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The Sentient Heart: Messages for Life
Reader: Prasad Kaipa, Ph.D.
"The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know."
This paper explores the possibility, now emerging in Western science, that the human heart contains intelligence independent from the brain that can be a source of guidance for our individual lives and for our collective potential as human beings. Using perspectives from the contemporary disciplines of medicine, psychology, and energetics, along with centuries-old understandings of this phenomenon from non-Western, indigenous, and pre-1600’s Western philosophical traditions, I attempt to build a framework for suggesting that beyond the individual physical and psychological health benefits available through learning to listen to heart messages, hearts may be able to communicate with other hearts directly, exchanging messages of empathy, connection, and love that, if noticed and valued, could provide direction for future action toward a different way of living together in the world. Woven into this exploration are the concepts of resonance, vibration, and entrainment, borrowed from physics and applied to the most powerfully resonant organ in our bodies, the delineator of life and death, the human heart. I invite the reader to listen to these words with his or her own heart.
This essay begins with a discussion of some of the current perspectives on the role of the heart in human life, including the role of emotions, and explores the connection between heart and brain in the individual’s life journey. In section two the subject of intelligence is discussed; what exactly does heart intelligence mean, from various perspectives, and how can the heart inform independently of the mechanisms of the brain? Next, I explore the suggestion that human hearts can communicate with one another, person to person, and identify the places where the dialogue on the topic seems to end and where I see the questions taking us from here.
Three caveats before I begin. Although I focus in this essay on the heart and its intelligence as an organ independent of the brain, I want to emphasize that they are, in fact, intimately connected in all ways and that it is really quite impossible to discuss one without necessarily including the role of the other in the human system. It is, after all, a system, and cannot be reduced to separate parts for analysis. This assumption on my part underlies the entire discussion and allows me the convenience of not having to continually mention it throughout the paper.
My interest in exploring the heart’s intelligence separate from the head is based on my belief that in contemporary disciplines of study and in life, the scales have tipped too far in favor of the brain’s role in the arenas of intelligence and information processing, and that it has become entrenched in Western thought as the "mission control" of the entire human system – individually and collectively. In modern biomedicine, which grew from the Newtonian mechanical model of the body, the separation of brain and heart and the placement of the brain at the top of the physical system’s hierarchy ensured its dominance in the human body and permeated our contemporary Western way of life in the ways we work, play, communicate, and even pray individually and collectively. (Pearsall, 1998). My focus on the heart and its innate intelligence in this paper, thus, is more an attempt to acknowledge the heart’s role in the overall system than to imply that it is more important than the brain or, for that matter, any other part of the human physical, psychological, emotional, or spiritual system. It is time, I believe, to return to the pre-1600’s notion of science with a capital "S" which was based on knowledge both objective and subjective, including a notion that knowledge derived from the Divine. (Lynch, 2000). It was a medicine called "Scientia" and was based not only on objective science as we know it but on wisdom as well - the wisdom of the heart and all other parts of our human container.
The second caveat, alluded to earlier, is that while my focus in this paper is on the intelligence of the heart, I believe that every organ, indeed every cell, in the human body contains an intelligence of its own and that each is informing the system every second of every day. Schwartz and Russek’s (1996) work in the area of "systemic memory", based on their findings that information in the form of energy is stored within all cells and molecules and that the very nature of systems, from stars to starfish to human cells, is to store and share info-energy confirms the beliefs and practices of some of the ancient Eastern medical traditions that treat many parts of the body and mind as sources of information about dysfunction and for healing. The reason I focus in this essay on the heart is that while every cell contains intelligence, the heart, because of its powerful, rhythmic beating and role as supplier of blood and oxygen to the other parts of the body, acts as a kind of conductor for the "cellular symphony" that takes place within us in each moment (Pearsall, 1998), and therefore assumes an important role worthy of a focus of inquiry.
Finally, I want to mention that I use, in this paper, a combination of anecdotal and scientific evidence to support my claims. Because I have a deeply-held conviction that there are many forms of knowing and that not everything needs to be proven according to the "small s" version of science we’ve come to know, stories and other experiences that have come to me through either the literature or my own personal awareness are included along with more formal scientific studies. This weaving of various forms of "intelligence" itself models the holistic, systemic approach I am discussing in the paper.
State of the Heart
Physically, the heart is an amazingly powerful and tireless muscle, called the myocardium, located in the center of the chest. It is actually two pumps situated side by side and divided by a wall called the septum. In a cardiovascular version of ying and yang, each side has its own unique kind of energy and job to do. Each has an upper collecting chamber (atrium) and a lower ejecting chamber (ventricle). The left-side pump is the most powerful, sending blood through thousands of miles of vessels under sufficient pressure to shoot water almost six feet into the air. The right-side pump propels blood primarily to and from the lungs under just enough pressure to shoot water about a foot into the air. Life begins when this systolic/diastolic, systemic/pulmonary rhythm begins… (Pearsall, 1998).
The functions of the heart as a pump are of paramount importance to the medical community, and thus to us as individuals. Dysfunctions are discovered and, hopefully, repaired, enabling life to continue. Considered in this way, the heart is considered vital to human survival but not unlike the plumbing system of a house is vital to its use as a dwelling. The heart, while essential to the functioning of the system, is nonetheless not very exciting as it goes about its work day in and day out enabling the brain to think, to create, and to control.
Contrast this perspective with the way the heart is showcased in literature, philosophy, and everyday language. To Aristotle, the heart was the seat of the soul. Antoine Saint-Exupery wrote, "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." Listen to the many popular and classic songs and to everyday speech in which idioms about the heart abound. "Speaking from the heart" indicates sincerity, "heart-to-heart" with intimacy. "With all my heart" signals commitment, and when things don’t work out well, we may feel "disheartened". How have these two images of the heart become so disconnected in our culture? How have we drifted so far away from the ancient mystical traditions, practiced today in the form of Chinese and ayurvedic medicine, in which the heart is the center of the energy (or chi) system of the body?
There are many reasons, some stemming from the fractional and hierarchical paradigms mentioned earlier. However, an awareness of the marriage of head and heart seems to be re-emerging within the framework of Western medicine, psychology and related disciplines of management and organizational development. Cooper and Sawaf (1997), in their book on leadership in organizations, assert:
What Cooper and Sawaf, Daniel Goleman, and others bring to the discussion of intelligence is the role that emotions play in everyday life, specifically how emotions are linked to optimum personal and professional effectiveness. In the 1980’s, John Mayer, a University of New Hampshire psychologist and Peter Salovey of Yale co-formulated a new theory of "emotional intelligence" while Reuven Bar-On, a clinical psychologist and lecturer in medicine at the Tel Aviv University Medical School, coined the term "emotional quotient". With Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking book in 1996, Emotional Intelligence, the idea that our ability to understand and manage our emotions may be more closely linked to success in the world than our IQ became acknowledged. In one estimate, as little as four percent of real-world success may be related to our IQ while over ninety percent may be linked to other forms of intelligence. (Sternberg, 1996).
While Howard Gardner identified multiple intelligences in 1985, the work in emotional intelligence focused, in a physical sense, on the heart in that it is commonly viewed as the seat of emotions. The dialogue on intelligence, then, began to include the heart as a partner in information dissemination, an important step in acknowledging that the brain is not the only source. However, a consideration of why Goleman and others are interested in including the heart to analyze intelligence is interesting and informative.
In my opinion, the underlying intention of the work in emotional intelligence is to build the capacity in the individual to manage the emotional arena in order to obtain greater mental clarity and focus for more effective decision-making and problem-solving. In other words, the message is, I believe, that emotions are inevitable, though undesirable, parts of our human makeup and that true "intelligence" is the ability to recognize and manage these saboteurs of the rational and logical brainwork required to be truly effective in work and in life. Through learning about emotions (a brain activity), we can potentially control them, freeing up our brain for more important activities. Interesting, too, is Goleman’s focus on the emotional centers of the brain, the amygdala and hypocampus, as the seat of emotional intelligence. While the heart enters the dialogue on intelligence in this work, the brain still seems to be considered the controller of the human system, even for the emotional realm.
The work of Mayer, Salovey, Bar-On, Goleman, and others is important in that it includes the heart in the conversation on intelligence. Other researchers have taken a different path in considering the role of emotion in everyday life. Valerie Hunt, a professor of neurophysiology and psychology and pioneering researcher into the human electromagnetic field, suggests that in the human being, emotions are the organizers of energy fields. Using high frequency equipment to measure and analyze human electromagnetic fields and incorporating new paradigms from the physical world, including complexity theory (Lewin, 1992), Hunt states, "I strongly believe that the internal dynamics of the most complex biofield, the human energy field, are based on its emotional organization." (1996). She describes fields, biological or otherwise, as composed of vibrations that are organized, not random, and have the capacity to selectively react, interact, and transact internally and with other fields. In this sense, these fields, says Hunt, have "mind" or intelligence of their own and in the human being, dictate complex human behaviors. "Every experience," she says, "has concomitant emotions, and every emotion temporarily restructures the field. Activated emotions increase the electromagnetic flow of the field and likewise, emotions arise from an altered electromagnetic environment." In other words, emotions arising in a human being shift the vibrational structure of his or her own field and, necessarily, the field surrounding the person.
In Latin, emotions were described as "motus anima", meaning literally "the spirit that moves us" to describe their depth and power. The word emotion itself may be simply defined as applying "movement", either metaphorically or literally, to core feelings (Cooper and Sawaf, 1996). The power of emotion to cause shifts in fields was demonstrated in my own research into a group phenomenon of shift last year. (Levi, 2001). Having experienced a sense of personal and group "movement" while participating in a collective dialogue in an academic context, I interviewed eight other participants using a phenomenological research methodology to try and understand, among other things, what caused the shifts according to the individuals involved. One of findings was that the shift was affected by the very emotional telling and content of stories shared by two of the group members. A number of the interviewees felt that the energy in the room changed after these retellings and that the stories that followed were of a more emotional and intimate nature than might otherwise have been invited. I know for myself that, in this and other situations, the presence of emotion in the field between human beings changes the atmosphere or "mood" of the dialogue.
Another view of heart intelligence and its connection with the traditional role of the brain in intelligence is posited by Doc Childre and Howard Martin in their groundbreaking research at the HeartMath Institute in California. Suggesting that the heart contains intelligence that is communicated to the brain and the rest of the body, Childre and Martin identify three ways for which there is solid scientific evidence: neurologically (through the transmission of nerve impulses), biochemically (through hormones and neurotransmitters), and biophysically (through pressure waves). Additionally, they say, there is growing scientific evidence that the heart communicates energetically (through electromagnetic field interactions) and that, as the most powerful energetic field in the body – approximately five thousand times greater in strength than the field produced by the brain – has a vital role to play in the management of health in human beings. Their data provides evidence that, "…there’s a direct energetic interaction between the electromagnetic field produced by the heart and that produced by the brain," and that certain emotions directly correspond with specific patterns of heart rate. For example, in negative emotional states, such as anger or frustration, the heart rate variability pattern (HRV) is incoherent, random, and jerky while in positive emotional states such as appreciation, love, and care, the HRV pattern is coherent and ordered. The attainment of the goal, therefore, of a healthier heart and life is influenced by the management of such emotions in order to reduce the wear and tear on the cardiac system. (Childre and Martin, 1999). Using these findings, these authors and researchers have invented and tested specific techniques for individuals to use to "entrain" their heart and brain waves and reduce stress and improve overall health.
The heart then, according to various perspectives, has a part to play in the intelligence of the human system, particularly as it relates to emotions. In this section I have explored some of these perspectives and how they relate to the connection between the heart and the brain. The next section of this paper explores what, more specifically, is meant by "intelligence" and how the heart might be considered separately from the brain, to which it is usually irrevocably tethered.
A Different Kind of Intelligence
How, indeed, can the heart be considered intelligent apart from the brain? Even discussing this topic in this format necessarily involves the head to decipher these words and their meaning. And given the brain’s unchallenged supremacy in matters of intelligence, how does it feel about sharing power with a lowly pump? A little threatened? I bet.
Until recently there have not, in fact, been many ways to study the heart and the possibility of a different kind of intelligence contained therein. The heart and brain were connected in the human being, two important components of a dynamic, interrelated system, performing different functions and depending on each other in a fundamental way. With the advent of heart and heart-lung transplant procedures and their increasing use, modern medicine has, inadvertently perhaps, provided opportunities to study the heart independently from the brain it was born with. Working in a field called cardio-energetics or energy cardiology, a small group of pioneering researchers are studying heart transplant recipients willing to share some of their experiences. (Pearsall, 1998). They are exploring the sentient heart, not only from the perspective of how it can inform the brain and body of the individual, but how its intelligence is recorded, transmitted, and connected with the larger fields of energy surrounding the individual, both locally and non-locally. Some amazing discoveries have been made which, I believe, will open new vistas of understanding for us beyond the arena of health and well-being. I think this new paradigm may, possibly, and if we are willing to stay open to our own heart’s messages, provide an alternative way of being in relationship with one another as humans and with the universe in which we exist.
In his book, The Heart’s Code, Paul Pearsall reports on the findings of his interviews with seventy-eight heart transplant patients and sixty-seven recipients of other organs. What Dr. Pearsall discovered is that in some patients, those he calls "cardio-sensitives", the new heart seems to bring with it some "memory" of the heart donor. Often these memories are experienced in the recipient as new taste preferences, such as food or hobby interests, language choices such as use of specific words or phrases, or even memories of incidents in the donor’s life. One, very moving, experience Pearsall relates happened at an international meeting of psychologists and psychiatrists where Pearsall spoke about "cellular memory" as it had been reported to him by his transplant patients. One psychiatrist, clearly moved by the findings came to the microphone and spoke as she struggled through her tears.
Pearsall and his colleagues investigating the idea of a thinking heart, posit the notion that human cells contain a kind of memory that stays with them wherever they go. The kind of intelligence, or "L" energy, it contains is related to vibration and resonance, not the rational, logical form associated with the brain. Within the cells that make up the heart, a kind of vibrational imprinting occurs as it beats continually in the chest, sending waves of energy and sound to all the other cells in the body and receiving imprinting in return from them. All 75 trillion cells in the human body, working as a system, therefore, contain an energy pattern, or memory, which, when transplanted, may serve to inform the new system. This kind of energy information, or info-energy, is what the recipient may experience as a noticeable yearning for a specific kind of food, as in several of Dr. Pearsall’s patients, or the use of a specific word frequently that had never been in the vocabulary of the recipient before, confirmed by the donor’s wife as having a special meaning for her and her deceased husband.
Everything vibrates constantly, even the most solid aspects of matter. The movement of atomic particles, bound to a very small space, becomes more like vibration or oscillation, vibrating at the rate of about 1015 Hz or cyles per second. Vibration, even at our most fundamental units, exists through all forms of matter, energy, and consciousness. (Judith, 2001). It is not hard to imagine, then, that the beating heart could contain an enormous amount of info-energy as the main organ of vibration in the human body.
How does vibration affect matter? In the 1800’s a scientist named Ernst Chladni did some experiments demonstrating this phenomenon. He put sand on a fixed steel plate and then rubbed a rosined violin bow along the edge of the plate. He found that the vibration that was "played" onto the disk "danced" the sand into beautiful mandala-like patterns. As the frequency of the vibration varied, so did the pattern. (Judith, 2001). Subsequent experiments have shown that sound waves projected into various mediums such as water, pastes, or oil produce patterns with striking similarity to forms found in nature, e.g. spiral galaxies, the iris of the human eye, or cellular division in an embryo. The study of this is called Cymatics and was largely developed by a Swiss scientist named Hans Jenny. Recently, a French musician, Fabien Maman, studied the effect of specific frequencies of sound on healthy and unhealthy human cells (1997). Using human cancerous and non-cancerous cells on slides and documenting their size, shape, and color when various frequencies were introduced by musical instruments or the human voice, Maman discovered that acoustic sounds can destroy cancer cells and revitalize healthy cells. His findings help advance the argument for the relationship between vibration (e.g. music) and health, championed by Richard Gerber in his classical text Vibrational Medicine.
The Eastern philosophical traditions incorporate the understanding of resonance and healing in a fundamental way. The recitation of a sound during meditation, like OM, which is thought to contain all frequencies, is considered to be a way of connecting with oneself and with the universe. Chanting, prayer, and music in general, is a part of almost every culture in the world, acknowledged for its ability to affect the emotions.
The fundamental connection between mother and child may be influenced by sound and resonance as well as all the better-known psychological and sociological factors that have been suggested. The first embryonic cells are sound sensitive, and by four and one-half months in the womb, a baby’s auditory system is virtually complete. The mother’s heartbeat is a major sound stimulus throughout a child’s life in embryonic, fetal, early childhood, and on into and through adult development. (Pearsall, 1998). Perhaps this vibrational "imprinting" on every cell in the child’s body continues to inform him or her throughout life in terms of connection (for better or for worse) with mother. Pearsall calls this a "fetal wash" of information. I think this kind of early imprinting happens with the father as well, although not, obviously, in as direct a sense. The close proximity of the father’s heart to the newborn, and even as a fetus, may contribute significantly to the cellular memories contained in the heart of the child which affect him or her throughout life as well.
My own personal story is an example of this. My parents divorced when I was seven years old and shortly thereafter my father returned to his native India and ceased any kind of communication with me. Through the growing years I knew of my father through stories and from photographs but I had no personal memory of him or of my years with him in early childhood. My brain had successfully done its work of protecting my emotional and psychological makeup by closing down that part of my memory bank. At the age of forty-five I returned to India and reunited with him. The moment of reunion - when I walked in to the room where he was waiting - was one I will never forget. Though my brain took in all the information about his physical form and his reaction to meeting me, the sensation that my body experienced was what I remember most. Incredibly, to me, by body sensed an enormous familiarity with this other human being. It "knew" this man in a fundamental way. There was what I can only describe now as an energetic exchange, one that I knew I remembered from sometime earlier in my life. He was my father, I had no doubt, though at that time I still had no "brain" memory of him. This "cellular memory" is what I believe Pearsall and others describe in their work. It is what, I’m sure, motivates me to work in this arena and is the "evidence" I need to convince me of its power.
Heart to Heart
The heart’s electromagnetic field not only permeates every other part of the human body, it radiates outside of us in wave form and can be measured up to eight to ten feet away with sensitive detectors called magnetometers. (Childre and Martin, 1999). Scientists have found that not only are the electrical patterns generated by an individual’s heart detectable in his or her own brain waves using the electroencephalogram test, but the energetic information in the heart waves of one person is detectable in the brain waves of another when they touch. (Song, Schwartz, and Russek, 1998, and McCraty, Atkinson, and Tomasino, 1998).
What does this energetic information exchange between human beings mean for us? Pearsall believes that not only physical touch but the physical proximity of individuals produces information exchange in the form of imprinting of memories in the hearts of the people involved. The more interaction two people have, the stronger the pattern imprinted in their hearts (and other cells) which accounts, he says, for the strong connection most people feel with their families (again, for better or for worse) and others with whom they have intimate contact. He goes on to suggest that these cellular memories stay with the person forever, accounting for the presence of individuals who have died within the physical as well as psychological/emotional system of the other.
The lack of meaningful human contact and its detrimental effects on the human cardiac system has been studied extensively by psychologist James Lynch in his work with cardiac patients. In A Cry Unheard and in his earlier books, Dr. Lynch describes the link he has discovered between loneliness and blood pressure increases in individuals who are chronically lonely which can lead to disease and, sometimes, to death. A fascinating corollary is his discovery that not only a lack of communication between individuals but the quality of that communication influences the cardiac system of the human being. Using state-of-the-art equipment to measure blood pressure surges during certain kinds of dialogue, Dr. Lynch has found that negative language – abusive, angry, loud, denigrating – when used repeatedly, and especially early in childhood, can have a devastating effect on the heart of the individual to whom it is directed. "Lethal talk", Dr. Lynch posits, therefore can be just as much a factor in heart disease as exercise, diet, or cholesterol levels. Negative talk and loneliness, then, can negatively affect our health and, potentially, our lifespan as meaningful human relationships can in the opposite direction.
Although Dr. Lynch focuses on the psychological and emotional factors of loneliness and lethal talk and their relationship to cardiac health, he does not address the vibrational or resonance aspects of both physical proximity of electromagnetic fields and the sounds of conversation. Is it possible, for example, that when the energetic fields of two hearts are near one another that they actually entrain?
Rhythm entrainment, also known as sympathetic vibration, or simply resonance occurs when two wave-forms of similar frequency "lock into phase" with each other. The waves actually oscillate together at exactly the same rate. Two oscillating vibrations, if they are near enough to one another in frequency, will eventually entrain. An example of this is what happens when clocks in a clock store are wound, with their pendulums set in motion. At first the tick tock of the pendulums’ sway is just slightly off but eventually every clock falls into rhythm with the others as they become entrained.
This principle of rhythm entrainment can also occur with one wave triggering a vibration in a resting source such as when a violin string can be tuned to a certain pitch by playing another violin string set to the same pitch nearby. This is how tuning forks are used in remote control television units. The TV is remotely activated by pushing a button on the remote control unit which strikes a tone that entrains with a tone in the unit.
Cycles in the human system seem to be able to entrain. It is well known among women that when two women live together, their menstrual cycles tend to become coordinated. Couples married for a long time sometimes can communicate without words, and some consider prayer, as a form of resonance, as being able to influence events through a certain kind of entrainment.
Have you ever felt the energy in the room shift when two or more individuals seem to be "on the same wavelength"? Usually used metaphorically, that expression may prove to be more true than we think. In my own study of participants in a group, every one of the interviewees reported experiencing an energy shift in the room in which they felt a strong connection with other individuals and with the group as a whole. (Levi, 2001). Was it only the emotional content of the stories we told that shifted energy or could it have been an actual entrainment of hearts in the room on a vibrational level? Maybe the sound of the voices telling the stories affected the perceived resonance (meaning, literally, "re-sound"), amplifying the natural rhythmic entrainment of the hearts themselves beating so close to one another.
When two wave forms entrain, the resulting wave is a combination of the two original waves: it has the same frequency but increased amplitude. Amplitude is the distance a wave travels from crest to trough. In sound waves, increased amplitude means increased energy and volume, as in amplified music. In other words, power and depth are increased when the wave forms are in resonance. Can this property in the physical world have meaning for us as human beings participating together in groups?
Briskin, et al., (2000), in an inquiry into collective intelligence, found that there is a kind of collective wisdom accessible, in part, through stopping the action in group situations in order to listen – to oneself and others. Silence, when it occurs in relationship can be informative. It gives us the opportunity to listen to our hearts and to the important messages they may be conveying individually and in resonance with other hearts. Martin Buber, a German philosopher, refers to relationship as "the space between". Perhaps the sound that is amplified by the connection between two or more hearts is a kind of space between. Perhaps it is the space we need to hear the amplification of another voice, a voice beyond the human one. Perhaps, as Dr. Pearsall suggests, the individual human heart or the amplified heart resonance in groups can entrain with yet greater energetic forces in the universe, listening for messages that might help us live together more effectively than we seem to have been able to do with our brains solely in charge. Look around. Better yet, let your heart look around. Are we happy with the way we interact with one another? Are we creating in or destroying the world given to us? I suspect our hearts may hold some of the answers.
The work I have discussed in this paper is the very beginning, I believe, of a new perspective available to us as researchers only recently with the medical advances in transplantation and the possibilities afforded by the very latest in measurement technology. I would like to see further research into the possibility of heart-to-heart dialogue in the form of entrainment. Jim Lynch has begun the inquiry using continuous blood pressure monitoring to measure surges in individuals participating in cardiac rehabilitation groups (personal communication, 2002). He has found evidence of entrainment in these venues but more needs to be done to uncover incidences of the physical act of heart "lock-in", which would confirm "scientifically" what many of us already know "Scientifically" - that human connection in its most positive forms of love, understanding, and compassion not only feels good and may have individual and collective healing power, but may also, through amplification, influence and be influenced by greater sources of wisdom, power, and intelligence.
To end this paper I want to retell a story Dr. Lynch includes in A Cry Unheard about one of his heart patients. At 64 years of age, Dr. Lever had been reciting the central Jewish prayer – "Shema Y’Israel, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Ehad – Hear Oh Israel, The Lord Our G-d, The Lord Is One" – all of his life by rote. After much personal suffering of his own – bypass surgery (seven coronary arteries) and three heart attacks, Dr. Lever says he has finally come to hear and understand the words and their meaning for his life.
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