While walking through the Museum of Science in Boston a few years back, my young children and I came across a small sign located out of the way, off to one side. It was dimly lit but its font was surprisingly easy to read. It displayed this admonition:
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Proverbs 4:23”
It was a short sentence and in an obscure location for sure. But it struck me with its simple significance. Above all else ? … everything? the highest priority. . . guard, from root word meaning, to ward… wellspring, an original and bountiful source or, according to Merriam Webster, “a source of continual supply.” Yes. Guard the heart; ward off dangers, keep it unencumbered, allow it to offer its connection to things that bring fuller life. I liked that modest sign and its proverb and have thought about in many circumstances over the years. There have been times when ‘abundance of life’ seemed elusive, causing me to wonder, “…is that wellspring real? Is it still open and flowing?”
The word heart can represent the physical muscle that pumps blood or, the “heart of hearts” that C.S. Lewis liked to write about or, the “heart of a matter” as folks will say when identifying the root of an important issue. In each case, the word is used to depict the very core of something. (The root Latin word for heart is cor.) The heart is the deep center, the place where the source is found. Sometimes a person will have a strong opinion about something, but then with more time and experience, and reflection on the matter, they have “a change of heart.” Life requires change in order to bring about continuous improvement year after year, but we don’t change beliefs casually. Since we tend to “see” things more clearly with experience and maturity, a change of heart now and then, guided by unhurried meditation and prayer, is a good idea. It helps insure the accuracy and authenticity of one’s core beliefs. So making careful “changes of heart” occasionally is also a process of “guarding the heart,” to help keep it free from clutter and danger.
Relaxing a busy mind for a few minutes reconnects the mind with the heart. Much like computers that require cleansing of left over data by means of a reboot or by having their disks “defragged” once in a while, the human mind deserves to be freed from the residue of vast amount of thought that lingers from so many choices, stresses, emotions and appeals over periods of time. Sitting quietly, while encouraging any thoughts that try to assert themselves to just float on by, is what I call meditation and prayer. Call it what you will, but don’t make it into a religion. Just allow that powerful, busy mind of yours to sink into a mode of natural resting, allowing your deeper heart mind to realign, re-balance, refresh. Just as we physically require rest and sleep to allow various body systems to reach homeostasis, clearing a crowded mind of recent thoughts and slowing down the rate of breathing for a few minutes two or three times a day serves to rebalance body chemistry and refresh the conscious mind. Calming the mind’s activity this way allows valuable heart characteristics such as imagination, creativity, compassion, appreciation, intuition, etc., a chance to regain their intended priority so they can emerge when needed later.
A discipline of meditation has practical benefits. Students who spend just a few minutes clearing their minds this way before an important exam have been shown to perform better. Countless health studies have demonstrated measurable and repeatable improvements from disease from epigenetic body chemistry activity that accompanies calming practices such as these. In my own struggles with gnarly career issues over the years, I often experienced much appreciated clarity of mind after pausing for a few minutes to give myself a ‘thought break’ while breathing some fresh air. This simple practice can serve us well.
Our culture has elevated the value of the mind. Despite its reputation for enormous capability, the mind also produces a lot of ludicrous thoughts. Allowing it to rest for a few minutes has appreciable benefit with no real downside. Yes; it’s a good idea to guard the heart to permit it to contribute from its source of abundance. Check in here at hamiltonstation.org again later this month for a sequel article about the nature of the heart as seen from the perspective of religion.