Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Power of the Heart and Neural Buddhism

Today, I chaperoned my 14 year old son, Alex's, Coming of Age class on a field trip to the Shambhala Meditation Center in Brookline, MA. In the Coming of Age program, the kids spend a year doing community service, learning about different faiths and belief systems, take a class about relationships, love, intimacy and sexuality, work with a same gender mentor, and write a statement of their own beliefs and values (a credo) for the graduation ceremony at the end of the year. Today's field trip was a journey into Buddhist practice.

In an interesting confluence of events (or what we can call synchronicity), my friend Steven Otero asked me if I had heard of "neurobuddhism." My response was initially, "no," but within a matter of moments, I had googled the term and quickly started getting up to speed about this interesting thread that might be injecting some spirituality into the hard core materialism of brain science.

I was fortunate enough to come across a wonderful essay by NY Times Op-Ed columnist, David Brooks, dated May 13 2008 and entitled, "The Neural Buddhists." One section of the article grabbed my attention. Having been a vocal advocate and educator for the literal power of the heart, since the heart generates the strongest electromagnetic field in the body, and heart waves can entrain brain waves, some of the sentiments of neurobuddhism, as Brooks explained it, seem to speak of properties I associate with "the power of the heart."

Brooks writes, "First, the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships."
In a workshop, a support group or even a business meeting, our heart fields reflect a dance of "the dynamic process of relationships," even without our conscious knowledge that this is actually taking place. In spite of the many way we feel isolated in today's compartmentalized world, when we are to face with others, our hearts are wired to participate in a dynamic relational dance. Even if intellectually, we may feel alone, when gathered in a real-time group, our hearts know we are interconnected and not alone.

"Second," continues Brooks, "underneath the patina of different religions, people around the world have common moral intuitions." Qualities of heart transcend culture, geography and religion. What the heart knows to be true is very basic and human. Loving one another, respecting the natural world and caring for our children are core to our cardiac fiber and our emotional DNA. While religions can get us into political battles, heart-deep values can bridge most any divide.

"Third, people are equipped to experience the sacred, to have moments of elevated experience when the transcend boundaries and overflow with love," adds Brooks. This is the very experience I create in heart-based workshops, be they "healing the traumatized heart," "healing and nurturing the heart," "keeping the vital heart" or even "integrating sexuality and spirituality.
When our heartfields interact, we create a profound, deep and powerful container, where healing is exponential to what we could do just 1-on-1.

When we learn to slow down and focus through the heart (which is its own form of meditation, and perhaps a variation of the Buddhist practice we were guided through today), we are present to ourselves and others, and the moment's experiences and sensations flow through us with ease.
We lose the limitations of our often-busy and ever-thinking mind. We feel the energy of those gathered around us. There is a spiritual richness in the air that we can both breathe in and often touch.

If we proceed to Brooks' fourth point, "God can best be conceived as the nature one experiences at those moments, the unknowable total of all there is," we could say that journeying deep into the heart allows us a sacred, God-full experience, and a sense of interconnection with all that is.
The nature of the heart is pure, spiritual and sacred. The energy of love is universal energy generated and received by the heart.

Often, people have asked me if my work as a heart-centered body psychotherapist wears me out. I have always answered, "No!" Working from a heart space is actually nourishing, enlivening and inspiring. Call it a kind of living meditation-- a relational meditation in the moment and over time. Even when someone's heart space is blocked or inaccessible due to trauma and the anger or wall that often protect the traumatized heart, the act of creating the emotional safety to let the person open and heal, is itself a sacred act.

I would be willing to bet that is a research scientist studied the brain wave patterns that took place between therapist and client doing heart work, they would find some very interesting data that helped bridge the gap between science and spirituality.

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