In last week’s newsletter, I talked about my preference for enriching the middle ground of experience in order to expand one’s capabilities rather than pushing for extremes at the edge of experience. This got me thinking about edges in general and our relationship to them, and I realized that, even within the middle ground, there are edges worth exploring. One of my favorite edges to explore is the delicate edge between thought and action.
In order to cut corners and expend less energy, our brains chunk together a lot of what we do into habits that require very little brain power to carry out. This is why you can get into a groove while driving and not realize how far you’ve gone, or you can forget whether or not you locked the front door on your way out of the house, or if you turned the stove off. Things you’ve done so many times you don’t need to think about them become what we often call “muscle memory.”
The problem with muscle memory is that what gets encoded into that habit is not necessarily the best way to do it. If you slump, or you use too much force, or you put stress on a joint, all of that is encoded, so every time you carry out the habitual action, you’re doing all of those unhelpful things to yourself as well as the action you want. Exploring that delicate edge between thought and action is the best way to unpick the unhelpful from the helpful.
Our Unreliable Feeling Sense
Our feeling sense (our proprioceptive or kinesthetic sense) is never as accurate as we think it is. It becomes habituated to anything we do on a regular basis and resets itself around that, recalibrating our awareness and taking that habitual state as normal. If you constantly walk around with your head pulled a little back, making you use the front of your neck and chest more than you need to, your nervous system will reset so that feels normal. When you adjust your head and let go of the muscles that are overworking, you’ll feel like you’re pitched forward. If, when you use a computer, you always grip your shoulder and tighten your neck as you type, you will quickly come to feel that is the normal way to do it and you’ll grip and tighten every time you get to work without knowing it.
Slowing down and observing, becoming mindful of experiences your brain has chunked together so as not to expend energy, can help you unpick and refine all sorts of behavioral patterns. It might seem unlikely, but spending the time to observe an action in its simplest form and consciously releasing whatever you notice you’re doing that you don’t need, can help retrain your nervous system and feeling sense and allow them to reset to optimal balance. This is why I always start my own practice and my classes with a period of Constructive Rest, and why I was so excited to launch The Quiet Practice. Those short moments of reset can have a profound effect on whatever you do after, and, practiced on a regular basis, can do a lot to repattern bad postural habits.
Exploring the Delicate Edge
You, too, can explore the delicate edge between thought and action on your own! Here’s a simple movement study to give you a general idea of the process, which you can then apply to anything you like.
- Settle into a simple, semi-supine Constructive Rest position with your head on a little support—a folded towel or blanket, or a book—and your knees bent with your feet flat on the floor.
- Spend a few moments resting here noticing the way you might be holding your muscles unnecessarily and giving them a chance to let go.
- In this exploration we’ll be looking at what happens when you raise your arm. Try this a few times. Pick your arm up and put it down, noticing what happens when you do. What muscles work, either directly or indirectly, to raise your arm?
- Give yourself a few moments to rest again and let go of any effort that might still be lingering in your body.
- Think about the movement you just performed. Run it through your mind a few times. As you do this, notice if thinking about it creates a change in your muscles. If it does, explore rehearsing the movement mentally without those muscles engaging.
- Prime yourself to lift your arm again by thinking about the movement and lifting your arm up just a tiny bit. Perhaps lift your arm only enough to take its weight without fully coming up off the floor. Notice if you do anything unnecessary anywhere in your body. If you do, if something engages that has nothing to do with raising your arm, practice the light lift without doing what’s not needed.
- After doing this for a bit, rest, then repeat the process with your other arm.
- When you’ve finished, sit up or stand and notice how the feeling of your body might have changed.
Try It With Anything
You can try the same process with anything you do:
- Sitting at your desk and raising your hands to place them on your computer keyboard
- Standing at your kitchen counter and reaching for a utensil
- Standing before you bend over to pick something up off the floor
- Standing before you step out to take a walk
- Lying in bed before you roll over and get up in the morning
- Standing in the bathroom as you raise your toothbrush to your mouth
Exploring the delicate edge between thought and action can enrich your experience of life and will help you shed unwanted habits. What activity that you perform on a regular basis would you like to explore?
I you try the practice, let me know how it went, either via email or before/after one of my classes this week!