Monday, October 24, 2011

Feeling the Flow

Connecting to Body Wisdom
A manual on disconnection I never missed a lunch until my 20s. My mother, once a trained dietician, had anxiety that I would not develop physically or mentally if I missed any of my three square meals. As a result, I didn’t really ever have to wonder “Am I hungry?” or “What am I craving?” If my watch said it was noon, it would follow logically that I must be hungry, and I should therefore find the quickest way to some food, preferably with high protein, low cholesterol, maybe some greens. I had serious anxiety when I had missed the noon lunch bell occasionally, but at least I never had to be hungry. Things like hunger in the body can be painful, and I had created a foolproof system of avoiding it -- just follow the clock. Adolescence itself was painful because my body was changing and reacting to various physical and emotional traumas. So I ingeniously evolved various ways of avoiding what my body was telling me. I started running, increasing momentary physical pain in order to find a way of quieting it altogether. On the back of our cross-country running team shirt read, “Pain is temporary, pride is forever.” While the Bhagavad Gita might be interpreted as “the world is an illusion”, I read it differently, in a way that allowed me to run further: “emotions are illusions.” I practiced and meditated on this continually, evening out the peaks and valleys of my body’s life, attaining a palpable outward calm which avoided any acknowledgement of the fiery emotional world inside. A critical psychological reading of some modern-day saints (check out Vishnu on Freud’s Desk) might likewise ask not about the nirvana they advertise, but rather what they are running from. I got reacquainted with my fire over the next decade, at first bearable only through the intellectual shield of psychology, finally terrifying, exciting, and potent in its raw form over the last few years. Where did this exquisite self-denial arise from? Was I sick or oversensitive? How could I reconnect? Below is the first of many answers...
Spirit tracking I met Jon Young, a naturalist and experienced animal tracker, in Petaluma, CA, historic mission and gold miner’s town, set of movies from “Basic Instinct” to “Scream” to “Tree of Life”. We sat in a barn on a tidal estuary connecting southward to the San Francisco’s Bay, and so the waters of Jon’s speech connected to my own. Jon is particularly interested in taking expeditions of people back to connect with nature, their own bodies, and their own unique inspiration. Jon related something he had just practiced on an expedition with the San, Kalahari Bushmen of Southern Africa. “Spirit tracking” was totally independent from his extensive knowledge of animal footprints and broken branches. A spirit tracker would simply take a look at the tracks of the animal and sync up with the spirit of the animal. While the tracks might go one way, the tracker might lead the group in an entirely different direction, often in a straight line, directly to the animal in question. Some spirit trackers Jon talked with (from Asia to Africa to the Americas) mentioned that their hands would simply “pull” them in one direction or another, until they came to the prey at hand. Hard to believe, but after he experienced it enough times, Jon started to try it himself. While practicing, Jon found the "pull" would only come when there was a purpose at hand, whether he understood it or not.

Practicing flow
“Finding the flow” is a spiritual concept that has entered popular awareness, even in career classes at business school. I think we all have had moments where we have lost ourselves, whether we arrived there with other people, nature, or ourselves. After hearing Jon, I began to visualize what the flow might actually look like. What if your body knows exactly what to do, in each and every moment? There could be a clear answer for questions from “what do I want for lunch?” to “should I go to this party?” Maybe the flow is a dynamic field of possibility that follows you around everywhere you go. Tapping into it is simple: whenever you have a decision to make, instead of asking your mind, ask your hands. While “right” or “left” might be obvious, you have to explicitly assign other two-option decisions like “yes-no” or “send-keep” or “stay-leave”. I found it's useful to feel the "pull" in each hand as you are doing the assigning, since it seems to allow both outcomes to happen. The "pull" itself might be described as a sort of increased blood pressure and/or feeling. Practicing using the "pull" of my hands to direct some decisions for the last year, I encountered two questions:
First, what if I missed a cue? The more I thought about this, I figured that the flow had to be much more dynamic than our minds, which often require a single right answer. What might be the right direction in a given moment could change rapidly, given our dynamic self and a dynamic nature. So the point was not to determine what my inspiration was, but determine instead what my inspiration is, right now. So there was nothing at all to miss, except the moment. And making an individual decision "correctly" was not so important as learning to listen. Second, was I crazy? What did my body really know about anything, anyway? Sure, I had heard of the ideomotor effect, where Hyman found "honest, intelligent people can unconsciously engage in muscular activity that is consistent with their expectations.” Even though my inner skeptical engineer thought this was all BS, he nonetheless found two justifications to allow the experiment to go on. First, the general randomness of the exercise would help to disrupt the neurotic, predictable rationality that always chose the grilled cheese from restaurant Y. Second, I was clear that body awareness in general was useful, and I knew that mindfulness, even in small doses, could help physiologically to reduce blood pressure or body tension. So I freed up my own internal resistance for a little while to try it out. I found a few cravings gratified, and a few unexpected surprises happening. But could my body actually help sort out the deeper questions in life? As I've been learning over the past few months of self-discovery, the logical, rational mind is a great tool for achieving inspiring outcomes, but not great for finding the inspirations in the first place. The inspirations come from somewhere else.

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