Monday, 29 February 2016

Vol #1, Col #16: Out of Your Head and Into Your Heart…And/or Gut

Col16_TwoBrainsA couple of years ago I underwent a series of events that can only be accurately equated to how Neo must have felt in The Matrix upon taking the red pill. Essentially, I had to come to grips with the fact that EVERYTHING I thought was my reality was in actuality a fa├žade. Just how deep the proverbial rabbit hole went, I will never know. But what I did discover about love, hate and everything in between left me forever changed.

Because I knew how detrimental it would be to my own sanity to keep all of the conflicting emotions I was experiencing bottled up, I did what I felt was the only viable option: I put pen to paper and wrote an autobiographical manuscript.

Seeking comfort and validation, I shared my tale with select close friends and a couple of my professors whom I greatly admired. Though my intention for doing so did NOT at all stem from a desire for praise, I couldn’t help but feel confused and disappointed when one of said individuals responded back with a list of criticisms that entirely focussed around my “literary license”, rather than my act of catharsis. To put it plainly, he missed the point.

As my head and heart were equally a mess, the manuscript took on a “stream of consciousness” vibe and admittedly, syntax was not at the forefront in terms of the force driving me to delve into the details. Though this individual remains an intellectual I respect, this whole circumstance got me contemplating about different facets of intelligence (IQ, EQ, commonsense, instinctual, survivalist etc.) and how a key to interpersonal success along with psychological maturity is knowing when it’s appropriate to apply each type.

What I’m trying to get at is this: because humans consider themselves the species holding the privileged place at the top of the food chain, we tend to almost exclusively encourage thinking with one’s brain, rather than feeling with one’s heart and/or listening to one’s primitive instincts. In business and school, obviously this strategy makes sense and proves effective. HOWEVER, when it comes to one’s personal life, platonic or romantic, there couldn’t possibly be worse advice!

In fact, groundbreaking findings based on five decades of study recently reported in the consumer periodical, Psychology Today, indicated that there’s really something to be said about that premonition-like sinking feeling we often get in the pits of our stomachs before assimilating bad news or engaging in activities we know we’ll ultimately regret. And no, it isn’t simply indigestion!

Michael Gershon, professor and chair of pathology and cell biology at Columbia, has found support for his theory that the stomach has a second “brain” of its own, known technically as the enteric nervous system (ENS, for short), capable of sending signals that affect “feelings of sadness or stress [and] influence memory, learning, and decision making,” independent of the controls in our cerebral cortex.

Considering that creatures “low on the evolutionary totem pole”, such as worms, are exclusively equipped with a single nervous system, similar in structure to our ENS, for all thinking, communicative and sensory activities, it isn’t that much of a stretch to buy into the notion that the complexity of the human brain “actually started out in the gut” (Emeran Mayer, director of the UCLA Center for Neurovisceral Sciences and Women’s Health as well as of the UCLA Center for Neurobiology of Stress). Even more fascinating is the discovery that experimenting with our naturally occurring “gut flora” can aid in alleviating major mood
disorders including depression!

With all of this said however, there remains an important caveat: that is, knowing WHEN to use WHICH brain(s) and/or form(s) of intelligence; something I’ve already alluded to. Despite his impressive dedication to the subject, Gershon is firm in the conviction that electing to “listen” to one brain over the other is not a cut/dry choice. While the stomach “brain” may add “exclamation points” to assist you in your decision making, it does not have the capability of “reasoning” independently. In his own words, “Better to use that gut feeling to review the situation with the first brain.”

To bring everything full circle, let us return momentarily to my opening story. What made the individual in question’s response to my uncensored outpouring of emotions so offensive was its analytical, fact-based medical-like diagnosis of “problems”. He was so much “in his head” that he couldn’t see past his own “perception” of how autobiographical pieces “ought” to be written. In other words, he failed to “feel” and allow the story to get “into his heart”…and perhaps his gut! As a consequence, he overlooked the most crucial element of all: real life – mine, in particular.

It goes without saying that said topic is messy, complicated and often doesn’t make sense. Ah, but there in lies the rub: is it nonsensical from a cerebral brain, heart brain or gut brain perspective? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.