For thousands of years we have talked about the heart as the source of love. With the scientific revolution we’ve come to understand that the processes we assumed came from the heart are mostly neurochemical reactions in the brain. Mostly.
What does my heart know? Isn’t it just a twin valve pump for the red stuff that swishes around inside my body? Well it is, and it might just be so much more.
Why do people so often put their hands on their heart when something deeply touches them? Why do we talk about having a “heart to heart” with someone? Or following your heart? Are these remnants of speech left over from a naive culture? Or do they speak to a more complex definition of the heart?
Why do we still have no scientific explanation for consciousness or intuition? Could they be more than neurochemical reactions? My heart tells me that they are. Do I have scientific proof? No, but there is some interesting scientific research that indicates there is a lot more to what is going on that the conventional explanations we all learned in biology class.
“The heart is now recognized by scientists as a highly complex system with its own functional “brain.” Research in the new discipline of neurocardiology shows that the heart is a sensory organ and a sophisticated center for receiving and processing information. The nervous system within the heart (or “heart brain”) enables it to learn, remember, and make functional decisions independent of the brain’s cerebral cortex. Moreover, numerous experiments have demonstrated that the signals the heart continuously sends to the brain influence the function of higher brain centers involved in perception, cognition, and emotional processing.” — Rollin McCraty, Heartmath Institute
Having said all that, I’m not relying on the science to believe my heart. The decisions I’ve made with my heart have brought me by far the most fulfillment and meaning. From finding the love of my life to becoming a coach to taking on fatherhood. Logically it was the wrong time for all of those things, I was too young, too inexperienced, too many things were missing to count. But when the time came to make a decision they all felt so right despite all the logical evidence to the contrary.
It reminds me of an experiment done by Srully Blotnik on careers choices. 1500 people who had just graduated from university chose one of two paths. Group MONEY chose to make money first and once they had made enough money would do what they loved. Group LOVE chose to do what they loved and figure out the money as they went along. The first interesting part of this research is that group MONEY was 5 times bigger than group LOVE, which says something about our cultural norms. Both groups were contacted 20 years later to find out how financially successful they had become. In total there were 101 millionaires in the 1500 people. Logically, it would make sense for most of the millionaires to be in the MONEY group, after all, they had chosen to make money, and the group was much bigger. But what does your heart tell you? As you’ve probably guessed, most of the millionaires were in Group LOVE, but would you have guessed that there was only 1 millionaire in Group MONEY? People in Group LOVE were 500 times more likely to become a millionaire, so why did so many people think it was wiser to make money first? I’m not saying here that becoming a millionaire is a worthy goal to have, actually I am saying the opposite, focusing on the money means being a part of Group MONEY. But what about the other 150 people in the LOVE Group that didn’t become millionaires? I don’t know, but my heart tells me they were probably pretty happy anyway.
“[Retirement] is predicated on the assumption that you dislike what you are doing during the most physically capable years of your life. This is a nonstarter—nothing can justify that sacrifice.” —Tim Ferriss
Why is it the cultural norm to ignore our heart? When did our heart lose its voice? Was it perhaps when we reduced its value to a biological pump? Or perhaps it was when we reduced the value of a person’s life down to the number of productive hours they worked.
When I first started coaching, logic was my guide. Logical inconsistencies my target. NLP gave me fantastic tools to help my clients find solutions, an effective way of getting from A to B. The problem was that when they got to B, they realized that B didn’t make them happy. B was the logical destination to go after A, but they still weren’t living a life they loved, what was missing?
Why do so few of us have the dreams we had as children? Logic has taught us it’s unrealistic, it can’t be done, it’s impossible, don’t bother, find a tried and tested route. Go make money first. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a crusader against logic. It makes it possible to send a rocket into space, and if we’re trying to build a skyscraper, trust the engineers.
But we might be inclined to lump in business as one of the areas logic rules supreme, and we’d be wrong. Female leadership is on the rise, creating space for the heart in the workplace and slowly rendering the cold logical approach to business to the wasteland of yesteryear.
We have been trained into believing that logic holds all the answers, but as a culture we overestimate its value and underestimate the value of the heart. Logic has its place, but when it comes to matters of happiness, relationships and life, the heart is equipped to give us a better answer. While we have spent 10 to 20 years of our lives in school training our ability to be logical, to find the ‘right’ answer, life is not a multiple choice test. How much time have we spent learning to listen to our hearts?
Such airy-fairy talk itches our logical conditioning. “Don’t be ridiculous” it says, “your heart is just a pump.” At one point I would have given in, until I had the experience that showed me otherwise.
When I first started learning Hakomi, which is a Mindfulness-Based Therapy, I saw it as an addition to my NLP, another tool in the toolbox.
The key to Hakomi is, stay with me on this — loving presence — I kid you not. You see, one of the core principles of Hakomi is what they call “organicity”, which is the belief that each person will naturally unfold into their whole self given the right environment. A good analogy is that of a flower bud. We cannot open a bud when it is not ready or we would damage the petals, but give it enough sun, earth and water and it will bloom all by itself.
One of my first encounters with the power of Hakomi was when I first spoke to one of the founders, Jon Eisman, called by others both the best therapy teacher trainer in the world and a big cuddly Teddy Bear. Jon is world renowned for his loving presence. I wasn’t sure what to expect, Santa Claus came to mind. I got the chance to have a video chat with him before bringing him to China to train our team.
I’m not sure what happened during our call, but when we were finished, I had never felt so alive, so present. I decided to skip work for the morning and be with my son. Griffin, who’d had breathing complications at birth and was taken away from us for 10 days, always seemed to pull away from my touch, which I respected, wanting to give him his space. But it was difficult for me as a touchy feely person not to be able to have that physical connection with him. When I would put my hand on his back to rub him, he would pull away.
But something different happened that morning. I put my hand on his back, and then took it away, realizing he might not want it there, and for the first time since he had been born over a year before, he turned around, grabbed my hand and put it back. My heart melted. As far as I’m aware I hadn’t done anything differently, but opened up my heart to being fully present with him.
So what does my heart say? I love you for reading this, I love being able to write about what I love and my heart tells me that by sharing what’s in my heart it helps others follow their heart and do what they love too.
Have I gone too far? How can I say I love others when I don’t know them? Am I going to scare them away by being too mushy? That’s my logic talking, my heart says they are looking for someone to see them, the true them, the person inside they have often forgotten themselves. I can’t do that with logic, but if I open up my heart to accept them, the real them, the them they are afraid to face themselves, then they begin to accept themselves too.
Luckily, love is not a finite resource, there is more than enough love to go around. Do we love each of our children less and less each time a sibling is born, running out of love to give? Of course not, any parent knows that’s ridiculous. I love my clients, and my readers, and I try to love everyone else too, though that last one is not as easy. How can I love someone who smashed the side mirrors off my car for no apparent reason, or physically abused the people I love or held me at knife point to steal my phone? Might they be so desperate that they don’t know how else to act? If I had their experiences and life might I act the same? I have sure made mistakes in my life and have depended on the kindness and forgiveness of others to help me learn and evolve.
We all make mistakes us human beings, but we deserve to be loved all the same. I feel I have a lot of love to give, but I am not a self made man. It is thanks to my mother and father and siblings and friends and wife and children who have shown me unconditional love that I realize the power of the heart and how much we really can make a difference in the lives of each and every person we meet.
What does your heart say?
Also published on Medium.