“To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must cultivate our personal life; and to cultivate our personal life, we must first set our hearts right.”
—Confucius, 551-479 BC
When we think about analytical intelligence, most of us relate it to the functioning of the brain. When we think about emotional intelligence, we attribute that to the work of the heart. Fully considering these two platforms, we can extrapolate that wisdom resides in the harmonious relationship between the two.
Coarsely put, our heart speaks to notions of love, emotion, empathy, and compassion while our brains are concerned with logic, facts, quantifying, and evidence. In order to live a full life that is in alignment, we need both our heads and our hearts to be in relationship.
Another way of looking at it, Rudolf Steiner, an anthroposophist, proposed that wisdom was ‘crystallized pain.’ To be in relationship with a painful experience, our hearts must be open to the unassailable truth of it, more often than not, to our participation in co-creation of it, AND we must use our brains to have sufficient memory and analysis of the experience so that we can fold the teachings and learnings that it offers for decisions to be made in the future.
In the West and especially, in this age of modernity, we tend toward privileging ‘brain smarts’ over ‘heart smarts.’ Largely, our education systems are designed to develop and teach our children, starting from the neck up. The unfortunate result of this is that as adults is that we have some catching to do, in terms of re-membering the wisdom of the heart.
For the last 19 years, the Institute of Heartmath (IHM), an internationally recognized non-profit research organization, has focussed on emotional physiology, stress management and the physiology of the heart-brain relationship. They have discovered that the heart is not only an organ concerned with circulation of blood, but that it possesses complex systems that communicate information that are even more intricate and far-reaching than those of the human brain.
This is remarkable, given the vastness of all that we know about neurology, brain physiology, and anatomy. It has been estimated that the brain has 100 million neurons (or nerve cells). Nerve cells communicate with each other through electrical impulses that are carried back and forth throughout the body back to the brain. The places where nerve cells transmit information between each other are called synapses, and it is estimated that the human brain contains 100 trillion of these. That current neurocardiology research is suggesting that the heart’s systems of communication are even more sophisticated than the human brain is significant, indeed.
From their website, www.heartmath.org, IHM defines the state of coherence as “when you feel genuine hope, care and compassion, [and] your heart is sending harmonious and coherent signals to the brain/mind, replacing feelings of separation with a sense of connection. The heart and brain are aligned and in sync. The higher cortical functions are enhanced, facilitating objective, sober assessment and intuitive perception. You perceive more wholeness, and solutions to problems are more apparent.”
In contrast, they define incoherence as “When a person feels stress, overwhelm, anxiety, uncertainty and fear, the heart is sending chaotic and incoherent signals to the brain/mind, triggering stressful responses. The higher cortical functions are inhibited, meaning the heart and brain are out of alignment, so solutions to personal or world problems elude us.”
IHM goes onto say, “Collectively, these negative emotions are registered in the heart and brain’s electromagnetic fields, generating a global stress and incoherence wave that goes out to those around us and around the globe. Stress and incoherence are intensified by instant massmedia reports – the natural disasters, social upheaval, economic turmoil and more.”
There is a rhythm, a universal pulse, that is present for, and in, all living things. (James Cameron’s movie, Avatar, demonstrates this in his depiction of the Na’vi people’s relationship to their world.) This etheric energy is the same that governs the rhythm of the heart, the same that Aqeela Sherrills speaks of in the inspiration for The Reverence Project.
Personal coherence is when our heart and mind are in relationship. Interpersonal coherence is when two people, striving towards personal coherence, are in relationship. Social coherence is when groups of people, striving toward interpersonal and personal coherence, are in relationship. It is easy to see how this ripple effect goes all the way to the edge of the universe.
In fact, IHM launched the Global Coherence Initiative (GCI), “a science-based initiative uniting millions of people in heart-focused care and intention, to shift global consciousness from instability and discord to balance, cooperation and enduring peace.” A large part of this project is measuring the electromagnetic field and pulse of the planet and its relationship to the electromagnetic fields and pulses of all its inhabitants.
In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and aftershocks that recently occurred in Haiti, it gives one pause to wonder how the current state of world affairs (in addition to foreign policy that is ruthlessly brain heavy and heart poor) may have contributed to this ‘natural’ disaster in happening at all. And then, we can wonder how the world’s response to this tragedy is contributing to the global shift from incoherence to coherence again.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways for us to nurture the intelligence of the heart. IHM research supports that the work of the heart is enhanced by:
• Spiritual practices like meditation and prayer that connect us to something greater than ourselves.
• Heart connection with others, close friendships within and outside the family.
• Gathering with others frequently for uplifting purposes: church, social causes, etc.
From the IHM website, “A discovery suggesting we can achieve coherence on a much grander scale is the finding that the heart has a powerful electromagnetic field and its own complex nervous system and circuitry that generate up to an estimated 60 times the electrical amplitude of the brain. Scientists actually have measured the electromagnetic signal people’s heart rhythms produce in the brain waves of those around us and many researchers now conclude that the heart has its own organized intelligence network. They say this intelligence network is capable of acting independently, learning, remembering and producing feelings, all of which we traditionally have believed only the brain could do.”
Given this, it makes sense to nurture and create the conditions for reclaiming balanced wisdom as a the way we engage with ourselves and others, in service.