We are not our minds. By mind I mean that cerebral and analytic commentary that talks to us constantly. We get in the habit of identifying with the brain chatter that attaches us to the details of our lives. But beyond the mind there is an expansive and peaceful state of being that I call Heart. It turns out that this state can be a powerful resource to us, if we can quiet the mind.
I have learned that this Heart place can be tapped for profound insight and healing in serious or unremitting illnesses. In the following chapters, you will hear the story of a woman with serious Stage IV ovarian cancer who tamed her incessant anxious thoughts, so that she could open to complete healing; another woman with kidney failure who changed her preconceptions about her genetic fate and altered the progression of her disease; and also my own story as a doctor who was diagnosed with cancer, and found profound healing through opening the Heart.
Don’t get me wrong. The mind is not a bad thing. The positive attributes of Mind are focus, organization, concentration, and memory: all excellent qualities for executing action. When we have a creative idea, we need our minds to organize our actions for manifesting our creation. We get into trouble when the mind becomes the judge and censor, limiting our creative selves rather than serving them.
So, the mind is the linear, logical voice that tends to dictate our day-to-day lives. The mind speaks to us from a particular and individual set of beliefs that we have accumulated from our childhood experiences, our education, the media, experts. When we stop and listen, it can be surprising how the mind speaks to us: our own mind may not even be telling us the truth.
Heart is expansive, intuitive, creative. It is the place we open to when we feel overcome with gratitude, joy, or passion. Our mind suspends its commentary. When we are open to our heart, the mind is quiet. The heart transcends linear time and space. When we are moved or deeply touched, we experience expansion, beauty, and peace.
Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain scientist, went on an unexpected journey and returned with incredible insight into the Heart/Mind nature of our being. When she was 37, she had a massive stroke and, as a scientist, was able to study her own stroke as it happened. In the process, she discovered the Two Ways of Being in a rather dramatic way. She recalls at the time of her stroke experiencing two separate states:—the left brain (which I call the cerebral Mind state) which told her, “I’m having a stroke! I’m having a stroke!”; and the Heart state of consciousness, which she calls “right brain” where she found a state grace and euphoria, and a sense of being one with the universe.
She discovered a whole new world while in that state, which I call the Heart state, and this had a profound impact on her recovery and her way of life from then on. She recommends “running the peace circuitry” (living in the Heart state) often as way to improve our lives.
Author Esther Hicks shares the wisdom of Abraham: “Most people rarely align with their true power, because it seems illogical to them that there is power in relaxation, in letting go, or in love or joy or bliss. Most people do not understand that their true power lies in releasing resistance.” True power is what I call Heart with the qualities of love, joy and bliss that Esther describes here. It is cerebral Mind that needs to relax and release resistance in order to access Heart or true power.
It is possible to learn this relaxation of Mind and opening to Heart to improve our health and way of life. This book will present some simple practices and stories of some who have used these principles to profoundly improve their lives, so that you can learn how to make this shift for yourself.
In truth, each one of us is a vast energy source, connected to unlimited knowledge, creativity, peace and wellbeing. But we define who we are based on narrower habits of mind in part dictated by our society. We develop our minds to focus and organize our creative, vast selves into the productive activity of our daily life. We experience life through the dualities of Mind and Heart. I hope to show you how to get in the habit of making them one.
If you want to experience this vast place, be with a baby and feel your heart open. Babies are pure presence and heart. They are relaxed, in the moment, and have not yet developed mind commentary. Just being in the presence of a baby has a powerful effect on us. These little preverbal beings emanate such a strong heart vibration that we tend to match their vibration and resonate with Heart.
Sometimes it takes a while to relearn things we’ve known all along. For the first 21 years of my career as a physician, I was an obstetrician. I loved being an obstetrician, helping babies into the world and then being able to feel that vast heart opening every time in the newborn’s presence. Later when my own 2 children were born, I had little wise heart teachers with me in daily life. While they were still preverbal, they communicated only from the Heart place. They would capture my attention and cause me to feel love and expansion. My mind was quiet. Time stood still. It was through observing my own babies as they developed that I began to see the distinction between Mind and Heart. Very early, young children have a drive to develop language and communicate with those around them. As we begin to speak, our logical Mind starts to take over and we lose touch with the Heart place. I stumbled into reopening the Heart door as a teenager.
When I was 18, I decided I would learn to meditate. It was the 70’s—days of peace, love, rock music, and meditation. Transcendental Meditation. Go to a workshop, receive a mantra and experience health, focus, and calm with just 15 minutes of practice twice a day. That was the promise. I was a driven, over-achieving student at the time, and prided myself on my peaceful exterior persona. Since I was headed off to college, meditation sounded like the perfect tool for cultivating that persona while succeeding academically. I signed up for a workshop.
On the day of the workshop, as I registered and took my seat in the lecture hall, something began to stir in me. I had a sense of excitement and anticipation that surprised me. I had no idea what to expect, but somehow I resonated with the people who were running the workshop, and giving the lecture: they all had a sense of calm that was palpable. I listened to their words and the stories they told about people who had changed their lives with meditation, but it was something beyond the words that was connecting with me, stirring me. I wanted what they had.
After the lecture we waited to go into a small dimly-lit room where we would be given a mantra. When it was my turn, I dutifully went into the room, sat in the chair, and had a mantra whispered in my ear. I started slowly, silently repeating the mantra in my head, over and over, sinking into the chair. My breathing slowed and became rhythmic and deep. And then, I felt all of my muscles let go and relax, muscles I didn’t even know I had.
Apparently, I had been holding a low level of continuous tension in my body that I wasn’t even aware of until it let go. What a relief. Each step of this process happened so gently and organically. My mind was following all this in a quiet state of wonder. And, finally, miracle of miracles, my mind commentary stopped. I found myself in an amazing expanded silence and sense of peace that felt bigger, greater than my mind. I had never realized that my mind had been continually talking, commenting, instructing. Until it stopped. What a relief. I felt as if I had stepped through a doorway into a vast peaceful place where I was expanded and connected to everything through a scintillating energy. I had left my mind at the door, silent, observing.
At the time, I didn’t realize that I had gone through all the steps to quiet the mind and open the heart: give the mind a simple, repetitive focus, breathe fully and rhythmically, relax physically, and gently allow the door to open. I did not realize what I would learn later as a doctor and a healer: that this Heart place could be tapped for profound insight and healing in serious or unremitting illnesses. At 18, I just enjoyed the feeling when my mind stopped its chatter, and I thought of this as the ultimate way to relax. I was grateful to have discovered this peaceful place to go.
This was the first time that I had an awareness of my mind separate from the peaceful part of my being. I continued to practice my meditation, and it was helpful. I became more calm and focused. But as soon as I would open my eyes after meditation, my mind would begin again with the “to do” list and the commentary.
There are two ways of experiencing life: Mind and Heart.
The first step is to become aware of our mind chatter, by getting relief from it. Then we can get in touch with our inner world. The next step is to cultivate the heart and train the mind to be still until it is needed to serve our greater self.
Susan’s Meditation: My friend Susan who teaches meditation speaks about the relief from stress offered by meditation. She mentioned that meditation is first a practice to quiet the “monkey mind”, which allow us to have rapt attention to the person we are with. This, she says, I the highest form of love. Rapt attention, I thought. Yes, and the highest form of this practice is to cultivate rapt attention for oneself—listening to our own heart, the greatest form of love.