The Center of Our Being
The human heart exists not only in the middle of our chests, but also in the center of our consciousness. It is the focal point of the human circulatory system, and it is the true seat of the soul. The hearts central role is evident even in our language. Whenever we speak "from the heart," we refer to those issues which are most important to us. We call our deepest feelings for the people we love matters of the heart. But despite all this, in contemporary society the human heart is often stripped of its poetry. Medical science in particular typically considers the heart in purely mechanical terms, like any other piece of machinery. Like any other pump.
In our emotional lives we readily associate the heart with our most strongly held feelings, beliefs, and experiences. But if heart disease occurs, we find it easy to put these elements of the heart aside; it seems naive to imagine that mere emotions could exert any significant influence on this most central organ of the physical self. But I am convinced that the relationship between mind and body -- between head and heart -- is just as important to the health of your heart as any medication, diet or exercise program.
Today we understand that eating bacon and eggs every morning or sitting on the couch all day can be dangerous to good cardiac health. For a person who wants to avoid a heart attack, these are logical and important places to make changes. But they are also just the beginning. What's really essential is a quantum leap beyond the materialist view of human life -- a leap in our thinking that opens an entirely different understanding of health and disease.
Let me explain exactly what this quantum leap entails. Prior to the revolutionary discoveries by Einstein and other physicists in this century, a mechanistic and materialist view of the universe had dominated Western science for more than two hundred years. Since the late seventeenth century, when Isaac Newton formulated the laws of gravitation and planetary motion, the cosmos was understood as some vast machine, like a clock, that functioned in well-balanced, cyclical order. The task of science was essentially to understand how this machine worked, to describe it with greater and greater accuracy, and to put this knowledge to work in whatever ways seemed appropriate.
The human body, too, has been thought of as a complex machine, and one in which interventions are relatively easy to initiate. When disease or injury occurs, medical science has held that these could be diagnosed and treated in much the same way that mechanical failures in a car can be identified and repaired. It seems safe to say that this is still the way most people understand their physical selves.
In the past hundred years, however, a fundamental change has occurred in the way physicists think of the universe -- and this change has supremely important implications for our understanding of the human body as well. At the most basic levels, the materialist model of creation has proven inadequate because the material itself has literally disappeared. Subatomic matter is not really matter at all, but fluctuations of energy that merely seem solid if observed under certain conditions. Quantum reality -- a quantum is defined as the smallest possible unit of energy -- is indistinct, elusive, constantly changing. What's more, the very existence of quantum reality cannot be separated from the observation of that existence. Without an observer, without a consciousness focused on determining what is there at the quantum level, nothing is there at all. At the foundation levels of the universe, consciousness literally creates reality. The gap between this way of thinking and the mechanistic model of the universe can only be bridged by a quantum leap.
In light of these developments, its become increasingly clear that the human body too is not just a machine made of bone and tissue, but something of a very different order. Our existence as physical beings cannot understood separately from what we think and feel, because the building blocks of our flesh and blood are directly and powerfully influenced by our consciousness. As I've often expressed it, Every thought creates a molecule. Everything that takes place at the mental, emotional, and spiritual levels of our existence manifests itself at the physical level as well. Who we are physically is not just a matter of how much we weigh or what year we were born. Who we are -- and who we choose to become -- is also what we think and feel and believe. Health, then, is not just the absence of disease. It is the harmonious integration of our consciousness, our physical selves, and the universe around us.
In this book we will explore these new perspectives as they pertain to coronary heart disease. Owing to the very serious problem of CHD in our society, I believe this exploration is a very important undertaking. Indeed, heart disease is on the minds of millions of Americans at this very moment. Every day there are announcements of new drugs, new books, seminars, articles, and research studies with new findings about heart disease. Your cholesterol count be as familiar to you as your phone number. There are heart-healthy cookbooks, heart-wise meal selections in restaurants, and heart monitors to help you give your cardiovascular system the best possible workout. Old ideas about heart disease are thrown out in favor of new ones, or new ideas are invalidated as time-worn truths are resurrected. And there are very good reasons for our intense interest in the heart.
Heart disease is by far the leading cause of death in the United States, regardless of gender or ethnicity. In 1994, heart attacks caused approximately one of every five fatalities in this country. Cardiovascular illness accounts for almost twice as many deaths as result from all types of cancer, and coronary heart disease is specifically responsible for nearly half of all heart-related deaths. Moreover, while cancer is primarily a disease of the elderly, almost half of all heart attacks strike people under the age of 65. About 250,000 of these heart attack victims die within one hour of experiencing symptoms. Perhaps most ominously, approximately 25% of all heart attacks strike people who have no known risk factors of any kind.
When heart disease strikes, a human being comes face to face with mortality. If you are recovering from a heart attack, you may suddenly find new restrictions on activities that previously brought you fulfillment and pleasure, Many patient feel they've been robbed of their strength, endurance, and vitality. Statistics demonstrate that heart disease or a heart attack can permanently injure a persons sense of optimism and hopefulness about life, with severe depression occurring in as many as 40 percent of CHD patients.
So there are good reasons for the abundance of material on the heart and heart diseases. But there remains the question of why I am now adding to it. Most books on heart disease, after all, are written by highly trained cardiologists, while my own specialties are endocrinology and internal medicine.
However, I am also trained in Ayurveda, the traditional healing science of India. This has given me a somewhat different perspective on medical expertise.
Ayurveda teaches that no one knows more about your health than you yourself, provided you've learned to hear and understand the messages that your body always provides. As an Ayurvedic physician, I believe that I can learn as much, if not more, from finding out about who you are than I can from your cholesterol count and other diagnostic indicators.
Ayurvedas purpose is the creation of a balance among mind, body, and spirit. The lessons of this ancient science are designed to reveal subtle but powerful connections between your physical self, you emotions, and even the routine activities you perform every day. Moreover, this is not simply a philosophical exercise. The intention is to keep you healthy if your physiology is now in balance, or to restore you to health as quickly as possible if a disease process has begun.
While Western medicine is unequaled in its ability to provide acute care, Ayurveda seeks to forestall the need for such crisis interventions. By comprehending a patients innermost nature, an Ayurvedic physician intends not just to suppress symptoms, but to create and maintain a state of perfect health.
The problem of coronary heart disease is well suited to these high aspirations. It transcends the limits of medical specialties, and even of medicine itself as its generally understood in the West. To think meaningfully about heart disease means dealing not only with topics like physiology and chemistry, but also with beliefs, fears, and faith. A patients innermost feelings play a central role in living successfully with heart disease, and ultimately in reversing its course.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Healing the Heart by Deepak Chopra, M. D.. . Excerpted by permission of Random House Audio, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.