Long Nights and Short Days

The days are short and the nights are long.
The flowers are all tucked away beneath the ground.
The mulch has been laid to give them a cozy bed,
but the hope of a bright spring makes the toil worthwhile.

Then the long cold winter begins.
Living is not easy because there is too much striving,
too much urgency to do something
that does not need to be done,
too much urgency to be someone
I do not have to be.
I sit here before my screen in the dark,
searching for some important thing to say
that will surpass the limits of words
knowing deep inside
that everything has already been said
a million times before
by minds much greater than mine.

The years are piling up,
one more season before three score and ten.
The seasons are all blending together
so that summer laughter disappears into winter’s gloom,
and the winter tales are no longer worth repeating.
So meaning has to lie somewhere else,
somewhere the sun never shines,
some place where there is no darkness,
some place where the ticking of the clock stops,
some place where there is no need for sleep,
no need to rest
no need to recuperate,
nothing to complain about,
nothing to brag about,
just an endless parade of moments within moments,
in a world of perfect peace,
where all is as it should be,
and just BEING is all that there needs to be.

In a neurological research article in 1991(1), Dr. Andrew Armour recorded his discovery that the heart has an intrinsic cardiac nervous system that he referred to as a mini-brain or heart brain. According to Armour, it is composed of approximately 40,000 neurons with an intricate network of complex ganglia, neurotransmitters, proteins, and support cells similar to the neuron system of the brain. He suggested that the heart may be able to initiate a connection with the brain and the rest of the body. Traditional neurology studies for decades have assumed that the brain is the organ that controls all our other body organs and functions, but before we had the advantage of brain scans and the EEG, there was a belief going way back to the days of the Greeks that it was the heart that was at the core of our being. When we look at the Hindu and Buddhist beliefs that originated in India between 1500 and 500 BC, we see the heart as the fourth of the seven chakras, the central chakra of the body that links our physical and spiritual selves.

But is our nervous system really just a one-way communication system? Both the autonomic and somatic nervous systems play key roles in communicating throughout the body. Sensory information is received by external and internal sensory receptors and communicated to the central nervous system. There are two types of neurons. The ascending tracts carry sensory information from the body to the brain; descending tracts carry information from the brain to the body. However, there is also another factor. Emotions and mental imagery are connected to our autonomic nervous system which includes our sympathetic system as well as our internal organs. Emotional situations that make us feel angry, frightened, or sexually aroused can dramatically increase our heart rate and blood pressure. A peaceful mental image can lower them. Is the brain telling the heart what to do or is the heart sending the brain an emotional image that it needs to change its messages going out to the rest of the body?

Recent studies by the HeartMath Institute(2) have suggested that the heart may play a bigger role than is generally accepted by science. Their studies indicate that the heart may be sending as much information to the brain as the brain sends to the heart. They propose that the heart can also access wisdom and intelligence that can create more balance, greater creativity, enhanced intuitive capabilities, improved health, better relationships, and a sense of greater fulfillment. According to these studies, the heart can achieve this by playing an important role in regulating our emotions. Emotions determine what we care about and what motivates us. They connect us to others and give us the courage to protect and support the people we love and have compassion for those who are in need of our help. Perhaps it is the heart that regulates our positive emotions giving us a sense of coherence and balance in our social environment. If the heart is in control, the body’s systems seem to function with a higher degree of efficiency and harmony. When functioning in a coherent mode, the heart may be synchronizing its rhythms with other biological functions thus affecting our relationships, managing our stress, and coordinating emotion with other cognitive processes. There is also a belief somewhat supported by science that the heart may have an electromagnetic energy field which radiates outside the body. It may be possible that this field may carry information that links us with other people and with the living world around us. Could it be that the heart is our connection of our physical being with others and with the universal life force?

This brings us to the practice of the four Buddhist states which may be regulated by the heart. The first is loving-kindness which can be defined as a mental state of wanting others to be happy. The others are compassion (wanting others to be free from suffering), sympathetic joy (rejoicing in the good fortune of others), and equanimity (regarding every sentient being as equal).

The state of loving-kindness can be practiced through a loving-kindness meditation. Each morning during my mediation I send my heart energy to those I love. This involves first connecting to the Source of life and love through deep breathing until I feel a sense of inner peace. This takes me out of the workings of my mind and into the workings of my heart. I next bring the love of my heart into the love of my mind and body, bathing them in warm feelings of self-love and self-healing. In the second stage I gather in the life and love energy from my environment and let it flow through me and out to those I love. I first send my spirit to their spirit until I sense a connection. I then send my heart-energy, my love-energy, to them to support them in whatever difficulties they may be experiencing. If I know they need physical or emotional healing, I send my heart’s healing power. If I have knowledge of their life-struggles, I verbalize them as I send my heart wisdom to them. If not I just send my love.

Loving-kindness meditation increases happiness by making us feel more connected to loved ones, acquaintances, and even strangers. Research suggests that when we practice loving-kindness meditation we can begin to react more positively to others and our close relationships can become more satisfying. Loving-kindness meditation may also reduce our focus on ourselves which can, in turn, lower symptoms of anxiety and depression and create a sense of physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. And finally, perhaps if we could combine our love-energies we might be able create an energy field, a powerful force, that could change the direction of mankind from self-destruction to a new and better world of peace and compassion.

My suggestions:

1. I am a skeptic by nature. I want to see proof, particularly scientific proof. In this study I see proof from Armour about a physical mini brain, but it is oh so mini. Forty thousand neurons compared to the six billion in the brain is very mini indeed. However, these neurons are powered by the most powerful organ in the body. The rest of the studies are mainly corollaries not causal. Therefore, there is a lot of guessing, estimating, theorizing, and bias. However, I cannot help but believe that there is more to me than the electrochemical impulses of my brain. We will never know for sure whether our sense of being comes from our brain, our heart, a combination of heart and mind, or some ghost (soul) within this body. But does it really matter if we attribute it to an existential heart or a physical one? The heart is essentially the core of your being that is the YOU beyond your mind. Therefore, view these ideas with an open mind that goes beyond your mind’s limitation. Learn to listen to and with your heart.

2. Heart functions center around the physical, emotional, and spiritual energy we know as love. Expand your feelings, your love-energy, and your abilities to love through your own practice of loving-kindness meditation.

3. Get in the practice of closing down the functions of your mind and opening up the functions of your heart through the practice of mindfulness. Allow information from your senses to flow directly into your heart. You may experience a sense of inner peace and joy and a connection with nature, others, and with all living things.

4. Whenever you feel a negative vibration, it is usually coming from your overactive mind that is always on the alert for potential sources of physical or emotional harm. Do a quick check for danger and then shut it down and open up the channels to your heart. You can sense when you are operating from your heart because your heart will return to a slow and steady rhythm that will bring a sense of peace and well-being to your whole body.

5. Love yourself. The heart’s main function is to connect you to the source of life and love. Let this power of love flow through your heart and into your mind and the rest of your body. Learn to recognize this feeling and recreate it whenever you feel down. It will always be accompanied by a smile.

En”joy” the day.

(1) Arlour, Andrew J. Intrinsic Cardiac Neurons. Journal of Cardiovascular Electrophysiology. 1991. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-8167.1991.tb01330.x

(2) Science of the Heart – Exploring the Role of the Heart in Human Performance. Heart Math Institute. https://www.heartmath.org/research/science-of-the-heart/heart-brain-communication/#:~:text=The%20heart%2Dbrain%2C%20as%20it,the%20brain%20in%20the%20head.&text=This%20means%20the%20heart%20sends,brain%20sends%20to%20the%20heart.