Descartes was wrong.
You know—the guy who declared “I think; therefore I am.” He was referring to the Cartesian split—the mind-body dualism that Western culture has embraced since at least the Greeks.
But the split is a myth. Nowadays, plenty of people who spend a lot of time thinking recognize this is true. And yet, healing the Cartesian split remains the most challenging issue my gifted adult coaching clients face.
The work that I do with my clients is meant to develop communication between the mind and the body, effectively healing the split. It’s only then that the individual can enact her third factor and develop true self-governance. Signals from your body are, after all, information. And if you’re not operating with all the information available to you, how do you know who you truly are, and how can you make decisions that allow you to maximize your potential?
In this series of articles, I’ll share with you my own experiences as an intellectually gifted individual who focuses first and foremost on what my six senses tell me. My goal here is to help those who approach the world first with their intellect to instead tune in to the messages coded in their bodies, allowing their conscious minds to use that information effectively. After all, most of us were never taught to appreciate these messages. And if one wants to live a peaceful, aligned life, one must learn to allow for peace and alignment from within.
The Concrete World of the Sensorily Gifted
As a sensorially gifted individual, my primary method of receiving input from the world is through my six senses—taste, smell, touch, hearing, seeing, and intuition, which is an innate knowing. Unfortunately, when I try to capture the experience of sensorial giftedness in writing—in this intellectual, abstract medium—I feel like I’m trying to capture the rainbow with black and white photography.
But with that caveat, let me give this a shot. Here are some of the challenges I personally experience, to give you a sense of what I’m talking about:
- What is the significance of the full body goosebumps I experience when another expresses an idea as if it came from my own head?
- What do I do with that almost unbearable electric surge of energy that jolts me when I see the connection between two seemingly disparate ideas, and what does it mean that I’m even experiencing it in the first place?
- How do I hold spontaneous rapture in my body, characterized by the feeling that my feet don’t seem to be touching the ground anymore and feeling perfectly suspended between heaven and earth?
My body’s experience informs me first. Only then does the data I glean from it get processed through my intellectual intelligence. My intellect synthesizes and codes it for me to use or to communicate with others. It helps me to orient myself to any given context.
How the Intellect Gets in the Way
If you were designated as gifted early in life, chances are, your intellectual capacity was greater than your peers’. The gifted label does (and most likely will continue to) primarily highlight intellectual gifts. I have no issues with this way of relating to the term. The problem comes in when we aren’t aware of the other tools we may have available to us because no one has ever taught us to use them.
We humans have the most advanced cognitive capacity on the planet, and that capacity also varies widely within our own species. At one end of that spectrum are minds that generate fantastic insights, inspiring us in many ways. Such minds, however, have a tendency to focus so much on their intellects that they risk discounting their bodies—to their own detriment.
There is little room in our culture for us to remember that we are ultimately animals, with systems that respond “mindlessly” to ensure our survival. Our minds—by which I mean our intellects—are not what keep our hearts beating, our blood pumping, our temperature regulated; they are not what tell our feet to slam on the brakes in the face of a head on collision; they do not form bonds with our newborn babies or direct love to bloom in our souls. These functions are determined by our bodies, which have such complex and precise systems of regulation that they continue to function even if our cognitive capacities are extremely low.
Might there be some wisdom contained within these regulating systems, if only we could tap into it?
How I Healed My Cartesian Split
I myself discovered my intellectual giftedness only recently. Before I had that frame, I had to make sense of my life without it. And that life came with a sort of freedom: I had recognized that I was smart, but since no one had been emphasizing my intellect, I had more space to use my senses as my compass.
It was only in my adulthood that I discovered the framework of intellectual giftedness and the five domains of overexcitability (intellect, imagination, emotion, psychomotor, and sensory). As I reflected on the domains of the intellect and the senses in my own life, I became aware of the information that my highly excitable senses offered me. This awareness helped me integrate the knowledge I glean from my body into my day-to-day decisions.
As an example, one area in which my body had a great deal to tell me concerned my own sense of safety. This is a huge thing to understand and points to the tension that comes from a rift between the body and the mind. Think of it this way: the most meaningless state of being is rudimentary Maslowian survival, in which your mind is focused on physical safety from predators and having sufficient food. If you’re in that state and you have those things, you may think you should be okay. But your excitable intellect is likely to be undernourished: after all, scrambling to get our most basic needs met gives us little intellectual reward.
If we haven’t healed our Cartesian split, we pick up on two different messages about safety—one from the mind and one from the body. Our body tells us we are unsafe—it’s jumpy, it can’t rest, it is putting out too much energy for the situation—even while our intellect tells us that we have all our deficiency needs met so we have nothing to complain about. We leak a lot of energy with our confusion.
Highly intellectual people, more than the average individual, need to develop the skill to bridge this gap. I argue that becoming attuned to and aware of your own particular pathways is the most effective way to move from a state of unilevel Dabrowskian disintegration toward organized, multilevel disintegration and ultimately reintegration. Intentionally accessing this nuanced self-awareness can help you level up without undue suffering. The less time we spend in navel-gazing and unproductive self-analysis, the more effectively we can enact our third factor and move into meaningful, generative existences. In other words, we connect with our own aliveness, and use it to determine the course of our lives.
Data-Mining the Body
So how do you do this?
In my practice, I take my clients on a guided tour of their body. The goal is to teach them to begin treating the body as a database—a collection of binary data available for mining. I use the term binary because we want to relate to this data much like we’d relate to the information stored on a computer: in a straightforward, unemotional way, without assigning a value judgement to any of it. It’s simply information that informs our choices and ways of being in the world. The more we practice retrieving this information without charging or polarizing it, the less we suffer.
See, it’s our minds that create stories around the data we mine from our bodies. This charges our experiences with emotion. We can get rid of a lot of unnecessary emotionality—the stuff of poorly channeled overexcitability—by observing our experiences of our bodies in the present moment. Importantly, we need to do this without ascribing meaning or value to any of it. It simply is.
How much freer could we be if we could choose to stop, in the moment, and observe what is happening in our bodies right now, without attachment to past or present, and without assigning a value judgement? What if we could use this data to quickly and efficiently correct our course, allowing this sensitive feedback system to guide us to make the life decisions that keep us aligned with our purpose?
Because of their extra focus on cognitive capacity, gifted people sometimes suffer much more than is necessary. If we don’t take the time to map out the pathways through which we receive information from the world, then we create experiences for ourselves that are not in line with the lives we want—and that we are capable of designing for ourselves. We may say we want to be able to relate to the ever-evolving world around us calmly and to take the unexpected in stride, but instead, we experience ourselves as slaves to unpleasant reactive patterns that hurt us and those closest to us. And we’re completely flabbergasted that we can’t simply use our minds to be another way. Often our unconscious attempts to reassure the limbic brain that we are okay can lead us to self-destructive behaviors, reactionary in defense of the self rather than responsive and constructive, moving us towards transcendence. And transcendence, I would suggest, is what most of us see as the most painfully inaccessible outcome.
Working with the theory of positive disintegration from a body-first angle is a great alternative to this. It creates enormous space for generativity, and it discourages the stagnation other models of development lean towards.
The world will constantly pull us away from the centres of our being. To stay in balance, we must train ourselves to recognize where that centre resides within us, and then learn to navigate back to that central axis. And it’s the knowledge we take from our body that enables us to find this centre. In the end, the information that we get from our bodies is even more important than that we get from our minds—because unlike our minds, our bodies don’t lie to us.
In an upcoming issue, I’ll talk about what you do when the data you mine from your body is in the form of discomfort, and how that can help you reintegrate.