Physical Facet of Qulb
By Dr Ghayur Ayub
Qulb mentioned by Sufis is generally known as heart. It is not true as Qulb, in reality, has different physical facets than a mere anatomical structure placed in the chest and pumping blood. Its actuality was first reported when investigations revealed that a few heart recipients found changes in their personalities resembling characteristics of the donors. Further investigations showed close linkages between certain areas of brain and heart constituted consciousness, mindfulness or simply mind.
When I was a lecturer in the anatomy department and dissecting brain to teach the undergraduate students back in 1960s, I found it fascinating and challenging to locate areas of voluntary and involuntary systems and to connect them. The areas which excited me the most were: pre-frontal lobe linked to intellect; visual part of occipital lobe linked to sight; Broca area of left temporal lobe linked to speech; and Brodmann areas of right temporal lobe linked to processing nonverbal information. My fascination grew when I dissected the autonomous parts of the brain at the base of the skull especially the hypothalamus and Amygdala.
Because of limited facilities, I could not dissect precisely the neural paths connecting these areas but I was convinced they werere directly and indirectly linked. It became obvious one day when I was crossing a road. I looked to the left and right to see if any vehicle was passing. Finding nothing, I started crossing when suddenly I heard a car honking, quickly I turned my head and saw a speedy car approaching. My heart started to thump, I stopped abruptly, quickly took involuntary steps back and the car missed me by a few feet. With terrified feelings, thumping heart, sweaty skin and trembling body I crossed the road. Total fear had overwhelmed me.
Later, I asked myself what were the paths which linked my voluntary and involuntary thoughts and coordinated them with voluntary as well as involuntary actions making my body respond in a coordinated fashion? I knew that my heart responded to sudden production and release of adrenaline as part of ‘fight, flight and fear’ retort. But the rapidity of adrenaline release and the quick, complex, coordinated and unexplainable responses it brought up, made me think for reasons other than, what I knew about anatomical or physiological linkages between the areas of the brain and the heart.
Decades later, researchers came up with theories putting light not only on these linkages but saying that the heart has its own 'consciousness'. They stated that over 200 years ago, mind (consciousness) and brain were taken as separate entities. But Newtonian materialistic physics changed it, making mind as a functioning part of brain. When it came to the heart, it was taken as a pump controlled directly or indirectly by the brain. In the 20th century, quantum physics created doubts in Newtonian laws separating 'consciousness' or mind from the brain. This fitted well in the concept of Qulb which the Sufis linked with ‘mindfulness’ for centuries.
Soon I realized that from a scientific point of view, the Sufi concept of Qulb (heart) constitutes intricate direct and indirect neural and chemical pathways between four important areas of the conscious brain and important areas of the subconscious brain which intrigued me in the first place during my days as a lecturer. These areas coordinate with each other and with the heart. Recent studies have shown that the heart has its own ‘functional brain and consciousness’ linked with the brain, affecting one another in complex ways. It strengthened my belief in the concept of Qulb as independent 'consciousness', 'mindfulness' or 'mind' composed primarily of centers placed in the brain and in the heart linked together directly and indirectly through neural pathways and chemical associations.
I have already mentioned above the centers in the brain. The important centers in the heart are formed of two types of cells: contractile and conducting. The former makes the bulk of the heart wall. The latter forms the sino-atrial (SA) node, the atrio-ventricular (AV) node, the bundle of Hiss and Purkinje fibers. The conducting cells regulate the automatic contractility of the heart by generating and transmitting impulses to contractile cells.
A new discipline in cardiology called neurocardiology tells us that the heart is a sophisticated center for receiving and processing information. It has its nervous system with estimated 40,000 intrinsic neurons which handle heart-brain interactions by sending information from the heart to the brain and by receiving signals from the brain to the heart. These interactions are conducted through neural pathways and chemical association. In addition, the heart also communicates via electromagnetic field, which is 60 times greater in amplitude, and via its magnetic component, which is 5000 times stronger than the brain’s magnetic field detectable through magnetometers placed at a distance of a few feet. The researchers say that in this way these links enable the heart to independently learn, remember, and make functional decisions and send signals to the higher brain centers influencing functions involved in perception, cognition, and emotional processing. Some researchers go a step further by saying that information pertaining to a person’s emotional state is also communicated via the heart’s electromagnetic field. It is for this reason that rhythmic beating patterns of the heart change significantly as we experience different emotions. According to them, these changes in the heart beat create corresponding changes in the electromagnetic field measurable by spectral analysis.
These physical links of heart (Qulb) create physiological and psychological effects on our body. For example, at the physiological level, it increases efficiency, harmony and interactions of the body’s systems. At the psychological level, it reduces stress, increases emotional balance, and enhances mental clarity, intuitive acumen, and intellectual presentation. This is called psychophysiological cohesion which is important in enhancing consciousness. And there is experimental evidence that psychophysiological cohesion may increase our awareness of, and sensitivity to, others around us.
These scientific findings strengthen the belief in the Sufi notion of Qulb (heart) as ‘consciousness’ or ‘mindfulness' which is independent of brain. It has its own physical facet part of which includes anatomical heart and plays an important role in spiritual development and psychophysiological effect on personality.