Psychodynamic Body; or, the Three Centers of Intelligence (Part II)

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 II: The heart center.


Before diving back in, I want to say a word about why this theory matters. It’s nice to have neat little maps, and the meaning-making, pattern-recognizing feature of the mind truly delights in systems of understanding which seem to contain intrinsic logic, an organizing principle. But more than that, this theory is because none of us can change our parentage; that is, each of us has the mother and father that we have. In lieu of attempting to change our upbringing, the blueprint for life we were shaped into, or our own well-meaning but shitty parents (maybe), I propose this theory as a means of working with one’s psyche via deep comprehension.

If an individual can have no effect on their literal mother and father (read: they can’t), I propose a process of learning to relate to their inner mother and father—their body and heart—and thus to grow themselves open to a personal version of right relationship to the All. Knowing one’s relationship to body and heart, understanding what could be that isn’t, or what is that shouldn’t be, is the first step in transforming one’s relationship to the entirety of existence. This teaching is an attempt to catalyze that kind of understanding. If one can do nothing about their actual parents, at least they can devote themselves to finding right relationship to their inner parents, metaphor-ed here as body and heart, and to studying the oft-rejected or misunderstood importance of these embodied intelligence centers. 

(As a reminder, much of my understanding of these subjects comes from my study of Gabrielle Roth’s work, however I do my best to make it my own.)

Heart, Father, Duality 

Out of One comes Two, which means out of self comes other (out of mother comes child, of of unconsciousness consciousness, out of god man, etc.). Or, more accurately, after solipsistically experiencing self for a while, others start to come into view, until the focus is sharp enough to wake one into realizing, hey! I’m not alone here! This serves the dual role of making the individual both more aware of the world, and also, paradoxically, more aware of herself. It is because of the other that there is awareness of self; the two, strangely, creates the one. Before two, one is so singularly total as to not even notice its oneness. With twoness comes literally everything, including the idea of oneness. And with everything comes the relationship of oneself to said everything, or the relationship of the singular to the dual.

Developmentally, we are now in the realm of the father, for the father is the first real subject-object relationship a human has. Mother is, for a long while, the same subject stuff as self. She is part of the singular totality—indeed, to the infant psyche, she is the singular totality, as she and the infant were, until relatively recently, a single unit (as explored in Part I of this essay). As such, mother provides little template for relating to other, as she occupies psychological territory much closer to self than other. Instead it is father, somehow close enough to be in focus but far enough away to be perceived as other, who constellates the first experience of real subject-object relating in humans.

Father is the individual’s first friend (as opposed to life-source/self-source/reason for existing like mom), and thus one’s relationship to their father, however non-existent, stilted, or loving it might be, creates the blueprint for all non-erotic relating in an individual’s life. The erotic—that is, the sensual, animal, instinctual—pertains to the body and the merging of two or more bodies into one, and so is encoded in embodied knowledge through the unifying bond between mother and child; the platonic, or non-erotic love, pertains to the heart, and is learned in the love-map passed down from dad.  

Developmentally, to move from the realm of the mother and the body to the realm of the father and the heart is to move from the primal narcissism (read: necessary narcissism) of early childhood and into the complicated web of relationship to anything and everything which is not one’s own bodymind. Failure to successfully move through this heart activation of the father-realm, the realm of relating to the world, arrests development at the level of narcissistic blending between self and other: the world and everything in it is merely a means to achieve the highest level of personal satisfaction available, a giant mother to be thanklessly exploited and fed off of. In this arrested development, there is no distinction between inner world and outer world—the individual is consumed by the false belief that their perspective is the only one, much like the infant has only a vague idea that other beings with unique wills, desires, and ethics ambulate in every direction nearby. The individual caught in the undifferentiated web of the psychological mother has never learned the lesson of the heart, of the father—to differentiate between self and other—and so cannot discern between what is their subjective experience and what is objective reality. Needless to say, this is a pivotal developmental phase, one with a disastrous fall-out if bypassed. 

Traditional rites of passage recognize this crucial transition from the world of the mother to the world of the father, which is why many of them begin by violently, without warning, ripping the novitiate from his childhood home. Typically, he is then chaotically, wildly transported into a brand new world, peopled only with men, symbolic stand-ins for the All-Father, the ruler of the next phase of psychological development (for more on this, see van Gennep’s The Rites of Passage or much of the work of Mircea Eliade). Psychologist Erik Erikson also grokked the truth of this developmental transition when he observed that throughout middle childhood, the young person is consumed with questions of initiative, right action, and relating to others; that is, they are engaged with living into the how of being themselves in relationship. For not long after a person learns that there is such a thing as relationship to other, they need to learn not only how to relate, but how to do so in a way that does not betray the self they’ve learned to be inside their own body. 

Unfortunately, once the need to live related to the world comes online in the child’s psyche, it comes hard and fast, never ceasing or abating. Leaving the enveloped container of the mother and the body, entering the world of the father and the heart, is to be constantly pummeled by an ever-present requirement to relate to one’s surroundings. This requirement can feel overwhelming, cruel, unfair, or downright maddening, which is why many, many individuals revert to being a lone-wolf, an island of singular self, a cowboy out for their own in an unrelated, borderline delusional reality. That is to say, a life of the heart, of being in relationship to things, is nothing if not painful. Because of this, people will often choose a life of nothing instead of a life of pain. Man will unconsciously choose a life of unrelatedness, which is a life of nothingness (remember—without other, there is no self), instead of suffering the pain and torment of being in constant relationship to the rest of the world. In childhood, school, clubs, and friendships become the stage on which the drama of the early lessons of the heart play out. This is perhaps a sad excuse for a rite of passage, but one it is, nonetheless.

Along with being the first friend, father is also the first authority. Mother provides protection, and so her rules are followed as long as they pertain to what keeps us safe: mother knows best. But father offers another kind of rule all together. Father’s rules are rules which one feels inspired to obey for loftier, more abstract, nobler reasons—not only the safety and security of one’s physical form—such as strength of character, discipline, and determination (if you doubt the truth of this, consider the meteoric rise in popularity of Jordan Peterson, who wrote an overnight best-seller entitled 12 Rules for Life, during the time when the world is, I would say, bereft of healthy father figures). Mother’s rules protect from the chaos of the world full of others, while father’s establish (ideally) the kind of internal order which might banish chaos all together. And while mother’s rules are followed out of deference for her and a desire for self-protection, father’s rules are followed out of inspiration. That is to say, father leads by example; or, if he can’t be an example due to his own broken heartedness (as is often the case), he employs dictatorial tactics such as force, recrimination, and punishment to instead rule as a tyrant, or else disappears into some version of spinelessness, a byproduct of living a life without heart, without courage (the etymology of courage being “with heart” in French). When the youngster sees no positive example of rulership, leadership—nothing to which their heart aspires to become—they lose the opportunity to develop en-hearted-ness, or the joy and curiosity of relating to the wide, wild, wonderful world. 

Ultimately, society, which offers citizens rules of relating in the form of morays, customs, norms, laws, etc, is the father-figure of the collective. In the healthy development of an individual, it is the courageous father’s leadership which inspires the youth to develop their own deep sense of relatedness to the world; similarly, in a healthy society, it is the integral ethics which are implicitly and explicitly written into cultural norms to which an individual aspires to adhere. And just as in the family unit wherein a father lacks the ability to lead by example and so resorts to tyrannical rule, when a society fails to inspire its citizens to live with heartfelt integrity, it must enforce its laws through barbaric, self-serving, dictatorial means. The antidote to this kind of society, the kind of society we find ourselves confronted by on a terrifying scale currently, is the same antidote as the individual who has become arrested in their narcissist lack of relatedness: unlearn the programing which says pain is to be avoided and the heart is unsafe, and then begin to curiously open to the possibility of otherness in all it’s forms. 

Confusion of Matters of the Heart

To summarize the ground we’ve covered thus far: developmentally, when the infant begins to awake from his or her self-no-other world into a world peopled and thinged by so many others, they embark on a lifelong journey of learning to relate to others. That is, they begin to exist in the world as a single unit related to a million other single units. The first person to truly engage the young human in this journey is the father, either in presence or absence or anywhere in between, the action of this phase of development is learning to courageously participate in the world of relationships even though they are painful, unjust, and unpredictable, and thus the embodied psychospiritual intelligence center is the heart. Heart is participation is relating to others is father. Relationship without heart, relationship without acknowledgement of other, is not relating, it is using. 

 It is easy to become confused here, because we often believe that matters of the heart pertain to romance and or the feminine world of emotions. However, it’s important to distinguish between erotic, which is an impulse from the instinctual center, and related, an instinct from the heart-center. It is also important to distinguish between having feelings, feeling them inside oneself, within the singularity of one’s own body, and sharing feelings, or relating one’s personal feelings to the world through the act of authentically expressing or creating. To feel one’s impulses and be receptive to one’s own inner world of sense impressions and feelings is to be embodied and employ the intelligence of the gut-center; to act on one’s impulses and relate one’s inner world to the world of others through sharing, expressing, shaping, creating, and offering is to employ the intelligence of the heart-center, the intelligence of subject-object exchange. 

The confusion between the erotic and platonic, or the inward self-reflection of embodiment and actively feeling one’s feelings versus the manner in which one relates their inner world to the world of form out here, is a product of bad math: the false equating of sex with romance, of heart-felt intimacy with physical intimacy, and the over-generalization that to have a feeling necessitates sharing it. It is very often the case that both sex and emotional expression are actually a means of satisfying the body, as the somatic load of extreme lust or extreme emotion can be intolerable, especially when one has lived dissociated from their body for a long time. This is why we have come to believe eroticism and emotional expression relate to the heart: we think having an impulse or a feeling and acting on it are the same thing. We think having a body and an inner world necessitates sharing it (or we do not distinguish between inner and outer, self and other: see paragraph on arrested development above). Self-containment, then, is a developmental lesson which relates to both mother and father, that is, to both the body and the heart. One needs to learn to tolerate the intensity of their inner world, of their somatic experience and also how to relate that personal intensity to the world, an action I am suggesting is the action of the heart-center. 

This failure to distinguish between body and heart, between having a feeling and expressing a feeling,  is what psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi refers to as “confusion of tongues,” as in when the tenderness of the “mother tongue” of familial intimacy is mistaken for erotic passion, or passion written off as simply a bonding act between family mates. The confusion of tongues could also be said to be collapsing the space between having a feeling and acting on it to such a degree that it seems as if having and acting upon are one and the same.

My own interpretation of this is that it’s as if the internal wires have been crossed. Every time a signal for philio (Greek: love of a friend; reciprocity of friendship) or agape (Greek: highest love; love of god) comes online, the heart, lacking subject-object relatedness, perceives the love as an invitation to bond, or become one with the other—the erotic impulse which eradicates the distinction between self and other, merging the two into one. Similarly, an uninitiated heart, or the unfathered psyche, merges emotion and emotional expression, re-creating the infant experience of emotion equals emoting. Collapsing the dual into the singular is the confusion of tongues, the process of crossing the wires between the body (single) and the heart (related, therefore dual).  

Naturally, the method for untangling messes such as these are the methods of prioritizing, ordering, creating boundaries, differentiating between “mine” and “yours,”, and actively participating in relating to the world. These are behaviors which one (ideally) learns in relationship to their father, or via the courageous exemplar of their father’s leadership. Consider this: discernment, boundaries, and differentiation are only necessary when more than one thing exists in a space. Thus, there can be no relating between two or more things without discernment, boundaries, and differentiation.

The path of relating, I’m proposing, is the path of the heart, and failure to discern between self and other is a failure to acknowledge other, or an unwillingness to accept the inherent pain of living life from a heartfelt place. In the absence of a healthy father figure, this kind of diligent detangling must be consciously chosen, as the blueprint for doing it de facto has not been passed down through the father’s example. This conscious choice looks like paying keen attention on one’s own heart-space, as the heart-center is the inner father in every human being. In the absence of a healthy external father, one must learn to constellate a healthy internal father; that is, one must learn the value of relating their true self to the true self of others. 

 As I just mentioned, this process of relating is a process of differentiation, for in order for there to be a healthy relationship, there needs to be a distinction between self and other. As already addressed, moving from mother to father, body to heart, or subject to object, cleaves the One into the Two. This means that the heart-space becomes a space of negotiating: there are two wills, two sets of desires, two worldview, two cups which need filling. In order for negotiations of this kind to take place, there needs be an acknowledgement of both/and but also of either/or or either/neither; that is, there needs be an acknowledgement of difference and separation, but also the relationship which is the product of such a separating. 

Discernment, something I maintain as one of the highest human faculties, is thus born in the heart, which is the father, for discernment is nothing if not the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff, or the acknowledgement of difference which leads to genuine relatedness. Discernment says this, and not that. It says go here, avoid there. Discernment is the sword which slays the dragon of the Great Mother, while boldly stating I AM THAT I AM (oh, that barbaric yawp!), even if only for a moment. And once the dragon has been slain, and the individual stands on their own two feet, whether for the length of a blink, a breath, or a lifetime, it is the heart, the inner father principle, which pumps personal responsibility into the life of the conquering hero. Without heart, all dragon slaying is in vain, as there is not enough love for the world, the other, to warrant giving oneself back to the mass from whence one came. 

This is another area wherein it is easy to get confused, as discernment could also be said to be a tool of the rational mind. And maybe it is. The argument here is that if discernment, or the act of differentiating between self and other, is employed for selfish, narcissistic (read: unrelated) purposes, it is incomplete. It is only the discernment which employs the intelligence of the heart-center, or the how of relating to the world of others, which results in one’s full participatory presence in the world. Discernment which remains one-sidedly in the rational-only becomes hyper-focused on self, with no relationship to other, and so shuts down the wisdom of the heart-center. 

As an aside, it must be said that the shadow of discernment is judgement (tyrannical father principle). When one cannot discern, they judge, casting ugliness where there is none, or shaming themselves where there needn’t be shame. Judgement is discernment’s ugly stepsister, and also a matter of the heart. As such, anywhere where judgement goes, there is the potential for discernment to develop, as the shadow can always be illuminated with the light of consciousness. The transformation occurs through choice, which is an act of consciousness, and through claiming personal responsibility for one’s circumstances without blame. 

The Generosity of an Open Heart

Which brings me to yet another layer of the heart-as-father hypothesis: generosity, or the act of giving and receiving without strings, which includes the act of generously assuming good intentions. Immediately my mind goes to the Greek diety Zeus, or Jupiter in the Roman, who, among many other things, was known for his generosity of spirit, which peeled out of him in grand belly laughs, winks (and more) at all the pretty girls, and spontaneous blessings bestowed on devout supplicants. Zeus, it could be said, understood the wisdom of the heart, that is, he understood that the meaning of life exists in playfully participating in it, in spite of its myriad shortcomings.

In Western astrology, Jupiter (Zeus) governs events such as surprise gifts, luck, good fortune, and resources; whether you put stock in astrology or not, it’s impossible to deny the archetypal significance of this designation. That is to say, there is something absolutely archetypal about the father-figure and generosity. St. Nicholas, or Santa Clause, offers another prime example. Many times, in myths and fairy tales, the story is saved by the kind old man who graciously opens the door to some kind of resolution or insight, asking nothing in return. This is the generosity of the heart. And of course, as anyone bereft of good fathering knows, the absence of this sort of trustworthy, joyful generosity is a mighty obstacle in learning to open one’s heart to others and the world. 

As with all matters of the heart, true generosity requires discernment. To give skillfully requires discernment—a true awareness of the other. To give indiscriminately is not to give, but to take, as it asks the receiver to make an effort in order to receive. Most people know what it feels like to receive an ill-considered gift: fake smiles, trips to the shop for returns, and sometimes even a few hurt feelings. Generosity is not a willy-nilly event, but an act of care and discernment, as with everything else in the heart. A true gift requires no effort on the part of the receiver, and so a true gift must be aware of who the other is; that is, it must acknowledge that there is a difference between the giver and receiver. A true gift sees the other as a separate being, full of their own tastes, preferences, joys, and sorrows. The kind of clear seeing required for generosity of this nature is the true gift of the father; a gift which, sadly—and I’ll add, perilously—many of us have never experienced. 

To see someone as they truly are, not as you desire them to be, is perhaps the highest gift one human can give another, and is certainly the mark of good fathering.

Now, if giving pertains to the heart, then so does receiving. Receptivity, then, is the other side of the generosity of the heart (that is, receptivity to the outside world; as previously addressed, receptivity to one’s inner world falls within the realm of the body, and therefore mother). One can both give and receive generously: this is the thoroughfare of the heart. To be generous in reception and in offering, both, paves a highway between two people where before there was only a footpath. A lack of receptivity is as much related to generosity as is ill-considered gifting. For the heart to be receptive—for the love-map of philio, or friendly love—there needs to be a certain inner confidence, an awareness of how oneself is distinct from any other. Doubt leads to confusion in the heart, resulting in wires getting crossed. Internal dialogues about deservingness, malintent, manipulation, or the reasons for another’s love all cloud one’s ability to simply receive.

To receive without hangups requires, yet again, the lessons of discernment learned from the father; in the absence of these, one’s ability to receive the love of others dries up, and all attempts at closeness, the generous offers of communication or attention from others, are taken for granted, else interpreted with disdain, or filtered through a lens of mistrust and paranoia. The heart which lacks the healthy teaching of the father, the heart which cannot be generous, says love is beneath me. And a heart which cannot feel love has little purpose beyond pumping blood, a purpose which runs its course much more quickly without the influx of energy from the gifts, given and received, of life. 

The Heart & the Light of Truth

Generosity of spirit such as this—heartfelt generosity, or the jolly abundance of Santa Claus—could be said to be the act of translating the light of god (perceived with the mind) into the realm of human relating. As I’ll later address, the limitless realm of imagination and the pure light of Being of the nondual are almost inhuman in their infinitude and purity.  Merely perceiving the light, or knowing god through the gnosis of direct experience does not automatically translate into a better, more fulfilling, more meaningful life. In other words, true spiritual experience does not make one better; it is only relating that experience to the world which does that. In fact, the contrary is often true—spiritual experience resulting in a worsening of one’s ability to relate—as a long list of enlightened abusers clearly shows.

I propose that it is the heart, the inner father, which translates the illuminated emptiness of the divine into something tangible, something deeply human. Without this translation, the perception of nonduality, the enlightenment of the mind, slips back into the narcissism of the no-self-no-other consciousness of infancy, or else tips into the hyper-rational perspective of no others = no meaning (nihilism). Perhaps the Mind is where the light is perceived—that is, the mind can be enlightened—and the intelligence of the heart turns that perception into a verb. The heart acts on what the mind has perceived as truth, or what the body has felt to be real. The heart-center is the central intelligence through which the light or truth is refracted through the individual out in to the world. This is the sacred heart of Christ of the Catholic faith. It is also the sefirot of Tifereth in the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. 

According to the Kabbalistic system, the Tree of Life, which contains ten sefirot, or emanations of the divine, is a depiction of the way Ein Sof (the endless light) refracts through the human psyche. Tifereth, which means glory or splendor in Hebrew, is not only located in the direct middle of the Tree of Life, but it is also considered to be the force which balances and integrates the forces of compassion and judgement (Chesed and Gevurah), or the expansion and contraction of giving and receiving. In other words, Tifereth, splendid glorious in its emanations, holds the heart space of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. And, perhaps not surprisingly, in deep alignment with everything previously stated about generosity and discernment, Tifereth pertains to how the heart-center of life itself (the Tree of Life) balances self and other in relationship. This balance is attained through the dual forces of compassion, or feeling with, and discernment, or differentiation from. 

To summarize, Tifereth, the glowing heart of the Tree of Life, is the sacred heart of Christ, which is the inner father of the bodymind, and pertains to the central intelligence of relating to the world. Tifereth beams the light of Ein Sof out into the world by balancing the two channels of heart-based knowledge: compassion and discernment. Without clear channels of the heart, there can be no right relationship, and one falls into narcissistic projections, codependent merging, or meaningless dissociation. To break the spell of an incomplete relationship to one’s heart, one must accept that to live in relationship to the world necessitates suffering—suffering is the price of entry for participation in a meaningful life. 


There is undoubtedly more which could be said about this brilliant, misunderstood, tortured aspect of the bodymind, this central intelligence of the psyche. As I fear I have already gone on too long, I will close here. In conclusion, I’ll simply add that it is the misunderstanding of the subject-object relationship—how to bring oneself fully to a relationship with something else—which leads to almost every human drama. Instead of dealing with these issues, humans often bypass them via narcissistically meeting their own needs at the detriment of all others, or disappearing in the dissociated, un-feeling, un-needy state of the rational-only mind.

Walking a path of the heart which connects one to the world is rife with every complication known to man. It is also the only way to really be here, as participation requires relationship to other which requires en-hearted-ness. I propose that if one cannot yet deal with the brokenness of their own relational field, they need to go back further in their developmental map to re-constellate the forgotten lessons of the body, the wisdom of total containment of the mother. It is through repairing one’s relationship to their own body that one learns to tolerate the discomfort of pain, separation, and loss which inevitably comes when dealing with matters of the heart; that is, when participating fully in the self-object relating which is the whole world.

Your attention and readership as I work through my thinking on these important subjects is so deeply cherished. I hope I have not taken it for granted or misused my own heart-center in asking for it.

As a personal note, writing this particular essay forced me to confront many of my own demons around this issue. It forced me to feel uncomfortable things, hold uncomfortable truths, and admit many of my own shortcomings. It was a very real, rather unpleasant process for me. I learned a lot—not only about my thinking, but also about my relationship to love, self-expression, and taking personal responsibility for my participation in the world. I’m grateful to have the resources and tools to have sat with all of these things inside myself, but I know that not everyone does. If you have daddy issues, know that you’re not alone; also, know that help is always available.

Love you madly.