The Knowing Heart: An Organ of Perception

It was the bees that called me back to myself. To my heart, really.

One sleek English Whippet on a lead in each hand, I was somewhat groggily stumbling barefoot down our street this morning, taking “the boys” out for their morning walk. My head pounded with a trigger point headache (a chronic problem lodged deep in my suboccipital muscles), and I felt decidedly less than inspired to be out on doggy duty. About a dozen houses down from our current dwelling, both boys stopped simultaneously to do their business beneath a tall, “Rainbow Shower” tree, also known as a Java Cassia, adorned with countless cascading pink and yellow blossoms. Actually, it’s my favorite tree on the entire street; something about its shape, shade, and gorgeous mantle of delicately-scented flowers.

Head throbbing and feeling decidedly out of sorts, feeling neither open nor expansive, as I stood aimlessly and waited for the dogs to poop, I heard the sound of honey bees buzzing nearby. As a former bee steward, the sounds of apis melliferahumming contentedly is a sort of melody that brings me instant comfort, triggering a harmonic resonance in my body. I looked up and noticed dozens of bees on the pink and golden flowers, all over the tree, delicately making love to the flowers and quietly buzzing with bliss.

I have often stopped beneath this particular tree, appreciating its shade on hot and humid Rainbow_Shower_Treedays, appreciating its ‘energy’, admiring its pastel-hued raiment, and savoring the sweet smell. Yet I have never noticed more than a single bee or two on the blossoms. This morning they were everywhere, and it was their audible communion that brought me out of my head and back into my body and senses.

Wake up, River!

Observing the bees, I opened my heart and reached out with my own energetic field to touch the rough trunk, the cool green leaves, the creamy blossoms—feeling each with a quiet, wordless sensing and appreciation.

The pain in my neck and head seemed to lessen as my focus shifted outwards.

On a recent retreat to the mainland, where I penned the new final chapter for my revised manuscript (now titled “The Bones and Breath: A Man’s Guide to Eros, the Sacred Masculine and the Wild Soul”), I found myself writing about the heart as a primary organ of perception. Recent studies have revealed the heart as far more than merely a mechanical pump; greater than sixty percent of the heart is composed of neural cells, identical to those of the brain, and they work in the exact same way. In fact, the heart is actually a brain whose function is to interpret specific kinds of information – largely from the senses, primarily interpreted as feeling. A complex and incredibly rapid exchange exists between brain and heart; a two-way arrangement where impulses enter the heart and are transmitted to the brain, which then categorizes and sends this data back to the heart and rest of the body. (I won’t get into the technical details here.)

The heart also produces the strongest electromagnetic field in the body, detectable several feet away, one that can entrainall the other body systems, including the brain. (It also affects other fields it comes in contact with, human and non-human.) When the brain entrains to the heart and becomes “coherent” with its field and rhythms, a cascade of positive physiological effects floods through the body (including a lowering of blood pressure, increased production of immunoglobulin A, along with a host of beneficial hormones and neurotransmitters). These scientific studies reveal what the artists, poets, lovers, shamans, and healers have always known: the heart is our center of knowing.

In our modern world, most of us have been conditioned to place our seat of identity and consciousness in the brain rather than the heart. In our daily lives, we function almost exclusively from a linear, analytical, rational mode, rather than a nonlinear, heart-centered, intuitive one. Men, especially.

Yet there is a direct response in the heart to what is presented to the senses.

It is this cellular response to our environment that has guided mankind for millennia, a knowing in the heart through the direct perception of nature/environment. It is a wholistic mode of cognition—often wordless—that is distinctly different from the rational, linear, analytic mode that now dominates our world. As I wrote in a (somewhat lengthy) blog early this year, “Spirits of Cedar”:

In this form of sensing, of reaching out, there exists a moment when both beings experience something unique in the other. It’s a feeling for which we have no word in our impoverished English language. The Athenians called such an awareness ‘aisthesis’: the experience of feeling the touch of life, of a particular kind of ‘other-than-human’ awareness upon us, in return. For the ancient Greeks, the organ of aisthesis was the heart, that part of us that is capable of feeling. It was understood that this exchange, this non-physical touch between humans and the non-human world, opens moments of perception and understanding, when insights flow into us that can arrive no other way.”

Simply placing our awareness on a thing—feeling it through our senses, wordlessly—initiates this heart-centered, intuitive mode and begins the brain’s entrainment to the heart’s field (thus triggering the beneficial physiological response and a different state of being). Immediately there ensues a shift in respiration. Analytical thinking or verbal cognition breaks the entrainment, and perpetuates the disharmony in rhythms between heart and brain.

Repeatedly in my writings, podcasts, coaching, and conversations, I emphasize the importance of opening through our senses and heart, that doing so is an evolutionaryimpulse of the soul and actually guides us on our personal journey. It’s one of the primary ways that we become expansive – always the soul’s mission – rather than contained and restricted in familiar patterns. Indeed, opening through our senses and heart is a primary Soul Skill (one of seven presented in my upcoming book).

Yet even for Soul Artists and those who endeavor to be “awake” in the world, there are times when we are less than open, not quite ‘tuned in’. We’re holed up in our heads rather than in our hearts. It’s often in such moments when Nature or something in our environment – a poulet au potsimmering on the stove, perhaps, or the contented buzz of honey bees – reaches out to touch us, to draw us gently back to the body and the present moment.

To what will we give the gift of our attention?

The world is a waiting lover, hoping to be seen, noticed, and appreciated. Adored. Marveled over. Not in a rational, analytical sort of manner but with an openhearted communion with the heart, knowing that what we perceive also perceives and touches us, in return.

Soul Artists understand, each in their own unique way, that the heart is an organ of perception. It guides them as they navigate their days and make their choices – often simply by the ‘feel’ of a thing or option – including the way it resonates in their body with a somatic response. On their own path of discovery and transformation, they endeavor to learn and employ – and trust – this heart-centered, non-linear mode of cognition.

Gentle reader, may you take moments throughout your day to simply stop what you’re doing and shift into a heart dominant mode that entrains the brain and body. Extend your awareness as if you were reaching out with the heart’s field, and place your attention on something – tree, flower, rock, bird, cat, objet d’art, or person – and simply feelit. Wordlessly. Open your senses. Notice how your breath shifts and your entire physiology immediately recalibrates, also. The connection needn’t be maintained for long.

The more you can do this throughout your day, you will begin to entrain the entire body to the heart’s field and create coherence throughout bodymind – a positive state that yields dividends for well-being (and about which I’ll tell you more next week).

Just for today, let your heart and senses be your guide, and experience the world as a poet or lover does… with feeling.