Last month I attended a summit hosted by the aTLC (Alliance for Transforming the Lives of Children – www.atlc.org ) in California and had the opportunity to spend time with and interview Joseph Chilton Pierce. (This interview with him will be featured in the next issue of byronchild.) Joe is the author of many groundbreaking books including Magical Child, Evolution’s End, Crack in the Cosmic Egg and most recently The Biology of Transcendence. His work, which has made a historical imprint on transforming the thinking around brain development and human potential, should, in my opinion, be required reading for everyone.
Bringing together quantum physics, neuroscience, psychology and biology, Pierce’s work radically shifts the understanding of who we are as human beings, what our life’s purpose is about and the biological, scientific (not sentimental) reasoning behind bonding, natural birth, breastfeeding, co-sleeping and all the other practices of attached parenting. He also highlights a relatively new field of neuroscience called ‘neurocardiology’, which has discovered the actual brain-functioning of the heart. The heart has its own independent nervous system, having at least forty thousand nerve cells, as many as are found in various subcortical centres in the brain. The heart and brain have a two-way communication and yet it is the heart that has final influence over the brain and not, surprisingly, the other way around. The heart is actually a governing system of the body and brain function! For me, reading scientific proof that the heart is not just a pump – as was taught to me at school – but an intelligent brain, holds such awesome implications.
Intuition tells us, and science now confirms, that the heart functions as the more evolved, intelligent aspect of thinking. What is emerging scientifically has been the subject of sages and saints throughout time, as well as reflected in our language: ‘speaking from the heart,’ ‘being disheartened’ and ‘follow your heart’. It has also, more recently, been used, distorted and propagated for the interests of the new age agenda; so much so that even the word heart sounds mushy and sentimental. But this misunderstanding leads us to discount its real purpose. The function of the heart is in fact our next evolutionary step, the new potential. Indeed, it is our biological imperative that we transcend and – here’s the good news – we’ve been given the means to do so.
This discovery has given me a new visceral understanding of how to live in these times of violence and chaos. In a very literal way, living from the heart has new meaning. Liberated from the esoteric, new agey sort of domain, living from the heart is more about honouring where our evolution is taking us, rather than some spiritual moral high ground (which always left me a bit cold). And at the same time, it reinforces the wisdom of the esoteric. Science and spirit come together, spiritual is seen as human – the integration of these, heralding a whole new paradigm.
But what does it actually mean to live from the heart? Have we not heard that phrase ad-nauseum from the churches to the workshop rooms? We have all sorts of fluffy concepts of how living from the heart looks like – that we are kind, soft and yielding. But I question if these concepts hold any resemblance at all to a life truly lived from the heart. My guess is that such a life, and indeed such parenting, lies well outside the polarity of good and evil, right and wrong, pure and impure.
There are many methods emerging from this new research including the work from the Heart Math Institute and also the Sedona Method to name just two, which you can explore and see if they resonate with you. Yet I can only speak about my own experience with regard to living from the heart (and not living from there), as any systems and formulas in the end seem to be unsustainable. Life can never be truly lived from a formula. And formulas have a way of growing stale, giving way ultimately to our own agenda rather than serving the openness once created by that formula.
Throughout history, within the tales and texts of many cultures, resides the symbol that to me best teaches the way of the heart — the dark feminine force who represents the dark/light, life/death polarity. She is known as Hel , Dama del Muerte (Lady Death), Ku’an Yin, Banshee, and Kali to name but a few aspects. They are the sin-eaters – black-skinned, fierce and raging with a bloody sword poised to strike. Typically they are depicted harvesting unsuspecting victims, devouring corpses, leaving a trail of tears and fury. But the indigenous cultures, who have preserved the teachings about the wheel of life and death, show her breathing the breath of life into newborns, comforting the dying, guiding the hands of the midwife and birthing creation. A great paradox is contained within one entity. The archetype of the life/death, dark/light force is grossly misunderstood throughout many modern cultures due to our fear of death and the subsequent polarising of one against the other so typical of patriarchal society. Yet these archetypes hold the dance of all of life in their hearts, life and death, good and bad, peace and destruction to bring forward a new creation, a new knowing.
The sin-eaters share a common thread woven throughout the various folktales – that of being the destroyer, the one who conquers evil and kills it – as if darkness could be snuffed out and only good remain – a naïve conclusion to a profound message. I sense this is a slight misinterpretation of the original meaning, distorted of course by culture and religion. There is a deeper mystical understanding of life. Instead of rivalling the evil and darkness, the sin-eaters dismantle, ingest, take it in and put it into a new form. But ultimately we are still left with the sin-eater herself, who is fierce and compassionate, dark and light all at the same time.
I like best the metaphor that this archetype represents. She is fierce, yet breathes the breath of life into newborns. She is darkness and yet brings liberation. If we see her through the eyes of our cultural conditioning, we miss the point. Like this, our mental and emotional interpretations of the world now before us need examination. Equally, we cannot trust the moral high grounds we have foisted upon ourselves and each other – like being a perfect parent, being evolved spiritually (whatever that looks like), or being the most intelligent. What is dark, may indeed be our liberation. One can imagine the resistance and fear behind what she represents. Traditionally, many have found her so terrifying and ugly that few recognised her spiritual significance. But she offers the most extreme pictures of our fears, and offers us a chance to face down our own terror. This is radical thinking, but just may be what is required in these times to move forward.
What are my greatest fears? I can name a few – to disappoint another, to be a bad mother, to be alone, to fail, to lose control. All of these, when they appear in my life, come with numerous strategies – appearing like resolution – to keep me from really feeling the experience of those fears. The way of the heart means finally stopping and fully experiencing them. This pierces the right/wrong realm and opens us into something previously unknown.
Being in the paradox, I believe, is the way of the heart. It is the capacity to hold all of life (good and bad) without preference — opening all the doors of resistance and fully feeling the reality of that paradox. Even not resisting the resistance! But this does not mean living with some sort of resigned fatalism and I am also not implying that manifested evil does not exist – quite the contrary. It means having the greatness of heart to hold all that presents itself and from that place, perhaps a different seeing and a different set of actions can occur.
Surely our belief in right and wrong has simply magnified the polarity even more, as history confirms. Has that belief ever worked for us? Interestingly, it is only indigenous peoples that have preserved the dark goddess in their culture. It is the modern Christian societies who have tamed her – the Virgin Mary being the purified, palatable and scrubbed-up version. But the metaphor of Mary misses half of creation – what, then, to do with the ‘dark’ sides of ourselves?
Albert Einstein said, ‘The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.’ A new way is in order and the urgency of that new way presents itself every day we open the papers and read about global warming, the torture of Iraqi prisoners and the slaughter of innocents, or when we again lose it with our children after vowing not to be angry. Every day, we are pushed harder towards that new way. And as if on cue, that new way is presenting itself.
There is a poem from Rumi that goes like this:
Dissolver of sugar, dissolve me,
if this is the time.
Do it gently with a touch of a hand, or a look.
Every morning I wait at dawn. That’s when
it’s happened before. Or do it suddenly
like an execution. How else
can I get ready for death?
You breathe without a body like a spark.
You grieve, and I begin to feel lighter.
You keep me away with your arm,
but the keeping away is pulling me in.
I love especially the ending, ‘You keep me away with your arm, but the keeping away, is pulling me in.’ World events would have us think that humanity is being pushed further and further away from heaven. But the pushing away is pulling us towards our hearts. There is just nowhere else to go.
I cannot say that living from the heart will promote world peace, heal us from cancer, achieve higher levels of work performance or fix our relationships. I don’t think life – or the heart – works that way. The challenge of embracing all that arises in each moment is that there is no room for one’s own preferences in a given situation. We do it for the sake of itself and not for ourselves. I can only say that in the moments that I do indeed stop what I am doing in the middle of a reaction and open myself to the sensations arising without trying to fix them or change them, then the events unfold in a completely new and unexpected way. A well-known spiritual teacher once said, ‘The heart doesn’t solve the issue but presents a new reality.’
Now, I know what you are thinking. If we drop into our hearts, and fully feel all of the horror of what is happening in the world, then we will lose our discernment and the world will spiral into chaos and darkness, unchanged. But you see, this is the thought that pretends to protect us from certain peril. It is the lie trying to survive. My experience is that discernment is not lost, but sharpened. Another intelligence takes hold.
Looking at our parenting choices through this evolutionary view, we begin to understand that our generation sits collectively at the threshold between old and new realities. Our lives reflect the stages of our transformation. What we may have perceived as normal ten years ago, we never would accept for our children today. We must therefore never blame ourselves for not ‘doing it right’ or not being ‘conscious enough’ in the past (even if it was just ten minutes ago) for we are a product of our culture and are evolving into something new. We must also be highly suspicious of buying into the harsh judgments we place upon ourselves in the name of ‘being conscious’. For those of us in that transformative process, it means having the courage to face what we have done in the past and simply meet it, without justification, interpretation, judgment or self-blame.
One of the parenting choices arising in this new way is around education. The Spirit of Learning Conference held in Australia last September brought together some of the most progressive thinkers of our time whose passion is to redefine education so that it more adequately reflects the heart/mind relationship. Learning, when seen from the neurocardiological perspective, has a whole new domain.
The organiser of the conference was educator and author Dawn Griggs who took great personal and financial risk to launch the event. She was articulate about education supporting the integration of the many intelligences reflected in learning. In March, Dawn’s life tragically ended in a violent attack while overseas. It is in her honour, and in honour of her work, that we have renamed the education section of byronchild, the spirit of learning.
After her death, many newspaper reporters called me to ask me about Dawn’s life. I was amazed at how many tried to draw a parallel between her life and the violent way in which she died. ‘How can a woman so dedicated to peace and human spirit have died in such a way?’ – as if there were some relationship. In grappling with such an event, one can only move into the heart, where such a paradox exists and lives side by side. It is there that I meet Dawn again.
And it is like that when grappling with humanity, too. ‘How can human beings be so beautiful and profound, and yet do such horrible things to each other?’ we ask. The answer lies in holding both sides of humanity in our hearts, and feeling the pain of it without flinching. It is there that we truly see ourselves and each other again.
Pierce, J.C. (2002), The Biology of Transcendence. Park Street Press. Rochester
Doc Childre, D., Martin, H. (1999) The Heartmath Solution, HarperCollins. San Francisco
Armour, J., and Ardell, J., eds. (1984) Neurocardiology. Oxford University Press. New York
Mookerjee, Ajit. Kali – the feminine force. Thames and Hudson. London
Estes, C.P. (1992), Women Who Run with the Wolves. Ryder. London