Last week, as I was walking in a park in Beijing, I had an episode. The first thing that came to mind is that I was having a heart attack. Every muscle in my body from sternum to neck became a steely band as I gasped to take a deep cleansing breath as my yogi master would instruct me. After a few minutes things subsided only to happen again about 10 minutes later. Now, before I get a flood of emails telling me to “get thee to a doctor” and reminding me that I’m not getting any younger, let me assure you that after returning to Seattle I had an EKG, lung x-ray, series of blood tests searching for tell-tale heart episode enzymes, etc. I also continued to tentatively (just in case I was a heart case) run short distances and thankfully didn’t have any additional symptoms. Every test came back as normal as normal could be. Diagnosis? I was more than likely having a spasm in my esophagus triggered from the lengthy travel and the Chinese lemonade I had ingested. Who would have guessed that random combination could trigger a scary life assessing episode? At least it is better than having a heart attack.
Regardless, it started me thinking. For a few precious moments, I thought maybe my heart was failing me and what a shame that would be when I have taken good care of my heart through regular exercise and have given freely and often of my heartfelt emotions. And there is the oddity. Is the heart a physical manifestation or an emotional manifestation of the individual? The heart, that vital organ that pumps blood from one part of your body to another, being both a freeway system to the lungs and a pretty effective food delivery system, is an engineering masterpiece, a glorified machine. Yet, we associate it with all of our most precious feelings, emotions, and acts of generosity and benevolence. We see our heart as a defining characteristic of who we are and how we relate to each other. Rarely do we think of it as a mechanical pump, doing its job in the freeway system of pulmonary efficiency. Instead, we see it much the way Aristotle did when he described it as the seat of intelligence, motion, and sensation; the center of vitality in the human condition. The early Egyptians defined the heart, as a vessel holding the mind and soul of the individual. Yet, it was a Roman physician, Galen, who defined the heart as the seat of emotions. Even today the poets among us believe that Galen had it right.
In Hinduism and Buddhism, the fourth Chakrah is the heart chakrah or Anahata, and is found in the center of your chest between each breast; the same place of origin to my episode. The power of the heart chakrah or Anahata is that one is able to make decisions outside of karma, and is able to escape the binding of karma which only responds to energy and fate. Anahata allows one to follow one’s heart and can allow one to rise above the laws of nature to experience love, compassion, and healing.
For people like me where words and symbols have great meaning, I find it interesting when there is a dysfunction in heart health it is described as heart disease and when the heart stops functioning accurately it is a heart attack, yet when one is in deep emotional pain it is defined as heartbreak or broken hearted. Poets refer to the forlorn as heartsick, yet when a heart is really sick, it is most likely diagnosed by the medical profession as heart arrhythmia, angina or atrial fibrillation. So when a 52 year-old has an episode, where does she go for solace -- the cardiologist or the poet?
Based on my recent test results, I think I will cancel my appointment with the cardiologist and stick to the poets. I will look for solace in my favorite poems of Pablo Neruda with his “If You Forget Me” or e.e. cummings’ “I carry your heart with me”, or try something new with Gary Lenhart’s “Footprint on my Heart.” Trust me, when you need to get to the heart of the matter, you can always count on the poets to come through.
© Kelly Tweeddale 2012