According to some spiritual schools human beings have three centers of consciousness. In our culture we are familiar with the head as a center of consciousness and we see the brain as the primary (if not the only) center of consciousness in the human body. In the vernacular, to “have brains” means to be intelligent. Intelligence generally refers to spatial, analytical and verbal intelligence.
Yet some teachings say that we have other “brains” in the body that are just as intelligent as the head brain. A second recognized center of consciousness is located near the heart. This is the center of emotional intelligence. The language of this center is that of desire and feeling; it significantly influences the way that we relate to others.
A third center of consciousness is located in the belly, just below the navel. This is the center of the body’s intelligence; it is the center of instinct and movement. The body usually learns more slowly than the other centers, but it rarely forgets once it has learned.
These centers often function independently of one another. Learning in one center may have little influence on the other centers. For example, the head center might understand all of the principles and techniques needed to ride a bicycle. We may understand how to ride a bicycle, but we don’t necessarily know how to ride a bicycle. The body learns by practice; it learns to ride the bike only by riding it, not by studying how to ride it.
Likewise, the heart center learns differently than the head center learns. Our heart has a mind of its own! It learns primarily by relating to others, not by intellectual understanding. It has its own language and its own “logic”. As Shakespeare reminds us in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “Love and reason seldom keep company!”
For us to become a whole person these centers must learn to work together, and yet each must have a certain degree of autonomy. Without proper autonomy these centers may “contaminate” another.
For example, if the head center and heart center are not autonomous then our desires and emotions may contaminate our thinking and reasoning process. We may not be able to think clearly and might have difficulty discerning what we want or how we really feel. Conversely, if the head contaminates the heart center then we may be unaware of our emotions and unable to express them in a healthy way.
Finding practices that exercise each of these centers individually can help each center to develop healthy autonomy.
Reading, study, discussion, problem solving and mindfulness practice are all ways to engage the head center. Praying, chanting, worship, and devotional practice are ways to activate the heart center. Mindful movement, dancing, martial arts, and some yoga practices are ways to engage the body.
It is also very important to find a practice that integrates all of the centers. Meditation can be a way of integrating the centers by bringing awareness to each of the centers. Mindfulness of thoughts, desires, emotions and physical sensations can help to integrate the three centers. Mindful movement and mindful communication can also support integration. As you engage in each life activity make it a point to be aware of the three centers and to be aware of which center is most active in each moment.
Spiritual evolution is a holistic endeavor which involves development and integration of all the centers of consciousness. It requires us to consciously evolve in every arena of our life: our work, our relationships, our finances, etc. As has been said, “Nothing is beyond the scope of our practice.”