What are you Hiding from Yourself?

Very early in 2018 I had a super weird realisation: I’m a details person. I delight in details. I get sucked into and lost in details.

Time and time again in 2017 I noticed people saying things to me like “thanks for all the detail you put into this” or “you spent way too long on this, it’s only a small detail for this report!” or “you’re a great [physiotherapy] client because you’re always asking so many questions and pay attention to all the details” . I kept putting it out of my mind, but I could feel a little pull that there was something important here. It took me almost all year, but eventually the common theme got through to me: on things that matter to me, I go into lots of detail.

This was a mind blown moment for me. For some reason I’ve always thought of myself as a big picture person who stayed up in the clouds and didn’t like detail. When I heard descriptions of ‘dreamers’ and ‘details’ people, I always identified so much more with the ‘dreamers’. I think part of it is also that somewhere deep inside, I feel that it’s somehow ‘better’ to be a dreamer than a details person so I willed myself to be a ‘dreamer’ so I could be better. Pretty dumb right? Talk about a [story I’ve built my identity on].

I asked a few of my close friends about this and they were all surprised I didn’t realise I was a details person. They told me that the difference with me and a ‘classic details person’ is that I tended to start big picture, then sink right down into the detail to get something done. Apparently other ‘details people’ always start in the detail and have trouble ever coming up to big picture.

All of a sudden I’m free of this story. I’m not a dreamer. I am capable of getting into details (so capable that I do it all the time without even meaning to!) I’m not just a slow worker - I’m getting bogged down in detail. Now that I realise that’s what’s happening, I’m able to catch myself much sooner than before. I’m able to use my details-power for good! It’s very exciting and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do with this new knowledge.

All this got me thinking. What long-held truths about you aren’t true? Is there anything pulling at your awareness right now that might change your story of who you are?

Emptiness and Quickness in a Movement Practice

We’re working on emptiness and quickness in movement practice this month at Praksis. These ideas are just two of the varying qualities and modes of practice I’ve been learning there.

Since emptiness is something I haven’t ever heard about before, I wanted to tell you about it. This is my first time trying to explain this, so bear with me.

Training emptiness is about training to let go and not use the muscles for movement. For me, it’s easiest to think about this in your shoulders. Almost all of us hold a lot of tension in our shoulders - you’re probably doing it right now! Relax!

An emptiness drill for the shoulders as shown in one of Ido Portal's movement camps (see the Facebook post I got this photo from  here ). Keep your shoulders loose and heavy and create the swinging movement by turning your hips. If you're doing it right, your arms will start to feel heavy.  Eventually you should be able to be empty enough that you'll feel heavy in the shoulders and maybe get the sensation of your scapulae (shoulder blades) wrapping around your spine.  

An emptiness drill for the shoulders as shown in one of Ido Portal's movement camps (see the Facebook post I got this photo from here). Keep your shoulders loose and heavy and create the swinging movement by turning your hips. If you're doing it right, your arms will start to feel heavy.  Eventually you should be able to be empty enough that you'll feel heavy in the shoulders and maybe get the sensation of your scapulae (shoulder blades) wrapping around your spine.  

Emptiness is the state of no tension. When it’s coupled with a moment of tension at the start, you can use this state to move very quickly. Think of a whip cracking or that finger slapping noise you might’ve heard.

This stuff is completely new to me. As a naturally anxious person who is learning to let go, I’m in the habit of holding a lot of tension. Not to mention that most of the training I’ve done has been for strength and mobility. And whilst emptiness is related to mobility, you don’t get good at emptiness by stretching. It’s its own thing.

We'll be working on this until the end of January. Although this could be something easier to learn about in person, I'm looking forward to sharing more as I learn more about it. You can sign up below to get my monthly newsletter where I cover this stuff and more.

Your Fear of Engaging Fully with New Experiences

You won't know what it's like to [visit a nudist colony] merely by looking at a picture of a bunch of naked people. The only way you'll know what it's like is if you get seen by a bunch of naked people. The only way to have the experience is to have the experience. Not by looking at the experience. By having it.

New experiences are scary, but the only way to have a new experience without cutting yourself off from the best part (which is the unique way you react to it) is to go get seen by a bunch of naked people yourself.

Human Needs aren't Dependent on Human Biology

All human needs, including sexuality, lie beyond the animal world. They are historically determined and historically mutable.

I circled this quote on the reading because I had no idea what it meant.

I have started going to a weekly reading group where we bring interesting articles, lectures, or any media to discuss. This quote is from what I’m told is a famous lecture by Herbert Marcuse, first delivered in 1967, called “The End of Utopia”. I know I ostensibly write about philosophy on this blog, but I would say that the breadth of my knowledge is woeful - attending this reading group is part of how I am educating myself.

Luckily for me, the person who brings the reading to the group leads the discussion. So I confessed my ignorance of Marxist philosophy and asked for an explanation of the quote.

What followed was incredibly though provoking for me.

Marcuse is saying that human needs are determined by culture. What we refer to as needs are all a level above the “animal world” needs like water or breathing. He argues that our needs are not defined by our biology and are infinitely open to change.

If your needs are not defined by your biology, then how are they defined? The world around you is the primary driver. Above any beyond the most basic needs, what you know and can perceive defines what you need. Aristotle has a useful model (check out this summary if you’re interested: Aristotle on the soul) for this idea in his degrees of soul hierarchy.

Aristotle's model on the soul. 

Aristotle's model on the soul. 

  1. The nutritive soul (plants): Growth, nutrition (reproduction)
  2. The sensitive soul (all animals): Movement and perception
  3. Rational soul (humans): Intellect and thought.

This model is a useful way to think about how you navigate the world as a human. There is an immediate connection between sensing something and action. How can you act if you don’t sense something? You need to be able to see it, smell it, feel it, touch it, or perceive it in some way before you can do anything about it. So, your sensitive soul defines your needs. How you move through the world defines your needs. You can change what you need by changing what you perceive.

Changing how you move and going outside to see new things is a really good way to change your perceptions and reset your needs a little. 

Changing how you move and going outside to see new things is a really good way to change your perceptions and reset your needs a little. 

Humans have the capacity for intellect and thought too. Needs derived from thinking are just as real as needs derived from the lower levels of the soul hierarchy. And yet, the basis of the needs derived from thought are affected by the lower levels.

I don’t know where I’m going with this yet. I have questions: to what extent is this theory is based on a Western perspective? Is there a way to figure out our biological needs apart from what would be torture? Do the Levels of the Soul really matter when the individual experiences needs as real regardless of what level the need derives from? This is weird to think about. How do you think about your needs? Let me know in the comments!

Photo by Anthony Intraversato on Unsplash

Rest and Need

A friend of mine had just told me that he was an insomniac. We were eating burgers on a Wednesday night. He’d come straight from work where he’d had shit day. Just before he had to leave for the day, he had discovered a mistake in an important presentation he had prepared for his boss. The mistake was easy to fix, but this was the second time this had happened and both times he had been the one responsible for the mistake.

He was kept awake at night by mistakes like this one. He told me he needed to get more rest than he did, but thoughts danced around his mind making so much noise he couldn’t sleep. To drown out the noise of his thoughts, he watches movies he knows very well or listens to his favourite album.

As soon as I turn on the movie, the thoughts quieten down and I fall asleep in five minutes.

Problem solved. He just needs to distract himself a little.

And yet, he started this conversation by describing himself as an insomniac. He told me he needs to have the distraction because it helps all the while being sure that it wasn’t really helping him. He’d tried a few other things, but the only thing that helped in the moment was the movies or music.

I was drawn to his description of the cacophony of thoughts keeping him awake. As he described it, he brought his hands up either side of his head as if he were trying to decide between swatting them away and putting his hands over his ears to block out their noise. The image of a man tormented. He laughed as he told me, but this was clearly bothering him.

We talked about the benefits of mediation and learning to be okay with being alone with your mind. Pushing so hard against these thoughts only seems to make them heavier. But if you’re where my friend is, you can’t start mediating today and ‘solve’ the issue right away. Amongst many other things, meditation is a process of learning to observe your thoughts, emotions, or sensations. You’re distracted by them constantly, but over time you can learn to observe them a little longer. You learn to be okay with them, even be curious about them and what they have to tell you. Maybe you can learn not be so tormented by them that they keep you awake at night.

You still need what you need right now.

If you’re anything like my friend, people tell you that you should immediately stop watching tv before bed and try something like mediation instead. It’s shit advice. As your thoughts taunt you, how can you suddenly change your relationship with them without knowing anything about how you might do that? Sure, you could start a mediation practice and slowly learn to need something different to get to sleep. It would probably be great for you - why not get started today? But in the meantime, you’ll continue to need what you need until you don’t need it anymore.

This month I’ll be exploring the concept of need. If you want to follow along, sign up below to get my monthly journal and a sneak peak of the idea I’ll be exploring next month.

De-loading your Training for Fun (and Profit)

This month, I’m exploring the relationship between movement and rest. On the last Sunday of every month I meet with other Canberra movement practitioners to discuss our practice and move together. As a community, Sunday tends to be the day we all take a rest from our training.

But there’s a difference between resting by reading a book and resting by moving. We spent two hours learning mobility drills, playing, and dancing together. We weren’t training, but we still moved.

Intense Rest and Play

As it turns out, I’m de-loading my training this week too. As with rest days, in de-load weeks I still move. I move in a way that is less stressful, so it’s less tiring.

I do less volume with the same or increased intensity in what I do. Doing it this way helps you to figure out feels like to do more work without getting tired since you’re doing much less work overall. You can also de-load by decreasing the intensity but keeping the volume the same, but it’s not as fun. When you can work with more intensity, the possibilities open up. Maybe you can experiment with a heavier weight in your squat, or see what it feels like to do more pull-ups in a row. De-load sessions can be a lot of fun as you break through plateaus and see what you’re capable of.

As my movement practice deepens, my understanding of ‘rest’ is changing. I used to think rest was only when you stopped altogether. But rest is so much more than that.

Rest is an opportunity for you to take a break from the work, do less, be a little less serious, and play.