A few years ago I was facing a big, life-changing decision. After completing my studies and ending a three-year commitment to volunteer at a non-profit organization in South Africa, I needed to decide what to do next.
I had complete freedom to do anything I wanted. I could leave South Africa, return to Los Angeles, go back home to Venezuela or explore moving to another country like Australia.
In my heart, I felt the calling to stay in South Africa, go deeper into this work by starting a professional practice as a heart intelligence coach, and building a training business around the topic of ‘living from the heart’.
I felt that the decision was a ‘no brainer’. Or so I thought…
But shortly after I made the decision to stay, I began to feel very uneasy about it. I’d wake up in the middle of night having nightmares in which I arrived late at the airport, only to miss my flight.
Has this ever happened to you?
You’ve made a decision from what you thought was your heart and the next day you start feeling uneasy and insecure about it.
If this has ever happened to you, it is because you failed to acknowledge the three levels of intelligence that are always guiding you.
The Three Levels of Intelligence
Most ancient traditions speak of three levels of intelligence or wisdom that humans are born with.
For example, the Chinese Taoist philosophy speaks of three energy centers within the body known as the Three Tan Tiens: The Upper Tan Tien, located within the head brain, the Middle Tan Tien, located in the heart , and the Lower Tan Tien in the abdomen.
Similarly, the Jewish Kabbalah has a spiritual conception that includes three distinct levels of soul, the Nefesh or lower animal soul, the Ruah associated with the intellect, and the Neshamah or Divine associated with the heart.
Ancient Sufi wisdom, synthesized in Gurdjieff’s Enneagram System describes how we all have three brains: an intellectual brain, an emotional brain and a body-ruling moving/instinctive brain. According to Gurdjieff, accessing these three brains hold the key to personal and spiritual growth.
Anthroposophy, the spiritual science behind Rudolph Steiner’s Waldorf Education system also speaks about the three folds or intelligence contained in each human: the thinking, feeling and willing.
The idea that we have three levels of intelligence is also found in a large cross-section of the world’s religions, including the shamans of Mongolia, Siberia, Central Asia, Africa, South America, and the Native American Lakota Sioux. Even the native Hawaiian occult tradition of Kahuna refers to a notion of a ‘lower self’, a ‘middle self’ and a ‘higher self’.
Can you see a pattern here? Most importantly, what does this all have to do with you?
Well, if you want to live more fully, authentically, and meaningfully, and if you want to make more powerful decisions, then failing to understand that you have three centers of intelligence, and using one to the exclusion of others, is the biggest mistake people make when attempting to follow their heart.
You see, this is the same mistake I was making when I made the heart-felt decision to stay in South Africa and build a thriving business around the calling of my heart.
I only listened to my heart and ignored the information that my head and gut were trying to convey. The result was not being able to move forward, and feeling as if something was not ‘right’.
Getting to Know Your Three Amigos
Science tells us that the largest concentration of neural cells in the human body is found primarily in the brain, the gut, and the heart.
What this means is that each of these intelligence centers can literally think, learn and process information. And, if you listen closely to how you speak and communicate with others, you’ll be able to understand where your words might be coming from.
For example, when referring to the cognitive, rational intelligence coming from your head you will say things like:
- I really need to think this through
- I’m not making much sense
- I can’t figure this out yet
- What’s the logic behind that?
Or, when referring to the emotional, relational and value-driven intelligence of your heart, you will say things like:
- I love that
- My heart tells me that…
- I know it deep in my heart
- This just feels so right
And, when referring to the self-preservation, and mobilizing aspects of your life, you’ll say:
- I don’t have the guts to do this
- I should have trusted my gut
- Something doesn’t feel right in my gut
- I’m going to go with my gut feeling
Now, if you go back and read what I wrote earlier about my decision to stay in South Africa, I said that I felt that the decision was a ‘no brainer’. In other words, I was ignoring the information that came from my head, and my gut. This is where my unrest was coming from. These other voices were not being heard!
How did I deal with this?
Basically, I gave myself permission to listen, to truly listen to what each one of these three centers had to say about my decision to stay in South Africa. And what I discovered was very revealing…
My head, wanted me to explore in detail the other opportunities. It wanted to create or imagine other possible future scenarios to include when making my decision. It wanted to give me the pros and cons of each option, and be sure all options were fully considered.
My heart wanted to make sure that whatever decision I made, was in alignment with my higher purpose of being a teacher of heart intelligence, and helping others grow and expand their awareness. It also wanted to ensure that there would be plenty of opportunities to have fun, be around people who I love, and plenty of space for exploration and play.
And my gut was deeply stressed out about how this was all going to work out. How would I support myself? How would I deal with uncertainty? How would I manage all my insecurities, or deal why the challenges that lay ahead?
I literally went through the workout of writing down in my journal, meditating, and speaking out loud what my head, heart, and gut ALL had to say. And in the end, after each one had spoken their peace, I made the decision to stay in South Africa, but this time, it felt different. I was now at ease and at peace.
All For One, and One For All
What was different this time was that I had made a decision from the core of my whole being. A type of decision I now call a ‘wholehearted decision’, or a decision in which I use my heart’s unconditionally loving capacity, to deeply listen, welcome, and allow what the different voices within myself have to say.
But ultimately, it is your heart that leads. And this is the core of what heart intelligence, and living from the heart is really all about.
Traditional Chinese medicine refers to the heart as the Emperor, while the head is the King, and the gut is the Samurai. Divided, they wear each other out. Working together in unity, they are very powerful.
Similarly, a wholehearted decision is one that you make from a heart-centered space, keeping the highest interest of the larger Kingdom at hand. It is a decision that ultimately makes sense to your mind, feels right in your heart, and activates your gut’s self-preservation instinct because you are about to embark on the transformational journey I call The Path of the Heart.
Now that you know that within you lies an Emperor, a King, and a Samurai, how about listening to what they have to say about those important decisions you need to make?
Feel free to leave me your comments below.
From my heart to yours,
Photo by Aki Tolentino