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  • Writer's picturelizbutler

What is Heartfulness?

Updated: 5 days ago

Over the last few decades, a quiet revolution has occurred. A spiritual concept, old as time, practised only by a small minority until recently, has pierced the bubble of mainstream ideas and spread extensively, finding its way into the consciousness of significant numbers of people across the world. This concept is ‘deep awareness of Self’ and in these modern times is presented as mindfulness. The word ‘mindful’, meaning ‘inclined to be aware’ we all recognise, but ‘mindfulness’, which until recently meant nothing more than the ‘state or quality of being mindful’, has been re-envisioned to chime with these old ideas.


In 1979, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn, set up a stress reduction clinic at the Massachusetts Medical School. After studying meditation and yoga with various Buddhist teachers and observing great benefits, he wanted to make the practices more accessible and, being a scientist, ground them in scientific foundations. He removed the religious and spiritual associations and developed a secular-based 8-week programme known as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Over the next few years his findings caught the attention of other scientists and medical professionals and several decades later, his research and that of many others working in the field, has had a huge impact with the MBSR programme and other mindfulness practices utilised by millions of individuals the world over. The benefits of mindfulness for a range of mental health issues, as well as general life stress, is widely recognised and programmes, many of them based on the MBSR framework, have been introduced into mainstream institutions such as those associated with medicine and healthcare, higher education, business, law, the military, government and criminal justice.


Thanks to the pioneering work of Kabat-Zinn and others, mindfulness, rather than just ‘the state of being mindful’ now has a deeper meaning. It is, in Kabat-Zinn’s own words: ‘awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally’. A beautiful notion. However, whilst the simple term ‘mindfulness’, has been re-envisioned to present a timeless concept to a modern audience, by removing associations to spirituality, the real purpose of finding a deep awareness of Self has gone. Originally and until recently, sinking into such a state was not for the intentions of reducing stress or improving one’s health, but to achieve awakening - understanding ourselves in relation to all life and to the Divine. Thankfully we have Buddhist wisdom to remind us of the true purpose of what is now called mindfulness and other religions also speak of the power of deep contemplation, but although mindfulness has led some towards the original spiritual teachings, for many, the practice is seen as nothing more than a stress-busting exercise.


I don’t think it is necessarily a problem that many people using mindfulness practices are perhaps unaware of their deeper significance. We come to appreciate the spiritual aspects of life precisely when we are ready and in the meantime, if the popular form of mindfulness at least allows us to slow down and quieten our incessant mind-chatter for a while that can only be a good thing. I do think, however, there is another practice, complementary to mindfulness, that would encourage a greater connection to our spiritual selves, and that is something I call ‘heartfulness’.



‘Heartful’ is a word most people will be familiar with, first used in the 14th century, it means ‘full of heartfelt emotion’. ‘Heartfulness’ then, would be assumed to mean, ‘the state of being heartful’. However, just as ‘mindfulness’ has recently undergone a re-invention, ‘heartfulness’ is another term that perhaps requires some re-imagination.


We tend to think of the heart, as having two primary functions. The physical organ that sits beating in our chest is, we believe, designed to pump blood around our body, and then another less tangible aspect of the heart is home to our emotions. This dual purpose of the heart is the modern view but is actually a limited one. The heart has been reduced to blood-pump and emotion-holder over many centuries but the ancients knew its role to be far more expansive and infinitely more important. We can gain a sense of this importance by considering that the word ‘heart’ has a double meaning, it’s second definition being ‘the core or centre of something’. And if we merge those meanings, we come to the truth: the heart, in its most expansive form, including all the roles we imagine for it, is the centre. The centre of what, you may ask. The centre of everything.


It is impossible to avoid venturing into the esoteric when exploring the heart, that is its very nature, and whereas Kabat-Zinn was able to strip away the spiritual associations from mindfulness, this is not possible with heartfulness. So, although I don’t intend in this article to contemplate at length the deeper significance and meaning of the heart, a little of this is required in order to feel our way towards a new definition for heartfulness.


We live in a world of duality. Our consciousness has evolved over millennia to see the world through a binary lens and everything about our makeup, including our brain with its two hemispheres, each with a different outlook, supports this viewpoint. Our dual perspective has allowed us to learn about our world through contrast and comparison, essential for us to make sense of all we experience, but at its worst, duality has led to division as we situate our ideas and beliefs in opposition to those of others. Right now, we can’t escape the opposites and we wouldn’t want to – light and dark, male and female, mind and body, heaven and earth, good and evil, they are all hugely important, allowing us to orientate and ground ourselves. However, as our consciousness takes a leap in its evolution, there are signs we are beginning to recognise a third perspective, one that fully appreciates the opposites but at the same time recognises the beauty and creative power to be found at the point they unite. This is a shift from the ‘either-or’ to the ‘both-and’ mentality and the yin-yang symbol is a perfect representation. As the equal but opposite elements fit around one another forming a seamless circle indicating absolute wholeness, the curve at their interface represents the constantly swirling motion of the life force generated as they come together. Each element possesses its own qualities but within each one is found the essence of the other and this seed, essential for each element to reach fruition, shows the interdependence of the opposites - one cannot exist without the other.


Signs we are awakening to the idea of a middle way are beginning to emerge and although division in our world may feel more prominent than ever, what we are witnessing is the old, increasingly outdated polarity model putting up a powerful fight as a new unity consciousness unfolds. This shift is unstoppable, whatever the resistance, but it won’t happen overnight. Mystics, astrologers, philosophers and scientists have been predicting this phase in our evolution for a long time, and the time to complete is decades and centuries rather than months and years. However, indicators are already present and gaining momentum and we see them in many sectors of our societies, including philosophy, with growing interest in the idea of Phenomenal Unity, and science, with increasing recognition of consciousness as the unified force at the foundation of our being. As a whole, humanity is beginning to comprehend the interconnectedness of all life and this is allowing us to appreciate that collaboration, not competition, is most important for our evolutionary progress.


‎”Interdependence is a fundamental law of nature. Even tiny insects survive by mutual cooperation based on innate recognition of their interconnectedness”. Dalai Lama

So where does the heart fit in? Modern science is revealing that the heart has an important role in connecting us. It connects us within our bodies by communicating to all cells – via the flow of blood and its powerful energetic emanations, and it connects us to other living beings, again through its energy field which reaches beyond our physical bodies (way beyond, if you take into account its quantum energies). The heart also connects us to the transcendent realms, something the mystics have always known although scientists are yet to consider. As science is discovering, the heart’s connecting abilities are most powerful when its energies are coherent, in other words resonating harmoniously, and coherence is achieved through a pattern of regular breathing and feelings of positivity. The most coherence-inducing and therefore connecting state of all is love and the work of researcher and author Peter Granger (Heartbond.co.uk), shows that sending loving thoughts to another will increase coherence within the heart pattern of the sender and the person receiving, even when the individuals are situated thousands of miles apart.


We have always instinctively recognised the heart’s association with love, and as ‘connection’ and ‘collaboration’ become buzz words of our new age, so ‘compassion’ is emerging as another. The divisions we see all around us and the challenges they present, have an important role at this crossroads point and that is to allow the opening of our hearts so we may reach in and find the compassion inherent within us. In doing so we discover a new way to live, one that honours our interconnectedness.


As emotion-holder, the heart is an invaluable compass as we navigate our still divided world, slowly moving towards a new state of unity consciousness. However, it is vital we recognise the heart for all its magnificence, not just its capacity to feel. The heart is our ‘Master Connector’, and in its central position is the only aspect of ourselves able to deeply connect us - physically, energetically and spiritually. The heart’s emanations of love, more than an emotion but life force itself, extend outwards endlessly in all directions, and when we allow, they return to us multiplied. The heart, home to our loving essence and reason for our interconnectedness, is the driving force for us as individuals and the driving force for humanity. As such, it is the centre of all that we are.


“The entire Universe is condensed in the body, and the entire body in the Heart. Thus, the Heart is the nucleus of the whole Universe.” Ramana Maharshi

We need to awaken to the true nature and power of the heart, now more than ever, and I therefore believe the time has come for a new revolution. A heartfulness revolution. A good place to start is with a clear definition and as I have reflected on the deeper meaning of the term, beyond its relationship with our emotions, this is how I would describe heartfulness.


Heartfulness is the awareness of, and alignment with, the heart’s deepest purpose; connection through love.


Now we have a deeper understanding of the heart’s role and the meaning of heartfulness, what can we do with that knowledge? We can start to live a heartful life and this we do by simply bringing love into everything we do. It takes practice, of course, and loving ourselves is always the first step in such an endeavour, but it gets easier with time, and really, what could possibly be a higher goal for our lives than this?


We can also develop a heartfulness practice, something incredibly powerful when combined with mindfulness. The quiet stillness that mindfulness brings opens a doorway into a calm space from which we can sink into our hearts, accessing the love and compassion we find there. As we breathe deeply and steadily, resting our attention on those things in life that make us feel good, our heart energies become coherent and now we are fully present in our TRUE POWER. From this, the creative centre of our being, we can literally change the fabric of reality with our intentions. As we send out love and compassion to ourselves, to others, to all living creatures and the planet, we are blessed in that moment. And as we continue our practice, with trust in our hearts, the blessings will become obvious as we start to see things shift around us.


​When we open the doorway to our heart, our portal for love, it allows for deep connection, with our inner selves, with other living beings, and with Spirit. Ultimately, heartfulness allows us to positively change the very fabric of our reality.


Living a heartful life may seem too simple a practice to heal a world where division still runs deep. But don’t believe it. Interconnectedness is the truth of who we are and as one heart shines its light, it becomes easier for others to do the same. The heart is the only vehicle with the capacity to transport us into the new world we wish to create and the light of its love is already leading us there. We have a choice, we can hang back waiting for someone greater than us to come to our rescue, or we can make this transitional journey faster and easier, tap into our own greatness and step on board now.

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