We spend so much time in our heads, thinking about this or that, and for good reason: there's a lot to think about all the time.
In fact, if you stop to think about it, there are many kinds of thinking we can do: we think to hypothesize, to problem solve, to assess pros & cons; we think for working out calculations, or strategies, or timelines needed for getting stuff done; we also think to create, to muse, or just for fun; and we even think for seemingly no reason at all, to name just a few of our thinking ways.
These kinds of ‘thinking’ are examples of a category called Active Thinking, which is thinking that we choose to do.
Automatic Thoughts is a different category, one for the kinds of thoughts that spark up all on their own. Thoughts in this category, like memory, are linked to our past. And while they can be positive, neutral, or negative, it's worth highlighting that the negative ones often interrupt our wellbeing. [1: read]
Now, with all the above in mind, I'm sure you will agree, your head can be a very busy place to be!
And yet, there's another way to be, and to learn, in this world, using something other than thought.
This other way arises from lower down in our body, especially from the middle of our chest, which is why I like to call it Heart Centeredness.
Paying attention to what occurs down there brings something more than thoughts to mind. [2: read]
Which reminds me to ask, did you know your Mind isn't just the thoughts in your head? [3: read]
Heart Centeredness is not a spiritual idea, nor an Eastern philosophy—though these wisdoms have a lot to say about this part of our Being—rather, it's our actual physical body, which is the only place where real experiencing occurs.
Heart Centeredness, like active thinking, can be a choiceful way to be, and yet like automatic thoughts, it just occurs on its own. But wait, how can it be both? The only way to answer that question, is to use the powers of your awareness, which includes using your 6th sense to know this is so.
Your first 5 senses connect you to the outside world. The 6th sense I mean to point you towards, is the one that draws your attention to what's occurring inside of you. And, what's occuring in there is only knowable due to the wisdom of your vital bodily cues. [4: read]
Let's pause right here for a moment and pay attention to that particular word, ‘Vital’, as I want you to have it fresh in mind before continuing on below:
Vital | vahyt-l | Adjective
1. of or relating to life
2. necessary to life
3. affecting the existence, well-being, truth, etc., of something
Another word to pause for and consider is this: when speaking of wisdom, we are not speaking of all the ways we can think about stuff, but rather about the core of what Heart Centeredness brings.
Would you like to explore your wisdom? If so, try this experiment:
Think of a problem you’ve solved, something truly personal, but keep it just in your head for a bit. Then, once that's cooked-up up there, allow your heart to hear what's in your head, and then observe what stirs in there.
Did anything vital occur? If nothing did, first be sure that this is truly a personal subject for you, and start again; but if something does stir, listen for a bit without allowing any more ‘thinking' to interfere.
At this point, I’m hoping you’ve awaken your observation skill, by leaving any analyzing or interpreting, even understanding, to one side.
To answer the question if something stirred requires no thoughts or words for right now, but instead you're using your awareness of what your 6th sense says has stirred. Got it? [5: read]
Okay, now here's a question: did you notice if there's any agreement between your heart and your head? Wonderful if you can, and even better if there is, but how do you know, and what do you do when this isn't so?
It's a sticky proposition when what sounds correct in thought resonates differently in your heart, or even further down your body, meaning directly in your gut.
Listening to your thoughts and your heart and your gut as a whole, is to coordinate the different parts of your mind, rather than relying just on thinking—or even just your gut, too—to conclude what it is you clearly know.
But here’s the rub: what stirs below your thoughts can be very pleasant or very unpleasant, or even neutral, as well, and to grasp the value of each of these qualities depends on how well you accept what occurs in the vital parts of you.
Vital cues come in so many ways: they arise as a softening release, a sudden flinch, a rising pitch of your voice, an electric tingle, a cooling shiver, a pounding thump, or in ways that has you say "that just warms my heart", to name just a few.
And whether the cues come as a little or a lot, pleasant or not, they all mean to grab your attention, as they are asking for you to respond. And how well you do with that has a lot to do with how your life unfolds. [6: read]
It may be obvious by now, but it's worth highlighting the point, that a big difference between what happens in ‘thought’ from the rest of what arises in your mind is this: thoughts don't have sensation cues of their own. In fact, thoughts can roll along without any additional cues that they do. But also, they can stream like a whitewater river, disrupting your body and mind in all sorts of ways, or settle down into a reflecting pond, quieting your mood in just the same way.
The main point here, is that thoughts rely on your body's vital signaling ways to let you know much more than your thoughts will ever do.
And so, knowing what happens below your chin is a truly important—um, vital—thing to do. [7: read]
And yet, people all over the world can develop a diminished awareness to their own Heart Centeredness, which can explain a lot about our world.
And while this fact is true, even when a person’s vital cues are outside of their awareness, the cues are never the less continuing to stir, and when what stirs is not responded to, an inner confusion and tension can build and build and eventually become a very strong life altering force to endure. [8: read]
I wonder if this last point stirred some thoughts in your head? Still with me?
Step one: Find a place of comfort, an actual place in your world, where you can experience what all of your 6 senses do for you.
When you're settled in this place, knowing that you are safe, begin by tuning your awareness to your 6th sense, by noticing some sensations on the surface of your skin. [9: read]
After observing that for a bit, begin to go deeper into your body layers, sensing for your muscles at first, then your organs and bones, and even the spaces in between. To do this, visualizing what you know about your anatomy can help, being sure to turn your awareness towards the vital sensations after you do.
Or, you can begin by focusing your attention on breathing, first noticing as air enters your nostrils on its way to fill the chambers of your lungs—after a bit of that, notice the air as it glides down your throat and into your chest, adding in awareness of how your belly makes space by sliding down and away. And be sure to notice the reverse on each exhale, as well.
Or, if that's a lot to observe for right now, simply just breath in your familiar way, only choosing to add awareness that you're breathing as you do, trusting that your breathing already knows what to do. No need to force or change it in any way.
If you stay focused for long enough, you will come to notice that your body's breathing has its own rhythm, that it can continue on its own, which of course is the normal course of things, only now you're paying attention that this is so.
As you continue to notice that breathing automatically occurs, you will have opened a doorway to many other wise things, which includes having the awareness of what automatically occurs.
Step Two: Having used your 6th sense to find your insides, now let's shift gears to notice what your 5 senses brings into you, by moving your attention towards what’s outside of you. The big effort here, is to not 'think about' what your 5 senses can do, as it's much simpler (and more vital) than that.
All you need to do is simply notice what’s outside of you, and observe as it arrives inside. As you grow familiar with this exercise, what may have begun as an effort, will turn into no effort at all, bringing you to a place where concentrated observing is what you can just choose to do. This can take practice to achieve, but the effort will lead you to change most everything.
You might even allow yourself to pretend (if it's not actually true) that what your 5 senses take in holds no history for you. The truth is, each moment is actually brand new, even when what’s out there is familiar to you, and so finding it once again right now can make it feel fresh and new.
All that enters through your 5 senses comes one moment at a time, and while a memory or a thought or a bodily cue can naturally be stirred, see if you can just accept when they do, and gently refocus your attention to receive this moment fresh and new. [10: read]
You are simply noticing with your 6th sense what your 5 senses bring into you, just as it is, just as you are, observing the wisdom of your Heart Centeredness.
Our brains have preserved from our earliest ancestors what is called a 'negativity bias' which is part of our self-preservation system. This negativity bias keeps us safe, by instantly and automatically evaluating the world from a cautious point of view, until safety or the absence of a risk of harm is determined. This system is hard wired into the oldest parts of our brain, and operates at a pace much faster than the newer reflective parts do.
Many people come to therapy with lots of thoughts in their head, but with less, if any at all, recognition of what is happening down below their chin. While this is normal, it is not the natural way of our body and mind, and is a sign that something has happened either recently or further back in time. In somatic psychotherapy we explore all of this together and work to regain what is missing when we only have access to the thoughts in our head
We have what is referred to as three brain centers, each with an intelligence of their own. There's the one we know living in our skull, and another one in our chest, and then the one in our belly, too. Heart and gut intelligence use a different vocabulary than the words which arise in your head, and so we need to listen differently to what our heart and gut have to say. For that we need to attune and listen to the nuances and syntax of sensations and body movements including our posture and breath, as these are the language of the wisdom that our body knows. Your mind combines all of these centers of intelligence, including wherever else it is that your brain/body/mind knows what it knows.
Our 5 senses (seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling) connects us to the outside world, as it enters into our interior. There's a 6th sense to use, too, which is how we know we have an interior world. The skill needed for this is to steer your awareness to all the sensations and movements and actions occurring from the surface of your skin to deep down into the very depths of our body.
Bodily knowing is deeper and more complete than knowing with only words and thoughts alone; in fact, we begin our process of learning without words our thoughts of our own, and what we learn in our earliest days is not stored in thoughts nor words. This way of knowing remains throughout our life.
We can always become the decider to do something with what is going on inside, even when what is going on inside is not always something we decided to occur—in fact, much of what goes on inside comes of its own. One category of stuff that occurs without our deciding, are the array of powerful survival reflexes that we cannot anticipate, nor guess will occur, or even accurately predict what we will do when they do! Understanding that there are parts of our body/mind that operate without our control can ease some of the shame and self-rejecting suffering that comes when such processes are misinterpreted as something 'we chose' to do of our own free will. This just isn't always so.
In fact, our brains do not have pain receptors, and so what happens in there is not something we can actually feel, but what happens in our head will enroll the rest of our body's signaling systems, which tells us when something is right or wrong for us, especially when risk of harm is involved.
My phrasing here is rather crude, and meant to draw attention to the conflicts that occur when different parts of the mind aren't in agreement, let alone in awareness! To work this through, however, needs to be done with a curious listening, beginning with self-compassion and appreciation for all that each part of us can do, as each part works to keep us safe and well.
Pointing out our need for safety is very intentional here, as different regions of your brain take over depending on the level of risk or safety we sense or feel, awaking the 'negativity-bias' discussed above in note #1.
Depending on where you are when you begin this exercise, many kinds of things can occur. There can be a general warming to the world; and there can be some sadness too, especially if it's been a long time since you’ve connected to these parts of you. Whatever occurs, it's natural and can reveal and teach you more than thinking by itself can ever do.