Learning and Adapting with a Dual Perspective

We can consider each person to have at least two minds or “selves” (a somatic self and a cognitive self), and two brains – the brain in our skull and the brain in our gut (the enteric nervous system). This means that at the very least, each person is bilingual, speaking their native verbal language, as well as somatic language.

The brain in our skull organizes the intelligence of our cognitive self, our intellect, and our verbal language. The brain in our gut organizes the intelligence of the somatic self, our emotions, and our somatic language.

The experiences we generate and make meaning out of with our somatic self are dependent on the pre-verbal sensing of the ongoing changes in our physiology and emotions. We understand our sensed experience by filtering it through the meaning making processes of our somatic language, and this preverbal understanding of experience is archetypal/universal in nature.

The experiences that we generate and make meaning out of with our cognitive self are dependent on the processes we use to translate and “fit” our somatic-emotional experience into a rational framework that can be further understood with the use of verbal language.

A “relational self” is realized from the acceptance, reorganization, and synthesis of the two complementary yet different realities of the somatic and cognitive selves. In this sense we can say that one plus one equals three.

Seishindo suggests that at any one time, people tend to identify with one of two basic perspectives when perceiving and understanding life – the somatic self/mind or the cognitive self/mind. Dividing each person into two possible categories is of course a limiting and artificial construct, just as when we use the terms “unconscious mind” and “conscious mind” but useful nonetheless in helping us to understand how we learn and adapt to life.

The cognitive self is associated with the brain in our skull, thoughts, strategies, mental abstractions, and descriptions of one’s life. The cognitive self understands life mainly by passing it through the filters of verbal language and socially constrained thinking. The main avenue of communication for the cognitive self is one’s native verbal language, and the conversations that we have with ourselves during the course of our internal dialogue, as well as the conversations that we listen to and take part in in various community settings.

The somatic self, on the other hand, is associated with the body, the enteric nervous system (the digestive system), emotion, intuition, movement, a non-verbal felt sense of nature and one’s experience, and the archetypal presence of the collective experiences of all human beings. The somatic self communicates its experience non-verbally yet systematically. It does so via biochemical and neuromuscular reactions.

Dr. Michael Gershon has done some ground breaking research in regard to understanding the importance of the enteric nervous system. I believe that as time goes on it will become more and more evident that what Dr. Gershon calls our second brain is one and the same as what Oriental cultures have for thousands of years been calling hara or tanden. Most if not all Oriental art forms teach the student to focus their attention in the lower abdomen, and to perform with this focus being the primary source of intelligence. In Self-relations terms (as developed by Steven Gilligan), we are advised to tune into “the tender soft spot in the belly” in order to learn from and synthesize the intelligence of the somatic self with the intelligence of the cognitive self. It is just such a dual perspective that helps us to have a fuller understanding of our total experience.

The enteric nervous system or hara, organizes information differently than the brain in the skull, and thus the enteric nervous system offers you a viable alternative to your intellectual experience of life. If you organize your experience differently, you will definitely have a different perspective, and thus a different reaction to what is taking place. By melding the perspective of our somatic intelligence with the perspective of our cognitive intelligence we tap into a new realm of possible solutions. It is the somatic self’s ability to sense what is taking place, along with the cognitive self’s ability to negotiate amongst various distinctions, words, strategies, and abstractions that allows for the evolution of a mature “relational self” as the term is used in “Self relations Therapy”. The ideal is to embed the experiences of the somatic and cognitive selves, one within the other, and in the process to create a new and different experience that includes and at the same time transcends both.

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