The Kind/Cruel Guardian of the Heart

March 31st, 2014




“Look at that big, fat, hairy man, dad!”



These were the words of a 4 year old child in a public swimming pool changing room. He had just witnessed, well, a big, fat, hairy man walk past on his way to the showers.


This scene demonstrates a few things. It is not likely a mature adult would have made the same statement. Even if they cared one way or the other about the man’s physical appearance they would have kept it to themselves, not proclaimed it in a loud, sincerely surprised tone to someone else.


Did the child essentially do anything ‘wrong’? After all, it was indeed an accurate description of the man’s immediate physical attributes. The man himself did not appear to have any shame about it, or at least had made peace with himself in that regard. So what is it that differentiates adult and child behavior?



Social conditioning


Adults differ from children in these matters because they have learned to repress certain impulses and behavior in order to function more smoothly within social groups – or at least to be more controlled in social groups.


In the film the Mask of Zorro, actor Anthony Hopkins plays the senior version of Zorro schooling his young apprentice (played by Antonio Banderas) in the gentlemanly arts: “It is quite simple. A nobleman is nothing but a man, who says one thing and thinks another.”


We have invented and justified the telling of ‘white lies’ to spare the feelings of others. It is considered socially acceptable however as we think it avoids (potential) social friction.



“You can’t handle the truth!” [1]


Columbia Pictures. 1992. All rights reserved

Columbia Pictures. 1992. All rights reserved


Making choices for others or ourselves in regard to what is acceptable behavior is part of our social repression mechanism. As the term suggests, something in us is repressed. Every time we use this mechanism however, we separate a little bit from the truth we know in our heart.



In traditional Chinese medicine the heart has the title of the Emperor. It is the seat of our wisdom and truth. It can only ever express our truth. It requires another organ system to handle how we communicate both internally to ourselves and outwardly in our dealings with others. It essentially decides whether we (in our internal dialogue) or others (in our external communications) can handle our truth in a given situation.



The Kind/Cruel Guardian of the heart                       






This energy system is known under a few names: The Pericardium, the Heart Protector, the Heart Constrictor, the Kind/Cruel Guardian and several others.


Physically, the pericardium is a dual layered membrane surrounding the heart (as the name suggests for those with some schooling in Greek and Latin) that protects it from external shocks. It is at the psychological level that things become interesting.


Once we have been ‘trained’ to repress our impulses through social conditioning the fact that we are repressing something may become so automatic that we forget we are even doing it. We soon become completely unconscious of it.


Regular readers of this blog may be aware of the concept that unconscious parts of us are constantly striving to become conscious. We have had many examples of how it can do this. In particular, it uses discomfort in the form of symptoms to get our attention. This is why illness can be such a fertile ground for personal growth and evolution.


The guardian of the heart may end up creating a cage that imprisons it. When we split our mind through repressing deeper parts of ourselves it fights to be heard and respected. Not surprisingly this can be felt in the heart itself as physical oppression and pain.




© Douglas Adams



These were the words and the advice of the ‘Hitch hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Its purpose in the novel/radio play/TV series/movie of the same name was to shepherd us through the travails of space and time travel. Of course all of us are travelling through time and space. We are more like to panic for reasons closer to home however. One such reason is called cognitive dissonance.


Cognitive dissonance is the stress we experience from trying to hold within us contradictory values, ideas or beliefs at the same time. Repressed ideas fight for attention. The battlefield for consciousness is often through the heart center.


One common physical outcome of this is a panic attack. Pain or oppressive feelings in the chest, difficulty breathing and fear states can lead the sufferer to believe they are having a heart attack – and in one sense at least, they are.


While subsequent tests reveal there is nothing physically wrong, their experience was real. So what is going on and what can we do about it?


I’m so glad you asked…




Secret Agent Man [2]





One more trick up the sleeve of the Heart Protector is that while it lives close to its Fire element partner, the Heart, it also moonlights in the Water element as the ‘Kidney Yang’. It is the fire in the water, the yang within the yin that provides the spark for the deeper drives of will, desire, sexuality and zest for living.


That in itself may be an interesting topic for another blog. Here however it has particular application to the function of our adrenal glands (sitting above the kidneys and considered part of the same energy system in traditional Chinese medicine) and hormones like cortisol and adrenaline which they produce.


While adrenaline contributes to raising the heart rate, cortisol contributes to elevated blood pressure, straining the heart and coronary arteries. Subjectively we can experience this as tightness in the chest – even that we are experiencing a heart attack.


What is actually happening is that we are experiencing an internal struggle for our conscious awareness using the weapons of our own hormones.


The cruel and the kind guardian wrestle with each other over the truth in our heart: In one corner the super-ego social conditioning of our repression mechanisms; in the other, something buried inside us we know to be true but have surrounded in fear or shame.


The cruel guardian, fearing losing its grip of control, says: “You (or others you care about) can’t handle the truth!” The kind guardian, loyal to its emperor the heart, says: “The truth shall set you free!”



Liberating the internal voice of our truth.


The first thing we need to do is reconnect with our heart center. It is the seat of the Self, the part of us that always knows our truth. Maybe we have turned the volume knob of that inner voice so low we cannot immediately hear it just because we decide to start listening again. Be patient however.


Imagine a dog we have forbidden to sit on the furniture. Maybe we have even punished it for trying to do so in the past. Suddenly one day we welcome it to sit on the couch with us. It would be forgiven for feeling initially hesitant and confused at such an offer.


The same goes for the re-awakening of consciousness of our inner voice. Try to spend some time each day in stillness and meditation – just being with the Self. It does not need to involve yogic postures or esoteric mantras. It is just the state of reconnecting our split selves with our Self.



The kind guardian of integrity


In regard to our communication with others a few principles of integrity need to be clearly defined. That is, we need to understand what we are responsible for in our dealings with others and that for which we need to allow others their own responsibility. OK, let’s go:


We are responsible for:


  1. Our own thoughts feelings and actions
  2. Our reactions to what happens in our world



We are not responsible for:


  1. The thoughts, feelings and actions of others (assuming they are not children or the infirm under our care and responsibility).
  2. The reactions of others to what happens in their world.


The socially awkward sticking point here is when it comes to others reactions to us and what we choose to do about it. So let’s clear that one up straight away:


As long as we act with act out of honesty and integrity to our Self we cannot hurt someone else. That is, when we act not out of manipulation to cause a certain reaction in someone else (positive or negative) but from a sincere communication of our truth about where we stand on any issue we cannot hurt another.


Of course not everyone has this understanding of integrity and they may well be hurt and even try to make us responsible for their reaction. And yes, while we may feel genuinely concerned that they feel that way it does not mean we should compromise our integrity by taking responsibility for their emotions.


In fact it would be unhelpful to both our self and others to do so.


  • It would deny them of the possibility to work through their emotions, take responsibility for them and learn something about themselves to further their personal evolution.
  • It would send them an unspoken message that they can manipulate how we act in regard to them based on how they react.



The path less traveled


path less traveled


Some may feel this is a difficult path to take and I cannot lie to you. On some occasions it is. The alternative however is more damaging to all concerned. Harming ourselves will never help anyone in the long run. Trying to protect people from themselves is also a futile endeavor – as is trying to hide our truth from our Self.


It is a path many do not to take because they see it as a choice between being a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ person rather than being a true soul. What is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ changes in time, place and the social control mechanisms in different cultures. What is true remains true.


Just ask your heart.



Till we can all handle the truth of another Monday,


[1][1] A Few Good Men. Columbia Pictures. 1992. All rights reserved

[2] ’Secret Agent Man’, written by P.F. Sloane and Steve Barri. All rights reserved.


PS: For those in Stockholm this Monday evening, 31st of March 2014, there is, by an incredible coincidence, a Conscious Health open lecture concerning our relationship to our heart and many of the elements discussed in this blog.  For details click here.




© Jeremy Halpin all rights reserved. All images are the author’s own unless otherwise indicated or if the original source is unknown at the time of writing. You can subscribe to this blog by clicking the button in the bottom right hand corner of the page – or share it on the social media of your choice. If you have any wishes or questions regarding subjects to be discussed on this blog use the contact information below. Jeremy is also available for seminars, lectures and personal consultation:

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