Some people report confusion when it comes to the expression of the gut centre and heart centre, respectively. And sure — not only for “head types” but for all of us, it’s easy to see “head” on the one side and “not head” on the other. In part, this is because our general western culture likes dividing things into dual relationships: black and white, right and wrong, day and night.
As opposed to our culture, nature is not built around duality, but around “the law of three”. There tends to be three forces coming together to create the whole, rather than just two opposites. And this is true for the centres, too. (That is — this is one way to look at it. Technically, the gut centre is actually three centres in itself. It’s always a matter of which level you choose to view something on, and from 😉)
Separating two into three
Anyway. Back to the lacking distinction between the gut and the heart. Because we do have three centres, but listening to our everyday language, you wouldn’t have guessed this was the case. Our culture has us talking about “thought and feeling” (sweeping both heart and gut messages in under the “feeling” umbrella) or the rational and the “irrational” (where the latter just means “not of the head”). And it doesn’t help that we use the word “feel” not only for things like sadness and joy, but also for things like hunger, resistance and wanting.
So what is the distinction? Well, there are a few, of course. If we’re willing to step out of our need for intellectual, quantifiable definitions for a while, the most palpable (yet totally non-palpable) way for me to make the distinction by energy. (I know this’ll rub a few scientists the wrong way; if you’re one of them, just substitute something like “tone”, “climate” or “air”, and you’ll be fine.) The energy climate of the gut and that of the heart are quite dissimilar.
The energy climate of the gut
The gut has an almost binary energy to it. Here, things are actually mostly black and white, on or off, here or there, alive or dead, towards or away from. It’s this or that, and the choices each time seem quite finite. For the gut, it’s totally fine to be all for or all against something. It doesn’t need, and isn’t really capable of, being politically correct or nuanced in its interpretations. If you’re a visual person, perhaps colours work, too, to describe this: In the gut centre, it’s as if the colours were quite distinct and clear, either this or that.
The energy climate of the heart
In the heart, by contrast, it’s all about infinite nuances, and it has a sort of open-ended feel to it. The heart offers an abundance of details and parameters; it offers technicolour, nuance and dimensions. It’s not that the heart can’t be exact – it’s more that it’s all-inclusive, and infinitely expressive. Also, the heart is hallmarked by its receptivity. It’s sensitive, and responsive. While the gut is scans for input, interprets that input, keeps us alive, grounding us and guiding us on our way, geared towards survival and self-extension, the heart tells us why (at least sometimes 😉), reveals what we feel and lets us relate to and mirror each other and ourselves, geared towards compassionate inclusiveness and oneness.
For some of you, that possibly said a lot, while others will have a face like a nesting-box for birds. I get that. Frankly, I don’t think the above descriptions would have told me much when I first started looking into these things. So, it’s time to fill out this distinction with some less flowery language. Since I did that at some length in Aspects of you, I’ve borrowed a couple of sections from the book to complement the above energetic descriptions.
The instinctual centre: Being and primal immediacy
I Aspects of you, in the description of the instinctual centre, we find this paragraph:
The most basic aspect of this centre is the housing of innate, biological impulses that help us survive. They are to a large extent unconscious and autonomous, and we share them (or at least, some of them) with all other animals. Apart from instinct, or perhaps rather as an extension of it, there are many areas that this centre is responsible for. It is concerned with grounding — that is, a sense of physical stability and being anchored within — wants, power, boundaries, territory, attraction/repulsion, control, resistance, presence, directness, hunches, primal feelings like fear and rage1, and other primal and instinctual matters. Quite literally, the instinctual intelligence mobilises us, either for/towards or against/away from things. In this sense, this intelligence can be said to be quite black and white in nature: it’s this way or that, yes or no, on or off. Our inner “yes” or “no” then for example makes us put up boundaries, strive for a certain amount of control and resist things that we don’t seem to be able to control in any other way.
I think that this, coupled with the more flowery descriptions in the beginning, paints a pretty solid picture of the instinctual centre. Just as when we are trying to understand personality types, the trick is getting the overall energetic climate as well as the separate pieces of the description.
The heart centre: Love and responsiveness
I Aspects of you, in the description of the heart centre, are these paragraphs:
When we mention the heart, I’m sure one thing that most people instantly think about is love. And sure, love is a big part of it — you could say love is for the heart what being is for the gut: the very nature of the centre itself. Love, as such, also speaks of something else that is closely connected to the heart centre: the topic of relating and otherness, and — the other side of the coin — oneness. I said about the gut that it’s about being; not about who or how we are, but just the fact that we are. In the heart centre, the who enters into the picture. And for me to be a who, I have to be in relation to something: the world, others, God or even myself. By the same token, the heart centre is concerned with values — what is true for me, and how does this truth need to be expressed? I gain a sense of my who through what I value and how those values are expressed in my everyday life. In connection with this, we also find our self-image and our sense of self-worth.
Often, the heart is also said to house our feelings. // They can be feelings of sorrow, disappointment, hope, grief, longing, loneliness, submission, despondency, despair, compassion, loss, joy, sadness, exhilaration, and so on, in infinite shades of emotional responses.
There is a lot to say about the heart, for sure. Just as there is a lot to say about the head and the gut. For now though, I’ll leave this exploration here. Of course, if you want to explore further, you are very welcome to buy the book ❤️.
Note: “centres” — not “Enneagram centre triads”
Please be clear that I’m not talking about personality types here. It’s not that gut types are distinct and two-dimensional, whereas heart types are a sea of nuance and multi-dimensionality. This is about the centres, of which we all possess all three, fully and equally. If you’re seeking to understand the difference between the instinctive triad and the heart triad on the Enneagram, sure, you can glean some subtle understanding of that here — but mostly, this is about the centres in all of us.