An Excerpt from The Power of the Herd by Linda Kohanov
Imagine if a supervisor asked you to complete a project with only 10 per- cent of the information available to you, if schools were only committed to teaching 10 percent of what you would need to succeed in life. And yet that’s precisely what’s happening as we overemphasize the spoken and written word in business, education, and relationships. Once we realize that only 10 percent of human interpersonal communication is verbal, we can also recognize that telephone, computer, and text messaging innovations are deceptively seductive tools that limit human potential. Excessive dependence on these convenient devices creates voluntary learning disabilities in the realms of emotional and social intelligence that ultimately foster a kind of devolution if left unchecked over generations.
The tendency to treat the body as a machine already has a good four hundred years of history behind it, starting with René Descartes’s influential philosophy in the seventeenth century and reaching its apex in the twentieth-century assembly line. Frederick Taylor’s famous time-and-motion study technique, for instance, attempted to reach maximum productive efficiency by essentially turning workers into robots. Luckily the same scientific methods that, for a while, promoted a form of “mechanomorphism” in dealing with living beings have recently given us some very good reasons to reconsider the body’s innate, richly nuanced intelligence.
In his book The Other 90%: How to Unlock Your Vast Untapped Potential for Leadership and Life, Robert K. Cooper actually predicts that the “dinosaurs of the future will be those who keep trying to live and work from their heads alone. Much of human brilliance is driven less by the brain in your head than by newly discovered intelligence centers — now called ‘brain two and brain three’ — in the gut and the heart. The highest reasoning and the brightest ingenuity involve all three of those brains working together.”
Physiologists now know that there are more neural cells in the gut than in the entire spinal column. As a result, the enteric (intestinal) nervous system can gather information and adapt to the environment. The heart also serves as an organ of perception. “In the 1990s,” Cooper reports, “scientists in the field of neurocardiology discovered the true brain in the heart, which acts independently of the head. Comprised of a distinctive set of more than 40,000 nerve cells called baroreceptors, along with a complex network of neurotransmitters, proteins, and support cells, this heart brain is as large as many key areas of the brain in your head. It has powerful, highly sophisticated computational abilities.”
“Gut feelings” can no longer be dismissed as whimsical or delusional: both the intestinal track and the heart have been shown to generate neuropeptides, molecules carrying emotional information. In this way, the body serves as a magnificent tuner, receiver, and amplifier for all kinds of information. It feels, learns, and has definite opinions that sometimes contradict those of the brain. As author and researcher Dr. Candace Pert asserts, your body is your subconscious mind. Imagine the edge, the power and insight, the sheer genius available to those who make this somatic wisdom conscious!
While science is finally embracing this concept, we already have a term for people who tap the wonders of those other two corporeal intelligence centers: we say they have “horse sense.” The expression, dating back to the 1800s, refers to sound practical wisdom, a combination of finely tuned awareness, common sense, and gumption. People with horse sense pay attention to that “other 90 percent.” They “listen to their gut” as well as their minds when making decisions and really “put their heart into it” once they commit to action. There’s also an element of intuition involved, as in: “She’s got too much horse sense to believe his story.” For this reason, it’s often thought of as a mysterious gift that certain lucky people possess from birth.
You can develop horse sense at any age, most efficiently through actually working with horses. In fact, it was that first spirited mare who taught me to stand up for myself and read the true intentions of others. I was in my thirties at the time, dealing with an aggressive yet secretive supervisor at the radio station. As I learned to motivate and set boundaries with a thousand-pound being, my two-hundred-pound boss suddenly seemed less intimidating. I not only found that I could effectively challenge unreasonable demands, I gained greater cooperation and respect as a result.
The practical applications were useful, of course. But something even more exciting began to happen. The training my horses provided encouraged me to gaze ever more deeply into the limitations of my own socially conditioned mind, allowing me to glimpse “civilized” human behavior through a wider lens. Staring at historical and current events from this new perspective, I realized that whether I was a left-wing Democrat, a right-wing Republican, a fundamentalist Christian, a radical feminist, a gay-rights advocate, a communist, fascist, creationist, or scientist, my effectiveness in the world was likely to be impaired by the same unconscious habits. Our ancestors had sailed across a potentially hostile ocean to escape the ravages of persecution and tyranny, hoping for a fresh start in the land of the free and the home of the brave, only to build the wildly hopeful structures of democracy on the same faulty foundation of long-buried, largely nonverbal assumptions and behaviors. For this reason, I doubted technology would save us; neither would liberal or conservative agendas based on the same worn-out neural pathways meandering through our fearful, body-phobic, increasingly dissociative, egotistical, machine-worshipping heads.
Linda Kohanov speaks and teaches around the world. She founded Epona Equestrian Services to explore the healing potential of working with horses and to offer programs on everything from stress reduction and parenting to consensus building and mindfulness. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.
From the book The Power of the Herd. Copyright © 2013 by Linda Kohanov. Reprinted with permission from New World Library. www.NewWorldLibrary.com.