The head is the locus of thinking and intelligence, while the heart is the center of feeling and emotion, right?
Not necessarily. For, just as there is a distinction between exoteric religious ceremonies and esoteric spiritual knowledge, so there is the usual distinction between heart and mind, and a secret doctrine found in traditional wisdom.
As we examined in our last “Spirit” column, the ancients viewed reality as having two distinct dimensions. To the world of Becoming belongs the ever-changing realm of nature and civilization, while the world of Being governs higher metaphysical principles. It would thus seem obvious that the heart should be the organ of fluctuating emotions in the realm of Becoming, while the mind, with its grasp of abstract principles, represents the realm of Being. But on the path trod by us spirit-seekers, these two polarities can be reversed in order to reveal a deeper, hidden meaning.
The faculty of reason is customarily viewed as synonymous with intelligence, when in fact reason is merely a tool of a much greater power. Reason is what mathematicians use to solve equations, or what mechanics use to diagnose engine trouble. But real intelligence—what we mean when we say there is intelligent life on earth—is the divine gift inside us. It is much more mysterious than pure reason, closer to what we’d call imagination or the power of creation, and its center is held to be the heart.
Consider that an embryo heart develops before the brain, and that most information flows upwards along the nervous system from heart to brain, rather than downwards. And just as it is the heart that wisdom teaches us belongs to the realm of Being and eternity, it is in fact the mind that is subject to everything fleeting and transitory in the world of Becoming, diverging from thought to thought like a monkey leaping from branch to branch, in the famous simian simile from the Far East. And so the Buddha is often depicted with a glowing aura emanating from the heart, and Jesus is shown with a burning flame in the center of his chest.
So, the next time you pause on a bench and drift into quiet contemplation, focus not on trying to still racing thoughts in your mind—instead seek to activate the “Being feeling” that comes in subtle waves from the chest, eventually wrapping the whole body in a field of vibrating energy. If you can then go on to live your life in this state, no matter what chaos ensues in the world of Becoming that surrounds you, then you are on your way.
Christian Chensvold blogs about the world’s wisdom traditions at trad-man.com.