Last week I had an echocardiogram. The technician pressed a wand (coated with very cold gel) between my ribs to get a picture of my heart. I could see the images on the monitor. I felt some of the same awe and wonder that I’d experienced when I was pregnant and had had ultrasounds and seen each of my sons so tiny, floating there inside of me.
This time it was my own heart. Beating continuously. Relentlessly. Faithfully. For decades, without my thinking about it, without my will making it happen, whether or not I was awake or asleep, worried or carefree, whether or not I was having a moment of enlightened equanimity or being driven by some unconscious need. Always beating. Keeping me alive.
I was going to share here some of the fascinating information I’ve picked up over the years about our hearts. But. . . .none of that information was what came to mind when I was watching my beating heart. The truth is, watching that small organ steadily beating made my eyes fill with tears. I wanted to. . . . . to say thank you, to apologize, to promise that I would be more careful in the future.
I was there for cardio tests because my heart had been doing some unusual and disturbing things. Some of the symptoms (the arrhythmia and tachycardia) have been been around for years, but they'd become worse over the last eighteen months. I have a wonderful cardiologist and naturopathic doctor so am feeling confident that the medical side is covered.
As I arrived home after the test, a friend who has had similar heart problems called unexpectedly. When I mentioned what had been going on, he replied without hesitation, “Oh, it’s about the end of your marriage. It broke your heart.”
He’s right of course. Recently, I’d had a dream about a collective healing ceremony for 9/11. My Jungian analyst asked me,“What was your personal 9/11, the event that devastated you?” Without thinking, I replied, “The ending of this marriage.” And when she asked what aspect was most devastating it wasn't the lies or the betrayal that came to mind- it was the awareness that I was not indestructible, that I could be hit so hard that I felt like I might never get up again.
Of course, no one is indestructible on the level of our body-selves, and our emotional hearts and physical hearts are intimately connected. The danger in holding an unconscious belief in my own ability to withstand anything, is that I may not (and did not) recognize and withdraw from a situation that was, on some level, life-threatening. That’s why I wanted to apologize to my heart, to promise to pay more attention in the future, to be more careful.
But the heart just keeps on beating. Sometimes steadily, sometime irregularly. Sometimes quietly, sometimes like a herd of wild caribou in my chest. It keeps on beating to the best of its ability. Without judgement about my choices. Without remorse or regret. Without chastising me. Humans are heart-centred beings, so that’s what we do: we continue to love; sometimes we are loved in return; sometimes we are devastated. Often we love, are loved and are devastated all in the same place.
I am not indestructible. But, like that small heart I saw on the monitor, I will continue- to love, to learn, to heal, to make mistakes, to experience ecstasy and agony- until I don’t, until my heart stops and I cease to be the human being known as Oriah. This is my commitment: I will live- deeply- until I die; I will be here- fully- until I am gone.
In the meantime, being “careful” isn’t about refusing to love or be loved. It’s about being full-of-care for my heart and other hearts, remembering how tender human hearts are and how they can be deeply hurt. It's about holding wounded hearts- our own and others'- with compassion and mercy so that healing can happen, a sustainable rhythm can be restored, and gentle strength can be recovered.