There is a room in Paris that explains everything.
I’d like to say that I stumbled into it, but I think the truth is I have always known.
As a young girl in school, I was taught we have five senses.
I rarely questioned my grade school teachers. I loved to learn. They put me in the “talented and gifted” program. I got a lot of stars and won a lot of spelling bees.
When the topic of senses came up, I was six years old. I knew something was missing. I did not know what it was. So I raised my hand and, heart racing, waited for the teacher to call on me.
“Why are there only five?”
“Well, that’s a good question. Class, let’s all think about Laura’s question.”
I could feel my face turning red. Other kids were looking at me like, hey, if the teacher says there are five senses, there are five. Why rock the boat? My skin felt hot, my throat got tight. I wanted to take the question back, to go back to the safety of being a quiet observer.
“Who would like to raise their hand and tell me how you sense the world around you?”
A dozen hands shot up. Everybody knew the answers. After all, the teacher had just written them on the chalkboard a few seconds earlier.
“I see! I smell! I taste! I touch! I hear!”
“Right! Anything else?”
“Okay, now let’s count the different answers,” she said. “One, two, three, four, five.”
I spent last summer traveling through Europe. I taught a yoga workshop about the anatomy of the heart and how it drives transformation in the body.
I was intent on exploring and unraveling the true nature of this organ that beats in my chest, I think, because the first 39 years of my life put it through a lot. Including (inevitably) heartbreak and the healing that came after. As it does for so many of us, my experience with heartbreak caused me to become conscious of my heart’s place in the core of my being. I wanted to know and understand the human heart—my own heart—better, deeper, more.
When I arrived in Paris, a friend sent me a list of her favorite Parisian museums, cafes and gardens. Toward the end was a note, “If you have extra time, the Musee de Cluny is a sweet one, off the beaten path, quiet. You’d love it.”
Before the trip, I spent time preparing for the workshops I was to teach and studying the heart. I learned the heart produces an electromagnetic field that is 5,000 times stronger that the brain’s. This field is so powerful that instruments can detect it up to 10 feet away.
Heart cells entrain (hook and pulse with) other electromagnetic signals they encounter. When two heart fields pulse in union, there is a rapid exchange of information. We are quite often in each other’s heart fields, and experience these electromagnetic signals as emotions. Signals from other hearts, taken in through our own, are processed in our brain in the same manner as our conventional senses: sight, touch, smell, sound and taste.
I visited Musée de Cluny on the afternoon of my seventh day in Paris. On the top floor is hallway that winds its way to the center of the building like a spiral, leading to the entrance of an inner sanctuary. As I entered this chamber, sounds became muted and soft. I felt my blood pressure lower and my breath ease. My heart rate slowed down to match the energy of the room. I relaxed.
In the center of the room sits a large and low square leather ottoman for resting. On the walls circling it hang six enormous tapestries, breathtaking in size, detail and rich color. The first five are 12 feet high by 12 feet wide. The sixth is even larger. Each one depicts a scene with a lady and a unicorn.
Before even knowing what they were, I was transfixed. I wanted to stay in the room for a long time. My entire body responded to the artwork in a powerful way. Mesmerized. Absorbed. Peaceful. My heart felt warm. Like it was being acknowledged somehow.
I cried, not knowing what my tears were about. So I laughed softly, the way one does when she experiences a wave of emotion so utterly unexpected and unexplained.
I picked up the literature, sat down on the ottoman, and read:
La Dame à la Licorne (The Lady and the Unicorn) is a series of six tapestries, woven in about the year 1500 in Flanders by unknown artisans. The first five tapestries are named Taste, Smell, Hearing, Touch and Sight, respectively. The sixth and largest is named À Mon Seul Désir.
Historians and specialists have studied all the scenes. Several interpretations exist. Much like first graders who can read the teacher’s writing on the wall, they unanimously agree on this: The first five tapestries represent the five senses.
The significance of the last and largest is considered more mysterious. It depicts the lady just inside the parting folds of a tent, held open by the unicorn and a lion. Some say the tent is representative of the heart space. As I sat in front of this tapestry, a wave of recognition and relief rolled through my chest.
What I read, and what I saw, affirmed what my six-year-old body had inherently known, and what my 39-year-old mind was longing to find. “Many historians believe this sixth tapestry represents the utmost and innermost of the senses…”
In other words, yes, there is a sixth sense and it is the heart.