Long ago Greek philosophers agreed that human emotions, like love and fear, were linked to the heart. Plato (429 – 347 B.C.E.) argued that the chest was at the center of love and Aristotle expanded it further to expound that the human heart was the seat of spiritual and mental functions.
We now know that the limbic system, a group of interconnected structures deep in the brain, is responsible for emotional responses: the hypothalamus controls emotional reactions; the hippocampus helps preserve and retrieve memories; the amygdala helps coordinate reactions to things in our environment like fear and love; and the limbic cortex impacts mood, motivation, and judgment.
And even though we know this fact, that the brain is responsible for how we feel, we tend to still associate feelings with the heart. Like the emoji symbol of the heart I use in my texts or emails every day, with different colors to symbolize trust, peace, gratitude, or romantic love. Or on Valentine’s Day: chocolate boxes in the shape of a heart; cards with every shape and color of a heart; red roses; heart-shaped jewelry; heart-shaped cookies with pink or red icing.
Or how about all those heart idioms and cliches I might use in my writing: a big heart; a heart of gold; after my own heart; my heart missed a beat; it broke my heart; cross my heart; follow your heart; from the bottom of my heart; have a heart-to-heart talk; eat your heart out; absence makes the heart grow fonder; change of heart. I could go on.
Perhaps it’s because we feel things in the heart. The heart races when we’re excited or scared. The heart contracts with grief. The heart rate slows down when we meditate or rest. The heart flutters when we see someone we love.
Or perhaps because the heart is innervated by the fibers of the nervous system networking everything with the brain, we are just a magnificent interconnected system, feeling and thinking and being all at once. Not separate entities. Not alone. But interdependent and related.
I don’t know. I am not a scientist or a medical doctor, but I do know that the people who have had the biggest impact on my life are those with big hearts. Those who helped me out without me asking like my friend who brought me dinner when my mother died and rejoiced when I published my first book. Or my son and daughter who send long emails even though they’d rather just text a word or two. Or my husband, who showers me with love every day.
I find it interesting that the heart will be the first organ to cease functioning when I breathe my last breath. So, it sure makes sense that I live my life with a big heart. To be kind and generous. To seek to understand rather than judge or voice opinions. To do small things with great love. And as Mother Theresa once said, “If you want to change the world, go home, and love your family”.
I can do that.
Enjoy the passage of time.
© 2023. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved