Psychodynamic Body; Or, the Three Centers of Intelligence (Part I)
The human being is more than a brain. It is a heart & a body, too. This is a three part essay about the connection between head, heart, and gut. Part I: The gut/body center.
These past few days, I’ve become quite curious about the psychodynamics of the human body, or the psychology of embodiment. Curiosity birthed inquiry, inquiry bloomed into investigation, and here I am, attempting to sort through the data which my investigation turned up.
It should be said that I am drawing on several sources for this information—it does not feel original to me or my work, but instead is comprised of various threads I have encountered and learned to weave with along the way. Most notably, the work of Gabrielle Roth, the Enneagram, depth psychology, and various religious or mystical traditions. I do not take credit for being the source of this information in its original, only a synthesizer.
Because this essay has taken on a life of its own and grown beyond what I can reasonably expect any of you to read in one sitting, I am going to send it out in three parts. Much of this information will feel like a repeat of what happened in this essay, however I hope it still manages sheds some light on new connections or perspectives. Parts two and three will happen over the course of the next week.
Many psychodynamic and spiritual traditions employ the use of polarity to uncover deeper truths about the human condition. Darkness/light, connection/autonomy, introverted/extroverted, masculine/feminine, rational/feeling, etc. And while I do not negate the utter truth of these designations, this essay is an exploration of something which could be equally true; namely, the tripartite psychospiritual human condition.
That is, that the human contains “three centers” of intelligence—head, heart, and gut—as opposed to one, the mind, wherein all our machinations about duality play out. For the sake of argument, I’m going to hold this idea as truth: an individual contains an intelligence of body, or gut, an intelligence of heart, and an intelligence of head, or mind. Alignment in one’s life, perhaps, flows from a participatory cooperation between all three of these centers. But, as any human knows, most days, what the mind wants is not what the heart wants, and the heart might be very far away from tapping into the body’s needs. Most days, one lives as three separate centers, each with their own gravitational pull, and it’s enough to successfully meet the needs of one, let alone all. Maybe this is part of the reason people favor their thinking mind—it’s needs are easiest to meet.
Whatever the reason, for the purposes of this essay, let us hold as truth that the human is thrice-gifted with brilliance: once in body, once in heart, and once in mind. Let us also hold that balance, or integration, of these three centers is the “goal” of one’s relationship to themself. (Scare quotes because I believe goal-oriented personal development is toxic as it removes one from the ability to be with what is.)
With those parameters established, lets us now explore these three centers. To do this, I will be mostly speaking from my own experience of moving and breathing through the teachings of Gabrielle Roth, however I also draw from books and psychological theory, so as to ground my subjective truth in something more concrete.
One, Two, Three
In the beginning is One. This is the undifferentiated uroboric cosmic consciousness of the infant in the womb, the untamed and untapped chaos of nature and her laws which operate for the sole purpose of the continuation of life no matter its form, and the singular experience of everything an individual ever lives through is lived through one body. One is mother is nature is body.
After one comes two, or, what happens when the subject-object-as-one experience of infancy cleaves into a true subject-object experience, and the toddler, no longer an infant, perceives itself in relationship to other for the first time. For the infant, mother will always be an extension of self (as for the mother with her child), and so, two introduces father. Father is the first friend, in this sense, and so Two brings the world of relating, with all of its rules of engagement and pesky parameters. In One, there are no rules, because there is no need; in Two, one needs to know how to relate, and with whom. Two also brings the world of creation, for solipsism needs not create, as—again—there is no need. Creation is born of need, and need of twoness. With creation comes order, and the ordering of nature into society. Two is father is society is heart (relating).
Three, naturally, comes next, but “next” implies an evolution that I believe is more a trick of the eye than a reality. In any case, three comes after two, which means that after an individual has learned the purview of the heart—the subject-object exchange mediated by the go-between called relationship—then he or she can build their knowledge of themself, others, and all forms by expanding their mind. For the purposes of this essay, I am not intending mind to mean the rational, cognitive functions of the neocortex, but the limitless field of imagination wherein all that is required for something to exist is a vision of it. This is the place where ideas come from and where insight occurs.
One solidifies the self, Two schools us about the self’s relationship to other, and I propose that in three, we learn to relate to that mysterious light-body often referred to as god. To be clear, I am not asserting that mind = god. I am simply saying that it is through flashes of insight, Big Ideas or Big Dreams, and out of the blue thoughts that we are connected to the Wholly Other which moves through all forms; that we are connected to god. The mind is the center of intelligence most suited to the truth-as-the-light which is the divine revealed. Three is communication with god is consciousness is mind.
Body, Mother, Unity
The Oneness of human experience can be most apparently encountered through the seeming totality of the human body. Any person you think of has but one body. And if you take a moment to feel your own body, there’s a vague sense of totality which runs throughout. The body is a single unit(y).
Similarly, one human life is a single unit—with the advent of the body comes the advent of death. To deny the body is, at least in small part, to avoid the reality of one’s own death, and the singularity of what this one body, and one life, might contain. One life, one body—that’s all there is to work with. From there, anything goes. That is, until we come to the Two of the heart, the father, and everyone else. But for now: singular life, singular embodied unit(y).
The body is home to all of the things which make the human more appropriately called animal, and thus it is home to our human nature, animals being closer to nature than our rationalizing selves. Lusts, hungers, bursts of energy, sweaty exertion, play and real fighting, sleepiness, and fear are all profoundly embodied experiences. Indeed, they are so profoundly embodied, I daresay they pertain exclusively to the body: they are in and of the body solely. The body is also home to the sensual experience of say, tasting salt, smelling sweat, hearing another’s breath or beating heart, and feeling warmth. The body is where one most reliably experiences self-trust (or the lack there of), as when stumbling and catching oneself before falling, following one’s nose or going with one’s gut or following intuition, and knowing the truth of one’s material existence. The body is home to proof of one’s realness. The Corpus Hermeticum, sacred text of the Hermetic traditions, of which Gnosticism is one, writes that from the dark root of the material frame of reality “came the moist nature. From this, the body in the sense world was composed,” and so the body is comprised most immediately of nature, but is also made of the same material as material reality. Body is proof of life. Mother is also proof of life, and so body and mother rhyme, psychologically speaking.
The midpoint of the body—genitals, pelvis, and gut—catalyzes most, if not all, of our embodied impulses, and thus the gut (etc.) is the center of intelligence most keyed into instinct. The animal is nothing if not instinctual, after all, and so the body, being most deeply tied to the human animal nature, is the center of intelligence related to instinct. Human beings run into problems when instincts have been so wholly repressed as to be denied, and so start to come out sideways in the form of compulsions, rages, or illness. The reverse is also true: an individual who connects into their instincts harnesses a great, innate power and experiences an unshakeable trust in life.
Another area we see the instinctual nature of the body play out is in the relationship between infant and mother (body and mother rhyme, after all), who, despite no previous foreknowledge of one another, immediately attune to the rhythms, needs, and nonverbal communications of the other. These are instinctual behaviors. The spider needs not create an explicit memory for weaving its web, just as the baby needs not be taught to suckle or clutch objects which graze its palm. The human animal body simply knows. It knows how to breath, digest, and pump blood. It knows how to become alert when fearful, sob when sad, stomp when angry, and giggle when joyful. The human animal does these things quite naturally, as is evident in small children. The body knows to eat when hungry, drink when thirsty, move when chilly, and pause when dizzy. Diligent attention to the body is synonymous with diligent attention to one’s instincts.
Thus, to be rooted in the body as a center of intelligence—which, for conceptual ease, is called the “gut”—is to be tapped into and rooted in one’s instincts. This becomes tricky because, as previously outlined, in order to develop socially, cognitively, and spiritually, human beings are expected, even required, to repress many of their animal instincts. To be human is to be both social and an animal, the latter often relegated to the darkness in favor of the former. And while successful socialization surely leads to a life of outward accomplishment, repression of too many instincts for too long will just as surely lead to a life of inner scarcity. That, however, does not mean society is to be demonized. Evolution out of the world of the body, the mother, and the chthonic chaos of nature from whence we came is just as natural as anything, and also positively necessary.
We can see this mirrored quite nicely in psychosocial development; namely, that after some time in “mother’s world,” the child begins to feel curious about what daddy is up to, and so starts to venture out of the solipsistic sphere of subject-object-as-one which is infancy into the real world, full of others. In this world, it is not enough to simply wail when hungry, one must say please, and then thank you when satisfied. And thusly, the human grows out of their gut center, into the heart, and learns to take relational shapes.
The trickiness then, or inconvenience, of the gut-center, is that we must return to it. If, as we develop, life necessitates a divorce from gut, from body, and from instinct (which it does), then in order to develop our embodied intelligence as adults, we must consciously choose to do so. While instincts may be innate, and thus the gut-centered intelligence never quite leaves us, it is entirely possible to become so well-adapted to society as to disconnect almost entirely from one’s gut-center, thus making it appear as if the intelligence has vanished. Personally, I hypothesize that many of our modern medical problems could be cured by encouraging this sort of return to embodied intelligence, as the body does not instinctually reach for illness unless something has gone terribly, terribly wrong. Illness is the last instinct a body wants to actualize. By the same token, I hypothesize that quite a few mental health problems—in particular anxiety, depression, and substance abuse—could be greatly helped through an education in how to de-rationalize one’s worldview and reconnect with the wildness of one’s instinctual self.
But, I digress.
Erich Neumann and Camille Paglia, two thinkers I often reference and of whom I could not think more highly, both work linguistical wonders in their respective descriptions of how an individual node of consciousness develops out of the chthonic miasma of nature. Without a sense of one’s individuality—that is, without the need to differentiate oneself from others as a result of self-(& therefore other-)consciousness—everything remains amorphous, liable to possession by any and all natural urges which might bubble up from the depths. That is, everything remains unified, operating as a mass, a whole unit, sans distinction or differentiation.
Lack of individual self-knowledge leads to group-think—mass-mindedness, as Jung would call it—or, in other words, a zombie apocalypse of unconscious sheep. Both Neumann and Paglia name that it is the masculine within a singular individual, the father, which catalyzes the sort of differentiation in a person which ultimately results in authentic individuality. It is the impulse toward self-mastery which inspires one to leave the nest, go against their particular unit, or confront the unconsciousness within themselves. Neumann and Paglia also maintain that this is the same impulse which creates societies, as society is only created in the face of the chaos of nature. As a dull, pragmatic example: without thunder storms, there would be no need for buildings, and so it is our attempt to order the chaos of nature which inspires the building of structures. Structures turn into communities, communities into societies, and once we have societies, we have rules of engagement between members of said society.
Which brings us to the heart-center, the father, and the birth of duality.
In other words, a subject matter for Part II of this essay; one for another day.
Deep thanks for your readership. Stay tuned for heart & head, forthcoming.
Madly, as always,