“I also have one of those organs!” she said, hand over her heart, clasping with all her strength, “A real heart!” Eyes wide with wonder and surprise. I had been leading a short session last week with some care workers. Leading us all through a brief body scan. Spending quite some time noticing the external sensations of the body, then sinking under the skin into the body, and lastly settling into the space of the heart itself. Noticing the beating of the heart. Noticing the resting of the heart. This organ, the most wise of the body, with capacity to rest every moment even as it beats. From the very first spark that starts the heart beating at about 5 or 6 weeks (how the developing myocardial fibers co-ordinate their contractility to spark the heart beat is still mystical to me) to the moment that it stops at death, the heart continues to beat unabated. Not without rest or pause though. The heart pauses every moment. After every beat. It knows to rest with regularity. To contract and to relax, each and every time. Imagine the heart did not rest after every beat. Well we know what happens then, it goes into either atrial fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia, something that is not life sustaining. How wise this heart of ours. That it is made to beat and to rest every moment, even as it carries us throughout this lifetime of ours.
So imagine too the wonder when one finally is directed to noticing this wise heart of ours. To pay it some attention. To settling underneath the level of our brain and head space engagement with life. Even health care workers, who deal with ill and dying patients each day, with physically tangible organ failures, are prone, as all of us, to being disconnected from an awareness of the body. How precious this gift that allows one to engage with the realisation that we too have these organs, that we too have bodies that accompany us throughout each day; that we are not just heads full of thoughts moving through the day, much as we may live like we are; that we can pay attention to how this body functions, to engaging with it every moment of this day. And perhaps in the noticing and paying attention, we can settle the mind space and the mindless racing around, and attend to the sensations and emotions underneath the thinking space that we often suppress and ignore. Engaging with the heart, the core, of our lives, remembering this space anew, or for the first time.
In some ways the heart is like music. To enjoy music one must appreciate the pauses. Without them there would just be noise. The pauses and rests are as important as the notes themselves. Just as we pause in speaking, to give emphasis, to give our speaking character and allow the other to hear the speaking, music needs pauses to allow the beauty of the music to come through. I once had a roommate at college who spoke so quickly that it was almost impossible to understand what she was saying. Granted this was most probably due to the fact that her brain worked at that tempo too. It took me some time to get used to her cadence but our other roommates did not adapt as well and I found myself often repeating what she had said. Almost like an echo pause. Validating the need to build in some rest space for the words, the music, the beating, to be engaged with and to be appreciated.
Paying attention to this heart of ours enables us to pay attention to the heart of our work, of our relationships, of our lives, of ourselves. It perhaps allows us to realise that we are so much more than this often narrow engagement we have with our every day adventure. The discovery of a heart demands that we engage from the heart, not just from the brain. Be more courageous in our every day and not turn away from the difficult, from expressing our deepest heart’s self. Even as paying attention to the heart may demand we speak difficult truths that are not easy to express or to be heard.
David Whyte puts this across eloquently in his book Crossing the Unknown Sea, work as a pilgrimage of identity – “One of the distinguishing features of any courageous human being is the ability to remain unutterable themselves in the midst of conforming pressures. The surprising realization is that our friends can try to make us conform as much as our worst enemies. The excuses to fall away, to lose courage, to be other than ourselves are ever present and incredibly intimate. There seems to be no profession exempt from these warping forces, whether we are dry-walling or day trading or doctoring.”
So this day, pay attention to your heart. Notice how it beats, how it pauses. How it perhaps is holding some truth that is yet to be expressed. Give it enough space to be discovered. You may be surprised, or riveted with wonder.
My life is not this steeply sloping hour
in which you see me hurrying.
Much stands behind me; I stand before it like a tree;
I am only one of the many mouths,
and at that, the one that will be still the soonest.
I am the rest between two notes,
which are somehow always in discord
because Death’s note wants to climb over –
but in the dark interval, reconciled,
they stay there trembling,
And the song goes on beautiful.
by Rainer Maria Rilke