Connecting With the Wisdom of Your Heart:
A Powerful Meditation to Awaken Your Heart-Mind
BY DEAN SLUYTER
research has shown that consistently practicing a heart meditation stimulates the very real brain/nervous system within your heart photo: danka & peter
Background on the Heart Meditation: Understanding the Power of the Heart
The heart is not just a blood pump. It includes a system of about 40,000 neurons, which some researchers call the “heart brain” or “little brain.” It sends information to the head brain that affects cognition and perception, it emits an electromagnetic field that extends several feet from the body in all directions and is far stronger than the brain’s, and there are indications that it can form memories and generate feelings on its own, all of which the heart meditation will help you connect to.
Centuries before science started tracking these matters, cultures and languages throughout the world formed a consensus that, when we speak of the heart, we mean more than the physical organ. We can also mean the essence of something, the “heart of the matter,” or a person’s sense of his own essence: “At heart, I’m an artist.” We can mean both the seat of our emotions—“My heart is full”—and our sense of empathy: “Have a heart.” When children attest to the truth, they cross their hearts. When we’ve learned something so thoroughly that we can take the thinking mind out of the loop, we know it by heart; when we buck up our confidence we take heart. And this confluence of meanings is not unique to English. In French, for example, coeur has most of the same connotations—and is in turn related to English words like cardiac, courage, and core.
“The heart emits an electromagnetic field that extends several feet from the body in all directions and is far stronger than the brain’s.”
Art and religion are full of images that represent the heart as the core of love and devotion in their purest, most enlightened forms, whether it’s Jesus pulling back his cloak to reveal the Sacred Heart radiating light beams of omnidirectional love, or the monkey god Hanuman clawing open his chest to show his beloved Rama-Sita eternally abiding there, or diamond-hearted Mahavira, or the Care Bears, or all those valentines we got in grade school. Perhaps Superman’s pectoral S-shield suggests that the heart is the seat of our true superpowers. Spiritual guides, from St. Augustine in the fourth–fifth centuries to Sri Ramana Maharshi in the twentieth, have taught that the heart is the meeting-place where humans can commune with the Infinite.Some Eastern traditions speak of vortexes called chakras (literally “wheels”), located throughout the body, that manifest various forms of life energy such as sexual desire, creativity, or spiritual insight. In that system as in the West, the heart center is associated with love. Certainly something seems to be going on in that area besides blood circulation. When we’re heartbroken or have a heavy heart, we feel something there.
And in certain moments when we’ve been overpowered by some kind of higher feeling that takes us beyond the usual smallness of self, we may feel as if the heart is brimming or bursting open, almost as if the self itself has momentarily burst open. It might happen when you melt into love with another person, or watch a poignant film, experience a sublime work of art or music or engaging in the heart meditation outlined below. I can remember, in the weeks following the 9/11 attacks, hearing stories of the firefighters who ran into the buildings as everyone else was running out. I repeatedly had that bursting-chest feeling and burst into tears—not so much in grief as in awe, as if their sacrifice of their own lives to something larger somehow pointed me to something larger, in the face of which I could only burst open.
All this is just some background, some context for the heart meditation we’re about to explore, in case this kind of talk resonates with you. If not, that’s fine. This is a favorite method of mine, and of many of my students. In my experience, it can be intensely effective in helping to open the heart—whatever that might mean—and keep it open. But don’t take my word for it. Again, as the Buddha said, “Believe that which you have tested for yourselves.” As usual, we’ll walk through the heart meditation process step by step, with no belief or attitude required. As usual, please check your expectations at the door. We’re not looking or striving for any particular feeling or experience.
The Heart Meditation: Connecting to the Wisdom of Your Heart-Mind
As before, sit back comfortably in your preferred position and close the eyes in preparation for the heart meditation. Do whatever physical or mental preparation you feel at home with, such as twisting and loosening up the body, finding your internal posture, perhaps doing some pranayama [Editor’s Note: deep breathing exercises]. Then just sit easily for a minute or so, breathing normally, letting things be as they are.Now, easily bring your attention to a place deep in the center of your chest. As the breath continues to flow naturally in and out, imagine that it’s flowing directly in and out of this place, deep in the center of your chest, the heart center: flowing in from all directions and flowing out in all directions, 360 degrees.
Don’t try to do anything special with the breath, just let it go however it goes. Let the breath take care of itself as you easily rest your attention in the heart center. After a while you may feel inclined to forget about the breath entirely, or the breath on its own may settle down till it’s barely perceptible. Fine. Just rest your attention in the heart center.
Let the experience of the heart center unfold on its own, however it unfolds. Don’t try to give the heart center a size or shape or boundary. Just remain easy, open, attentive.At times during the heart meditation, you may feel subtle sensations in the heart center, such as a warmth or tingle or hum or vibration, or something too subtle to name. Or you may not. However it is is perfect. In each moment let it be as it is, and then let it be as it is in the next moment. Whatever’s there, just rest aware.
At times, it may feel as if the heart center becomes very small, even microscopic, or it may seem very big, as if it has expanded to the walls of the room and beyond. You may feel as if you become large or small with it. Or you may not. Perfect.
Thoughts and sounds, sensations and feelings may come and go as usual within the awareness. As usual just let them come and go, paying them no special mind as you rest in the heart center.
Sometimes the heart center may seem to be experienced as some kind of light—perhaps very subtle, perhaps vivid. If so or if not, fine; just be with it however it is. The light may seem to spread, radiate, permeate, engulf. You may even feel that everything, yourself included, is melting into that light. However it is, just be with it—not judging, not resisting, not favoring, just along for the ride. Remain like this for as long as you like, enjoying the depth of the heart meditation. Then take plenty of time coming out.
This article on heart meditation is excerpted with permission from Natural Meditation: A Guide to Effortless Meditative Practice by Dean Sluyter.
About The Author
Dean Sluyter has taught meditation throughout the United States since 1970. He is the author of several books and audio programs, including Cinema Nirvana, The Zen Commandments, and his latest, Natural Meditation: A Guide to Effortless Meditative Practice. He is known for conveying authentic teachings in forms that are practical, accessible, label-free and fun. Visit his website: deansluyter.com