The ancients have taught us a lot about the heart, and yet despite the vast volumes of human lore that exist on the subject, the human heart remains an enigma to most of us. The Egyptians, the ancient Chinese, Hindu traditions and many other cultures believed (and still do) that the heart is the seat of consciousness. Upon first glance it seems like they are talking about the heart organ, just as some modern people see the brain as being where “the person” lives. In Egypt, the Goddess of justice Ma’at weighed the heart of the deceased against the feather of truth and justice to see if the person lived a virtuous life. These allegories tell us a lot about the true nature of the heart.
What the ancients were referring to is a field of consciousness that flows through the entire body and beyond. Its access points are in the chest and around the spine, close to the heart organ, where Hindu traditions say the Anahata (heart chakra) resides. In Hindu texts, an open heart chakra looks like a flower with petals facing outward; but when the higher heart is accessed, the petals point upwards towards the sky. There are acupuncture points around the heart too, which are used to access the physical or esoteric heart. Over the millennia there have been different models created and intuited to explain heart consciousness. You could study them all and maybe get a decent understanding, but really they are all trying to convey an experience that we are all capable of having.
There are many aspects of consciousness in Classical Chinese Medicine, but in this post we’ll focus on the Shen, or the Spirit. The Shen is intimately connected to the energy of the heart. The Spirit includes our day to day mind, but it also includes our Original Shen. It is the piece of our consciousness that comes from a universal and perhaps higher Divine source. It contains the blueprint of why we incarnated and what we’re here to learn and accomplish. It contains our innate gifts and inclinations. These are not the inclinations developed on the personality level, which can be learned or unlearned by outside influences or personal efforts; these gifts and understandings are an innate knowing. In Daoism this is referred to as one’s True Virtue. It’s something that you have that you never had to try to have. It has always just been present.
The Original Shen appears a lot more strongly in children, behaviorally, because they have not yet experienced as much outside influence. As a child I loved nature, making little herb collections, and trying to help people get healthy. I didn’t yet have an understanding of the means, but the heart-driven intention was already happening. When I was less than five years old, I heard that my grandmother in Newfoundland stubbed her toe. I put a bandage in a little box and asked my mother to mail it to her right away! This is the Original Shen in action, in my case wanting to be some kind of healer. All children are born with these innate inclinations. Unfortunately the modern education systems in place are mostly focused on single learning patterns, and so children tend to forget who they are as they enter adolescence. Extraneous layers of programming and behavioral conformity are added. This forgetting can be temporary, if we teach children and young adults to really return to their own source. The remembering is always available at any time, for anyone. Nothing so great is ever truly lost.
When your heart is truly open and you’re tapped into your own Shen, you experience instant knowing. This is not the same as emotional intuition. It’s a knowing that does not originate in the mental realm. In Buddhism it is referred to as the “one hand clapping” because the field of the heart produces answers without logical origins. It’s non-linear and beyond time and space. It produces information without the need to categorically analyze before arriving at conclusions. It is unbridled truth that is instantly integrated upon awareness. In a modern world that places so much emphasis on the rational mind, this kind of knowing has become undervalued and teachings about it are hard to come by in the mainstream, but it is a knowing that most people have already experienced from time to time. All the old adages about being in your heart are true for this reason. All knowledge already exists, the only difference between knowing and not knowing is whether or not the gateway is open. When the gate is closed we tend to rely more on the rational, linear mind. When it is open, knowing is more effortless.
Love and fear are the two primary human emotions, and all other emotions are cords from these. Fear draws a person into denser realities, into survival and material concerns. It makes energy in the body sink downward and contract. It’s an uncomfortable sort of motivation. Fear is useful because it can keep you alive and have focused tunnel vision when the going gets tough. Humanity would not have survived this long without it. Fear as a temporary experience is a normal part of human reality. It’s when fear becomes a long-term holding pattern that we no longer resonate with our inner truth. We go into auto-pilot mode rather than be guided by our other faculties. Fear requires a lot more energy to function because it resonates at a denser vibration.
The energy of love in the heart has a fiery, uplifting and enlivening effect. Beyond the mere emotion which comes and goes, the love from the higher heart is a field of consciousness. It is light and therefore not only requires less energy to move, its very presence gives energy. People who live on the heart level require less food, less effort to live, and they are generally healthier. In Chinese Medicine, the heart organizes and governs the activities of all the other organs. A well attuned heart means the whole body benefits.
So what can we take from all this? In a nutshell: listen to your heart. I know, I know, people say that all the time, but what do they really mean? The deeper, esoteric and ancient meaning is: there is a seed of light within you that nobody can take or give to you, it is always there. It has been there since the day you were born and has remain unchanged your entire life. Your personality may undergo changes, you may experience fortune or misfortune, but that light is omnipresent. You don’t have to do intense work or have some special qualifications to experience it. All it is, is a matter of remembering.
Remember who you are. The real, true you. You’ll know you’re there because your body will open and all of the contractions you had before will begin to expand. You will be able to know the right course of action without worrying about it too much. There will be grand truths that will appear in your inner dialogues with yourself, new ways of thinking that seemingly come out of nowhere that are easy to trust. You will remember all the things that really matter to you, all of the important things. You won’t need outside confirmation because it will already feel true and right. Whatever is not relevant to your path will seem unimportant. And maybe, just maybe, over time, that love will begin to heal and integrate those shadowy parts of yourself that never quite felt right. You’ll understand why you did things the way you did and you will begin to forgive with compassion.
The heart is the key. It is the gateway to your truest most inner self. It radiates all your answers without needing to ask the questions. It is the field that unifies. And because every human has this, we are all connected through experiencing it. Every person who opens loving consciousness affects everyone and everything around them.