Imaging has shown that the insula plays a role in the ability to feel one’s own body organs such as the heartbeat. Imaging has also shown that the right frontal insular cortex connects with an ability to empathize with the pain of others. It helps us with greater self-awareness through connecting how our emotions are processed in the body, so in this sense, the insula helps us interpret our emotions. “The insula detects body states that are induced by emotions as part of a process that brings our emotional experiences into our consciousness.”[i] If we are angry or afraid, and we have a strong connection to our body, then we will feel things like our jaw clinched or our palms sweating. Other bodily states that connect with our emotions might include knots in our stomach, a sense of lightness, or feeling heavy and off-center. Certain bodily states connect with certain emotional states. Unless we take the time to understand how our emotions feel in our own bodies, we will never be able to appreciate the emotional experience of another person. If we are mindfully aware of our body’s sensations, then it will strengthen our insula. It will strengthen our empathy. With greater knowledge of the bodily sensations working in us, we will have greater awareness of the riches working in us, such as love, joy, and peace. We will also be able to help other people name and celebrate how the fruits of the Spirit are working in their bodies.
[i] Rita Carter, The Human Brain Book, (New York: DK, 2019), 138.
Another excellent resource to better understand the role of the insula is Richard Davidson and Sharon Begley’s Emotional Life of Your Brain.