The Heart Feeds Itself First
Perhaps you've heard this little physiological factoid ... that the heart has its own private supply of oxygen-rich blood which it circulates back to itself with first, so as to have the strength to pump blood to the rest of the body.
An awesome and tireless job to be sure.
It makes perfect sense to do this.
This is not an original metaphor, but is a good one to describe the vital importance of nourishing your own core before you can adequately take care of anyone/anything else in your life.
It's not selfish - it's common sense and ingenious design.
In shiatsu, the Heart meridian is paired with that of the Small Intestine meridian (each meridian is paired with another.. yin/yang style). Might seem like an odd match, but consider that the SI's function is to assimilate nutrients from our food (we are what we eat), and to 'separate the pure from the impure'.
Similarly, the Heart represents what we've integrated from our life experiences and transformed into our Core, our "Who We Are".
So, not only is feeding ourselves first a priority - being mindful of what we nourish ourselves with is really important.
The Heart Reigns Supreme
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Heart is considered the Emperor. (Each of the meridians are given a 'government official' position.) The Emperor, as the "son of heaven" - the embodiment of divine authority - required protection, and all the other officials (meridians), ultimately served or protected the Emperor.
The Heart is also said to "house the Shen" - Shen being our Mind/Consciousness/Awareness - and the link between Heaven and Earth ... the spiritual and the physical.
When the Shen is properly rooted in the Heart, our thinking is clear, our decisions are sound, and our responses to what's going in our lives is appropriate. We could even say our character and destiny is directly related to the health of our Hearts.
How do we nourish our Hearts?
As with any governmental body, the health of the Heart depends on the strength of those who serve it. There are particular 'patterns of disharmony' that more directly affect the ability for the Shen to be rooted than others...the symptoms of which would appear as insomnia, anxiety, inner conflict, but these will be discussed elsewhere.
The ancient texts advised, that to nourish the Shen, it should remain 'free of attachment' ... mostly along the lines of 'not burdening oneself with depressing thoughts, not getting anxious about future events that may never happen, not dwelling on things that are in the past.'
Easier said than done, I know. But this is a good place for meditation, I think.. a practice that allows for us to return to that free and clear spaciousness that is the true nature of Shen, like an open sky which holds everything.
Shizuto Masunaga, founder of Zen Shiatsu, illustrated how the Heart/Small Intestine stretch position resembles that of a prayer pose, and he said, ".. withdrawal into stillness in the core of our self must alternate with outward responsiveness in order to maintain balance in our emotional life. Thus the movement of the Heart energy is similar to that of the blood in and out of the heart organ."
So, what can learn from this?
The soundness and integrity of our Core is paramount to the quality of our lives. To be intentional in nourishing and protecting our Hearts ... being vigilant about what we take in and make a part of ourselves is of supreme importance.
And to do that requires rhythmic retreat from the worries and chaos of daily life in order to gain a clearer, more detached perspective, and to make choices informed by the 'divine spark within'.