The latest science suggests that we have 3 brains: a brain in our head, a brain in our heart, and a brain in our belly! We all know the pithy sayings about following our guts or trusting our hearts, but it turns out they actually have scientific validity. It’s too bad we’re often so stuck in our regular brain (especially the left side!) that we can be totally tuned out of what our other brains are telling us. Wouldn’t it be great if we could make regular use of all three? 🙂
Often people say their barometer for great art is whether it makes them feel something.
Except most of us don’t let it be that simple. I’ll never forget the first time I went to an art museum with my visual artist husband. What an education! I never liked going to galleries much as I always thought you were supposed to linger over every piece, humming and hawing over every detail and trying to make sense of it. I’d come out 4 hours later exhausted and ready for a nap! My hubby however whipped through the whole museum in less than an hour! He’d look at a piece and if it didn’t immediately speak to him on some emotional level he would move on. Wow! It was so liberating. After that I felt permission to sit with what spoke to me and leave the rest. Now I love the experience of walking through a museum for a short burst of inspiration.
So what about these 3 brains?
It turns out that our “belly brain” (also known as the ENS or enteric nervous system) is “a rich and complicated network of neurons and neurochemicals that sense and control events in other parts of the body, including the brain.” The most important discovery is that there is more information traveling from the gut to the head than vice versa. It’s also designed to be a barometer of our emotional states and known as the “hara” or the seat of higher wisdom in Japanese culture.
Then of course there’s the “heart-brain”, or “intrinsic cardiac nervous system. An intricate network of complex ganglia, neurotransmitters, proteins and support cells, the same as those of the brain in the head. The heart-brain’s neural circuitry enables it to act independently of the cranial brain to learn, remember, make decisions and even feel and sense.”
Our body is telling our brains what to do, not the other way around.
Well, thank goodness science is validating what we always knew instinctually. We CAN trust our guts and hearts, maybe even more so than our heads! And psychologists are applying this information too. Somatic therapy is simply the art of feeling things in the body again. Which is ironic because we clearly wouldn’t need such a therapy if we didn’t spend so much time in our damn heads! (specifically the left side, did I mention that already? ;))
This doesn’t mean we should never engage with things that challenge us on a mental level. On the contrary, I do think it’s wise to throw on some death metal once in a while, or go to a Trump convention, or see a fringe theatre piece you know will challenge your assumptions. But following our guts and hearts can also be a way to filter out the hordes of media that doesn’t speak to your inner muse. It doesn’t always have to result in lovey-dovey feelings either. The trick is simply to pay attention to whatever the information is, positive or negative. A curious, inquisitive attitude is key.
Our bodies are constantly giving us so much information and so many cues.
In its most basic form, if you want to practice Somatics, all you need to do is focus your attention on a part of your body, like your heart or your belly. Sit with it for a minute and see what your feel there. Does it feel like a tight mass? Constrained? Relaxed? Do you feel butterflies? Does it feel like a knot? Heavy? Warm? Cool? Upside-down? Sick?
Especially if you put yourself in front of a piece of art, or put some headphones with music on, there’s an immediate emotional response from your body. And that can give you a really good cue about whether you’re engaged with the art in a positive way, or whether you’re appreciating it on a more logical and mental level.
Like everything else, listening to our belly and heart brains takes practice.
Bill Evans once said… and I must paraphrase because I can’t find the actual quote… but here’s the essence: he would rather play for a non-musician than a professional because they could only rely on their feelings to tell them if they liked the music or not. They didn’t have the vernacular to start analyzing things and breaking it all apart.
But I want to feel this as a creator too. I want to be tuned in to my gut and heart responses even though I do know all the theory. I mean, who wants to live in analytic mode all the time? But like all things worth doing in life (especially in our noisy analytics-heavy world), getting tuned in to your heart and gut is a PRACTICE.
Try it out for yourself!
So the next time you take something in: art, music, media, literature, the morning news, a conversation with a friend, a phone call, a work email, take a minute to ask yourself: “How does this make me feel? In my heart? In my belly?” We’ve all heard how much untapped power lies in the brain, but perhaps the experts meant other brains that we are still barely even aware of, let alone know how to use.