The Heart’s Well of Memory

Dejan Hudoletnjak

Via Gods & Radicals:

Take a deep breath and bring your attention a little to the left of your chest, and feel for the beating of your heart.

Let its rhythm be your focus.

Before you were born, in the moments when it was first formed, across an ocean of amniotic fluid, your heart felt your mother’s heart beating, and it stirred in response.

Just as her mother’s heart stirred in response to her mother’s heart.

And her mother’s heart stirred in response to her mother’s heart.

And her mother’s heart stirred in response to her mother’s heart.

All the way back through the generations.

And no matter how painful, how confusing, how complex your relationship is to mother or grandmother or great-grandmother, somewhere in that line of hearts is a heart that beats in perfect love and perfect trust, calling yours into resonance.

A heart untouched by trauma.   A heart untouched by guilt and shame and fear.

Feel for it. Feel back through the lineage of heartbeats. Through the generations.   And let your heart meet and match its rhythm . . . .


When I ask my patients about their relationship with their ancestors, they often say that they don’t have one.

When I think about their lives, its easy to see why.   If family and home are connected with violence, cold indifference, or deep shame, then how and why would someone connect with their ancestors, the people they come from?

The answer is that somewhere on the other end of that line of hearts, there are ancestors who want to work with us to heal the generations between us.

As magic workers, we know that time is not what it seems. I have seen skilled practitioners needle the right acupuncture points or administer the right herbs at precisely the right moment and not only shift the symptoms someone is experiencing but rewrite the patterns inscribed in their bodies by the original trauma that gave rise to the illness.   I have seen a ritual – bringing loving presence to the lonely moment of death of someone centuries ago – shift the life of someone here and now.   There are ancestors deep in all of our family histories willing to work with us across time and space to rectify the pain and injustice playing out in our world today.

The resonance of heartbeats draws them closer.


The belief that the heart is an insensate pump arose at the same time as capitalism’s belief that the world was a collection of inert resources here to fuel production.   The famous vivisector, William Harvey, a liberal physician who favored reasoned investigations of accused witches over outright torture, emphasized the heart’s role as a mover of blood over any other understanding of the organ’s role, and his observations became part of the foundation of a new medicine that was interested exclusively in the body’s mechanical function – ie., its role as an engine of production.   And he and his contemporaries sought to drive the ghosts of vitalism and animism – the respective beliefs in the living intelligence of the body and of the world that it inhabits – out of science.

A corollary to the idea that the body was a machine was the idea that the individual body was the sole locus of health and disease. Prior understandings of health and disease saw the individual as embedded in webs of connection to family, community, ancestors, descendants, the land, and the gods. Understanding imbalances in these relationships was essential to healing the person.

If the body is a machine and the heart’s sole function is the pneumatic movement of fluid through that machine, then we need only understand the plumbing at work, and the body’s relationships are irrelevant to cardiac health.


Like many traditions around the world, Classical Chinese medicine takes another view of the heart – that the heart is the seat of awareness.   Ross Rosen, Brandt Stickley, and Hamilton Rott write that “The Heart Yin is creative inspiration; the Heart yang is the organized and useful expression.”   Thus it is relational in nature.   The health of the microcosm depends on its connection to the macrocosm.   The harmony of the internal world is dependent on the inflow of inspiration and the outflow of expression.

The heart works closely with the kidneys, which, from the Chinese perspective, are, among other things, the storehouse of our ancestral inheritance.   Who we are and how we see the world is fed by where we come from.

The flow of the ocean inside us is governed by the kidneys and the heart. The yin contracts our blood vessels. The yang expands them.   So we orient to the world.

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Gods&Radicals is a site of Beautiful Resistance and a daily journal of Pagan anti-capitalist writing.
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