The heart is a mysterious psychophysical organ. The ancient Egyptians sensed it had an independent memory of its own. The Greeks found it more important than the brain – Aristotle held it as the seat of intelligence. The 12th century Sufi Ibn ‘Arabi tells us the heart has the power to imagine. With all this intuitive knowledge about the heart it is no wonder that when it breaks we are shaken to our core.
We know of heartache and the burdens the heart bears when it is exposed to painful revelations or unredeemable disappointment. When a friend haltingly whispers the news of their life threatening diagnosis, the knowledge is stored and held in the listeners heart where the heat of the secret burns. When our own soaring romantic feelings are shattered by the coarse realities of human conflict, our chest hurts with our heart’s struggle to bear the truth. But these kinds of labors put muscle on our hearts – teaching them to be staunch and resilient.
Breaking the heart is different and there is a great divide in the world between those whose hearts are still innocent and those whose hearts have been broken and as we meet the eyes of strangers there is a silent nod of recognition between those who bear the hidden scar.
In severe trauma often the heart breaks and cannot hold the memory of the events – images seem to fall into other organs. An unremembered sexual assault is voiced by the lower back as a piercing pain that makes physical intimacy impossible. Memories of excruciating childhood isolation lodge in the belly and are kept quiet by regular over-feeding. The remembered sounds of the front door opening and the leaden wine-soaked footsteps are encapsulated in the jaw and kept silent by the slow grind of the teeth.
A broken heart still works desperately to keep the soul alive. Each splintered part following its own disparate beat – a cacophony takes residence in the soul like a misery of ravens. Symptoms replace the natural unfolding. Intimacy is replaced by lust – creativity becomes sepia repetition until the pain of living without heart comes to crisis. And that is the miracle.
When the suffering of the heart can no longer be silenced everything becomes possible. When that person enters my consulting room, I feel that nod of recognition rise between us. I do not believe the heart can be mended by the analyst, it is too sacred an operation. But with care and patience the strength to fulfil the suffering can arise, granting a certain silent dignity which orients the psyche toward the inner center where the pattern of the heart-in-wholeness can be found.
Offering ones heart-shards to the Self is the only way through.
Joseph R. Lee is a Jungian Psychoanalyst in private practice in Virginia Beach, VA.