I started off last week thinking about “what’s missing in my life?” – in the sense of what’s missing when I feel unmotivated? When I am “stuck” and failing to move forward – what have I overlooked?
Or what might be missing if I feel unable to make a “good” choice? When I am not taking care of my well-being – why do I forget to put on my oxygen mask first? Or when I am struggling with gratitude, what do I need to do?
How can I do a better job at following through?
What should I focus on when I want to have fun? And where should I look when I want to connect with my soul?
And, in every case, I can come back to the lack of integration or alignment between my multiple brains!
What do I mean by multiple brains? (from mBraining: Using your multiple brains to do cool stuff by Grant Soosalu & Marvin Oka)
I mean the neural networks that exist within your body. Intelligence centers. They are “complex, adaptive neurons and interconnections between the neurons, with support (glial) cells”. A “brain” has its own memory and can adapt from within (neuroplasticity). It is much more complex than simply a group of neurons (nerve cells). In this sense, both the heart and gut have their own brains – independent in some respects from the head brain.
Some scientists refer to our gut (enteric neural network) as the “second brain”. It comprises some 100 million neurons – more than the spinal cord. This is not a thinking brain—it does not reason, balance your checkbook, compose a love note or solve multi-linear regressions. Conscious thoughts or decision-making are unnoticeable. But it responds and reacts to situations – “a gut feeling”, focusing on “self-preservation” as well as your security (immune system). Without a doubt, this “enteric brain” in your belly goes far beyond just processing the food you eat, creating hormones and controlling your immune responses!
Your gut-brain – this neural network in your innards – in connection with the big one in your skull – determines mental states. It also plays a key role in certain diseases throughout the body. Did you know – for example – that about 90 percent of the fibers in your vagus nerve (largest & longest nerve that runs between the brain and the gut) carries information to the brain? Only 10% of the fibers in the vagus nerve bring instructions back from the brain to the gut!
The “heart brain”
Similarly, the heart-brain (cardiac neural network) is a network of several types of neurons, neurotransmitters, proteins and support cells. It acts independently of the cranial brain – to learn, remember and even feel and sense. As it interacts with our thoughts and actions, changes in emotions are accompanied by predictable changes in the heart rate, blood pressure & respiration.
So, while there is a general acceptance that there are these three brains: head, heart & gut – there are also complex neural networks throughout the body that may influence us in ways that science is still understanding. We are in no way saying that these brains stand alone. The body is a complex, integrated whole. Nonetheless, the level of autonomy of these specified brains is much greater than previously thought.
Your three primary “brains” each have their own specific functions and purposes:
HEART BRAIN PRIME FUNCTIONS
- EMOTING – emotional processing (e.g. anger, grief, hatred, joy, happiness etc.)
- VALUES – processing what’s important to you and your priorities (and its relationship to the emotional strength of your aspirations, dreams, desires, etc.)
- RELATIONAL AFFECT – your felt connection with others (e.g. feelings of love/hate/indifference, compassion/uncaring, like/dislike, etc.)
GUT BRAIN PRIME FUNCTIONS
- CORE IDENTITY – a deep and visceral sense of core self, and determining at the deepest levels what is ‘self’ versus ‘not-self’
- SELF-PRESERVATION – protection of self, safety, boundaries, hunger, and aversions
- MOBILIZATION – motility, an impulse for action, gutsy courage and the will to act
HEAD BRAIN PRIME FUNCTIONS
- COGNITIVE PERCEPTION – cognition, perception, pattern recognition, etc.
- THINKING – reasoning, abstraction, analysis, synthesis, meta-cognition etc.
- MAKING MEANING – semantic processing, languaging, narrative, metaphor, etc.
How we speak about our brain functions
Think, for a moment, about the way our language reflects this “ancient wisdom”:
Language of the Head Brain (the home of cognitive perception, making meaning and thinking things through)
‘I have got to think this through’
‘I don’t understand’
‘How I see it is’
‘I can’t get it out of my head’
The language of the Heart Brain (the home of emotions, values and relating to others)
‘My heart is not in this’
‘She wears her heart on her sleeve’
‘I was heartbroken’
The language of the Gut-Brain (the home of self-preservation, identity, and motivation)
‘Trust your gut’
‘I have got butterflies in my stomach’
‘I haven’t got the guts to do it’
So what’s missing?
So, when we are lacking motivation – what’s missing? Typically, what’s missing is “movement”, which lies within our gut. You lack “the guts” to move forward consistently. Many times, we are driven by our passion and our desires, but our heart can be frivolous and when the going gets tough, the heart gives up easily. The gut, on the other hand, holds our “long game”.
But, your gut also has to be convinced that this option offers the most safety and security. It will accept a short-term risk for a long-term gain – but part of your gut’s role is “self-preservation”. So, when your heart gets all excited about doing something new and is passionate about making a change in your life – taking you outside of your comfort zone – your gut is probably the one that’s saying “I need safety”.
We will not be moving forward on this project until I am convinced that this is safe.
When was the last time you had a conversation with your gut? Specifically took a moment to sit in silence and listen to your gut? To digest the deep knowing and wisdom that is held there?
Does your head brain take the time (because the gut takes time to digest as well as to communicate) to actually listen to what the gut has to say? Can you calm the monkey mind for long enough to give your gut a voice?
Leading from the heart
For us to feel fulfilled and satisfied, however, our heart needs to be completely involved – it’s no good to just not listen to our feelings & simply wait on our gut! Because our gut will always choose safety over fun or passion! Your gut may not trust your heart – because your heart never takes the time to listen to caution.
At the same time, if we are all logical and analytical – others may ask “where’s your heart?”. In the same way, we can make ourselves miserable if we only pay attention to our thoughts, ignoring our feelings because we don’t want to be seen as soft or wearing our hearts on our sleeves! Are your thoughts simply running wild on you? Or perhaps your inner critic just won’t even take a breath and be quiet for long enough for you to sit in the quiet silence to listen.
When we lead from the heart, life is sweeter!
The difficulty lies in leading from the heart,
while listening to the logic and analysis from your head
and following your gut instinct.
Communication between our brains
Most of us suffer from the overwhelm of thoughts and/or feelings. Our head floods us with thoughts, fears & criticism. Our heart floods our thinking with emotions. And our gut stubbornly digs its heels in and refuses to budge!
How do you move past this impasse?
When you begin to understand how each brain works – the language it uses, the time & space that it works best in, the trust it requires in order to speak up and be heard by the other intelligence centers… THEN you can start to make experience the highest expression of each intelligence center.
There’s no point in asking your heart to be rational. That’s not its job!
Don’t ask your gut to analyse a problem and brainstorm solutions – that’s the head’s role!
But if you would just take a moment, daily, to listen to the collective wisdom… of establishing a space where each intelligence center got to have its say… and asked each other intelligence center to listen… you might be amazed at the new solutions – better solutions – highest expressions of wisdom, that you might come up with.
It takes patience and practice to achieve this – a change of habits and way of “thinking”. You have to “rethink” your entire decision-making process – but the long-term benefits? Immeasurable.
How different would your life be if you were sure with each decision you took that you had considered all factors that for YOU were important – compassion & connection with others (your self-care as well as caring for others), your most creative options & solutions, and that this was really the best choice for YOU?
Wouldn’t this be worth learning to do things differently?