Wear your heart on your sleeve, trust your heart, broken hearted, a change of heart, to know by heart; all sayings associated with the heart in the Western world. Considering the heart is simply an organ for circulating blood around the body how did it come to be associated with matters of the mind and emotions? Perhaps it is the sensation that we feel in the heart area when feeling emotions such as joy, love or anxiety. Why is it that most people when identifying themselves point to the area of the heart and not the head where we believe all thoughts, and therefore identity arise from? How the mind became associated with the heart remains a mystery to most in the West.
In the fourth century B.C., the Greek philosopher Aristotle identified the heart as the most important organ of the body and the first to form. He believed the heart to be not only the force that kept our bodies alive, but also the origin of human emotions. This same philosophy is reflected in the Neijing Suwen, the most important ancient text in Chinese medicine, which states “Heart is the root of life and the seat of Shen or intelligence”. As the animating force of the body the heart can survive assisted long after the brain has died, yet the body cannot survive after the death of the heart. The heart is so vital to life that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) regards it as the emperor ruling over all other organs of the body. As the ruling force, when the heart and spirit are not flourishing it will have an effect on the entire body.
To gain a better understanding of how TCM perceives the role of the heart we must take a closer look at the Chinese words Xin which translates as both heart and mind, as well as Shen meaning spirit and heart. Through the translation of these two words we understand that it is the heart, and not the brain, that houses the mind and spirit. In addition only the mind (and therefore the heart) can feel and process emotions. Although the other organs, lung, liver, spleen and kidneys also have an emotional association, it is only the xin (mind and heart) that is able to recognize and assess each and every emotion. For this reason any longstanding emotions such as resentment, fear or grief will not only effect the associated organ but also the heart.
The main emotion assigned to the emperor heart is Joy which brings peace and a lightness of being.
When the energy of the heart is balanced the eyes are bright and spirited and there is a sense of happiness and fulfillment. Having a sense of self as well as purpose either through work or personal interests can create satisfaction in the creative process and bring a sense of contentment and joy. Heart felt moments with people or animals that create moments of shared joy is very beneficial to the heart. Don’t hold back with joy, express and share it freely and in the moment.
As with all emotions joy is fleeting and not something we can hold onto steadfastly. It is all too easy to become attached to a false sense of joy that may be found through reckless spending, intense attachment to new relationships or the pleasures of overindulgence in foods, only to fall into regret over our actions later. True joy comes from simpler things, a connection to nature, a beautiful piece of music, a happy memory or even a shared experience of others happiness and success. Joy arises naturally without seeking when we are aligned with our own true nature. Once it inevitably transforms into less desirable emotions take time to feel gratitude for the passing moment and know that there will be many more joyful times ahead.
In TCM the heart opens into the tongue and is in part responsible for clear communication. Creating meaningful connections with others, communicating freely and expressing feelings are all beneficial to the energy of the heart.
Qi or energy of the body circulates throughout each of organs and heart energy is at it’s peak between 11:00am and 1:00pm. This is a good time to relax, have lively conversation and nourish the body by enjoying lunch. Try avoiding caffeine, stress, intense exercise, or anything that can raise blood pressure. This is a common time for people to experience anxiety, heart palpitations and even mild sweating.
In the West we now recognize that stress plays a pivotal role in heart health. TCM has understood for millennia that when left unchecked emotions create an unsettled shen or spirit and may lead to heart conditions, such as high blood pressure, which may eventually cause damage to the physical heart. When heart energy is out of balance there may be poor memory, depression, anxiety, insomnia, heart palpitations and a lack of purpose or passion. Although joy is a positive emotion, if there is too much excitement and joy due to anticipation of a big event it can create a sense of overexcitement, anxiety and insomnia.
It is important not to look upon joy as the ultimate emotion or the end goal to every endeavour as this may lead great disappointment in the process of our pursuits. Know that reaching true joy may be preceded by challenging emotions such as fear, sadness, uncertainty or frustration. But isn’t that the joy of joy? Creation, inspiration, planning, dreaming and taking a leap of faith are never easy and always tangled up in emotions. It may take multiple attempts at achieving whatever our desired goals may be, but the outcome is worth it and what fuels our dreams and passions.
The heart has an intelligence that we still do not fully appreciate in the West. We now see through Traditional Chinese Medicine that the mind and heart are not separate. Remember the heart is the emperor and allow it to take the lead. Take time to quiet your heart and mind, be in the moment and allow the brilliance of your heart lead you to moments of true joy.
Jeanette is a Registered Acupuncturist and Reiki Master at Trinity Registered Massage Therapy located at Huron Crossing and Sage Naturopathic Clinic in Kitchener.