What the Heart Organ Reveals About Heart-Centred Living
You’ve probably heard the saying “live a heart-centred life.” But what exactly does that mean? We’ve all heard about the spiritual heart and the importance of love but for many it stays a mental concept rather than a felt experience.
Yet there’s something about the way we speak of the heart. Could our language be the memory of something else? Metaphors like closing off our hearts, keeping someone close to our heart, having a broken heart, feeling a heavy heart, taking heart, wearing our heart on our sleeve.
The physical heart has many qualities beyond just being a pump that can shed light on the saying “lead with your heart” and where it came from.
Read on to learn how this mysterious organ can reconnect us to our spiritual heart and reveal the meaning of “heart-centred living”.
I was inspired to write this blog after reading The Source of All Things: A Heart Surgeon’s Quest to Understand Our Most Mysterious Organ by Reinhard Friedl. It’s about a cardiac surgeon who ironically felt out of sync with his own heart and viewed the organ as a mechanical pump while doing thousands of open heart surgeries. Gradually he reconnected with his own heart and transformed his practice into one that considers the entire well-being of a person before opting for surgery.
My own heart surgery
Maybe this hits home for me because I had heart surgery at six months old. My grandma noticed my heart racing while giving me a bath (probably intuition too). I still have a faint 10-inch scar on the left side of my ribcage. Friedl even describes doing the same surgery I had for patent ductus arteriosus.
The idea of seeing the heart in an open chest admittedly makes me feel vulnerable and a bit grossed out but also reminds me that the heart really does exist inside our ribcage beating without a vacation.
My dad said he watched the image of my fast little heartbeat on screen with wonder prior to my surgery and how the doctor said “It’s amazing isn’t it?”
We speak so much of the spiritual heart but how often do we actually connect with the physical organ beating inside us?
By spending time appreciating this magnificent organ and how tirelessly it beats to keep me alive, I deepened my connection to my spiritual heart. Everyone takes it for granted until it doesn’t work properly. Why wait until that happens?
One morning at work I had a massage therapy cancellation and decided to use that time to put my hand over my beating heart and feel appreciation for it. That day several of my clients said it was the best session they’ve had; one was in tears.
By connecting with my own heart I was able to connect more deeply with theirs. We can do a lot less but with more love and have a deeper impact.
What the heart does every day all day
Friedl writes that in a single day the heart beats 100,000 times and pumps about 9,000 litres of blood. If that’s not amazing enough it carries all that blood over 100,000 km of blood vessels to every cell in your body with every beat. That’s like carrying 900 x 10 litre buckets across the street and back again. How long could you keep that up?
And yet we don’t appreciate the miracle of being alive with a heart that works flawlessly. I’m now in awe and appreciation of my own heart. It’s brought a new tenderness and compassion towards myself.
The heart’s most fundamental pattern is giving and receiving
“Giving and receiving is the heart’s most fundamental principle and the essence of love and balanced relationships.” - Reinhard Friedl, The Source of All Things: A Heart Surgeon’s Quest to Understand Our Most Mysterious Organ
With every contraction the heart pumps blood to the rest of the body. As the heart relaxes it receives blood. Whether it’s working and giving or resting and receiving, this is the most basic pattern of life, and yet we’re often living more biased to one side.
Our society is conditioned to do, do, do. Learning to relax and receive is harder than giving because most of us have wounds around offering and accepting support but it’s a worthwhile inner journey.
Two questions to ask yourself daily to help you balance this pattern:
What does my heart need today?
What does my heart have to give today?
If you want to read more about embracing a life of more being and less doing, I highly recommend The Art of Effortless Living: Discover Health, Emotional Well-Being, and Happiness by Ingrid Bacci.
A healthy heart balances the flow of giving and receiving.
Healthy hearts have space to move freely
The pericardium is a thin protective sac that surrounds your heart. It lubricates your heart and prevents friction with surrounding tissues as it beats.
A worn-out heart loses its mobility due to scar tissue in the pericardium and can’t expand in all directions. Over time it becomes less elastic, more restricted and loses its ability to beat both powerfully and freely.
Our most basic desire is to fully express ourselves, have spaciousness in our life and the expansion that comes from inner growth.
A healthy heart moves freely in the surrounding pericardium. It feels both safe and expansive.
The brain depends on the heart
The heart is actually the first organ to develop in utero. The brain depends on blood flow from the heart and we would lose consciousness without it. You can stay alive without a fully functioning brain but not without a heart.
The brain also listens to the heart more than the heart listens to the brain.
“More nerve signals travel from heart to brain than the other way around—an unbelievable 80 percent come from the heart.” - Reinhard Friedl, The Source of All Things: A Heart Surgeon’s Quest to Understand Our Most Mysterious Organ
Neuronal heart messages reach the brain stem first, the center of the autonomic nervous system that regulates involuntary physiologic processes like heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, digestion, and sexual arousal.
In life this means that while both the mind and heart are important, the heart leads the way. It communicates to the mind and they work together to create a harmonious life.
A healthy heart is flexible
We think we want a predictable heartbeat that speeds up with exertion and slows down with rest but there’s another unknown quality of the heart that’s used as a measurement of overall health. Heart rate variability (HRV) is the result of the many connections between the brain and heart.
“The heart also beats chaotically and irregularly when at peace… The interval between heartbeats, too, is by nature always different, never the same; it varies by up to several hundred milliseconds. So the healthy heart is by no means the Swiss clock it was long thought to be…the heart does what it wants, and it is absolutely unpredictable how yours or mine will beat in the next second. The clock of the heart is like the clock of life.” - Reinhard Friedl, The Source of All Things: A Heart Surgeon’s Quest to Understand Our Most Mysterious Organ
Low HRV is observed in individuals with a wide range of diseases and disorders. Overall the more distinct your heartbeat’s spontaneous adaptability (the higher the HRV) the less worn out and more flexible your nervous system and organs are. That’s the big secret to a long and healthy life.
Not surprisingly children have the highest HRV. They’re incredibly adaptable and receptive to their environment. They live with an openness to explore the world. Later in life we feel called to return to that state.
The great news is that we can learn to change our heart rhythm pattern to create physiological coherence, a scientifically measurable state characterized by increased order and harmony in our mind, emotions and body.
If you’re interested, the HeartMath Institute developed a HRV coherence monitor and scientifically proven method to help you shift your emotional state and watch the changes in real-time. I have this device and it’s very humbling to see just how erratic our “normal” state is and equally empowering to see how we can change it.
To do it, you simply focus on the area of your heart, slow your breathing and think of regenerative feelings like gratitude, appreciation or care. You can think of someone or something that activates those feelings in you. If that's too hard at first, start with a feeling of calm.
When you feel comfortable with step 1 and 2, step 3 is sending that uplifting feeling to yourself and then outwards to either the space around you, another person, or a place that needs more love.
For more information on the science of heart coherence, checkout the HeartMath Experience.
A healthy heart embraces unpredictability with a willingness to adapt.
Waves are a natural pattern of life
Waves and cycles appear everywhere. From our heart beat, brain waves, to the seasons and tides, nothing is ever still. The heart can’t physically stay in one state of contraction or relaxation to nourish us.
If your life had no ups and downs it would look like a flatline on an ECG. You’d be dead. Yet we all have a fear of change and a desire for predictability.
The only constant in life is change, as scary as it is. Start embracing the lows as part of a cycle and know that it won’t last forever. Trust that life knows best and it's the ups and downs that allow us to experience every note in life’s symphony.
The electrical rhythms of the heart represent the waves and cycles of life.
Work and rest are necessary
So how is it possible that the heart has the energy to work endlessly without rest?
“The heart always relaxes! After every single heartbeat the heart relaxes. The time it sets aside for relaxation (when at peace) is about twice as long as the time for a contraction…So the heart not only contracts three billion times in seventy years, but relaxes as often. If you add it up, it relaxes far longer than it works. And from that, I believe, we could learn something.” - Reinhard Friedl, The Source of All Things: A Heart Surgeon’s Quest to Understand Our Most Mysterious Organ
Isn’t that the truth? Everything follows an eternal rhythm of exertion and relaxation. This is a fundamental principle of a balanced, sustainable lifestyle and a healthy heart.
Work isn’t only negative and rest isn’t only positive. Both are necessary in the right amounts. In fact, rest often leads to more impactful work. Over a lifetime, pausing often can lead to breakthroughs, taking inspired action and leading a satisfying, meaningful life.
Now let’s say hello to our heart
If you’ve read this far, you probably have a deeper appreciation for your heart.
When’s the last time you sensed it? Put your right hand on your heart. Breathe slowly and deeply. Whatever you feel or don’t feel is right. Be patient and don't judge. After a while you may sense how your heart gives you life with every ba-boom.
Ask your heart:
What does it need today?
What does it have to give today?
When I first connected with my heart, I sensed “beating isn’t good enough”. On top of performing flawlessly it had to prove something and struggle in order to feel alive. It needed appreciation.
When we feel addicted to “doing” it’s a good time to reconnect to our heart.
Feel the miracle of being alive and the nourishment this organ provides endlessly and without fail. That alone is an achievement. Sense the limited time you’ve been given to experience your physical heart. It’ll stop one day. How do you want to spend the remainder of your time?
Recognize how despite the heart doing so much, we put enormous pressure on it to do more. Most of us could benefit from being kinder and gentler on ourselves. While the heart is very resilient it’s also very delicate.
“As a heart surgeon, I reach deep into the chest and put hand to heart…When they lie in my hand it feels as if they are the essence of life, the pure and absolute will to live…Some hearts are very lively and muscular, others a little chubby with clearly visible fat. Some betray their long path through life and appear tired and spent. Yet they all have one thing in common: they like nothing more than to beat.” - Reinhard Friedl, The Source of All Things: A Heart Surgeon’s Quest to Understand Our Most Mysterious Organ
When we live from a place of appreciation for our heart, we listen to its needs. We play more. We rest more. And when we connect to our physical heart, it naturally brings about uplifting heart qualities like kindness, appreciation, care, and patience.
Hopefully now you can see where the term “heart-centred living” comes from and have an appreciation for your own heart. Qualities like giving and receiving, being and doing, expansiveness and the willingness to adapt to life are all found in the heart organ.
I invite you to connect to your heart daily and see the impact it has on your life.
Ready to try something new? Discover how Bio-energy Healing can help you reconnect to your heart.
If you’re interested in feeling lighter, understanding your body and discovering your gifts (how you thrive in love, work and life) Margaret offers healing sessions in-person and online.
An Energy Shift Session is designed to recalibrate your mind and soul to new levels of energy and creativity. Leave with clarity, lightness and action steps to live in alignment with your soul.