‘Three brainer’: the mind, the heart, the gut
Everyone has experienced a “no brainer.” You know, when you engage in an activity where you don’t need to think.
It’s either something that is incredibly simple, or something that has been done so many times you don’t need to think it through anymore. Anyone who drives a car with a stick shift, knows that changing gears and using the clutch is a no brainer.
But, not all of life’s activities conform nicely into the no brainer model. Some experiences in life are more complex. And, when one is confronted with a more difficult scenario, one is likely to “think it through.”
That is, they will use their brain to ponder the questions raised by their experience. Perhaps they will consider how the experience came to be, or the implications of reacting in one way or another.
They might utilize a decision balance, weighing the pros and cons, selecting the choice which yields the greatest number of pros and the least number of cons. Or maybe, as in a good game of chess, they will look at the intermediate- and long-term consequences, planning and speculating on what will happen five moves ahead.
The brain and the human cortex, is an amazing organ. It contains neurons which receive, analyze and remember our sensory experiences, while constructing models of reality that provide the basis for anticipating future events. The interpretation of the experience also releases neurotransmitters and hormones that circulate throughout the body and support the chosen behavior.
When you are contemplating the decisions of life, I would like to suggest that you go beyond the logic and information available from the brain and cortex alone.
In the human body, we have two other brains to consider. They are the heart and the gut. The heart and the gut are now known to contain neurons, as in the brain, and they secrete hormones that communicate with the brain and other organ systems.
When one experiences a warm, heartfelt experience, the heart actually releases a hormone which calms the nervous system and relaxes the body. In addition, the Heartmath Institute has scientifically shown that during these times, the rhythm of the heart comes into harmony with that of the breath.
When this happens, the body tunes into a resonant frequency, encouraging biological and emotional healing and self-regulation. The opposite happens during the emotional states of anger and frustration. And the heart has a memory, independent of the brain. In the last decade, medical scientists have documented that recipients of heart transplants commonly remember things that only the donor would know.
The human “gut” also contains neurons, just like the brain, and is bathed in more serotonin than is found in the brain itself.
The gut is also known to secrete hormones which tells the brain and other organs about the quantity and type of food eaten.
It is the gut that hormonally signals the brain to tell us when we are full and to stop eating.
In addition, I am sure we have all had a gut-wrenching reaction to something you have seen in life, on television or at the movies. And please remember that the mind and body usually can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy.
So, when one has a significant decision to make, rather than appealing only to the Cartesian logic of the brain, I am suggesting that you also poll the deeper intelligence of the body by querying the heart and the gut as well.
For some of you, this may seem like a strange experience, since the heart and gut don’t use words or thoughts, as does the brain. The intelligence of the heart communicates to us through our emotions.
When you submit a question to the heart, the heart responds with feeling tones. One might feel love, compassion, inspiration, anger, abandonment, etc, from the heart.
The gut, on the other hand, communicates to us through sensations. We frequently feel fear in the gut; usually felt as a tightness just above the belly button.
Or we might feel like the decision we are trying to make just isn’t right, because our gut just doesn’t feel right. I know that people who spell well will commonly see the word to be spelled in their mind (their brain), but it is the gut that tells them whether or not it is spelled correctly.
And we sometimes laugh with our bellies or feel satisfied with our decisions or work through a gut level experience.
So, the next time you have a life-transforming decision to make, rather than appealing to the brain only, submit the question to the brain and listen for the thoughtful reply.
Then, submit the question to the heart and feel whether you are being pushed forward by the thoughtful response or being held back – pay heed to the bias. Lastly, submit it to the intelligence of the gut and see if it feels right.
It may take all three brains a while to respond. You may need to wait more than a few minutes, a few days or even a week for all three sources of knowledge to come into focus.
If all three have a similar tone to them, you are probably heading in the right direction. Go for it!
But if one pulls you in a different direction from the other two, beware! In such a case, it might be prudent to reformulate the question and try again until all three brains are in agreement.
This will be a good decision and will guide you well down your path of life.
Jeffrey R. Cram, Ph.D. is a holistic psychologist who offers psychotherapy, biofeedback, neurofeedback, flower essences and music therapy. He is the director of the Sierra Health Institute in Nevada City. Contact him at 478-1334.
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