This article outlines four major steps to take to connect your head to your heart. We use breathwork to facilitate this shift. Breathwork is a breathing technique which activates your body energy and induces clearing of blockages in the heart caused by unresolved past hurts. The result is a life lived with more passion and grace, guided by a deep wisdom and compassion where you get to be at your best more often and your life becomes more fun and creative.
A crisis of the heart
According to The Bureau of Statistics 800,000 Australians suffer from depression. One in four males, and one in six females are depressed at sometime in their lives. Depression is the fourth leading cause of disability in Australia. In 2012 17.4% of males (or 1.15 million men) and 18% females (or 1.2 million women) have suffered from some kind of mental illness. That is 2.4 million Australians plus their families. The cost to support this state of affairs is $500 million/year in Australia.
Clearly we have a problem
The traditional biomedical model offers support for these people assisting them to cope with these crises, but does not resolve the underlying cause of these conditions. After over 20 years experience working with people suffering from anxiety and depression it is clear to me that these are clearly matters of the heart. Sure, there are often chemical imbalances involved, but I suspect that unresolved emotional stresses cause the body to disrupt the chemical balance.
A new paradigm is emerging that gives us cause to take heart: A quantum paradigm, based on the discoveries in subatomic physics. This new paradigm emphasises the quality of our experiences rather than physical and materialistically (quantity) concerns. The effects of the quantum paradigm have rippled through almost every facet of the Western world affecting the health care, politics, career satisfaction, ecology and spirituality.
The map for the journey of awakening
In our work we take people on a journey to tune in and reconnect with the truth of who we are, to awaken to our basic goodness: peaceful, loving, happy, free and contented.
There are four steps:
1. Shift from thinking to feeling
2. Tune into the body
3. Master emotions
4. Heart connection
1. Shift from thinking to feeling
In our work we make the distinction between feeling and thinking, between the cognitive functioning of the brain and intuitive functioning of the heart. The function of the brain is to analyse, judge, make distinctions and organise. The heart’s role is to provide us with a source of inner guidance. Following our heart means connecting with our purpose in life.
Aspects of cognitive functioning are: thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, assumptions, judgements, guilt and shame. The brain engages in the processes of memory, imagination, calculation, planning, deduction, manipulation, analysis, comparison, generalisation, sorting and judgement. The brain tends to function as linear, logical, rational, based on past patterning.
The aspects of the heart are:
feelings, impressions, sensing, and intuition. The heart engages in the processes of love, care, compassion, mercy, gratitude, appreciation, security, patience, forgiveness and inspiration. The heart tends to function as: gentle, flowing, peaceful, sincerity, authenticity and is aware primarily of the present moment.
As humans we are either thinking or feeling – not both, consciously, at the same time. When we are thinking we are not feeling. Take, for example, when we are sitting at the computer or watching TV. Our attention is focused outside of us and we are not aware of what is happening in our body. Often it is only when we go to stand up do we feel our aches and pains from sitting in one position for so long.
A powerful capacity of our brains is our creativity, our imagination. Our imagination is one of our greatest survival strengths. We don’t have very sharp claws or teeth and do not have hard shells. We have achieved marvellous things with our imagination. The negative side of our imagination is that we can lose touch with what is real.
It almost goes without saying that we live in a culture that does excessive thinking and not enough feeling. Throughout modern history logic has been used to justify all sorts of atrocities the heart could never consider: religious, cultural, racial…
The world of the cognitive mind is fantasy and altogether illusory. The thoughts that we think and the beliefs that we hold exist nowhere but in our minds. The head is able to make up stories that over time we can begin to assume are real. Many of us used our imaginations to escape reality as a child. I clearly remember being in grade one and looking out the classroom window day dreaming as a way of escaping from what was happening in the moment.
Thoughts are always removed from the experience of being
The cognitive world of our thinking mind operates at a distance from the experience of being alive, here on Earth. When we have an experience we interpret, analyse, judge, label, refer it to similar memories and categorise it with our minds. All these things we do in our minds are one step disconnected from the actual, initial experience.
The more we live in our heads the less connected to life we feel. Many people live mostly in an abstract fantasy world of their minds, like a bubble that floats around separate from this earthly reality. This can be okay when we are thinking of something good, but it can be a nightmare if we let our minds run away when we are thinking about scary or angry thoughts. Either way it is dangerous because we can miss out on what is actually happening because we are not present to experience it. Our life can pass without us really experiencing the fullness and richness it has to offer: the fresh air on our face, blue sky overhead, the call of birds and our breath in our body. Long term absence can lead to missing our life: our kids grow up and leave home before we really connect with them.
Feelings are primary and thoughts are secondary
Physiologically the part of the brain that is associated with feelings is older than the part of the brain that is involved in thought and so we can say that feelings are more primary. Indeed the heart starts beating in the embryo before the brain is functioning. Experientially, our feelings give rise to the thoughts we think. Consider for a moment the kind of thoughts you think when you are feeling sad – and the kind of thoughts you think when you are feeling happy.
In the work I do I regularly witness people transforming sadness and resentment (anger) into happiness and peace and then becoming more optimistic and positive in their thinking. We also have the capacity to create emotions from our thinking (I call this false or mind generated emotion), but this is a secondary level of what is really going on because these types of thoughts are rising from a feeling that was present already (true emotion relates to the actual situation we are in, in the present moment).
All thoughts have equal value
When we feel strongly about a situation it tells us that something about it is important to us. We make decisions based on our feelings; not our thoughts. Without emotion, all thoughts are equally important. We justify our decisions with a lot of ‘good reasons’ but decisions are usually based on what we feel; not think. Advertising agents use this principle to sell. The best advertisements arouse emotion in us, positive and negative. An ad may involve someone screeching out at us about how excited they are or ‘mama’ in Italy crying on the phone or a misty Sunday afternoon playing soccer with the kids in the park or having fun at the beach. Emotion adds strength to the imprint on our subconscious of the product being advertised.
Another danger in losing touch with what is real is we can only know who we are by feeling the direct experience of what is. Anything else – all ideas, beliefs and concepts – are not real and therefore are not us. Who we are is an experience, not an idea.
When we live in the present moment, in touch with the pulse of life, we tend to experience a profound sense of gratitude for the mysterious wonder of life. We also experience an increased capacity to achieve what we desire. As we become more removed from the direct experience of what is real and immersed more deeply in the illusion of the mind we become more easily overwhelmed and feel less powerful inside.
2. Tune into your body
The first port of call when wanting to reconnect is to get out of our heads and feel our bodies. The body is here! It is in earthly terms ‘real’ – it is something that exists that we can feel.
The quantum leap here is to switch our attention from thinking to feeling. When we do this we start to tune into another world, and begin our journey homewards. Who we are is not an idea or a belief. We are is something that we can only know through experiencing it. Who we are is something that must be felt.
Our bodies are part of the unfolding nature of creation. Through our bodies we can directly experience the life force that animates the universe. Through our bodies we can feel our connection with all of life.
The language of the body is sensations. Learning to get in touch again involves learning the vocabulary of the body – hot/cold, warm/cool, tight/loose, hard/soft, heavy/light, and so on. Developing a language to describe bodily sensations is a very useful skill for developing self awareness which assists us in tuning in and reconnecting.
3. Tune into your emotions
Once we have connected with our physical sensations we very soon notice that it feels like there is energy flowing though our bodies. This energy is emotion. All emotions are energy. The purpose of the energy of emotion is to move us into action.
There are six primary emotions. These primary states are like primary colours. When you go far enough into an experience you will get to one of these. They are:
1. Joy: energy of gain
2. Sadness: energy of loss
3. Excitement energy of potential gain
4. Fear: energy of potential loss
5. Passion: energy to create what we want
6. Anger: energy for self assertion when we get what we don’t want
There are three things that are important about emotions:
1. Emotions arise in our interaction with the outside world, for example, we feel joy when we get something we want and sadness when we lose something we want.
2. Emotions are temporary in that when we feel them they disappear, for example, if you are feeling sad and you let yourself have a cry, the sadness goes.
3. Emotions are tiring, for example, after a big birthday party you feel exhausted.
The four aspects of emotional intelligence are:
1. Emotional literacy:
Recognising, understanding and communicating emotions.
2. Emotional connection:
Opening our heart: connecting with our love current.
Accessing the messages of the heart for inner guidance.
3. Emotional management:
Healthy containment and expression of emotions.
Developing the capacity to induce peace and happiness.
Using feelings to guide and facilitate reaching our goals.
4. Empathetic relationship skills:
Relating to others’ feelings, needs and concerns.
Emotional repression and dis-ease
The sad fact is that we live in a culture that shames the expression of emotion and teaches repression. We are taught to ignore, deny, invalidate, and repress our feelings. Suppressed emotions drive us, causing negative thinking, stress and unhappiness. This causes excessive mental activity, destructive behaviours, ill health, relationship difficulties and poor results generally. Furthermore, as we repress our emotions we lose touch with our inner knowing, love and sense of who we are. It becomes increasingly difficult to be positive, open and loving when harbouring fear, sadness and anger.
In shutting down we begin to fragment our being. We lose touch with our sense of who we are, our essence. We become stiff, rigid and ‘frozen’ in our physical body, ways of thinking and expressing our selves. As we shut down on one emotion, say anger, we lose our capacity to feel all of them – including joy, peace and love. We lose our sense of aliveness, creativity, spontaneity and freedom.
There are many reasons for the repression of emotions
Sometimes the intensity experienced has been too much for us to integrate at the time, for example a child in birth can be overwhelmed by the intensity of fear, sadness or anger. In this case the brain sets up ‘gates’ which limit the intensity of feeling possible at the time.
We have been trained to suppress emotion. We are told ‘that children should be seen and not heard’, ‘not to answer back’, to ‘do what you are told’ and to ‘be polite’. In our culture we uphold the false image that being strong means not being emotional – not crying at funerals, not getting angry.
Shame is another reason for not expressing emotions. We may have been told that we were ‘being emotional’, ‘too sensitive’ or we were laughed at when we were angry, scared or sad. Often boys are called wimps, weaklings, or babies if they cry, and chickens or scared cats if they are afraid, and girls are called bitches, nasty or catty if they express their anger.
The repression of emotions was often necessary to avoid experiencing more pain. This is true for most children being reprimanded. If they express their anger about being hurt they would most likely be punished more severely.
We may be blocked to natural feeling responses by beliefs or philosophies that we carry about ourselves or life. For instance; a person who is being abused may not feel angry about the abuse because they subconsciously believe that they deserve that kind of treatment: it fits with the self image created in their abusive childhood. Somebody else may not feel angry when they are being abused because they were taught to ‘turn the other cheek’, ‘to be bigger than that’, or ‘to rise above it’.
It was often sensible for us to suppress ourselves as children, but the problem for many adults is that we cannot access our emotions when we want to. For example; when we want to share our feelings with a loved one; when we are trying to discover our passion in life; if we need to call on our anger if someone is threatening to abuse us; when we need to let go of the loss of a lover and cannot connect to the grief; or if we go for a job interview and we need to express enthusiasm, etc.
The repression of emotions does not mean the freedom from them
As we suppress the expression of emotional energy it builds up in our body. Our energy becomes knotted and tight. In place of fully felt emotions we often experience states of frustration, confusion, hopelessness, anxiety, nervousness, ‘stuckness’ or blankness. I believe that many illnesses – physical, mental, and emotional –are related to the breaking out of emotional energies that have built up in our bodies. Our addictions (eating, drinking, smoking, over working, codependent relationships, etc.) are unconscious attempts to either hold down the unexpressed energies, or to fill the emptiness caused by our loss of sense of self (through the suppression of our emotional energy).
The emotional realm is the one in which most people get stuck. Most people bounce out of their emotions back up into their heads. They don’t know how to navigate through this realm into the heart. Our work is largely about assisting this transition with ease.
4. Tuning into your heart
The fourth step on the awakening journey involves tuning into feelings that are deeper than emotions.
How are you feeling? Are you heavy hearted, light hearted? What have you taken to heart recently? Are you putting your heart into your work? Have you lost heart?
The ancient wisdom embedded in our language tells us the heart is a most important link to the very essence (or heart) of who we are. The heart is centrally located in the body. When people experience pain in the area of the chest an intense fear often arises because the pain is experienced as close to the centre of who we are. An equal pain in the hand is not experienced with the same level of threat to who we are.
More than just a pump
We are coming to realise that the function of the heart is not only to pump blood but according to many ancient cultures (including Egyptian and Chinese) and modern science, the heart is considered as the seat of the mind. Unfortunately in our modern culture we have made the brain the master and the heart servant when it should be the other way round.
The heart has its own brain and in fact descends from brain during the embryo’s development. The heart has about 40,000 neurones (brain cells) within it. This is the reason it can continue to function after heart transplants, even though there are no nerves remaining connected to the brain. Current research suggests that the brain and the heart dialogue with each other. The physiology of the heart suggests that the heart talks more to the brain than the brain to the heart. There are more neurones running from the heart to the head than from the head to the heart.
Our timeless hearts
Throughout the ages, across all of human history, across every culture, mankind has always experienced the same things when we have turned our attention inwards: A timeless, expansive and infinite experience of being, not accurately describable with words. Words that are commonly used to attempt to describe such experiences are peace, love, happiness, spaciousness, wholeness and many others.
These are what I call heart qualities, essence, your basic goodness, the deepest truth of your being.
Like a many-sided diamond, each word addresses a characteristic of the infinite. When you hear it said that the Muslims have 99 names for Allah or that Hindus have 108 names for God (Shiva) that is what they are referring to.
Three important aspects that make heart qualities different from emotions are:
1. Heart qualities arise from inside
Heart qualities are the feelings that arise spontaneously when we turn our attention inside. (Emotions arise in our interaction with the world outside of us.)
2. Heart qualities are eternal
Emotions disappear when we feel them. Heart qualities continue to expand and get stronger the more we connect with them. For example if you meditate on peace you will feel more and more peaceful. If you continue to meditate on peace the peace will continue expanding, your life will become more peaceful and those around you will also become more peaceful.
3. Heart qualities are enlivening
While emotions are tiring, connecting with heart qualities is enlivening. In the East they call this energy ‘windhorse’. For example, do an act of kindness for someone and notice how you feel more alive, or when you maintain a sense of inner peace in your day you work efficiently and can achieve much and still feel fresh at the end of the day.
The access to these feelings is most intensely felt through our physical hearts. We hear it in our language: ‘She got to the heart of it’, ‘He lost heart’, ‘She took it to heart’, ‘She put her heart into it’.
You may have seen those pictures of the ‘sacred heart’ of Jesus with light pouring out from his heart. Well it turns out that tuning into our physical heart does allow us access to our spiritual nature. A scientific biofeedback device has been developed that can show you how connected and peaceful you are by monitoring the pattern of your physical heartbeat.
With this biofeedback device the Institute of HeartMath have shown that centring ourselves in our hearts induces peak functioning: we concentrate and remember better, our immune system functions better, we relate to others better, and we perform at work and in sport better.
Heart intelligence then is our capacity to induce peace, love happiness and contentment in an imperfect (transient) world. Heart intelligence is also the ability to live in ways that are conducive to increasing these qualities in the world.
Live a heart-centred life
Having connected with our heart, the next big step is to start to ask ourselves, ‘If I were going to live my life from the deepest part of me (peace, love and happiness) what would that life look like? What would I be doing? How would I be responding to others, particularly when I feel hurt by them? What practices would I be using to maintain and deepen my connection with myself and others?’
When we live a heart-centred life the heart provides us with guidance and the brain assists us on the logistics of how to put this guidance into action. This is a radically different experience from what we have come to accept as ‘normal’.
Head-directed behaviour tends to be associated with our will and can be controlling, domineering, forceful, cold, calculating and defensive.
Heart-centred living is characterised by openness, courage, trust, intuition, respect, gentleness, honouring, compassion, co-operation, connection, enjoyment and harmony.
Rather than pushing to make things happen, the heart’s way is to pause, listen, accept, trust and allow inspirational energy to rise and direct us into action.
When we ignore our hearts, life often becomes a struggle
Learning to access, utilise and follow the heart’s guidance leads to a life of greater peace, happiness and fulfilment.
Heart-centred living assists you to live in the now, bringing more of your real self into each moment. Becoming more of who you really are builds inner strength, allowing you to relate to life with increased enthusiasm and confidence. Increased fulfillment is the result of this process.
Heart-centred living empowers co-creation with others for the benefit of all. In the planetary shift going on we are coming to understand that we are intimately connect to all of nature. The more people living from the heart the quicker we can create, global healing and transformation into an age of beauty and creativity, harmony and freedom for all.
Try this for yourself
Right now stop, drop any stories you may be running and turn your attention back to the experience that is actually present in this moment. Breathe down into your belly and up into your heart. Cultivate positive feelings by focusing on someone you love or something you are grateful for. On the inhalation you may feel a sense of expansion or radiance. Nurture this feeling, being gentle, patient and kind to yourself as you practise.
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