Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Brain and the Heart

Why is the language of the brain so much easier to understand than the language of the heart? The brain has an unfair advantage, of course--it speaks in words, in concrete images. The languages we use every day to engage with other people. The brain stores information, and it warns us to stay out of traffic, or keeps us from putting our hands down on hot stoves. Its practical value makes the brain cocky. It believes its own hype and so do we. If it's wise enough to tell us that we shouldn't burn our hands, surely it should be listened to in all other situations, right?

But keeping our hands away from flames isn't wisdom. It's only common sense. Despite its clear, blunt communication tactics; its loud voice; its brute strength; its stash of facts, the brain is often misguided. It panics, it jumps forward and backward in time. It's afraid of pain. It's afraid of what other people will think. It's afraid, ironically, of making wrong decisions. 

It's afraid of the wrong things. And mine resents me for even writing that.

My heart knows better. My heart, after all, knows what's in my heart. And my heart's signals are as clear as my brain's, but they take different forms and I'm less practiced at reading them. There are physical signs when my heart knows a decision is wrong--crying I can't control, nausea, pain or coldness, awful electric shocks of anxiety at the very idea of settling on a particular decision. Or more subtle discomforts. Just...a feeling that something isn't right.

And you would think it'd be easy to pay attention. If something feels bad, why would I want to do it? But if the right decision might cause extraordinary pain, my brain is all in favor of living with my heart's discomfort, and it mounts the most amazing arguments in favor of a bad decision. In favor of ignoring my heart. And any time my heart is conflicted, my brain leaps in to fill the gap, to "take care of" things. And it's loud, it's a bully--it drowns out my heart as much as it can; it tells my heart it's naive or foolish or cowardly. And so my heart is often beaten down by my brain.

But ignoring my heart isn't wisdom. It's not even, it turns out, common sense. It always, always ends up being tremendously painful, in a way that's much harder to recover from than the pain of missing out on something potentially great, or the pain of necessary loss, or whatever other clean, pure pain the brain is trying to avoid.

So how to learn? How to learn to quiet my brain so I can listen to my heart or give it time to reach a decision? How to learn to calm the brain's fears, to comfort it enough that it's willing to work together with my heart? 

How to keep myself whole?

1 comment:

  1. Message absorbed by brain & heart over here.

    You know I know this conundrum. I appreciate reading it through your experience.