All of us have what are called gut-level reactions to multiple series of events each day. Even your choice to open this email was prompted by a signal from your solar plexus. Most of these are ignored, as our minds are either focused on the task at hand or occupied with daydreaming; we rarely pay attention to the body’s messaging system. However, it can make a difference, literally, between life and death. Can I illustrate this for you?
Back in the seventies, I worked construction. This was the last week of April 1978, and at the time I was out of work. Steady work was pretty scarce, but I was doing okay. I lived in a log home I had constructed by hand out on a hilltop on my overgrown 100-acre farm. Some things you never forget, no matter how long ago they took place. A little hint like a song can get your mind to automatically paint a mental picture. I was listening to Bill Monroe’s bluegrass song “My Little Cabin Home on the Hill.” It was late evening and I was getting sleepy when the phone rang.
It was someone I had worked with in the past. He said Research Cottrell was building a cooling tower for a powerhouse at Willow Island, WV, on the Ohio River. They were looking for a foreman, and he asked if I’d be interested in the job. He said they were up about 150-some feet and were really pushing to get the job finished, so there’d be a lot of overtime at double pay.
I remember having this funny feeling in the pit of my stomach.
It was the kind of feeling that’s more like recognizing a face in a crowd, yet no emotion was associated with it. An emotion will stay with you, but a gut-level reaction is a flash, like a very quick red or green light, that disappears in a second. I thanked my friend and declined his kind offer.
Later that same week, another friend, knowing I was unemployed, asked if I’d help him remodel an old building in town. It was around ten a.m. on a Thursday. The sun was shining and the morning temperatures were perfect. Flowers were in bloom on the overgrown lawn and the radio was playing. Suddenly the world seemed to stand still! A news flash interrupted the normal programming. In an excited voice, the newscaster described how scaffolding had peeled off a cooling tower under construction and 51 men on it had fallen 166 feet to their deaths. I suddenly understood what that feeling in my gut was all about. Had I not listened to it, I would have been among the dead. That was the job I had declined.
Have you ever forgotten something and complained about having to run back into the house, only to notice you left the stove on?
Or maybe you berated yourself about being late for work, only to later realize that had you been on time, you’d have been involved in an accident on the interstate?
Could it be that, unconsciously, you were listening to your gut and it caused you to make a decision that seemed irrational, yet saved you from trouble?
So, how do you listen to your gut? First, it’s a conscious awareness of bodily sensations and feedback. In a primitive survival setting, our awareness would be constantly scanning the environment, looking for clues. The subconscious is always picking up everything, yet to keep our heads from being overloaded with data, the brain’s reticular activating system filters out much of this data from the conscious mind. So, then, how do we detect danger that remains beyond the reach of the conscious mind? Through the physical body’s survival antenna—the gut.
The massive nerve cluster in the solar plexus is a major informational receiving center. It’s always processing stop and go signals electrochemically and feeding back yes and no answers. Many of you might be familiar with Behavioral Kinesthetic Feedback, or “muscle testing.” Simply stated, it is the study of how certain thoughts will strengthen or weaken the physical body. There’s no scientific mystery to this. Before any experience that may threaten or enhance our lives, our physical bodies will give us advance signals, if we are sensitive enough to be aware of them.
In our modern and fairly safe lives, the mental default setting that would have us scanning the external environment for food or danger has been mostly internalized and is used more by our imagination and in our daydreaming. Since our thoughts can become so hypnotic, we tend to pay less attention to what our bodies are telling us about our external environment. The conscious practice of various types of meditation will re-establish this connection and improve your ability to read your body’s yes and no answers. Listen and trust your gut. It can save your life!
Reflections from Turtle Lake,