The Magic of Heart Work
by Leah Sampson, MSW, LCSW
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” -The Little Prince
It was ignorant of me, but I stopped at McDonald’s before my doctor’s appointment. Never mind I had already been sweating, my jaws were hurting and it felt like there was an anvil on my chest. I wanted that greasy, salty, fatty, delightfulness… what I wanted was what I wanted. I finished the meal in the parking lot of the doctor’s office and went in for my checkup. It started off with doing all the normal stuff and then developed into a slow flurry of activity around me. Still confused and feeling pretty horrible (which I attributed to me eating too fast), my doctor told me that the EKG showed I was having a heart attack. You know when you get news you’re not expecting, you feel lightheaded, almost floaty? That was me- floaty and bloaty- and having a heart attack. I was only 32. I exercised daily, ideal weight, you could not tell me I wasn’t cute. In my assessment of myself, I never factored in that my heart itself was choking.
How many of us have been going through our lives avoiding red flags because, on the outside, we appear “fine”? Or, we say we are “too busy” to get something looked at or checked out? At 32 years old, my heart was telling a very different story of the state of my life. I was choking. As a therapist, my direct experiences with clients have shown me that emotional issues may manifest into physical experiences. Imagine the brain dealing with so much pressure that, in order to alleviate pressure, it sends signals to parts of the body, alarming them that attention is needed. We get tension headaches: look at the state of your emotional self. Are you stressed, need more sleep, have a lot on your plate? Check your emotional self.
When we don’t face our fears, when we ignore having conversations we need to have with those we love, or when we hold on to love that has evolved without us, we are choking our hearts. At 32 years old, my life was full of grief, disappointment and anger. Weeks before the heart attack, I had gotten into a bad car accident and also had been let go from my job. I had a new relationship that I really wanted to work and I put on a great front that everything was great! The energy I felt towards myself was emotionally choking me. I was afraid to face the person I was evolving into. That person was someone I wasn’t comfortable getting to know. So, as a result, my physical body revolted and said “ENOUGH.” You’re choking and we need help.
If you’re anything like me, help does not come easy because we don’t allow it in. Turns out, that doctor’s visit literally saved my life! They did two procedures to clear out the arteries to my heart. I had a 90% blockage on a main artery and 70% blockage on an offshoot to my main artery. Yes, medically, I was diagnosed with chronic coronary artery disease. Mentally, I had blocked for a long time what my body was desperately trying to tell me. Our physical and mental health are deeply interconnected.
I almost lost my life that day, and I love that I can say “almost.” Almost is the word that encapsulates every close call we’ve ever had in our lives. Nine years later, this is what I’ve learned about the heart as it manages our systems:
- Intuition is God’s message of love and warning. (God is not exclusive. It’s how I know my higher power to be; yours may be different from mine, and that’s perfectly fine.)
- The heart speaks much louder than any other organ in our bodies.
- God never intends for us to wallow in our storms; the intention for our pain is to strengthen our resolve to live.
- The beauty of our life is that love is freedom, truth is necessary, and learning comes through both joy & pain.
I imagine that a lot of us have heart hurts right now. We are living in a time where very few things are certain. The few things that are certain, I hold as anchors in my life. How do you find certainty? Look inward: All life is a spiritual experience, but you need to be present to experience it.
Here are some tips that support Heart Work:
- Lead in love. Let that be the first behavior that greets you, and anyone you encounter, everyday.
- Smile! Practice it. Do it at times when you don’t feel like smiling. Smile anyway.
- Set intention. Some days our emotional pain is so great, we feel lost, without direction. Setting intention is communicating purpose for the day. No purpose is too small; it can look like, “Today, I am going to practice being kind to myself for at least an hour.”
- Set boundaries. Saying “No.” to people is not punitive, it is transformative. When we honor our “No,” we honor our hearts.
- Set time aside in each day to do nothing but be still. In the stillness is where we find ourselves. The peace we seek is in us.
- Seek joy! Step away from the computer, get up & dance, sing your favorite song at the top of your lungs, go outside and look up (with the increase in folks working from home, the sky is so beautiful & clear), hug someone or some pet.
We know light because we have experienced great darkness. Every almost is a blessing, a divine choice to reset. One of my favorite authors, Paulo Coelho, wrote it best in The Alchemist:
“The secret is here in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And if you improve on the present, what comes later will also be better.”
We have the opportunity every day to work on our hearts. I invite you to be still, look inward, and know that healing and peace comes from the heart that is tended to.