responses can, in turn, alter the electromagnetic fields of whatever living organisms the heart is engaged with—for this is a living, ever-shifting dialogue.
The heart generates the strongest electromagnetic field of the body, and this field becomes more coherent as consciousness shifts from the brain to the heart. This coherence significantly contributes to the informational exchange that occurs during contact between different electromagnetic fields. The more coherent the field, the more potent the informational exchange.