The History of the Heart

The History of the Heart: The Symbol from Ptahhotep to Hallmark


In my quest to understand the problems that my psychotherapy clients present to me, I have been searching for the psychological theory of everything.

Years ago I came across a quote by a Chinese Sage named Mencius who lived 2300 years ago and is considered by many to be the wisest person to have ever lived. When I read this quote I became convinced that I had taken a step closer to the answer I was looking for.

Here’s the quote.

“Pity the man who has lost his path and does not follow it, and has lost his heart and does not go out and recover it. When people’s dogs and chicks are lost, they go out and look for them, but when people’s hearts, or original nature, are lost they do not go out and look for them. The principle of self-cultivation consists in nothing but trying to find the lost heart.”

   – Mencius

This quote has possesed me for decades and has led me to ask the questions

  • What is the heart?
  • What does it mean to have a lost heart?
  • How do we lose it ?
  • How do we find it again?

This became the subject of my doctoral dissertation. In my search for the answer to these questions, I came across an amazing fact.

The symbol of the heart is an image that spans the globe. It has been of monumental significance since man could contemplate the ineffable and the existence of the immaterial in virtually every culture, religion, and philosophy. From the beginning of conscious man recording his experiences, beliefs, thoughts, and feelings in a sophisticated and organized way, he has attempted to convey something essential about himself and the cosmos through the metaphor of the heart.  As it appeared virtually simultaneously with writing itself, we can surmise that this symbolic image emerged with the dawn of thought.

What you will find here is a chapter from my writings on this subject. It is an in depth exploration of the meaning of this universal symbol throughout history. One of the insights of Mencius is that the study of the meaning of heart is one thing that leads to its realization. So, I wrote this not only because I think it is fun and interesting, but because it aids in my own self-cultivation.

It’s long, so I attach it as a PDF. I hope you enjoy it.

The History of the Heart: The Symbol from Ptahhotep to Hallmark


Dr. Glenn Berger is a psychotherapist, relationship counselor, business and artist’s coach, and young person’s mentor. He sees patients in New York City, in Mt. Kisco, NY, and around the world by Skype.

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