Heart, Lungs & Aspen Trees
As I look at the stunning landscape of mountains covered in a quilt of aspen and pine trees, I think about their symbiotic relationship. I’m mesmerized by the unique alternating textures formed by the dark, spikey pines, softened by their neighboring and lighter colored aspen leaves.
While some people say that these two tree families fight one another for dominance like cowboys of the Wild West staking their claim to land, I see them as harmoniously coexisting. Even if not by choice, then by necessity. Almost a yin and yang balancing one another.
This idea of interwoven codependency – and the metaphor of breathlessness – brings to mind the heart and lungs I’ve been focused on the last two months. Ever since my most recent dissection in the anatomy lab in which I removed these two vital organs as a single unit, I’ve been fixated on their interrelationship. To consider one without the other is now inconceivable after tracing the pathway of blood funneling from vessels to heart to lungs and back to heart again before dispersing throughout the body.
Only when attempting to sever connections do you discover that the delineations we rely on in naming anatomy are artificial and subjective constructs. Where does one structure end and its neighboring one begin? That can be up to the individual creating the boundaries. In this sense, if you think of your blood vessels as extensions of your heart, reaching out to the periphery of your body (your skin) in the form of capillaries, then as my teacher Gil Hedley suggests, every time you touch someone, you’re touching his or her heart. No wonder touch is so powerful!
I’ll never forget the moment in the lab of first lifting the front of the ribcage, removing it like a shield of armor, revealing the heart and lungs snuggled together. In that moment we lab partners were archeologists discovering a previously unseen treasure. And the opened treasure “chest” unleashed energy like rays of light as you’d see in a movie.
The vision of two lungs seemingly embracing a heart left me awestruck. Think about this: every inhalation inflates your lungs, giving your heart a gentle squeeze. This idea can lead to an array of comforting metaphors. Consider the lonely heart: never is it alone thanks to the companionship of the lungs. Consider the cold-hearted: soft spongy lungs cozying up to it would surely melt even the most callous of hearts. Consider the broken-hearted: the compression of the lungs might hold it in place or even piece it back together. What incredible solace the image of hugging lungs can offer!
So as I meditate on the magnificent beauty of the San Juan Skyway here in Colorado and the co-dependency of the aspen and pine trees, I recall the breathless awe I felt in discovering the heart and lungs in our bodies’ own landscape of Wild West terrain. What mystery beholds us and majestic territory lies before us. The sense of inspiration (and its root word of “inspire” meaning “to breathe life into”) which I felt in the lab reveals itself before me yet again.