Making (Good) Gut Decisions
FogStock/Vico Images/Erik Palmer
Your gut can be a really important source of wisdom in your life.
Making friends with our bellies is a good idea. They have their own neuronal system and are hooked up to our brains through the nervous system. Recent studies have shown that the makeup of our gut microbiome can have major effects on our mental health and wellness.
I’ve also found my gut to be a really important source of wisdom in my life. My brain is smart, sure, but it’s also full of stories about what I think I should want and what other people want from me and all sorts of rationalizing nonsense. It’s easy enough to lie to my brain, but I can’t hide anything from my body. The nervous system knows, it remembers, and when the mind is a jumble, it can speak through the gut.
Literally, your gut means your intestines, the complex digestive system contained by our beautiful soft bellies. But we can feel our feelings anywhere, and the nervous system is certainly responsive in the throat, the heart, the stomach, and way down deep in the genitals. These places can speak in the language of sensation, tension, and relaxation.
My gut (unfortunately) cannot predict the future or tell what other people are thinking. I have tried to ask these things so many times, and my gut is no more clairvoyant than a plastic magic 8 ball. My brain isn’t any better, though it certainly likes to try! All my gut can do is occasionally tell me something about how I feel. And that’s a lot.
The practice is simple (and you can do it as a guided meditation here). Take some time out to relax your belly, take a few breaths, and feel what’s going on in there. Then put your hands on your belly and ask it a question. It may not have any clear answers for you, but this is a lovely way to spend time listening to your body. When we take time out to listen holistically rather than only rationally, we send our nervous systems the message that how we feel and what we want matters.
The key to asking the gut questions is to offer discrete options. For example, let’s say you’re trying to decide if you want to stay home and read or go out to a party and see your friends. Put your hands on your belly and imagine yourself staying home. Play out the experience as if it were the only choice. How does your belly respond? After a few moments there, take a breath, and then imagine yourself out at the party seeing your friends. Play that experience out a bit. What does your belly do in the second scenario?
Many of our life decisions are between staying as we are or changing. It’s important to acknowledge that change is scary—your belly might relax more deeply at the thought of staying home, and flutter anxiously about going out and seeing people. Nervousness isn’t necessarily a bad reaction. What else is happening? Is there excitement? Desire? Longing? Exhaustion? See if you can get sensitive to the various things that you can identify feeling in your belly.
If you are new to this kind of self-inquiry, at first you may only be able to notice tension or relaxation. It might be very confusing in your belly and you may not get a clear answer at all. That’s totally okay. The point is that you are spending time getting to know how you feel not only from a rational perspective but also from a physical, bodily perspective. This practice is a lovely way to deepen the relationship between brain and body. Plus it might just tell you something about how you feel.