Pearls of Healthy Hearts

Pearls together

Watching the coverage over the weekend of the U.S. 20-year anniversary of 9-11 brought up a tsunami of emotion for me. First there was sadness—sorrow—for all those innocent lives cut short on a single Tuesday morning when people were beginning their workday or in flight to an unfulfilled destination. Also, I experienced awe and admiration for the brave first responders who trudged through chaos in futile attempts to save others (or themselves). I flashed on a phrase which is attributed to a Taoist sage, Chuang Tzu, who lived 2000+ years ago: “When you open your heart, you get life’s 10,000 sorrows, and 10,000 joys.”

Collectively, we came together as a country of open-hearted people in the early days that followed 9-11 to surround the broken families from tragedy with love and sustenance. Powerful possibilities exist when people unite for a common cause, as in the many acts of compassion in the COVID-pandemic of sharing both collective sadness and resolve.

French sociologist Émile Durkheim coined the term collective effervescence to describe a community coming together to share energetic communication and engagement in the same action: “A shared misfortune has the same effect as…a happy event. It enlivens collective feelings, which lead individuals to seek one another out and come together…feelings intensify when they are collectively affirmed. Like joy, sadness is heightened and amplified…every person is pulled along by every other.”

While Durkheim saw such communal efforts as embodying religious experience, there are many secular examples–serving meals to first responders during the pandemic, cleaning up neighbors’ debris after hurricanes and floods, as well as soccer/football fans cheering on their favorite team. When you experience collective effervescence, you have an open heart. You feel connected and have a sense of belonging.

I suspect that loneliness, or lacking belongingness, may accompany an individual with a “closed-down” heart. The common expressions of “heartless” or “hard-hearted” are used to describe one who is unsympathetic or insensitive to others’ needs. But of course, everyone alive has a beating heart. I read an interesting detail: if beating heart cells in a Petrie dish do not touch each other, they have independent beats. However, after 2-3 days, “monolayers” (a cell culture of closely packed cells) form an interconnection that beat in unison. We need more healthy heartbeats that beat together.

Pearls of Peace (PoP) quiz:

12. What does an “open” heart mean to you?

13.  When are times that you close your heart to others?  

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.

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