So you think your body is just the container to get your mind from place to place? Wrong! Or you imagine great leaders come only from great schools? Wrong again. Or perhaps, you imagine they are just born that way? Sorry, wrong again! Or partially wrong…yes some leaders come naturally with an innate ability to tune into themselves, but most learn it along the way – like you and me – through experience, commitment and dedicated practice.
Think about the great leaders…those that got BIG things done, inspired movements: changed history; an industry; a country; a sport – leaders like Rumi, Chade-Meng Tan of Google, Nelson Mandela, Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) Mahatma Ghandi, Janice Marturano of General Mills, Coach Krzyzewski of Duke University, Pema Chodrun, the Dalai Lama, Anne Lamott, Anne Sweeney (President of Walt Disney), Martin Luther King, Jr… the list grows too long to capture (made up of both men and women, of every religion, race and skin tone).
Even with EQ (emotional intelligence) getting more play time from the current leaders’ field of attention, the body gets short shrift, though we’re learning more and more about its powerful and precious offering.
Stephen Covey famously referred to “the space” between stimulus and response. Guess what container holds that “space” ? What allows you to activate the knowledge wedged there? Your body! So where’s the key to that magical chamber? Read on.
A lot of your “knowing” comes directly from your body if and only IF, you allow it. Notice I said knowing – not guessing, or forcing a solution, not facts and figures – no, plain, old fashioned wisdom. Why?
You’ve got a second brain – in your belly. Yes, the research found in the 1998 book The Second Brain by Dr. Michael Gershon points to how mood and well being are influenced by the secondary enteric nervous system.
“The second brain doesn’t help with the great thought processes…religion, philosophy and poetry is left to the brain in the head,” says Gershon, chairman of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at New York–Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, an expert in the nascent field of neurogastroenterology.
“The system is way too complicated to have evolved only to make sure things move out of your colon,” says Emeran Mayer, professor of physiology, psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (U.C.L.A.). For example, scientists were shocked to learn that about 90 percent of the fibers in the primary visceral nerve, the vagus, carry information from the gut to the brain and not the other way around. “Some of that info is decidedly unpleasant,” Gershon says.
The second brain informs our state of mind in other more obscure ways, as well. “A big part of our emotions are probably influenced by the nerves in our gut,” Mayer says. Butterflies in the stomach—signaling in the gut as part of our physiological stress response, Gershon says—is but one example. Although gastrointestinal (GI) turmoil can sour one’s moods, everyday emotional well-being may rely on messages from the brain below to the brain above. For example, electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve—a useful treatment for depression—may mimic these signals, Gershon says.
In every millisecond, your body is taking in vast amounts of information – far too quickly to process consciously. Temperature, another’s body language, facial expression, unconscious gestures, spatial configurations, mood, energy levels, emotional readings (for both yourself and others’) and synthesizing this data with all prior experience and oceans of ideas churning constantly through your brain above.
In the synthesis of thought, emotion and sensation, informed by both nervous systems, true “knowing” arises. This powerful mix is sometimes called “a hunch” or the more flatteringly “intuition” by those that don’t really understand it. Yet those who have practiced mindfulness and some somatic practice ( a martial art, Tai Chi, Qigong, leadership embodiment, yoga) can over time, sense into a situation, extract vast amounts of information, attune to the information pouring in, hone it, synthesize it and act. They avail themselves of what constitutes wisdom.
Its time to pay much more attention to this somatic( some – Greek word for the body) intelligence. Embodied leaders do. And you’ll want to integrate the wisdom from the body with that of your heart and mind for optimum leadership.