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Gut Instinct

I was feeling a little bullied about my focus on order recently. At a yoga studio in Santa Barbara, the featured book of the month is “A Life of Being, Having and Doing Enough” by Wayne Muller, which is all about releasing yourself from “should.”

Another book written by Philip Shepherd cautions against making the head the default capital of the body and tuning into the gut more of the time.

But I’ve come to realize that not “shoulding” one’s self and getting out of one’s head doesn’t necessarily mean your organization will fall apart — in fact, it will probably benefit.

My productivity mentor, David Allen, who wrote “Getting Things Done,” says that being organized is about making all the decisions you need to about your stuff — your commitments, your possessions, your mail — then doing the actions necessary to move things forward.

In Muller’s book, which is not an organizing book, he advises that any decision you make be based on the question, “Do I love it; do I love doing it?” and not, “Can I fit it in; can I handle it?”

I think Allen, who developed his method based on martial arts philosophy and whose ultimate goal is peace of mind, would agree with Muller that decisions aren’t always made with the brain, but sometimes need to be made with the heart and the gut. On a beautiful day, the chores may go undone so that the family can delight in the warm sand and cold waves at the beach.

Going to the beach is the decision that might better feed the soul and the relationships. You may not make that choice every day — after all, if the home becomes an unworkable mess, that doesn’t contribute to quality of life either — but you might be surprised how often you can choose recreation and relationships over “shoulds,” especially if you begin with a foundation of order.

Shepherd’s book, titled, “New Self, New World: Recovering Our Senses in the 21st Century,” expands on the rediscovery of the “second brain” in the gut.

Shepherd lives in a car-free community in Canada near Toronto. He works as an actor and became interested in the “brain in the belly” when he studied Noh theatre in Japan. His thesis is that the head became the seat of wisdom as mankind moved from worship of a feminine Earth goddess to worship of a masculine sky god, and so we have lost touch with tuning into the gut for information and rely too much on the grey matter in our heads.

For me, the information was a reminder to slow down and listen to the body, especially when making difficult decisions. I find that tuning into my body is a great way to make little decisions too, like what I want to eat. My head tells me I want a double espresso, my body tells me a slice of melon or a big glass of water.

When struggling about whether to part with something, your body might tell you, “Let it go, you don’t need it, it doesn’t define your essence,” but your head might say, “I will be bereft without it, it was my grandmother’s favorite tea cozy!” But Shepherd goes beyond “Listen to your gut,” and says, “Listen with your gut.”

By being still and quiet, what information can we get from the world through the gut, rather than the brain? Shepherd says it’s a way to integrate our experiences — the real and the abstract — and make choices that better benefit the interconnected web of life. It’s an interesting discipline and one that I’m looking forward to practicing.