“The head is too wise. The heart is all fire.”

– Maggie Stiefvater

Chinese medicine practitioners may feel an affinity with this quote because of our association of the heart with the fire element and the brain (the head) being an extraordinary organ. The heart can be considered the emperor – the commander and the very essence – of our intrinsic system. According to Chinese medicine, the brain is regarded as the house or residence of marrow and if marrow produces blood in a Western medicine context, then how is blood generated? Even though it resembles the question of the chicken and the egg, the heart–brain connection is not simply mechanic.

Chinese medicine practitioners may feel an affinity with this quote because of our association of the heart with the fire element and the brain (the head) being an extraordinary organ. The heart can be considered the emperor – the commander and the very essence – of our intrinsic system. According to Chinese medicine, the brain is regarded as the house or residence of marrow and if marrow produces blood in a Western medicine context, then how is blood generated? Even though it resembles the question of the chicken and the egg, the heart–brain connection is not simply mechanic.

Recently I visited India and Nepal as part of a Buddhist pilgrimage. The first teaching we received upon our arrival in Dharamshala was “Every pilgrimage is a journey from the head to the heart”. At the time, I wasn’t aware how accurate and intelligent those words were, however, as our teacher had led many pilgrims on this journey before, they captured my attention. Over the next three weeks – being free from my usual responsibilities – I paid attention to what was going on in both my head and my heart, and I developed an insight of the connection between the two.

An emperor makes decisions that are best for his kingdom and not necessarily for himself. Or, at least, a good sovereign should act that way. He views a problem from several angles and receives input and recommendations from his ministers on their respective area of responsibility. Strategically, he will be aware of the consequences of his actions on his kingdom and his people. In the same way, the heart envelops our whole existence: the past, the present and a little bit of our future.

Brain-led decisions are not wholesome decisions as they exclude the essence of the heart. Decisions made in the head are neither long-term nor rock-solid. They are very momentary and lack consistency. When we act from the head, we become centred on ‘I’ as the head is only concerned about itself. Additionally, brain power is about on or off, yes or now, cold or hot; it’s judgemental in its nature.

Have you considered the difference between short-term and long-term actions and consequences? This is apparent when we act for ‘I’ rather than ‘We’. I see it with my patients. I recognise their anxious mental states and worries about themselves. Anxiety is worry about self that is usually brought about by circumstances or situations involving others. Centrally, it’s about ‘I’.

I believe that self-centredness has increased dramatically in our society. We no longer listen to understand someone else; we listen to respond to them.  It has become important for us to say what we think and what we feel and how this or that has affected us. We are often isolated from our surroundings and circumstances that we are in. It’s all about me, myself and I. Are we competing for drama? Are we trying to have the best ‘story’, always searching for ways to make it more dramatic? Sadly, as no one truly listens, it’s wasted time and energy anyway.

When someone is in trouble and we offer our help, what is the true motivation of the help we render? Is it to help ‘I’ or ‘We’? Is it to make you feel better or is it because you genuinely want to assist the person in need? I know from personal experience that soon after I start helping someone, I often feel tired and stressed and worn out as I have given so much of myself. It is often the same with my patients too – I become impatient with them or feel they have taken up too much of my valuable time or feel they don’t pay me enough to listen to their often complex situations and problems. What has happened to us that we think in such a manner?

My best suggestion to deflect self-centredness is to apply reflective meditation practices such as simply observing the current state of our world without a need to be focused on anyone or anything. By recognising the state of our affairs with the heart, we start to develop compassion. Compassion moves the focus from ‘I’ to ‘We’. From the ‘I’ to the ‘We’ is form the head to the heart. Feeling compassionate inspires wholesome actions towards achieving a better situation. As we recognise the suffering of others, we admit our own. To develop compassion is to help others and self at the same time.

To establish the ‘We’, we need to understand the ‘I’. For this understanding to include our whole existence, we want to establish a healthy flow of energy and blood between the head and the heart. The head has its reason for existence, but simply relying on the head is unsafe for both the ‘I’ and the ‘We’.

Once a good flow is established and the responsibilities are clear, we can start applying it in our families, at work and within our communities. The effects will be phenomenal! Not only will the ‘I’ feel enhanced and more integrated, but the head and brain will become more aligned with the heart. Why? Because the heart always rules. And in one heartbeat, you will have changed everything.

Recently I visited India and Nepal as part of a Buddhist pilgrimage. The first teaching we received upon our arrival in Dharamshala was “Every pilgrimage is a journey from the head to the heart”. At the time, I wasn’t aware how accurate and intelligent those words were, however, as our teacher had led many pilgrims on this journey before, they captured my attention. Over the next three weeks – being free from my usual responsibilities – I paid attention to what was going on in both my head and my heart, and I developed an insight of the connection between the two.

An emperor makes decisions that are best for his kingdom and not necessarily for himself. Or, at least, a good sovereign should act that way. He views a problem from several angles and receives input and recommendations from his ministers on their respective area of responsibility. Strategically, he will be aware of the consequences of his actions on his kingdom and his people. In the same way, the heart envelops our whole existence: the past, the present and a little bit of our future.

Brain-led decisions are not wholesome decisions as they exclude the essence of the heart. Decisions made in the head are neither long-term nor rock-solid. They are very momentary and lack consistency. When we act from the head, we become centred on ‘I’ as the head is only concerned about itself. Additionally, brain power is about on or off, yes or now, cold or hot; it’s judgemental in its nature.

Have you considered the difference between short-term and long-term actions and consequences? This is apparent when we act for ‘I’ rather than ‘We’. I see it with my patients. I recognise their anxious mental states and worries about themselves. Anxiety is worry about self that is usually brought about by circumstances or situations involving others. Centrally, it’s about ‘I’.

I believe that self-centredness has increased dramatically in our society. We no longer listen to understand someone else; we listen to respond to them.  It has become important for us to say what we think and what we feel and how this or that has affected us. We are often isolated from our surroundings and circumstances that we are in. It’s all about me, myself and I. Are we competing for drama? Are we trying to have the best ‘story’, always searching for ways to make it more dramatic? Sadly, as no one truly listens, it’s wasted time and energy anyway.

When someone is in trouble and we offer our help, what is the true motivation of the help we render? Is it to help ‘I’ or ‘We’? Is it to make you feel better or is it because you genuinely want to assist the person in need? I know from personal experience that soon after I start helping someone, I often feel tired and stressed and worn out as I have given so much of myself. It is often the same with my patients too – I become impatient with them or feel they have taken up too much of my valuable time or feel they don’t pay me enough to listen to their often complex situations and problems. What has happened to us that we think in such a manner?

My best suggestion to deflect self-centredness is to apply reflective meditation practices such as simply observing the current state of our world without a need to be focused on anyone or anything. By recognising the state of our affairs with the heart, we start to develop compassion. Compassion moves the focus from ‘I’ to ‘We’. From the ‘I’ to the ‘We’ is form the head to the heart. Feeling compassionate inspires wholesome actions towards achieving a better situation. As we recognise the suffering of others, we admit our own. To develop compassion is to help others and self at the same time.

To establish the ‘We’, we need to understand the ‘I’. For this understanding to include our whole existence, we want to establish a healthy flow of energy and blood between the head and the heart. The head has its reason for existence, but simply relying on the head is unsafe for both the ‘I’ and the ‘We’.

Once a good flow is established and the responsibilities are clear, we can start applying it in our families, at work and within our communities. The effects will be phenomenal! Not only will the ‘I’ feel enhanced and more integrated, but the head and brain will become more aligned with the heart. Why? Because the heart always rules. And in one heartbeat, you will have changed everything.


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