In my book HeartHealth, I show that the human heart is much more than an efficient pump that sustains life. The heart, which represents our capacity to feel, is an access point to a source of wisdom and intelligence that the mind just cannot compete with. The heart, which only opens when we are vulnerable to our feelings, is important for increasing personal effectiveness, improving health and relationships and achieving greater fulfillment.
Of course, the lies we tell do not sit well with the heart. When we first start lying, we can feel that unease but as the old saying goes once a liar, always a liar. What this means is that once a lie, and then a series of lies, overcomes our consciousness our heart shuts down and then we do not mind or feel uneasy with our lies anymore. Psychopaths live entirely within their world of lies.
In a study published in Nature Neuroscience, Tali Sharot from the department of experimental psychology at University College London and her colleagues devised a clever study to test people’s dishonest tendencies while scanning their brains in an fMRI machine. They found that when people were dishonest, activity in a part of the brain called the amygdala—the hub of emotional processing and arousal—changed. The more one lies the less activated the amygdala was on the fMRI. These scientists found that with each additional lie, the arousal and conflict of telling an untruth diminishes, making it easier to lie.
These scientists say that dishonesty is an integral part of our social world, influencing domains ranging from finance and politics to personal relationships. We can actually come to the conclusion that we live in a dishonest world, a world of the mind and all its rationalizations instead of a world of vulnerability, love, empathy and compassion because we are too busy and accustomed to lying about many things but especially about our vulnerability—about how we really feel.
Lies and infidelities close the heart, which is our capacity to feel. That is why when people cheat on their spouses their partners can feel something wrong even and especially because nothing is being said. The psychopath is so far beyond feeling anything about the lies he or she lives that they have no more heart and without a heart it is doubtful that they can be considered to have a soul.
Dr. George Monbiot has a lot to say about the consequence of closing the heart in his essay, Neoliberalism is creating loneliness. That’s what’s wrenching society apart.
“What greater indictment of a system could there be than an epidemic of mental illness? Yet plagues of anxiety, stress, depression, social phobia, eating disorders, self-harm and loneliness now strike people down all over the world. The latest, catastrophic figures for children’s mental health in England reflect a global crisis. There are plenty of secondary reasons for this distress, but it seems to me that the underlying cause is everywhere the same: human beings, the ultrasocial mammals, whose brains are wired to respond to other people, are being peeled apart. Economic and technological change play a major role, but so does ideology. Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.”
A recent survey in England suggests that one in four women between 16 and 24 have harmed themselves, and one in eight now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Anxiety, depression, phobias or obsessive compulsive disorder affect 26% of women in this age group. This is what a public health crisis looks like.
It’s unsurprising that social isolation is strongly associated with depression, suicide, anxiety, insomnia, fear and the perception of threat. It’s more surprising to discover the range of physical illnesses it causes or exacerbates. Dementia, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, lowered resistance to viruses, even accidents are more common among chronically lonely people. Loneliness has a comparable impact on physical health to smoking 15 cigarettes a day: it appears to raise the risk of early death by 26%. This is partly because it enhances production of the stress hormone cortisol, which suppresses the immune system.
People often ask if a lack of love, if heartbreak or heartache can be detrimental to our health. Mother Theresa answered this saying; “loneliness and isolation in the West” was the most significant “disease” she had encountered during her lifetime. The healthy human heart needs warmth, is warmth and can give warmth to others. The deeper we dive into the heart and open to its super intelligent ways the more balanced, coherent, and healthy our bodies, minds, and emotions become.
The prevailing wisdom of the day, what is espoused by the media and politicians, is leading us off a cliff in terms of health, happiness, love and personal safety. There is so much wrong with the world that it is bringing us to the brink of World War III threatening us with mass extinction via a nuclear war.
Neoliberalism only sees things in terms of rightness meaning its self-image sees no wrongness with the ideas it fixates on. The society and culture of neoliberalism is a disaster for the children and we see in England alone that a quarter of a million children are receiving mental health care.
The bottom line question is, where are our human hearts?
The State of our Hearts Tell us everything about Ourselves
The science of heart rate variability (HRV) gives us a way of exploring the incredible and wonderful world of the heart. HRV is a physiological marker of how we experience and regulate our emotions. HRV is relatively easy to measure. Rather than calculating the number of beats per minute we measure the time that elapse between one heart beat and the next one.
Dr. Bessel van der Kolk says, “The heart, gut and brain communicate intimately via the vagus nerve, the critical nerve involved in the expression and management of emotions in humans. We experience emotions in our body, not in our heads. Emotions are first a physical state and only secondary interpreted as a perception in the brain. By learning, literally how to control our heart, we learn how to gain mastery of our emotional brain and vice versa. We can actual change the state of our brain by what we do with our bodies. The way we move, the way we breath, the way we interact with other people physically. Important that we experience emotions in our body and not in our head.”
The American Institute of Stress has reported that up to 90% of doctor’s visits are stress related. The HRV of a patient gives us a full readout in terms of health, medical diagnosis and treatment pathways that will bring a person back to harmony and health. Bottom line, the heart knows what is going on in the body. In fact, it knows everything that is going on even with our emotions and minds. HRV can provide information to users about situations where their stress or anxiety levels may be higher than normal.
Heart rate variability, or heart rhythms stand out as the most dynamic and reflective indicator of one’s emotional states, current stress and cognitive processes. An optimal flexible level of HRV reflects healthy function too little variation indicates chronic stress and pathology. The HRV of any individual is directly dependent on vagus nerve tone and function.