Listening Levels and the Brain — Level Three

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. 

~Albert Einstein

Today we start with a story from Nietzsche:

There was once a wise spiritual master, who was the ruler of a small but prosperous domain, and who was known for his selfless devotion to his people. As his people flourished and grew in number, the bounds of this small domain spread; and with it the need to trust implicitly the emissaries he sent to ensure the safety of its ever more distant parts. It was not just that it was impossible for him personally to order all that needed to be dealt with: as he wisely saw, he needed to keep his distance from, and remain ignorant of, such concerns. And so he nurtured and trained carefully his emissaries, in order that they could be trusted. Eventually, however, his cleverest and most ambitious vizier, the one he trusted most to do his work, began to see himself as the master, and used his position to advance his own wealth and influence. He saw his master’s temperance and forbearance as weakness, not influence, and on his missions on his master’s behalf, adopted his mantle as his own – the emissary became contemptuous of his master. And so it came about that the master was usurped, the people were duped, the domain became a tyranny; and eventually it collapsed in ruins.

There is a new book out by Iain McGilchrist called The Master and his Emissary, which explores our divided brain (for more on this as it relates to coaching, see my post Come On Over to the Right Side). McGilchrist’s take — and I wholeheartedly agree — is that the right brain, with its connected, global focus is truly the master, while the left brain, with its more analytical focus, is its emissary. Or should be, at any rate. In our society, as Einstein notes, we have turned this around.

In my coach training, I was taught that the third level of listening includes the first two levels. When I was reading about McGilchrist’s book it dawned on me: I was taught the proper relationship of master and emissary. Level Three listening is global and takes in everything — that which is being said and that which is not said. It takes in everything going on around the conversation as well. The dog barking, the phone that cuts out or becomes full of static (I live by a railroad track. The trains only go by twice a day, but always at just the perfect time to underline something happening in the coaching).

Level Three is when we soften our focus into right brain dominance and take it all in. And here’s an interesting fun fact for you: you may have heard that we have neurons in our heart and our gut. Talk about an embodied brain! Anyway, we do. But here is the thing — these neural pathways send their information to the right hemisphere, not the left. This is why it comes to us sort of vague and out of focus. Or why we get an image or a color or a sound. This is the language of the right brain, not words. And it’s why we need the left brain — or Level Two listening — to help.

I love this line in the story: It was not just that it was impossible for him personally to order all that needed to be dealt with: as he wisely saw, he needed to keep his distance from, and remain ignorant of, such concerns. In order to take in all the information the right brain takes in, it can’t possibly focus on all the small details. It needs the help of the left brain to do this.

Stay tuned for my next musings on this–how all three levels dance together.



2 responses

  1. Pingback: NeuroScience: The Decline of Civilization’s Right Brain | A Taxi Dog Diary

  2. Hi Ann,

    I do find it interesting that it is the second brain – in the belly – that provides the input to the right brain. For me, this speaks more to the high importance to be placed of this brain as our center from which to lead life.

    Throughout ancient history it was considered “THE brain” as it was the guide to knowing ALL.

    FEEL out this –> In the world’s healing and mystical traditions, the belly is seen as an important center of energy and consciousness. For instance, a lot of India’s great spiritual adepts have “buddha bellies” (just like my pooky one). and are thought to be full of prana. In China, tai chi emphasizes the lower abdomen as a reservoir for energy.

    In his book The Second Brain, HarperCollins 1998, Dr. Michael Gershon, a professor of anatomy and cell biology at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City, dubs the entire gastrointestinal system the body’s second nervous system. “The brain is not the only place in the body that’s full of neurotransmitters,” says Dr. Gershon. “A hundred million neurotransmitters line the length of the gut, approximately the same number that is found in the brain…” If we add the nerve cells of the esophagus, stomach and large intestine, there are more nerve cells in the gut than there are in the entire remainder of the peripheral nervous system. Nearly every chemical that controls the brain in the head has been identified in the gut, including hormones and neurotransmitters.

    In our great evolving wisdom, I am aware that many are now returning to a deeper exploration of our felt-sense, our intuition, our Level 3 and becoming reconnected with a far greater understanding of our true “felt-thought” process as the source that feeds our “other” brain “in our heads” and rightly so.

    I laughingly say to clients “Get out of your head and into your body” and let’s lead life from there.

    Food for your felt sense!

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