My cardiologist suggested that I have a “stress test,” so today I had one. Rather than run on a treadmill until exhausted, a chemical was injected into my blood stream to cause the same effect. Leads were attached to a number of parts of my chest and adjacent areas, blood pressure was monitored and a technician recorded the results on a computer. About an hour later, in a different exam room, a special camera took pictures of the heart, from various angles and the results were again recorded on a computer for the cardiologist to examine.

I have already had my pacemaker examination, an echocardiogram and a brief visit with the cardiologist. All of this is to determine if my heart is in reasonable “shape” for someone my age—84 and still counting (although quite slowly at times).

As I lay on the exam table watching the V shaped camera twist and turn and take photos of the internal blood vessels of my heart, I couldn’t help but think about how we view the heart in a metaphorical sense.

The heart figure is used to talk about our feelings: heart-broken, heart of gold, heartless, and so on, to express our “state of mind” and, to some degree, how we feel about life in general. The heart and how we feel and the mind with how we think are inextricably related. Someone who has “peace of mind” should also have a “quietness of heart.” But a person who is “half-hearted” about a matter is probably not thinking clearly the item.

Sometimes we may want to have a “heart to heart talk” with someone, perhaps telling them what is “on our mind” or “in our heart.” We don’t want to deal lightly with the detail—we expect an intimate and honest discussion.

Of course, the person may reject our suggestion: he or she may even have a “heart of stone” or be of “two minds” about it.” They may not want someone to “pour out their heart” to them. They want the other person to “mind their own business” although, often, they may “change their mind” and be willing to let the person “follow their heart” or even reveal themselves with the result of becoming “like minded.”

With these few examples we can see how important the “heart” is in our culture. But not all cultures express their feelings by referring to the heart.

For example, Kwan Poh San, who worked in Papua New Guinea among the Mauwake people, wrote an article about how they used “liver” (kema) to express their emotions. A few samples are: liver throb=worried; liver rot=grieve; liver shiver=nervous; liver die=terrified; liver go up=enthusiastic; liver stuck=confused; liver push=think; liver turn=change the mind; and liver eat=tempt.

The East Kewa people of Papua New Guinea also use the “liver” to express emotions: the liver can “get up” when one is excited, but it can also sleep, be sweet, tired or filled with blood when one is exhausted. The West Kewa people, on the other hand, express emotions mainly with the “stomach” or by a combination of words that uses expressions that conjoin both liver and stomach.

So just because we use “heart” or “mind” in English to express various emotional and mental feelings, other body parts may be used as well. We learn to use these expressions in English because as children we may learn them “by heart” but, remember, if we had grown up in another culture we might have learned them “by liver.”

This discussion may not have helped you that much. So I’m of “two minds”: on the one “hand”, I could go deeper with further illustrations; however, on the other hand, ”in the back of my mind”, I am simply going to tell you to “eat your heart out.” Now go figure what that means!

October 2017