This time, we will look at something a lot more tangible in the somatic sense. Breathe. We all do that. Consciously or not. With mindfulness – which is a tricky word as it may imply that the mind does the job – or with soulfulness: without the hidden curriculum of any dogma. The ability of the mind to quiet itself is not just something that happens overnight; although lots of holy humans and spiritually awakened people may report that it CAN happen overnight. The truth is, I do not know how that feels. I only know how it feels to feel joy for being able to breathe and how to stop right there before the movie continues; which would mean flying off into the future or into the past while grasping parts of my so-called reality and lining them up as factual evidence of a particular narrative.
At the same time, I also have become aware of certain mechanisms (or conditioning if you like) in my system, running their course like they are on autopilot. These are reactions to different stimuli, and I do not mean instinctual responses like jumping if we touch something hot or we step on something sharp (cursing sometimes seems to be as much of a reflex as bouncing around when you step on a Lego piece, I hope you agree :)). What I mean is that particular programs are running in our bodies, which may or may not be learned or inherited reactions. The trending beliefs around these mechanisms largely depend on which scientist wins in the publication games. How many of are responses are instinctual and how many of them are learned? We have had an arsenal of answers throughout history. Here and now, I wish to simplify it by narrowing it down to the usefulness of the responses, trusting that usefulness is a good measurement system in our day-to-day life.
If we smell something we often automatically start to inhale more deeply when the scent is pleasant – to stick with the whole breathing topic in the example, stylishly. However, the same scent can be repulsive and cause a gagging response in a different person, if something negative is associated with it. These are two completely different responses (given to the same input) and they both involve a whole series of mini-responses physically, mentally and emotionally. A whole program. This got me thinking – or I would rather say lately, it got me sitting still with it. It seems like our behavior consists of many of such programs running through our systems. The obvious next question could be: Where do they come from? There is this whole childhood topic, which gives a lot of intelligent explanations and I get those, both the official psychoanalytical approaches and the soul retrieval type of inner child work methods. Awesome. One of my teachers says that the evolution in the realm of psychology will change the question of “what’s wrong with you” into “what happened to you”. That is awesome, too. The past also stretches back into infinity now; with all the available past life explanations and karma hype, we can deal with one lifetime or several lifetimes at the same time. I invite you to pick whatever you like from the huge buffet of options and assemble your own dish according to your personal preferences. Usefulness, remember? 🙂
The point here is more about the simple awareness around these programs running in the background of our daily functioning. Once we become aware of such programming, can we judge it as malware or a benevolent software and if we do, what is that judgment based on? Is another covert background program kicking in when we judge something as “good” or “bad”? What if none of those are available for a minute? What if we become aware that our bodily reactions are often based on programming – and the polarizing judgment of them is not helpful at all in terms of observation and understanding? If we can just look at the programming from an “AND consciousness” point of view (it can be good AND bad therefore there is no polarity) and simply observe it for what it is, then the possibility opens up to see if we it is still relevant now, today, in this moment. What if a bunch of those programs are simply outdated, regardless of how useful they seemed to be when they were created? Neither good nor bad, they are just less relevant in the now.
From time to time, news spread across the media about people who emerge from the jungle and surrender, often decades after the war has ended. One story states that two soldiers were found 60 years after the II. World War ended, and they have been living in the reality of the war for more than six decades, up to 2005. Apparently, they did not get the memo about the war being over with… If we have programs running in our systems that did not get the memo of the changes in our world, is it possible that they are still operating in the old war-zone, even if the reality has completely shifted ever since they started functioning?
A while ago I did a consultation taken from the somatic therapy practice when humans can take on the role of someone’s body parts and speak in their names. (If you are not familiar with such constellations, think of it as a theater role play exercise.) The person I assisted had an issue of choking on food and throwing it up quite uncontrollably and seemingly randomly; there was no relation found to the type of food, time of the day, or other circumstances. I took on the role of his esophagus which means I imagined how it must feel to be an esophagus in this setting. I had a strong wave of defense reaction washing over me, and I literally felt like I was “at war”. As the first line of defense when it comes to unwanted input from the outer world, the esophagus in this case took on the role of the “protector of the body” and pushed back anything that was seemingly hostile. This may be a primary reaction when someone had to experience force feeding in their childhood or other things forced upon them in abusive situations – at the same time it is not really a useful reaction anymore for a grown man who has the control over his own food intake. The program of the somatic reaction was running past due, like a soldier still being at war in the jungle, decades after the actual war (abusive situation) ended. The simple awareness of this functioning and the understanding of its presence have already bought about positive changes regarding the choking issue.
How many of our immediate (or delayed) responses are based on the functioning of a jungle setting, where changes of circumstances may not be noticeable and the possibilities for awareness are limited? And how does this relate to breathing and unconditional presence? 🙂 I have found two ways so far, and I invite you to come up with more… One is, that our responsiveness can be easily approachable through our breathing. How do you breathe when you have a reaction in a situation or circumstance? Do you hyperventilate? Do you hold your breath? Does your breathing get shallower, deeper, faster, or slower? Simply observing the bodily reactions already brings about a new level of awareness. Once the awareness is there, then we can breathe through the other aspects of our reaction attentively, taking a few breaths consciously before we complete the program on autopilot. This may feel weird, hard, or impossible at first, but it is just like any other healing practice – more of it makes it more accessible. We can always return to the old programming, should it prove to be useful and the adventure of trying new pathways is not a fun one. At the same time, it may be a thrilling possibility to try an un-walked path and see if it takes us out of the jungle.