The Four-Chambered Heart

Heart is a small word and an enormous concept.  It describes an instinct to care for the well-being of ourselves and others.  It is the powerful result of joining courage, passion, and conviction. It is the conduit through which we channel love, strength, and healing.  

Photo by Jessica Lewis from Pexels

Our hearts belong to us.  Sometimes we don’t pay attention to them, or we give them away to other people.  When this happens, they take on a life of their own and the result is often full of conflict.  Our actions get driven by our emotions (often to places we don’t want to go), and we search for validation and happiness outside of ourselves (which traps us in a constant state of unrest).  

Sometimes we nurture our hearts, taking time to understand them and how they can help us shape the life we want to live.  Everything good in the world comes out of this practice, and in it we are able to move through whatever emotion our heart feels with intention.  Finding a practice to care for our hearts is a fundamental step toward sustaining our own well-being. You know you’ve got a good one when it grows with you, and is there to restore you if you and your heart wander away from another every now and then.     

What are some practices that can help you tend to your own heart?

There are thousands of answers to this question.  I’m going to stick with one of my favorites to get you started.  It’s from “The Four-Fold Way,” a book written by social anthropologist Dr. Angeles Arrien based on her studies of various indiginous cultures.  In it she describes a path toward wholeness where we realize the healer, warrior, teacher, and visionary in ourselves. In her exploration of the healer archetype, she talks about the importance of the four-chambered heart:

Many native cultures believe that the heart is the bridge between Father Sky and Mother Earth.  For these traditions, the four-chambered heart, the source for sustaining emotional and spiritual health, is described as being full, open, clear, and strong.

Where we are full-hearted, we’re all in.  We’re committed to people and situations.

Where we are open-hearted, we’re embracing possibilities, softening where we have become rigid or defensive

Where we are clear-hearted, we’re acting from a place of clarity instead of confusion, doubt, or indifference

Where we are strong-hearted, we’re courageously able to be our authentic selves


The practice?  Check in on your heart’s well-being by asking yourself daily:

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Reflecting in this way can help you immediately. It invites focus on the chambers that have diminished capacity, and allows you to find what you need to strengthen them.  Did you notice you’re half-hearted on that project you just signed up for? Now you can consider possibilities for engaging with it in a way that builds your enthusiasm, or you might decide to sign off from it to make time for projects you have full-heart for.  

Sustaining this practice over time will condition you to choose to be in situations and relationships where your whole heart can be present.  The cultures Arrien studied posit that when your heart is whole, you are filled with “the power of love, the most potent healing force available to all human beings…[and you can] extend the arms of love: acknowledgement, acceptance, recognition, validation, and gratitude.”  What does your life look like when you have all of that?  

We try to eat well, exercise, and get plenty of rest to look after the atria and ventricles of our physical heart, that vital muscle without which we’d cease to exist.  Find a way to put real effort into strengthening the parts of it that bring us passion, possibilities, clarity, and the courage to joyously be who we are. That’s the part that makes life worth living. 


Side Dish

Sometimes the main course just isn’t enough – find links here to content that rounds out the themes explored in this week’s article.

Article, 11 minute read

Brené Brown’s 10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living (An Actionable Guide) by Patrick Buggy

Dr. Brené Brown has some information you want to hear if you’re interested in living a life filled with authenticity, meaning, and connection.  Years ago, she introduced the idea of living wholeheartedly to help us do that.  

“Wholehearted living is about engaging with our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, ‘No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.’ It’s going to bed at night thinking, ‘Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”

Want to get in on this?  Read her books, or kick off some self-discovery by reflecting on her 10 guideposts for living a wholehearted life.  This article posted on Mindful Ambition does a great job explaining them, and offers some practical ways to integrate them into your life.


Video, The Need for Authenticity – 26 minute duration

In this talk, physician, author, and renowned addiction expert Dr. Gabor Maté explores how we lose our attachment to our authentic selves as children, and the effect it has on our physical and emotional health if we don’t find a way to recover it.  Maté puts forth some powerful and challenging ideas, and delivers them with well-timed pockets of humor.  If you are interested in learning more about mind-body connection, and how to regain your own sense of who you are and what you feel, this video is mandatory viewing.  A big thank you to Michelle Nordhaugen of Growing Edge for sharing this gem.  



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