Our hearts are deeply important to us - both physically and symbolically (or psycho-emotionally). Is it any wonder that this organ that is so integral to our wellbeing, health and activity is also the symbolic seat of emotions like love, care, empathy? If I may wax poetic, I think there is something to be learned by exploring the biology of the heart metaphorically.
The heart has two sides, two parallel functions that work in tandem to achieve ends as opposite as they are essential. One side sends freshly oxygenated blood to the body, full of nutrients and energy. The other side takes blood full of toxins, waste and carbon dioxide to be cleaned and restored. Blood full of life and energy, and blood full of waste and poison pass within millimeters of each other, moved by the same organ to both nourish and maintain our body. This one organ does both, and they are in fact integrally linked.
Our heart - the symbolic seat of our most powerful emotions - also has two sides. One brings us joy, connection, energy and hope. The other processes our hurt, isolation, confusion and disappointment. It is helpful if we can see these dual functions happening within millimeters of each other, in the same organ. They are even linked in the larger process of a healthy, loving heart.
If we do not allow ourselves a healthy process of acceptance and release of emotional toxins, we are cutting off the whole cycle. Our emotions are sapped (and likely our thoughts and physical energy also take the hit) and unable to circulate. We have to understand that being hurt, confused, even angry or resentful are natural and healthy responses to vibrantly circulating emotions.
The "blood" of our emotions helps feed the contracting and relaxing muscles that make us move, that propel us into the world and help us respond to it, navigate through it. We move so that we can engage the world, explore it, and at times retreat from it for our own protection. But that movement naturally causes some pain, some negative emotions or experiences. Sometimes when we work the hardest, that's when we start to feel the burn.
The problem with how we usually deal with these experiences or emotions is we retreat from them, ignore them or refuse to engage or process them. We think "getting over it" means not picking it up. But that couldn't be further from the truth.
Just as with carbon dioxide and wastes in the muscles and blood, if we don't consider it half our whole-body work to work the bad stuff to the surface to be released, we will not only build up stores of emotional toxins, we will restrict the flow of healthy, emotionally oxygenated, life-giving blood.
I'm speaking to myself as much as to anyone else: we have to be honest with ourselves about our suffering. We have to accept it, understand it, bring it to the air and release it. That doesn't happen by accident. It happens in our blood through the intent and constant work of the heart.
The real magic spot in the whole cardioresperitory system isn't in the heart, as powerful an organ as that is. The heart brings blood fouled by use and abuse from all over the body and pumps it into the lungs. (In traditional Chinese medicine, the lungs are the grief organ, and the heart is the organ of joy.) In the lungs are the tiny alveoli sacs with walls so thin that the fresh air breathed in comes in virtual contact with the blood. The carbon dioxide is pushed through that membrane and oxygen is sucked in. Part of what makes this possible is the pressure provided by the heart, working hard to push those toxins to the surface. But it is the thinness of that last (first?) defense that is the real miracle.
It is amazing that the thinnest, most vulnerable part of the whole system (maybe of our whole body) is what makes this process possible. It is precisely our vulnerability that makes us healthy (even while it opens us up to disease and injury).
When we are able to acknowledge our hurts, or even just the normal "waste" and carbon dioxide of living a genuine life, we are able to bring those toxins up to meet fresh air. By seeming magic, oftentimes just contact with the air can clean our blood, and give us the energy to go on, to love and live some more.
If you have issues working through negative emotions, or holding on to painful memories, you might need to take a deep breath and help your heart bring those to the surface: accepting them, working with them, to be able to let them go. Holding onto pain - regret or jealousy, injury or offense - is like holding your breath hoping the pain in your lungs will go away.
There are things we can do - exercises and techniques for forgiveness (of yourself or others), emotional release and even subconscious processing of long-buried wounds. You might consider consulting a mental health professional, or speaking to your doctor about it. Sometimes a good conversation with a close friend can be just the "air" your blood needs. If none of these seem right, if you think you need something a little different, consider contacting me for a free consultation. In 20 minutes we probably won't be able to solve your problem, but we'll have a pretty good idea whether or not a coaching relationship could help you.
Cardiovascular health is key to whole-body health. Emotional wellness is key to whole-person wellness. Give your heart a good workout every day to maintain health and energy for vibrant living. That goes for your physical heart, too.