Where is the Mind?

When I was a little boy, I had a tendency to walk around on tiptoes. People said I had my head in the clouds. Over the years, I have heard different theories on the pathological significance of my early ambulation habits, from language delays to autism to cerebral palsy and also theories of the spiritual qualities of toe-walkers.

I have long since stopped walking on tiptoes, and I never did have any language delays or serious motor difficulties, but I admit I have always had a tendency to keep my head in the clouds. Since reaching middle age, a few years ago now, I have done a fair amount of reading and thinking about the difference between spirit and soul, and I have worked hard on changing my center of gravity from my head to my heart.

Jungian psychology has resonated with my own intuition and perception of the deep-seated causes of my thoughts and my actions. I have come to believe in the power of archetypes in our way of relating to the people and the world around us, and I have started to challenge my intellect and my powers of reasoning as drivers of what has happened and continues to happen to me.

Just lately, I stumbled onto some writings about the Bön tradition, which predates Buddhism, and which pointed the way toward that belief system or understanding of the nature of man.

According to the Bön tradition, man has three parts: Body, located in the head; Speech, located in the throat; and Mind, located in the heart area.

This struck me as a typographical error at first; body in the head and mind in the heart – how could that be? But, the more I thought about it, the more direct the connection seemed; it is in the brain that any and all of my awareness of my body exists, and therefore, it is there that my body “exists” to me. Without my brain registering it, my feet can’t be cold, my stomach can’t feel empty and my knees could never ache.

Equating the body with the mind offers a new perspective on what we in Western medicine have been calling the mind-body connection. It could, even should, be called the brain-body connection. Because our own computing power is inseparable from the nerve impulses it registers and transmits from and to every organ of the body. And if the brain and body aren’t just connected, but actually one and the same, many disease paradigms suddenly must change – some just a little, and others quite fundamentally. Pain becomes the same as suffering, fibromyalgia could become depression in the body, colitis might become anxiety of the gut and psoriasis could become self-hatred.

What, then, is the mind, and what is it doing in the heart area? The heart is the location to which many cultures ascribe our deepest emotions, whatever selfless love we are capable of, and whatever connection we have with our Higher Power or with the Universe.

Before going any further, let me recapitulate what is known today about the heart’s abilities beyond pumping blood around:

There are 40,000 neurons in the heart; the heart not only receives neural stimulation from the brain (for example via the vagus nerve), but also transmits afferent impulses to the medulla oblongata and to the cortex; a transplanted heart, lacking a functioning vagus nerve, still has adequate independent pulse regulation; the heart creates a measurable electromagnetic power field that extends outside the body; the heart produces several hormones – atrial natriuretic factor (similar to Brain Natriuretic Peptide, a commonly tested marker of heart failure), noradrenaline (found in the brain and adrenal glands), dopamine (also found in the brain), oxytocin (released by the brain during childbirth, bonding with infants or lovers and during orgasm), afferent nerve fibers from the heart to the amygdala of the brain can stimulate autonomic responses to stress before any impulses reach the neocortex. Finally, healthy heart rhythm patterns have been linked to emotional well being, heightened intellectual abilities and better judgement.

The heart-mind is not an organ we use to design airplanes, do math or figure out how to get coconuts down from the trees; those are simple brain exercises.

The heart-mind may just be what connects us to what is infinite and eternal, our connection to everything that is not our body. Sometimes, our words, actions or our physical creations can seem to be what we call divinely inspired; then our minds control our bodies and our speech, but we are not the ultimate originators of our music, our poetry or our art. Something bigger is.

If the heart-mind, and thereby our connection to the collective mind of the Universe, is disrupted during heart surgery when the heart is chilled or bypassed by a heart-lung machine, we would suddenly understand the claims that 40% of patients experience significant depression even after relatively simple coronary bypass surgery.

The fact that we can measure the electromagnetic field of the heart beyond the physical boundaries of our bodies and the observation that people in close proximity can experience synchronization of their heart rhythms gives the heart more than symbolic significance in how we relate to our loved ones, mankind and the Universe.

All this is certainly something to ponder, even if it is just with my human brain, or what some Buddhists call the monkey-mind.

After I stopped walking on my tiptoes, I attended a Methodist Sunday School and I was later confirmed in the Lutheran state church of Sweden. In my studies of religion, I have learned that Buddhism isn’t an actual religion, but it does represent an ancient view of the Universe that science is now rediscovering.

A quote by Albert Einstein sums all this up:

“Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.”

4 Responses to “Where is the Mind?”

  1. 1 Christina September 12, 2014 at 1:05 am

    Thank you for this post. It’s very interesting. I am an oriental medicine practitioner and was taught about the mind in the heart, but have not heard about the body in the head… which is interesting for all the reasons you cite as well as because I am a long time Tibetan Buddhist in the Nyingma lineage (closest to Tibetan Bon). Your blog is one of my very favorites!

  2. 3 innocentouko September 12, 2014 at 9:53 am

    loved it. Its good to see how some peolple are able to relate science and religeon.The two manifest in each other as is seen in so many biblical occurences. Awesome facts about the heart too .

  3. 4 Linda DeLia September 12, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    I am so often inspired by your writings. Today I am blown away.I’m nearly 70 and have traveled a similar spiritual journey as yours. Have always loved Jung and admired the Buddhist view of life. Thank you!

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