Getting to the Heart of the MatterJan 30, 2021 08:00PM ● By Meg Reilly
We have certainly come through a challenging year with a worldwide pandemic and, in the U.S., the tumult of a presidential election season for many months before and the period after.
Sometimes the winds of change felt more like being buffeted by a hurricane. Just turning the calendar to 2021 was a relief, a declaration of hope, an act of grace. But, as Chaucer wrote in 1395, time and tide wait for no man. It’s already February. So, the question today is as imperative as it was 626 years ago: How are we going to stay engaged with this world? How do we want to participate? Or, as Mary Oliver so starkly put it, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
No matter what last year threw at us or what lies ahead, a recommendation for facing life’s challenges is to do it heart-first. This isn’t to suggest we abandon reason and good advice and just leave our path to whimsy. Evaluation of the facts before us and sound reasoning are the bedrock of good decision-making. It’s easy to see the logic in the sequence of taking care of oneself so we are able to take care of others or make meaningful contributions to our community or co-workers. But if our goal includes honoring our “one wild and precious life,” grounding our decision-making in a heart-centered way enriches life even more.
Many early cultures considered the heart to be the seat of human consciousness, thought and wisdom—not the brain. Now, modern science tells us that the heart has its own brain, that there are neurons in the heart that communicate with neurons in the brain. Rather than the brain running the whole show, communication between the head and the heart is a two-way street, with decisions being negotiated, as Lew Childre and Howard Martin describe in The Heartmath Solution. Once more, modern science has caught up with the ancients.
So, whether we look at this as science, as spirit or as energy, how do we do it? How do we live a heart-centered life, and why bother anyway? Let’s begin with how.
Changing our ways takes work. Happily, heart-centered living begins with something we are already doing—breathing. We can picture ourselves in a typical trying situation: rushing somewhere, having the same old argument, staring at the scale that hasn’t budged after a week of dieting. Perhaps we find that we’re habitually berating ourselves for not planning better, or getting snared by the same insult or failing to accomplish that goal.
The first step is to simply catch ourselves in the act, pause and take a breath. Then, turn attention inward, to the middle of our body, to our physical heart. Once we’ve shifted that focus directly to our heart, bring the attention, thoughts and response down from the head and into the heart. As we take the next few breaths, imagine breathing with the heart. Focus energy and attention there for about 10 seconds.
The next step is to conjure up a memory. Surprised? This may seem like going in a completely different direction, but trust the process. We should think of something that makes us smile, feel happy or joyful, and while recalling the event, summon the feeling. For a moment, feel that way again. Don’t work too hard at it. It should be simple and quick (and, with practice, will become much more so).
Now, drawing on intuition, sincerely reevaluate the event that triggered the response in the first place—only this time, do it from the heart. Ask the heart what would be a more effective, stress-reducing response. And, trusting the answer, proceed from there.
Benefits of a Heart-Centered Approach
That is just one technique (called Freeze Frame) among many. In addition to the HeartMath Institute, there are dozens of reliable resources, many free online, with simple tools to practice a more heart-centered approach to life, including Metacenter.org, CharterForCompassion.org, PositivePsychology.com and Mindful.org.
But why should we? Is anything really going to change if we make the effort to change our approach to life? In short, everything will change.
Energetically, a heart-centered person exudes loving-kindness. Once we begin to shift our actions on the inside, others will note a change on the outside. With practice, a dedicated heart-focused practice will naturally expand outward, and others will feel it. Psychic energy fields extend well beyond our physical heart and body.
Stress reduction is an inevitable by-product of a heart-centered approach. The body’s production of distress-related hormones drops while eustress-related hormones increase. It sounds science-y, but it just means we’ll feel happier.
Practicing a heart-centered life makes room in our day-to-day interactions for more authenticity and happiness. And, remember, it is a practice. We’ll definitely get better at it with repetition, but there will be times when it simply doesn’t come as easily and we need to give ourselves a break. The good news is, by then, we’ll be much better at directing loving-kindness toward ourselves and moving on.