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Unlearning everything you know

Unlearning everything you know

Nowadays even a Masters degree doesn’t grant you a round of applause. It seems like the pressure is only increasing to acquire as many degrees, diplomas and certifications as possible in order to stay competitive, sharp and ready for an unknown tomorrow. However, when it comes to heart intelligence what we actually need to start doing is unlearning everything we’ve been taught.
Have you ever noticed what an awareness children have about their bodies from a very young age? Even before being able to speak, children have an incredible capacity to sense through smell, touch, temperature and sound. Their ability to rapidly connect with other children is incredible when compared to the amount of time it can sometimes take adults to connect. As we get older, mainstream schooling focuses our attention more and more on our cognitive capacities, placing emphasis on intellectual intelligence over emotional and somatic intelligence. As a result, we start interpreting the world around us only through facts, judgments and rational thinking. We start losing the capacity to really feel and sense our surroundings through our hearts. In fact, most of us completely shut off our physical sensing capacity and spend time in busy cities, crowded subways and packed elevators trying to pretend that we are completely alone.
Despite the fact that many adults go decades without using their heart’s intelligence to navigate their worlds, this capacity to physically connect remains intact and ready to engage whenever we allow it to. In order to start feeling again, we actually have to unlearn the educated tendency to process everything through our rational minds.
One way to get a sense of how powerful that connection can actually be is to stand on a subway platform and just notice all the people around you. Notice the direction they are facing, how far they are from you, and whether they are sitting, standing or leaning against a post. Also take note of the patterns that groups are forming: are people standing in a straight line, in a circle or clump, individually or in pairs? Who is still and who is moving? While you bring your awareness to all of this notice what feelings arise in your heart. Does your heart automatically respond to some people more than others? Do you feel a tingling in some places or discomfort anywhere? What images and pictures come to you while you take in all that is around you on the platform? This simple but profound experience of extending your awareness beyond your own bubble while simultaneously staying mindful of what it is feeling may give you an incredible sense of how powerfully your heart relates and connects to what is happening around you. While it may not be able to communicate through words, it does express itself through feelings, metaphors, sensations, images and other methods unique to you.
If you bring this subway platform sensitivity with you to other parts of your life -- when driving in a car, when walking down the street, when entering a room full of strangers or when waiting on line while shopping -- you may begin to notice that there is an automatic and natural connection that your heart has to everything going on around it. In fact, your heart is always connected whether you allow yourself to notice this or not. It is the most basic aspect of being human. This connection isn’t something that needs to be improved and practiced. Rather, when we unlearn the habit of rationalizing everything and begin suspending the mind’s constant chatter we start to notice the richness of experience that our physicality can take in and process. With time even the most simple of shapes, gestures or movements from people and beings around us invite us to notice their incredible beauty and the feelings and intelligence they provoke in our hearts. And if we notice our mind trying to jump in and analyze all of that heart intelligence, best is to try settling it down and putting it temporarily on hold. There are already enough other moments in which to process our worlds through our very educated heads.

Listening from your heart

Listening from your heart

Many of us have in some form or another come across the wisdom that we cannot solve problems with the same thinking that created those problems in the first place. For me, the subsequent question to this is, how do we get to new ways of thinking both in ourselves and with those around us?

The issue with thinking patterns is that they occur rapidly and are often difficult to spot. After all, what we think about the world develops as a natural conglomeration of our experiences and the way our mind interprets and learns from these experiences. In order to really place a finger on our thinking patterns we have to first engage with the systems within us that try to protect those patterns and keep them from being challenged. These systems have been described by some as the "voices" of judgment, cynicism and fear. 

Otto Schaerma from MIT's Presencing Institute describes the engagement with these three voices as one of letting go in order to let something else come. 

Specifically, it is through learning how to temporarily suspend our voices of judgement, cynicism and fear that we can then notice the thinking patterns that they veil. Suspension allows us to let our minds rest and opens up our hearts so that we experience ourselves and those around us with freshness and innovation. We can imagine that we wear these voices like a jacket. Within this image we can then figuratively take this jacket off, hang it on the chair next to us and become a neutral and open receptor. In this way our usual patterns of thinking are put aside and we allow ourselves to actually notice an issue or interaction as if it was the first time. 

This is certainly no easy task. In fact, once we start paying attention we may notice that even when we try to suspend these voices they continuously reappear while we communicate. Reflect on how often in conversation what you hear is filtered by doubts regarding what someone else is saying (voice of judgement), not believing someone else's information (voice of cynicism) or feeling hesitant to really empathize or feel someone else's emotion (voice of fear). By suspending, all we are really doing is placing our intent on noticing these voices every time they appear and letting them go...noticing them again and letting them go....and continuing to notice them and let them go. 

Suspension allows us to let our minds rest and opens up our hearts so that we experience ourselves and those around us with freshness and innovation.

The more we practice this the better we get at it. Soon enough we may enter a state where while listening to someone we actually can hear much more of what they are saying, without getting distracted by what we will say next or by our own analysis and meaning-making. In these moments we finally have the possibility to communicate with presence from the heart. Pay attention to your heart and bring focus to asking questions and speaking from this part of the body. Schaerma calls this "generative listening" and is referring to communication in a realm that is greater than both the listener and speaker previously knew were possible. It results from this intent to listen with presence. It allows for new perspectives, ideas and feelings and can produce solutions that would have never been discovered had the old thinking patterns been kept in tact.  

After such a generative conversation, it can often be useful to take a few moments of silence to reflect and digest what emerged from the open communication. It is here that if we choose, we can put our “jacket of voices” back on and discover what we have learned through the experience. Whether through meditation, journal writing or taking a walk, this can be a great opportunity to uncover something about ourselves. Here we can assess the usefulness of both maintaining some aspects of our past thinking models and the necessity to change others aspects. Ultimately, suspending allows us to modify and develop our default habits. In turn we enable conscious and engaging processes that bring our hearts into every conversation that we have. 

Is your body anything more than a brain taxi?

Is your body anything more than a brain taxi?

For most of us, everything from the neckline down doesn’t play a role in our day to day jobs. At most, our bodies act as a brain taxi: transporting our brains from one office to another, from one meeting to another, from one conversation to another. It is our incredibly complex and intelligent brains that get all the attention. And why not? Our brains spend hour after hour thinking through complex situations, crunching numbers, formulating ideas and processing information. In the way we currently work the brain plays the most important role. 

But should it?

Our bodies are a majorly untapped source of intelligence and knowledge.

The truth is that within the corporate world our bodies are a majorly untapped source of intelligence and knowledge. Stemming from its puritan roots and resulting in a culture ready to sue over about anything, the American and Western business world has all but shut out any integration of the body at work. The body is covered up in conservative business attire, greeted with no more than hand-shake contact, and never viewed as a source of wisdom. 

Except for one part of the body: the gut.

Interestingly, the gut has managed to escape work-place imprisonment and has its own valued place in daily language. We often hear people say things like, “I just have a gut-feeling that this is the wrong thing to do”, or “I can’t explain it but my gut is telling me that this is the right choice.” Wait, our guts are telling us what?! Particularly fascinating about our reliance on gut-wisdom is the word most often paired with it: gut-instinct. Instinct refers specifically to a knowledge that doesn’t necessarily adhere to reason or logical proof, but is just something we feel is right. It is in other words an intuition we have. Stemming back to its Latin roots, intuition actually refers to a process of looking inside and contemplating, suggesting that gut-instinct or intuition actually refers to an inner kind of knowing. This inner knowing doesn’t come from the analytic left-side of the brain, but rather from the intuitive right brain and the body--specifically from the heart and gut.  

The heart pulse is the first point visible in an embryo, the first organ to form during human development and in an adult body radiates an electromagnetic field far larger than the brain.

So how much could or should we rely on intuition and feeling in the workplace? Well perhaps at least as much as we rely on the brain. Why’s that? The heart pulse is the first point visible in an embryo, the first organ to form during human development and in an adult body radiates an electromagnetic field far larger than the brain. The gut, sometimes referred to as “the second brain” contains some 100 million neurons and is shown to be responsible for far more than digestion, including most interestingly our emotions which of course then have influence on our thoughts. Einstein himself was quoted as saying that what is really wrong with our time is that we have made the King -- the heart -- serve the servant -- the brain. 

Our bodies are “speaking” to us throughout every moment of every day. Though we have socialized their voices out of current corporate culture, we all know what it feels like when our bodies try to warn us about the fatality of a decision we are about to make. How many of us have read accounts of bankers after the past decade’s financial crisis admitting that in their hearts they knew that their decisions could lead to a complete financial meltdown but their brains kept pushing forward motivated by profits and rewards? 

I’m not suggesting a total shutting down of the brain. Rather, let’s find a way to bring the full body system -- mind, heart and gut -- into the natural balance with which it was designed to function. Do you believe your quality of work could be improved if you let your body come into conversation with your mind more often? Perhaps at your next meeting you’ll find that communicating what you body is feeling could be the one critical perspective that was left unshared.