There is a Native American word, “duyukta,” meaning harmony and balance which captures the essence of what is necessary for a high quality of life. In the book, “The Heart Speaks,” cardiologist Dr. Mimi Guarneri chronicles her journey from being a physician who looked at the heart as a mechanical pump to understanding that the heart seeks harmony and balance.
She came to see that there is a spiritual heart that yearns for a higher purpose and a universal heart that communicates with others.
It is interesting to note that other cultures and spiritual traditions have shared many complex views of the heart. The Greeks believed that the spirit resided in the heart. In traditional Chinese medicine, the heart is believed to store the spirit. Christian theology contains the notion of the heart as an inner book that contains a record of a person’s entire life including emotions, ideas and memories.
Guarneri speaks about learning much from her patients about the need to pay attention to the language of the heart by listening to them. Though this was quite challenging given the nature of her medical training and early practice with its time constraints that severely limited the amount of time she was expected to spend with each patient and her own thinking about what her role was as a heart doctor. It actually took a severe personal illness to lead her to the point of rethinking how she might best serve her patients.
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Her awakening eventually led her to become the founder and medical director of the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in 1995 where she continues to work as an attending physician in cardiovascular disease.
“The Heart Speaks” highlights much research which has been done regarding the psychological contributors to heart disease such as depression, anger, loneliness and grief. These studies are helping to show that they may indeed have much to do with the cause of the disease; even though they are more often than not considered to result from the heart’s disease.
It is interesting to reflect upon the arguments of this book regarding the relationship between anger and heart disease as one views our current world. We know that heart disease is a major source of death in our culture. And, as we pay attention to the news, we hear of so many stories that demonstrate how much rage we have as a culture that we continue to try to manage through violence.
These days there are so many people on medications to manage depression and there are many others struggling with loneliness and a sense of hopelessness. Unfortunately, our communities are constructed in ways that support separateness and isolation in many cases where there is little opportunity to build relationships.
Along with the issue of anger and its companion depression there are numerous other challenges with which we all have to struggle as we try to achieve harmony and balance in our lives.
Our hearts cry out to us for the balance that supports life in a holistic manner. The mind, body and spirit long for the chance to work together as they were designed to do. When the structure of our daily lives continues to force imbalance, illness is the result. Perhaps the work of integrative medicine that seeks to honor the mind, body and spirit connection, will help us to learn to see illness in terms of being out of balance. When we begin to see illness that way, we can search for the ways to regain balance along with working to find the cure for the illness which has resulted primarily from the lack of it.
As we observe our present moment in this community and the world in general, it is clear that we need to seek harmony and balance both personally and collectively.
This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.