Feel your heart. Stop, pause for a moment and see if you can sense the rhythmic beating of your heart. It is an amazing organ because it is in constant movement, so flexible and mobile that the moment you say “there, now it is contracting” it has actually already started expanding, and by the time you say it is relaxing it has again started squeezing. The heart creates an tremendous organic activity—it is not so much a pump as a physiologic archetype of balance—faithfully and continuously working through our whole lifetime, steady, steady, steady (can you imagine carrying out the same activity for 70, 80, 90 years?), yet simultaneously so dynamic that it never really rests. Because of these dueling activities it is hard to capture the essence of the heart in a single work or image; there are too many aspects.
The description of a “harmonious paradox” might come close. But even that is not quite right. Better, perhaps, would be “the possibility to hold opposite activities (like contraction and expansion) so intimately and flexibly that you are aware of both, can fully engage in both, but are not limited or unduly committed to any single side.” That kind of sophisticated “heart” activity carries over into other realms besides our circulation. As human beings we similarly work to create the same kind of balance in our social and emotional life, to find ways to fully participate in an activity, yet still be able to watch ourselves in it so that we can adjust as needed and stay responsive. This requires us to alternatively be both inside, and in a way, outside of ourselves.
Consciously working to create that dual space gives us greater insight and flexibility. It mirrors and also nourishes our physical heart function. Such balancing can be practiced through meditation. One possible description of a method for creating this space has been given by Rudolf Steiner, a method which asks us to be both in our lives and observant of our lives. It involves a process of looking back at our experiences and interactions (one of many variations of review exercises described by Rudolf Steiner as a “Rückschau,” a looking back):
A really selfless review of our life consists, comprehensively, of all kinds of things that do not require us to gaze selfishly at our own navel but to extend our view to the figures who approached us at some point in our lives. If we attend very lovingly to what has come towards us, we will often see that what we had an antipathy towards at a certain time no longer evokes our antipathy once enough time has passed, for we see the inner connection. It may have been very useful or beneficial to us to have had an antagonistic contact with a particular person. Sometimes we benefit more from the negative thing that someone does to us than from being nurtured or supported. It would be very useful for people to regularly undertake this kind of selfless review of life; and to imbue their lives with the conviction springing from this self-reflection that really they have very little cause to be so preoccupied with themselves! How much richer my life will be if I let my gaze turn to this or that person who entered this life of mine…
The exercise asks us to remember a situation in which we felt antipathy, and then work to see the positive that came out of the interaction, which builds interest and appreciation. This activity trains us to be better able to hold both sides of an experience (even if we are initially doing it after the fact). For as we build the capacity to feel antipathy, then interest and appreciation, again antipathy, again interest and appreciation, we begin to bridge them. It becomes possible that in a moment of antipathy we are able to lift our consciousness to meet the good that is already coming through. This allows us to hold and appreciate both sides of the experience.
That is something of the work of the heart.