Armen Hareyan's picture

Many of us live our lives shuttling back and forth between our rational and emotional personalities. Our rational self tells us we need to lose weight and exercise more, while our emotional self has us eating potato chips and watching reruns on TV.

We can understand a great deal about the push and pull of our emotions and our intellect by learning some basic facts about evolution. Science tells us that due to millions of years of evolution, each human being is now the proud owner of an intelligence made up of four brains.

1. The somatic brain (Also known as the enteric nervous system, and located mainly in the gut.)
This brain existed in very early organisms hundreds of millions of years ago. This brain plays a major role in digestion, and in the production and output of the various hormones that are crucial to our emotional and physical well being.

2. The reptilian brain
This brain orchestrates breathing, heartbeat, swallowing, visual tracking, and the startle response. Although reptiles are said to not be able to experience pain or emotion, all of these body functions do significantly affect the emotions of human beings. Shallow breathing, darting eyes, and an increase in heart rate will very definitely lead to a feeling of fear or anxiety.


3. The mammalian or limbic brain
The appearance of this brain led to animals having emotions, and suckling and rearing of young by their mothers. The limbic brain melds the circuitry of the enteric nervous system and the reptilian brain into our sense of emotion. Emotions were felt and acted upon long before the ability of animals to think or reason.

4. The neo-cortex
Last but not least, in its most highly developed form the neo-cortex is the singular gift of humans. The neo-cortex gives us the ability to reason, deal in abstractions, communicate verbally, and be goal oriented. The neo-cortex has very little if any true understanding of emotions.

Even though we now have the intelligence of four brains to draw on, we still often find ourselves unable to successfully cope with life's challenges. To live a balanced satisfying life, each of us needs to learn how to better embrace, appreciate, and synthesize the emotional wisdom emanating from our enteric nervous system and our reptilian and limbic brains, with the intellectual wisdom of our neo-cortex. By better attending to our emotions, we help the neo-cortex to be less of an autocratic leader, and more of a team player. We need to find ways to artfully orchestrate the desires of our emotional self with the dictates of our intellect. When we are emotionally healthy we tend to be physically healthy as well. Only once we have our emotional and physical well-being in balance, are we best able to use our rational mind to help us achieve our worldly goals. Without attending to our heart's desires, we find little solace in our achievements, possessions, and relationships. It is only when our rational self works in accordance with our emotional self that we achieve true satisfaction in life.

We can begin to better understand our somatic-limbic self and our emotions, by engaging in various artistic endeavors, meditation, breathing practices, and mindfulness practices. It is important for us to remember that our somatic-limbic intelligence was developed long before our neo-cortex and our ability to rationalize and use verbal language. Emotion does not begin as a thought. Our non-verbal emotional wisdom often gets denigrated in the world today, and this leads to various forms of discontent, stress, violence, and lack of respect for humanity. We will all do well to spend time on a regular basis, communicating with and deeply appreciating our limbic-somatic wisdom.


Charlie Badenhop is the originator of Seishindo, an Aikido instructor, NLP trainer, and Ericksonian Hypnotherapist. Benefit from a new self-help Practice every two weeks, by subscribing to his complimentary newsletter "Pure heart, simple mind" at