Sunday, February 14, 2010
What's in Your Heart?
Whenever I hear phrases like, "follow your heart," "trust what's in your heart," "hold it in your heart," I must admit that the first image that comes to my mind is this:
I see chordae tendinae, papillary muscles, ventricular walls: the inside of an actual human heart. What do people mean when they say "in my heart I know this," or "there's so much going on in my heart?" Why do we so easily identify our deepest of emotions and the most important of convictions with a pump inside our chests, rather than with our brains?
It's an ancient tradition, this conflation of the heart and the heartfelt. I think we make the association because among the parts of the body that a person can sense internally, the heart is simply the easiest to feel. Stomach aches and muscle movement can be vague, but the heart speeds up when we're excited or afraid, pounds loudly and palpably when we fall in love, has a rhythm we learned to hear and recognize in the womb, and in addition is almost frighteningly vulnerable, in need of protection from within as well as from the outside.
When I can get past the image of the heart's four chambers through which our lifeblood rushes, in and out, in and out, every moment of our lives, I start to see other things. My children, my husband - they occupy my heart. My heart is full with them. Yet, as is the nature of human hearts - the invisible kind, that is - there's room for more: music, medicine, stories, friends, a longing for God. I can feel them swirling around, and the more I have in there, the more room there seems to be, the more life comes pouring out, bringing exhilaration to body and mind.
What's in your heart? Or, as James Fowler asks in his book Stages of Faith: the Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning,
What are you spending and being spent for?
What commands and receives your best time, your best energy?
What causes, dreams, goals, or institutions are you pouring out your life for?
As you live your life, what power or powers do you fear or dread?
What power or powers do you rely on and trust?
To what or whom are you committed in life and in death?
With whom or what group do you share your most sacred private hopes for your life and for the lives of those you love?
What are those most sacred hopes, those most compelling goals and purposes in your life?
These are what I think reflections about love should consist of, on Valentine's Day or any day. The rest is just fluff.
Anatomic illustration above by Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator & C. Carl Jaffe, MD, cardiologist