Friday, September 14, 2007

The Heart

The heart is an amazing organ. The ancient Greeks believed that the heart was the seat of reason and the center of intelligence in the body. The Greek philosopher Aristotle claimed it was the most important organ of the body, the center of all life. The physician Galen believed the heart was the organ most closely related to the soul. The ancient Egyptians also saw the heart as the seat of the soul, but saw it as the center of all emotions and place where wisdom resides as well.

No matter what we know from modern science about the heart as a muscle that pushes blood around the body we still think of the heart as the place where emotion resides. When we fall in love don't we feel the heat of our passion spread out from the center of our hearts? And when we are hurt by love don't we feel the sharpest pain of it in our very hearts like a physical blow? We trust the heart as a source of wisdom, saying things like: "The heart knows," "trust your heart," and "follow your heart." But is it wise? Especially when it seems to control all those feelings surrounding that slipperiest of emotions . . . love.

In the Renaissance, Leonardo DaVinci observed the push and pull of blood through the chambers of the heart and said: "At one and the same time, in one and the same subject, two opposite motions cannot take place, that is, repentance and desire." Maybe Leo had something there . . . can love (desire) survive in the same place that constant hurt, pain, or sorrow (regret/repentance) does?

I suspect love never dies easily. Even though that warm hearted feeling can be driven out from time to time by the pain of heartache, love rarely goes down without a fight. And even though we occasionally repent or regret our relationships with our lovers, our desire to love and to be loved will win out if we let it.

Since heart disease has been on the rise, we have been told to take good care of our physical hearts, to eat healthy and get exercise. I suspect this is good for our emotional hearts as well. And we should watch out equally carefully for our lovers' hearts. We ought to feed each other sweet words not harsh, exercise caution before striking out at each other, and sometimes we need to swallow our own harsh words and apologize, swallow the hurts we've been dealt and forgive.

Leonardo is right that desire and repentance cannot exist simultaneously, but in the heart they must exist side by side. It is the push and pull, the give and take, that keeps the heart pumping. It is finding the balance between joy and pain that will keep love working. I would purposely misquote that infamous line in Love Story as: "Love means always having to say you are sorry." Love means accepting that both you and your lover have faults and that you will be probably be hurt when you love deeply. Love means loving someone through their melancholy funks or despite their bull-in-a-china shop ways. Love means loving the whole package, light and dark, yin and yang.

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