Okay, let’s start with the basic biology and see if I can explain that clearly to myself, first. Then hopefully, I’ll simultaneously be explaining it clearly to you as well, fine reader.
So, turning from two single cells into a human embryo I began growth in a truly miraculous, sequential fashion. My heart was the first organ-mass to develop. I assume that’s not by accident, since the blood and circulatory system, powered by the heart, is fundamental to all that will follow. Blood and the circulatory system are essential for carrying oxygen, water and nutrients to my embryonic cells and removing carbon dioxide and other waste materials in order to keep all my emerging cells healthy and growing.
The Foundation is Set
Once my heart has fully established its pumping pulse, the stage is set for other organs to begin developing, including my brain. At six weeks the heart pumps enough blood to the brain to support synaptic function. The brain, you may recall from other posts, in addition to the spinal nerves and the other cranial nerves, eventually sends out two vagus nerves from its base. My ventral or smart vagus nerve, which is insulated (with myelin) for rapid electrical transmission, is one collection of neuron axon bundles. This branch is primarily a collection of motor (efferent) neurons (they send electrical impulses from my brain associated with social behaviors) and extends from a structure in my brain stem called the nucleus ambiguus. My dorsal or vegetative vagus is unmyelinated and originates from a different place, the dorsal motor nucleus and is associated with all the times in my life, especially my early life, when I found myself frozen and helpless. This is the “Freeze Response” branch of my vagal nervous system, which is partly why it’s nicknamed the Vegetative Vagus. This nerve is often at work when the first glass splinters pierce a young, innocent, open, loving heart.
The majority of the dorsal vagus’s nerve fibers (which are simply myelin-wrapped bundles of long tails [axons] extending from cell bodies in the brain) transmit energy and information from my body to my brain, i.e. they are sensory (afferent) neurons. Sensory neurons send information from the body to the brain – that’s what they do. And part of that information transmission involves sending messages from my heart to my brain.
New Poo has Come to Light
Recently neuroscientists have discovered that oligodendrocytes (myelin producing brain cells) do more than simply provide an insulating function for axons running out from the cell bodies, which is mostly what they believed for many years. Turns out that these cells as well transmit energy and information throughout my neural network. This is but one more discovery underlying the enormous complexity in being the human being I actually am with the brain I actually have. I fully expect thousands of similar unexpected discoveries to follow before my life is over, and my heart eventually becomes splinter-free.
Learning of this new cell function in the brain generates an intuitive hunch that one day research cardiologists too will discover that much like the supportive structures around neurons, the blood my heart pumps provides much more than oxygen, water and nutrients and the removal transport of waste. That it has great spiritual wound-healing potential, but only in the soft, undefended condition. Perhaps.
Neurocardiologists R Us
Researchers at The Institute of Heartmath are already suggesting that the heart does indeed do much more than that, by asking questions like: Why do people experience the feeling or sensation of love and other positive emotional states in the area around the heart, and what are the physiological ramifications of these emotions? How do stress and different emotional states affect the autonomic nervous system, the hormonal and immune systems, the heart and brain?
Here’s one perspective from Heartmath that might begin to answer those and other splinter-removal questions provided by Canadian neurocardiologist, J. Andrew Armour:
Dr. J. Andrew Armour, introduced the concept of a functional “heart brain” in 1991. His work revealed that the heart has a complex intrinsic nervous system that is sufficiently sophisticated to qualify as a “little brain” in its own right. The heart’s brain is an intricate network of several types of neurons, neurotransmitters, proteins and support cells like those found in the brain proper. Its elaborate circuitry enables it to act independently of the cranial brain – to learn, remember, and even feel and sense.
The ability to learn and remember and feel and sense is essentially a description of growth. So implied is, just as the brain grows and changes instant by instant by instant throughout our lifetime, might not the heart possess similar capacity? And what happens if I do my best to act as if that’s true?
The brain and the heart are each part of a massively networked, parallel processing, energy and information system. The brain and the heart, along with all my other human parts are each necessary but not sufficient for me to function as – to pay tribute to one early role model, Maynard G. Krebs – a real human being. Most of the glass splinters in our hearts ended up there (believe it or not) by limitations in our own neurobiology. Removing the splinters we each inevitably acquire along the path may only require a simple, sensory change of heart, one Helen Keller apparently accomplished: “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the human heart.” A splinter-free heart is one that intimately knows the limitations of biology, I suspect.