Harnessing the Intelligence of your Body as Brain
Coaching for Emergent Wisdom
By Cheryl Cruttenden, Embodied Presence Facilitator
Be honest – are you one of those people who has difficulty making decisions? Or sticking to them, then actually taking action so that things begin to happen?
Interesting, isn’t it, that horses or other animals don't have this problem.
When you struggle with a decision, ways to improve your life, or how to be with your horses, do you notice how everyone around you has an opinion about it, too?
And, so often, well-meaning advisors give conflicting advice like:
“For goodness sake, use your head – just make a list of all the pros and cons, add them up and make a choice.”
“Follow your heart, it knows!”
“Just listen to your gut, it’s always right.”
So which do you listen to? How do you know which option is right for you? Oftentimes, you end up with so much information, you feel overwhelmed: so many great ideas, so many alternatives to choose from, and so many variable outcomes!
It’s no wonder you feel stuck, unable to make a decision, and therefore unable to take action. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
This is where I used to be and – I know – it’s not fun. In my work I’ve discovered that this is one of the main challenges people and organisations face.
The good news is that bringing greater clarity and wisdom to your life isn’t just a fantasy – it CAN happen.
So which center of intelligence should you listen to? Head, heart or gut?
The best answer is ALL of them!
We speak of each center individually for ease of description when learning about the core competencies of each (i.e., what each center does best). But in reality your intelligence is fully embodied, integrated, and distributed throughout the whole body. It impacts you and the decisions you make every day, whether you’re aware of it or not.
The Body-Mind Disconnect
I blame much of modern day issues on the body-mind split that began around 2,500 years ago. Over the centuries, society has elevated and focused on head-based rational cognition over the deeper heart-gut body-based connected and intuitive ways of knowing. This disconnect – and the purely head-based way of living and decision-making – has created many of the modern social and global issues that nations now struggle with. I believe that we couldn’t and wouldn’t be doing the things we do to other people, animals, or the environment if we retained a sense of connectedness with all. This connectedness begins with oneself.
We have a distributed body-based intelligence and, in essence, it’s been proven that we have 3 brains – or 3 centers of intelligence – head, heart, and hara (gut).
The intuitive harnessing of all three of these neural networks is embodied in practically all wisdom teachings, including ancient cultures. Chinese Taoist philosophy refers to three energy centers known as the Three Tan Tiens (the Upper, Middle, and Lower Tan Tiens located in the head, heart, and lower abdomen, respectively). I first learnt about the Taoist concept and connecting to these over 30 years ago, when I began to practice and teach Tai Chi. The Enneagram also explicitly identifies the head, heart, and gut as distinct but connected body-based centers of intelligence.
Connecting the Head, Heart, and Hara (Gut)
To date, each center has largely been studied in isolation. Neuroscience has been studying the head brain for years, HeartMath Institute has done much to raise awareness of the cardiac brain, while gastroenterologists have been studying the gut. Published research has proven the increasing links between gut health and mental health.
In my program, I bring all this together through a roadmap process. First, it’s about coming into a state of greater coherence and nervous system balance, so that you can begin to communicate with all the body brains. Then, it’s about creating congruence and, ultimately, aligning and integrating all intelligences, allowing you to work from an aligned place of Highest Expression of each center and greater wisdom.
In essence, the aim is to help you upgrade how you are currently ‘doing and being in your world.’ Whether you do this for your own personal development to evolve ways of being and doing with self and others, or you integrate it into how you are with your horse, or you wish to deepen your knowledge as a body worker, coach, or facilitator when working with others, it is all about coaching to emergence.
What is Coaching to Emergence?
If you are struggling with a challenge, issue, or problem, or are coaching a client through one, you can’t solve it by thinking and being the same way that you were when it arose.
The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” Albert Einstein
As Einstein so clearly pointed out, you have to change your level of thinking. You actually need a different way of viewing the issue and processing it in order to solve your problem. Indeed, you need this to even begin to form and articulate a wiser outcome that will help overcome or dissolve the problem all together.
From modelling work on multiple brain integration and alignment, it has been found that the majority of human and organisational issues arise from how the multiple brains are used. To start, it is important to understand whether there is any communication with any or all of them, the order in which they use them, and then if there are any neural integrative blocks to accessing one or more of the centers. Overall, we’ve found that problems in people’s lives are largely due to a lack of integration of the three centers, or an inappropriate use or sequence in how the neural networks are used to process the issue and generate the solution.
Horse as Embodied Being
The coaching process takes you up the roadmap through several phases and horses can make an important contribution to the process.
This is the horse’s natural state of body brain and nervous system balance, along with enhanced awareness and attunement. With their huge hearts and the “heart-field” effect that arises, horses help humans reach greater coherence through breathwork and entrainment.
Horses, with their smaller pre frontal cortex, spend less time thinking and more time feeling, so they can teach you how to feel more, not just how to think better. They use their huge heart, gut, and body as a social and emotional sensing device, to intuit and gather information from both their internal and external environment. The benefit of partnering with a horse is that they bring people deeply into their bodies so that they can begin or enhance body brain based communication. Horses model how to slow down, be present, and feel the body in fine detail – to notice the nuance of sensations, movement, and pressure that underlies somatic awareness.
When in their natural healthy state, horses are fully embodied, aligned, and integrated beings. They teach that your body is a reflection of your mind. Your body is the somatic (internal perception and experience) self, and it is through the body that your ways of knowing, feeling, being, and doing in the world reveals itself to you.
Horses help with this phase because they are naturally congruent and authentic, they show how they feel. There is a match between their inner and outer feelings, intentions, and actions and because of this, horses reveal to us through their actions any mismatch on our part. Any confused, contradictory, repressed, or unexpressed emotions or imbalances, anything hidden, is brought into awareness.
This deep connection shows up markedly when mounted – any disruption in your body is revealed through disruption in the horse’s body and vice versa. For deep and meaningful connection with the horse, you need to feel more, rather than think more.
As horses demonstrate so beautifully, it is about the quality of how you engage with the external world – your relationships, situations and conditions, your activities and your result - your life. They teach you how to step out of the habit of sole focus on the external world and how to hold a dual awareness - your inner awareness in deep communication with the body, in knowing and feeling, while also holding the outer sense of awareness (a challenge for many).
Horses express all of who they are. This is about the quality of how neural networks serve to express the ever evolving authentic self. You, like Horse, are an emergent fully conscious being. Harnessing the innate intelligences within you is vital for the Highest Expressions of your authentic self. Living from this place is fully experiencing and expressing yourself in your body in a full feeling and conscious way, as horses do.
Wisdom is the place from which you can take control of your life and live to fulfill your greatest dreams and heartfelt desires. Many ancient spiritual beliefs hold wisdom to be a melding of creativity, compassion and courage (these are the Highest Expression of head, heart and gut respectively).
Wisdom also is not focused solely on serving one’s self and as Gregory Bateson wrote;
Knowledge comes from but a single perspective; wisdom comes from multiple perspectives.
Thus there is no inherent wisdom in only one point of reference and this is why we draw on the wisdom of the body’s multiple intelligences. In addition, true wisdom must be enacted upon, not just thought about.
All wisdom traditions teach that the heart leads and this is where we begin.
Heart to heart communication with horse helps us define our values, passion and purpose to be consciously heart-full in relationship with self, others, horse, all beings and the natural world. Without heart in life and horsemanship, it is a disembodied process. Through heart connection, you enhance your sensitivity in connection with the body and therefore can enhance responsiveness to self and horse – to become at one with the horse through the heart – to truly love self and horse and enact real and lasting change.
Living at Highest Expression and Wisdoming thus requires being fully embodied and horses are masters of this. Learning about and from horses, their nature, their ways of moving, being, sensing and perceiving helps to open us up to our former ‘wilder (natural) selves’. This deeper, wilder place that we inhabit when we listen to and connect with our sensory and somatic experiences is a place we can call home.
I leave you with and invite you to express and live by this mantra each morning:
“How can I live today in congruence and alignment, while coming from the Highest Expression of compassion, creativity and courage?”
Cheryl grew up with horses and has a background in outdoor experiential learning and education. She is certified and trained in various approaches to Equine Facilitated Learning including EAGALA. She is a Gawler trained Mindfulness Meditation teacher, multiple Brain Integration Techniques Coach & Trainer, a Values Based Executive Life Coach, Archetype Coach, and Tai Chi practitioner of over 30 years. She founded Windhorse Wisdom in Victoria, Australia.