By Thomas Walker
Originally printed in the Spring 2010 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Walker, Thomas. "A Path with Heart." Quest 98. 2(Spring 2010): 54-59.
For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart. There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length. And there I travel, looking, looking, breathlessly.
—Don Juan (Castaneda, 11)
The ancient Egyptians were obsessed with life after death. Of course it could be said that all of us are to a point, but the Egyptians really went extra lengths to ensure a proper passage from the world of the living to the plane of the afterlife. Their texts are filled with detailed instructions about the proper preparations for the journey. They even prepared a book about it, a kind of owner's manual and travelogue rolled into one called The Egyptian Book of the Dead. But what really demonstrates their commitment is the thing Egypt is best known for, the one romantic notion that is known around the world, the stuff of Hollywood feature films and ancient legends . . . mummies!
Even today, with all the technology we're so proud of—with advanced knowledge of chemistry, magnetic resonance imaging, gas chromatography, and the like—we still aren't sure exactly how the Egyptians achieved mummification. Their climate helped: hot, dry conditions go a long way by themselves toward making mummies. However, there's more to it than that; by all accounts, the process was complicated and carefully crafted. After the body was ritually washed and perfumed, the internal organs were carefully removed for special processing. These precious tissues were placed in their own containers—solid gold jars in the case of the elite—and were arranged within the burial chamber with extra care.
The human heart was given exceptional attention, as a mark of the respect due to the organ the Egyptians felt was not only the center of emotion, but, more importantly, the center of reason and thought as well. Regarding the brain, that unimaginably complex mass of neurons and supporting tissues, the Egyptians were rather blasÃ©. For this legendary human organ, the Egyptians had no special plan, no golden chalice. Instead, the squashy mass was unceremoniously yanked through the nostrils and—without pomp, circumstance, or ceremony—dumped into the trash. The brain wasn't given a second thought. It was the heart that was held in high regard. In that respect, the Egyptians may have been on to something big, something we are just now beginning to rediscover.
Neurochemicals have now been found throughout the tissues of the human body. Why? The short answer is that "thinking" occurs in many places in the body besides the brain. And if cells can "think," then are they also aware? Preposterous, you say? Maybe not. Memory also appears to be a function found throughout the tissues of the body, all the way down to the cellular level. Interestingly, the heart seems to be of special importance.
For eons, people have placed special significance on the heart as the seat of emotions. Science tells us the opposite: that emotion all takes place in the brain, that the heart is just a dual-action, four-chambered pump, nothing more. Yet all of us, at one time or another, have felt our own heartstrings plucked (there really are strings in the heart—the chordae tendineae, connective tissues that keep the mitral and tricuspid valves from prolapsing, at least most of the time). We have all experienced feelings of profound joy or sorrow and felt them exactly, precisely . . . in the heart.
Spiritually inclined people attribute this sensation to the heart chakra, which connects us to our higher energy bodies. Now we have some scientific evidence to corroborate this experience. We need briefly to examine the work of Paul Pearsall, Ph.D., a pioneer explorer of the world of "energy cardiology."
For starters, the human heart is unique in several ways. It is composed of its own special type of muscle tissue, which is called, appropriately enough, cardiac muscle. In addition to its own unique anatomical structure, the heart also has something other tissues don't have—an innate, inherent ability to beat, a capacity entirely independent of the brain or of any other portion of the nervous system.
A heart completely disconnected from the body and placed in a nutrient solution will continue to beat for a long time. Even more interesting is that if two hearts are placed in separate containers close together, in short order their beats will become synchronized, regulated by some unseen energy present in the tissues. If we find this phenomenon unusual, what are we to make of the recent reports from heart transplant patients who suddenly find themselves experiencing their donors' memories? Is this all just fantasy?
After working as a psychologist for hundreds of such cases, Paul Pearsall doesn't think so. Taking the lessons gained from years of working with heart transplant patients, he searched out others who were working with subtle energy and energy cardiology. He soon came upon the work of Gary Schwartz and Linda Russek. Schwartz is a professor of neurology, psychology, and psychiatry at the University of Arizona and director of the Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health there. At the time Russek, who formerly taught at Harvard, was his assistant. The two scientists feel that, given the great complexity of living things, informational systems of some kind must be at work in biology, systems that modern science has failed to recognize. As a result, they have advanced their view of "info-energetics," the belief that biological energy is itself a form of information.
After combining modern biological concepts with the new findings of subtle energy and quantum mechanics, Schwartz and Russek concluded that the heart is an important center of energy in the body, and that this energy is a vital source of bioinformation. They developed their concept of energy cardiology into what they termed the "dynamic systems memory theory," which Pearsall describes as "the idea that all systems are constantly exchanging mutually influential energy, which contains information that alters the systems taking part in the exchange" (Pearsall, 13â€“14). The theory is based upon four central hypotheses:
1. Energy and information are the same thing. Everything that exists has energy; energy is full of information; and stored info-energy is what makes up cellular memories.
2. What we call mind or consciousness is really a manifestation of information-containing energy.
3. The heart is the primary generator of info-energy.
4. Because we are manifestations of the info-energy coming to, flowing within, and constantly being sent out from our total cellular systems, who and how we are is a physical representation of a recovered set of cellular memories. (Schwartz and Russek, 4â€“24)
Whether or not the heart is the major center of informational energy is subject to debate, but one thing that has been demonstrated is the concept of cellular memory. Dr. Candace Pert is a former researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health and the author of Molecules of Emotion, and has been featured in the film What the Bleep Do We Know? She is also a world-renowned authority on neuropeptides, short protein strands that are active in the central nervous system and are at the very neurological core of memory. She is among the first to demonstrate that these chemicals are active in the brain during emotional experiences. However, further study showed something that came as a shock.
These special chemicals did not exist within the brain alone. Rather they were found throughout the blood circulation system, floating to all areas of the body. But without the specialized receptor cells in the brain that the neuropeptides activate, it looked as though the neuropeptides were of no functional use to the organism as a whole. At least that was the thinking until receptors were found to exist in many places throughout the body, including the heart (of course), the immune system, and even the gastrointestinal tract. Dr. Pert commented:
In the beginning of my work, I matter-of-factly presumed that emotions were in the head or brain. Now I would say they are really in the body as well. They are expressed in the body and are part of the body. I can no longer make a strong distinction between the brain and the body. . . . the more we know about neuropeptides, the harder it is to think in the traditional terms of a mind and a body. It makes more and more sense to speak of a single integrated entity, a "body-mind." (Pert, 9)
Later, when Pearsall discussed some of his ideas about memory transfer in connection with heart transplants, Pert was not at all surprised. Pearsall recalls, "She pointed out that, since the cells in the heart are loaded with molecules that necessarily contain at least some form of memory, these memories could well come along with the heart to join with the new body and brain" (Pert, 12).
Almost from the very start of heart transplantation, strange things began to be reported. Granted, heart transplant patients go through an extremely stressful, challenging ordeal; but even allowing for that reality, something profound seemed to be happening. One of the most unusual cases was related to Pearsall by a female psychiatrist who was attending an event where Pearsall was the keynote speaker. After the presentation, the psychiatrist approached Pearsall and began relating the event to him. In short order she began to cry gently and had difficulty discussing her experience, and within a few moments Pearsall understood why. As the psychiatrist described the event:
I have a patient, an eight-year-old little girl who received the heart of a murdered ten-year-old girl. Her mother brought her to me when she started screaming at night about her dreams of the man who had murdered her donor. She said her daughter knew who it was. After several sessions, I just could not deny the reality of what this child was telling me. Her mother and I finally decided to call the police and, using the descriptions from the little girl, they found the murderer. He was easily convicted with evidence my patient provided. The time, the weapon, the place, the clothes he wore, what the little girl had said to him . . . everything the little heart transplant recipient reported was completely accurate. (Pearsall, 7)
In another instance, a family physician named Glenda had been involved in a tragic automobile crash resulting in the death of her husband. Some years later, perhaps to bring things to a close, she sought to meet the young man who had been the recipient of her husband's heart. Pearsall made the arrangements and waited in the hospital chapel with Glenda for the appointment. After a half hour had elapsed, Pearsall suggested they leave, but Glenda was hesitant. Saying she "knew" her late husband's heart was nearby, she exclaimed, "Oh no, we have to wait. He's here in the hospital. I felt him come about thirty minutes ago. I felt my husband's presence. Please wait with me."
Glenda was correct. Almost immediately a young Hispanic man and his mother hurried into the chapel, explaining that they had had difficulty finding the room and had searched for half an hour. After introductions Glenda asked to feel her husband's former heart, and as she did so, she softly said a prayer to her late husband with the words, "I love you, David. Everything is copacetic." The mother and son were shocked. That word, copacetic, was the very first one the young man had uttered after awaking from anesthesia with his new heart!
Within the next few moments, they related how the young man's tastes had changed in other ways as well. It seems, for instance, that while he had once been a practicing vegetarian, he now craved junk food. While he was formerly a heavy-metal rocker, he now only listened to vintage rock and roll. Moreover, he was frequently plagued with dreams of an automobile collision, with bright headlights getting closer and closer until a horrendous crash occurred. By the time Glenda verified that these characteristics all belonged to her late husband, everyone was in tears. Glenda frequently experienced the very same dream. Although she was a highly trained physician, with all the science background that entails, she now became a believer in the phenomenon of cellular memory transference. She knew in her heart that it wasn't all just a matter of coincidence.
In another instance, a woman received a heart transplant and almost immediately began to complain of sharp, shooting pains in her lower back. The doctors explained the pain away as a response to surgery. Years later, however, she still suffered, awakening suddenly at night with shooting pains in her lumbar area. What's more, her husband noticed a significant change in her personal tastes; she now chose very feminine attire over the casual, unisex styles she had preferred before her surgery. And once they were able to resume sex, the wife seemed preoccupied with gay fantasies, asking her husband if he ever experienced them, which came as a shock to him. This went on for three years, at which time the woman met with the parents of the donor. He had been a young gay artist who had died during a robbery. He was killed by a gunshot wound to the lower back.
Pearsall mentions that other organs besides the heart seem to demonstrate the same odd capacity to transmit memory. Although the stories of heart transplant patients are often more dramatic than others, he states: "I have never spoken to a transplant recipient who did not have a story to tell" (Pearsall, 83).
Besides the exciting stories of cellular memories and changing personalities, the heart seems to be of supreme importance in other ways as well, particularly as a source of vitally important energy and information. We may forget that the heart is an organ of considerable power. A wonderfully designed hydraulic pump, it sends the fresh, nutrient-laden blood from the lungs throughout the miles of tubes that constitute the vascular tree, contracting about once per second for every moment of our lives—sometimes a bit slower, sometimes a bit faster, but continuing with its job until it finally stutters to a stop and life itself stops with it.
There's a lot of kinetic energy associated with all this pumping, but what we're concerned with at the moment are the other forms of energy generated by the heart. For one thing, the heart is also an organ of profound electromagnetic energies. We all know of the legendary electrical activity of the brain, the wave patterns that are measured and evaluated with EEGs, but compared to the heart, the brain is an electromagnetic pipsqueak.
Only in recent times have the electromagnetic fields of living things been generally recognized. Now we know that electromagnetism is an essential part of living things, as important as genetics, cellular respiration, or any of the dozens of processes that make up life (Laszlo, 157). And the heart is an organ of powerful electromagnetic activity, operating at a level five thousand times higher than that of the human brain (Clarke).
Like so many before him, Pearsall became intrigued with the question of what coordinates the massive amounts of energy present in the human body. We know the brain does some of it, and the instructions from DNA are a major player, but part of the puzzle appears to be missing. Pearsall commented on the known energies at work, starting with the source of all cellular energy for living things, the molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which fuels everything from elephants to E. coli:
A very powerful, sensitive, centrally located instrument is required to coordinate the immense energy and information generated by the billions of cellular vibrations taking place every second of our life. Multiply two million vibrations of ATP molecules by 75 trillion cells, multiply that number by the 51 to 78 billion cycles per second at which human DNA resonates and conveys its information within each cell, and multiply yet again by the energetic vibrations of the sixty or so neuropeptides that are the biochemical means by which our emotional state is manifested throughout our body. The total number would be a very rough low estimate of the energy surging within you as you read these words. (Pearsall, 103)
From his years of experience and from the work of Gary Schwartz and Linda Russek, Pearsall believes that the heart is the primary organizer of the body in ways that are just now being understood. He comments:
Every cell is literally a mini-heart humming with the energy. The ultimate biomedical illusion has been the view that the body is made of solid matter with fluid pumped through it by an unconscious heart and a powerful conscious brain that is the primary controller of the entire system. Energy cardiology suggests, however, that the heart and not just the brain is what holds this system together by a form of spiritual info-energy, in a temporary and ever-changing set of cellular memories we refer to as "the self." This "self" is the dynamic gestalt of information that might be considered the code that constitutes our soul. (Pearsall, 101; italics added)
Yes, Paul Pearsall strongly believes in the Force. He chooses to call it "L" energy, as in "life energy," but the meaning is the same. At other times he refers to it as the "fifth force," the other four being the primary forces of the universe recognized by modern physics: electromagnetism, gravity, and the strong and weak forces of atomic attraction and decay.
The heart is also important within the context of these primary forces, particularly in terms of Pearsall's preference for following one's heart rather than one's brain. As he states, "the heart has its own form of wisdom, different from that of the rational brain but every bit as important to our living, loving, working and healing" (Pearsall, 73). It is my personal belief that there are indeed two centers of focus in the body—the brain and the heart—but even if we take the idea of the heart as the center of consciousness simply as a metaphor, it still provides us with another perspective on life.
It is particularly interesting that Pearsall discusses heart problems, because cardiovascular disease has become the number one killer in industrialized nations in just a few generations. At the beginning of the twentieth century, infectious diseases were still the primary cause of death. Halfway through the century, they were replaced by cardiovascular problems—strokes and heart attacks. The traditional explanation for this change is the lack of exercise and activity resulting from the use of modern conveniences and the increased rate of atherosclerosis resulting from modern, high-fat junk diets. But there might be a little more to the picture.
In modern medicine the list of risk factors for heart disease includes high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, and obesity. Yet half of the people who experience their first heart attack exhibit none of these factors. And 80 percent of those with at least three of these factors never experience a heart attack. How do we explain these discrepancies? It would appear that some other dynamic is at work.
Pearsall discovered something interesting in the years he has worked with cardiovascular disease patients. He began to inquire about . . . sex. In many cases the victims of heart disease had been celibate for long periods of time. Again and again he found that the patients had gone for a year or more without being intimate, even though most were married.
Pearsall had also worked for years as a sex counselor. He had been a director at the Kinsey Institute, had trained at the Masters and Johnson Institute, and had founded and directed a sexual dysfunction clinic in Michigan for several years. He knew a lot about human sexuality, and he was struck by the fact that so many victims of heart disease showed few of the traditional risk factors, yet had little if any sexual contact.
Pearsall immediately thought of the importance of sex to the flow of "L" energy. He became convinced of the relationship, and he felt even more confident when he discovered current research that backed up his hunch. More than 50 percent of heart attack patients had had no sexual contact of any kind for the entire year preceding their attack! This finding was published in 1996 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (DeBusk), yet the medical establishment ignored it.
Another thread in the weave comes from Dr. Dean Ornish, a leading authority on heart disease. He appears frequently on television as a guest discussing the near epidemic of cardiovascular problems in the industrialized world. Ornish has found that anger is a major factor in cardiovascular disease. Ornish is a cardiologist and a proponent of a change in lifestyle for heart patients, including diet and exercise, but he also advocates anger management and a gentler style of interacting with others.
Ornish's research has shown that reducing stress and anger, along with other lifestyle modifications, can reduce arterial clogging without the need for invasive surgery. He is convinced that in many cases this is the road to take. Of course, many people are unwilling or unable to comply with significant lifestyle changes, and consequently the medical profession can continue to emphasize bypass surgery and other invasive techniques as standard treatments.
Sexual abstinence in adults may impede the vital energy flow, as do anger and stress. All these states have a common result: they cause our muscles to tense. The result is a condition recognized both in ancient times and today; the Austrian psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich called it "muscular armoring." What we need is a change of heart; perhaps most of all, we need to decide to follow our hearts. A path with heart is one of meaning; it is a choice to pursue worthwhile things in life rather than to lust after money, power, and material objects.
Our wondrous human brain has devised heaps of modern technology to make life "easier"—things like microwaves, cable TV, computers, push-button windows, heated car seats, cell phones, Internet banking and shopping and socializing and what have you—yet people report that they are busier and more stressed out than ever. They are working more hours than people did just a generation ago. Families hardly see each other during the course of the day. Fast food has become the dietary staple; the obesity and other health problems that result have become, sadly, a worldwide phenomenon. In a typical American marriage both partners work, yet they're in hock up to their necks as they go crazy accumulating more and more "things," while the children are allowed to raise themselves.
Now more than ever, as Castaneda's don Juan recognized, "we need a path with heart."
Castaneda, Carlos. The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. New York: Pocket Books, 1968.
Clarke, John. "Squids," Scientific American, (August 1994): 46â€“53.
DeBusk, Robert F. "Sexual Activity Triggering a Myocardial Infarction: One Less Thing to Worry About," Journal of the American Medical Association 275 (1996): 1447â€“48.
Pearsall, Paul. The Heart's Code: Tapping the Wisdom and Power of Our Heart Energy. New York: Broadway, 1998.
Laszlo, Ervin. Science and the Akashic Field: An Integral Theory of Everything. Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 2007.
Pert, Candace. "The Wisdom of the Receptors: Neuropeptides, the Emotions, and BodyMind," Advances 3 (1986).
Schwartz, Gary, and Linda Russek. "Energy Cardiology: A Dynamic Energy Systems Approach for Integrating Conventional and Alternative Medicine," Advances: The Journal of Mind-Body Health 12 (1996): 4â€“24.
Thomas Walker, D. C., is a chiropractic physician, master-level martial artist, professor of natural science, and former Green Beret. This article is adapted from his book The Force Is with Us: The Higher Consciousness That Science Refuses to Accept, published in 2009 by Quest Books.