Head and Heart

This past Sunday, somewhere between PB&J sandwiches and Jeb’s book report for the Boxcar Children’s “Surprise Island” (great read, by the way) I found a little time with science.

My life seems to support mere snippets of adult-time reading.  Random paragraphs imbibed after throwing the clothes in the wash but before I start dinner.  Needless to say this communication to you will be no dissertation (not even as thorough as a book report).  I work in threads here in the Archives and this is yesterday’s weave beside the fruit salad.

Two different sources.  Two different body locations.  Head and heart.  The theme:  bridging.

Never been too good at math, but Heart Math, maybe…  There is a fascinating non-profit called The Heart Math Institute that studies the links between the heart and mind.  Their mission:  “…helping people establish heart-based living and global coherence.”  Their angle: use science and technology to integrate and use the intelligence of the heart in all aspects of our lives.

What they’ve found so far is that the heart has a mind of its own.  Despite what I was taught in school – that all messages from the brain epicenter command the rest of our body – what we’ve got going on internally is no one-way street.  Studies have shown that the heart communicates with and affects the brain.  It actually has its own intrinsic nervous system, which acts independently of the brain.  Check out the cardiac ganglia below (cells that make up a kind of ‘brain’ material), which serve to process information and transmit it to the body.

photo courtesy of The Heart Math Institute

Seems the inner physical world is not the only place affected.  Using an electrocardiogram (ECG) to measure electrical fields emitted from the body, scientists have found that the field generated by the heart is 60 times greater in strength than that of the brain.  And with a SQUID-based manometer (wonder what that looks like), they’ve measured the heart’s magnetic field as being 5000 times greater than the brain’s.

Further research has discovered that the energetic field of the heart affects brain waves, can be influenced by emotion, and that the fields between the brain and heart can be synchronized.  These fields have shown to be synchronized between people, too.

photo courtesy of The Heart Math Institute

What does all of this mean?  For me it’s science explaining what I think many of us already ‘know’ in our hearts.  We’ve felt these connections.  We know the sense of how it feels when everything aligns in a moment – with ourselves, our world and each other.  “Follow your heart” is not just for blissful utopia seekers.  It seems to be a fundamental part of how we live.

This doesn’t diminish the power of the brain.  Somewhere after the almond butter but before the book report illustrations, I grabbed a few paragraphs from Janet Conner’s “Writing Down Your Soul.” It references work from a book by Dr. James Pennebaker“Opening Up”, which outlines studies done on the affects of expressive writing on the brain.  Pennebaker concluded that what was termed “confessional writing” effects the corpus colosum, a portion that bridges the left and right brain.  This kind of deep writing can produce a meditative state, inducing theta waves that trigger more whole brain functioning.

This state can be therapeutic, especially when healing trauma.  What is suggested is that the language aspect that is centered in the left brain can express the negative emotions that are primarily localized in the right brain.  The writing can actually release old patterns established by neural pathways, as the two halves of the brain communicate and converge.

In fact, a study even measured particular words that when written seemed to have the greatest positive impact upon the writer.  When expressing painful experiences, those that wrote from a place of reflection and insight and incorporated words like “understand”, “realize” or “know” seemed to benefit the most.  Pennebaker’s conclusion:  “Writing moves us to resolution.”

Simple snippets that remind me that the connections are there.  Always have been.  We feel it and know (there’s that power word).  Science studies it and explains the details.

I come here to the Archives because I feel.  I write to try to capture the essence of that feeling and share.  I hope that someone reading may be inspired to reach into their interior.  Express it any way they feel.  To let that heart of theirs beam its electro-magnetic field around the world and beyond.  To send signals to the brain that bring syncopation and plenty of happy thoughts.  To forge new pathways and travel on mental landscapes yet unexplored.

May we all fulfill this vessel’s greatest potential.  And enjoy the process of conveying the experience to one another.

Hand on the Heart

Friday was full.

Jeb stayed home with the sniffles while I tried to work from home.  He did as I requested, which was to keep himself occupied while I tended to my tasks at hand.  But being that he was not really all that ill, he had plenty of energy to essentially turn his room inside out.

The dishes in the sink, the pile of Legos scattered by the door, the voice of Casey Kasem as Shaggy on the Scooby Doo DVD  – I tried to tune out the peripheral chaos and focus on my work.  At one point I realized I had to see a client and Jeb was going to have to come with me and occupy himself in the car.  I’d sent an email and left a message with Rex in hopes of getting a little relief but there had been no reply.

I gathered my essential work-related items and then began hastily throwing together some snacks for Jeb’s backseat excursion.  A tangerine, a bowl of cheddar goldfish, a breakfast bar and some water.  He put a basket of toys together and we ran through the rain to load up in the car.

As I pulled out of the driveway thinking of how I could most gracefully appear professional yet still tend to the needs of my under-the-weather-child, I felt the tension ripple through my body.  I knew this feeling.

I’d spent 5 days in December having an intimate exchange with this strained sensation.  It feels heavy, like something of a mountain on top of my head.  And this mountain is ever-demanding and never lets up.  Under the pressure of this prominence my very being constricts and tightens.  Things move faster, my patience grows thinner and eventually…I get mad.

So Jeb’s in the back seat trying to see if one of his Star Wars Storm Troopers can fit in his remote control Jeep while Buzz Lightyear looks on.

Buzz Lightyear and a bald Mr. Potatohead

Riding shotgun with me is my laptop and paperwork, a ten page to-do list and a stick of gum.  I feel the overwhelm close in on me like a shroud.  And then I remember the words of the Ambassador.

If you follow the Archives you may recall the Ambassador shared his story of 15 seconds of grace. He also imparted some sage advice for moments when grace can’t even be felt for a millisecond.  He suggested the simple gesture of a hand to the heart.  A deep breath in.  And just be there like that for a moment.

So I’m driving down the highway with Jeb and Mr. Potatohead and I reach my hand to my heart and breathe.  There is a comfort there of simply feeling a hand on my chest.  An abbreviated version of a self-hug.  I notice the air in my lungs.  And I begin to see the green of the wet trees along the highway with a bit more vivid vision.  After about a minute, I do realize that my body has relaxed.

photo by Jessica Dofflemyer - all rights reserved

No circumstance has changed.  I still have a client to meet.  Jeb is still sniffly.  But I’m a bit more calm.  And then I realize that the mountain on my head is not just sourced in situation.  Surely life will provide plenty of external conditions to challenge me.  But in the end, I’m the one who decides how it affects me.  I choose to tighten.  I choose to lose my grace in haste.

Hand on the heart makes space.  I like this.

Within five minutes of arriving at my clients’, Rex texts me that he can be with Jeb.  I shuttle him to his father’s place with gratitude and have the rest of the day to focus freely on my work.  I’ll admit the day still saw instances of tension and I forgot all about my heart.  But I had a glimpse of mastery in that moment there with Jeb and the toys and the highway.

And you know, just for fun…if you’ve read this far.  I invite you to try it for yourself right now.  Put your hand on your heart and see how it feels.