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The Human Heart – Beyond Mechanics

In Western Medicine  we have come to understand the function and importance of the heart purely in mechanical terms and explain it thus:

The right and left sides of the heart have separate functions. The right side of the heart collects oxygen-poor blood from the body and pumps it to the lungs where it picks up oxygen and releases carbon dioxide. The left side of the heart then collects oxygen-rich blood from the lungs and pumps it to the body so that the cells throughout your body have the oxygen they need to function properly.

Blood from the body flows:

  • to the superior and inferior vena cavaHuman Heart
  • then to the right atrium
  • through the tricuspid valve
  • to the right ventricle
  • through the pulmonic valve
  • to the pulmonary artery
  • to the lungs

The blood picks up oxygen in the lungs, and then flows from the lungs:

  • to the pulmonary veins
  • to the left atrium
  • through the mitral valve
  • to the left ventricle
  • through the aortic valve
  • to the aorta
  • to the body

So what makes it beat ?

The answer lies in a special group of cells that have the ability to generate electrical activity on their own. These cells separate charged particles then they spontaneously leak certain charged particles into the cells. This produces electrical impulses in the pacemaker cells which spread over the heart, causing it to contract. These cells do this more than once per second to produce a normal heart beat of 72 beats per minute.

The natural pacemaker of the heart is called the sinoatrial node and is located in the right atrium. The heart also contains specialized fibres that conduct the electrical impulse from the pacemaker (Sinoatrial A node) to the rest of the heart.

This explains the physical attributes and functions and yet the heart holds a special place in our collective psyche. It is synonymous with love and compassion, but it has many other associations too. Here are just a few examples of phrases connected with the heart:

  • have a heart – be merciful
  • change of heart – change your mind
  • to know something by heart – memorize something
  • broken heart – to lose love
  • heartfelt – deeply felt
  • have your heart in the right place – to be kind
  • cry your heart out – to grieve
  • heavy heart – sadness
  • have your heart set on – to want something badly
  • my heart goes out to you – empathy, compassion
  • let’s have a heart to heart – to be open and truthful

Certainly no other bodily organ elicits this kind of response. So why is the heart so important?  Where did these notions come from? and what have we lost in reducing the heart to merely a pump?

We all know that heart rate increases when we are afraid or excited, it can even skip a beat too and yet, these are responses to emotional stimuli beyond our conscious control. We cannot “think” feelings, we feel them and the body responds. Our hearts are not only mechanical and electrical, but appear to be driven by an unseen factor not quantifiable by scientific instrumentation.

To the practioner of Reiki as well as Traditional Chinese Medicine , the heart is central to our wellbeing and the wellbeing of others.

In Traditional Eastern medicine, our acquired Ki (taken from the food we eat and the air that we breathe) is gathered in the chest and combines with our original Ki (the finite Ki we are born with) providing us with life force energy that is distributed throughout and around the body to sustain us.

In Reiki,  the Universal Ki is drawn down through the top of the head to the heart and then combines with our own Ki before flowing out through the hands. The true act of giving to another is based on compassion, it comes from our heart Ki and is felt as an emotive response.

All great spiritual paths place great emphasis on the emotive qualities of the human heart as this is what connects us. It would appear that we express so much through this vital organ that, in reducing the role of the heart to a pump, we have perhaps robbed ourselves of its central subtle energetic function – that which makes us human in the nobler sense.

Although scientific instrumentation points to the existence of the subtle energetic fields within and surrounding the human organism, Spirit is still a four letter word to science.