There's hidden sweetness in the stomach's emptiness.
We are lutes, no more no less.
If the soundbox is stuffed full of anything,
If the brain and the belly are burning clean with fasting,
every moment a new song comes out of the fire.
The fog clears, and new energy makes you
run up the steps in front of you.
Be emptier and cry like reed instruments cry.
Jallal al-Din Rumi
Vagus is the domain of 'gut feeling' and includes covert, or secondary, awareness. Gut is Manipura, the third chakra, and encompasses the third and fourth chakras in the Sufi nine chakra system. It includes what are called Lower Dantien, and Hara, and what the Chinese call ‘Chi-Hia,’ or ‘The Ocean of Chi.’
In the Sufi cosmology, the belly is one of the core ‘subtle centers,’ or Lat’if (“Laah-teef”). The word ‘Lat’if’ encompasses ‘mystery,’ ‘great charm,’ and ‘beauty,’ and is used for all of the chakras.
When our belly is uncomfortable with what the client is doing or saying, or when our gut instinct leads us to touch their right arm, say, then we fill out the row beginning with the word 'Vagus.'
When we see someone behaving in a way that makes us sick, or see a traffic accident that gives us nausea, this is the channel 'Vagus.'
In South Africa it is called, ‘Umbellini.’ They call it our most important brain. You could think of it as the body’s ‘second brain.’
The white people think that the whole body is controlled by the brain.
We have a word, ‘umbelini’ (the whole intestines).
That is what controls the body.
My umbelini tells me what is going to happen.
Have you never experienced it?
A Xhosa Tribesman, South Africa (the tribe of Nelson Mandela).
When we become anxious, we get nausea and diarrhea. We feel ‘queasy.’ We call someone who is always depressed, ‘misery guts.’
When a parent senses into how their child really is, and whether or not the child is in trouble, or perhaps lying, the parent may ‘tune in’ to their gut to sense what is really going on.
“When I look at you my gut does not feel right,” they may tell the child. When we tell a lie, it changes our digestive function more than it changes our heart. Lying is consistently associated with a decrease in the slow waves of the digestive tract, as well as increased activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus of the cephalic brain.
Anxious mice calm down when they get an infusion of gut microbe from more mellow mice.
there came a moment
in the middle if the song
when he suddenly felt
every heartbeat in the room
and after that he never forgot
he was part of something much bigger.
Whatever sensitivity develop in our lives, divine mystery, the Lat’if, will remain. But there are ways to discern some aspects of this mystery. To become more sensitive to our own vagus nerve, is one of those ways.
Clients tell us that everything is fine in their lives, except for their symptom – their headache, or their asthma. It’s an interesting statement, denying as it does the subconscious, the id, and the vagus.
Listen to me now: The symptom is the truth.
The symptom is the subconscious mind’s way of expressing what is out of kilter between the conscious director of my life, that is, my egoic self, or my identity or my personality. These facets of my being are all accrued phenomena, and ultimately insubstantial.
My vagus nerve, my biome, and my physical environment are all more substantial.
The subconscious aspects of the dreambody experience the drives, the dreams, the imperatives, the instinctive movements and decisions that go on to determine sleep, love, cognition, mood, appetite, and sensitivity.
We spend most of our waking hours not in touch with our inner world of feeling, we subjugate or suppress it, so that we may get through the day, and complete our ‘bullet list.’ Men, in particular, subjugate their feeling selves because they were taught, over and over again in childhood, that ‘men don’t cry’ and to ‘straighten up’ and ‘be like a man’ or ‘cowboy up,’ and not be ‘a sissy.’
In this way a person can go through forty years of life suppressing the world of feelings, the world below the neck. As Marion Woodman once pointed out, ‘Most people are dead from the neck down.’
To work with the vagus means to bring our self, and the world of feelings, into inclusion.
We have two brains: A cephalic brain and an enteric brain. When one brain gets upset, the other one does, too. The vagus itself can be divided, as Victor Porges does in his ‘Polyvagal Theory,’ into two departments. When people get the ‘butterflies’ before going on stage, or have an intestinal cramp during a job interview, their enteric brain is complaining. Heartburn can be the result of the cephalic brain being out of step with the enteric brain. And we can learn to listen to the information streaming in to our own enteric brain, concerning how well the client has integrated, or walled off, their emotional and feeling self.
The enteric brain is older than the cephalic. It originated when we were no more complex than a tubular undersea creature that stuck to a rock and waited for food to pass by. The enteric brain recognized where the food was in the tubular digestive tract, and managed the digestion of that food. As we became more complex, we added a second brain in our cranium, to manage locomotion and social organization, and kept the tubular or enteric brain as a primary, instinctive system.
The enteric brain is located in sheaths of tissue lining the esophagus, stomach, the small and the large intestines. It is a network of neurons, neurotransmitters and proteins that communicates within its own domain, as well as with the cranial brain. It has its own circuitry that allows it to act independently, to learn, to remember, and to produce what we call, ‘Gut feelings.’
When something comes out of us, ‘Straight from the gut,’ we are acting from our Vagus. We have 100 million neurons in the gut – more than in the spinal cord, and the same number as the corpus callosum posses. There are also glial cells in the gut, just as there are in the cerebral cortex.
We humans have about 100 trillion bacteria on and in our bodies; we only have 10 trillion human cells. So we are 10:1. We carry 4 trillion viruses. Carl Zimmer, ‘The race to Create the Best Anti-Viral Drugs, Fresh Air, NPR, 04.18.12
The vagus itself is composed of a few thousand nerve fibers. Thus vagus is a communicator between the two brains, but not a brain as such. I experience the vagus like a giant radio antenna, dipped in the social world, the world of feelings that rule the body, from the neck down.
The enteric brain plays a major role in happiness and misery. Most gastrointestinal conditions such as ulcers, colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome originate in the enteric brain, not in the cranial one, or in the egoic structures of the sufferer.
Both brains can get addicted to opiates.
Nearly every substance that helps to run and control the cranial brain is also present in the enteric brain – benzodiazepines, enkaphalins, serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, nitric oxide, and norepinephrine. The enteric brain sends and receives impulses, records experiences, and responds to emotions.
Our digestive tracts are host to about one hundred trillion bacteria, virus, fungi and other tiny creatures, the ‘gut biome.’As one gastroenterologist noted, ‘We are ten percent human and ninety percent poo.’
VNS, or vagal nerve stimulation, is a FDA-approved treatment that uses a small, battery-powered device to send signals through the vagus to deep cephalic brain structures that regulate mood. VNS is sometimes used in the treatment of intractable, treatment-resistant depression. The exact reason that VNS is helpful is not scientifically understood. John Colapinto, ‘Lighting the Brain,’ The New Yorker, 05.18.15, p.75
It can be a helpful homework, a meaningful meditation, to take some time at the end of the day to review the principal events of that day.
In your first pass, review the events of the day as you saw or experienced them at the time. At the time you may have reacted or responded quite quickly, on a conscious level, or in an instinctive or habitual way, affected by your conditioning. Once you have done that, then do your best to drop deeper into your true self, and journey ‘below the neck,’ so that you can experience those same events at a feeling level. If this works for you, you may come to notice that your responses could have been different, and that these different responses would most likely have created a different relational fields around you. In addition, they may also have created a different tone in your own body, a different day, perhaps even a different life.
We only need the slightest shift in perception, and openness to the world of feelings, to release clarity of consciousness, and healing. Neem Keroli Baba, the teacher of Ram Das, summed up his entire understanding in the phrase, ‘Love Everybody.’ Ramana Maharishi noted, ‘There is no other.’ The phrase most of us know the best is Jesus observation, ‘God is love.’ If we can live in that place, our whole world changes.
Freud said that a case history should read like a short story. It should include everything.
Those with a physical problem prefer to hear an esoteric psychological explanation for their condition. Those with an emotional problem prefer to hear a down to earth, physical explanation. Here I speak of those, and there are many, who say,
“I would be so happy, except for my (add a symptom in this space).” The real learning begins with accepting the wisdom and the potential for a better, more aligned life that is held within the symptom. There are none so blind as those who do not wish to see. And, the apparently stable often have greater problems than the more obviously neurotic.