Thursday, June 02, 2005

Changing How We Respond To Life



Do you only pay attention to the peak experiences of your life? Look to your history and see what you remember most vividly. Or, perhaps your formative memories are images or feelings of trauma. Your self image is determined, in part, by the filters you see the world through. These filters are based on past experience and the beliefs you formed about your experiences. This is how we condition ourselves to function on autopilot. Since we cannot control how we are conditioned by society or even by our own culture, wouldn't it be nice to be able to learn how to change how we condition ourselves? There is no line in the brain between thought and movement, these areas overlap. So when you learn to generate new responses to challenge at the level of moving your physical body, you stimulate your brain to consider new responses to emotional challenge as well. Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc. used to say, "What I'm after isn't flexible bodies but flexible brains."

Building on the ideas of yesterday's weblog concerning biorhythms, how does the innate organization of the human body dictate the use of awareness? Since human consiousness is based, in part, on the physiological processes of the brain, it stands to reason that downtime is also a basic need of the psyche. We have a physiolgical need to rest, to drift, to dream and to process experience into meaning, future, past and present. The brain is a meaning-making machine. Yet, the meaning derived from experience is entirely variable. Are you happy with the meaning you derive from your life?

"Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked."
Victor Frankl

Is the goal in the practice of AWARENESS THROUGH MOVEMENT (ATM) to cultivate continuous attention at all times? No, there is no pinacle of acheivement to attain here. It is a process of learning to direct our attention, gently, moment by moment, on, off, like the pulsing current of electricity. It is a process dictated by the organization of the structure we inhabit on a daily basis: our bodies. It is a process of paying attention and not paying attention, of noticing and drifting, gently regrouping without judgement or determination. Most of us live with a gap between what we want and what actually happens. How can we narrow the gap so that our intentions are closer to the results?

Victor Frankl said that, 'Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.' Another psychologist, Rollo May, said that 'It is an ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way.' Still another psychologist, B.F. Skinner, put it this way, 'Man's struggle for freedom is not due to a will to be free, but to...avoidance' [of ill consequence.] It seems we are, by nature conditioned to avoid discomfort. This is one of the core principles around which we organize our behavior unconsiously. It guides our decision-making by limiting what we are willing to consider as possible.

If your knee hurts, you do whatever you have to do to not use your knee. You narrow your choices based on avoidance of pain. Not only that, but you exclude any action that you think might generate similar discomfort, which means you close yourself off to that part of your body entirely after a while. You skip the gap between stimulus and response altogether because in your mind, it's a done deal. Pain must be avoided at all cost. You are now functioning on autopilot and have effectively metaphorically dismembered yourself.

How can rolling around on the floor with awareness in an ATM lesson change anything about the way we relate to pain? It gives you a chance to learn how to observe that space between stimulus and response that Frankl was talking about. Thus, you will have a moment to consider options you might have otherwise excluded. From the point of view of the body, there are usually several ways to do any given activity, but most of us are creatures of habit. As such we choose the same way over and over to the exclusions of all others and wonder why it hurts. Our bodies, for the most part, are not replacable, at least not yet.

The structure of an ATM lesson provides a movement puzzle that intentionally guides your consciousness in doing everyday activities using more of your body than you usually do. If you are living life so fast that you respond to situations without making conscious choices, it's almost inevitable that you will loose your way somewhere and be really annoyed when that happens. Yet, if mistakes were unecessary no child would ever learn to walk, but would stay on the ground where they fell at the first attempt. ATM is a learning process that teaches you the value of mistakes kinesthetically. Mistakes are a vital part of learning. You will still loose your way, ocassionally, but you will become less upset about it. It is only when you are not upset that you will be able to perceive the possibilities as well as the pitfalls.

How can the practice of ATM change how we relate to life decisions? You will start to notice where you are functioning out of a conditioned response. Cultivating your kinesthetic sense puts you right there at ground zero where the problem is surfacing as it happens. It connects you to your gut. It gives you a felt sense of how to respond in the space between the problem and the knee-jerk reaction. How does this come about? It happens gradually as you learn the skill of using your own consciousness in a new way, a way that honors the time and the space required to make autonomous decisions rather than atomated reactions. Does this sound familiar? Does it sound like the benefits you might reap from meditation? It is. For in that gap where time and space merge, your unconsious has a chance to reveal it's mysteries. It may be that your superconscious has a chance to intervene as well, who knows? Not always, but often, the answer will come in the form of a feeling colored by sound, a memory laden with warmth, or an impulse striking like an audible light.

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Comments & questions are always welcome. What are your biggest challenges? Have you had similar experiences? Where do you want to go with your own practice? Share your insights, don't practice in a void of isolation. Consciousness is everywhere!