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Attending to our practices as the world breaks around us

Even as a devoted practitioner and advocate of ongoing self-development, I’ve had moments in recent months when I’ve second guessed the point of it all. With so much of the world in dire emergency, it’s to the point that I’m literally forgetting to check in with friends in the path of fires or with family members in destroyed cities because I’m too preoccupied with concern about a close friend at a violent protest or my sister having to evacuate her neighborhood.

Between trying to figure out where to send emergency relief funds, scanning the news daily to make sure nobody I love is in jeopardy (and being heartbroken for the millions who are), trying to gently educate relatives about the unconscious beliefs that are harming our world, putting attention on my and others’ self-development seems … extravagant. Questions of who I am and what my life is for are eclipsed by the urgent call from a world in crisis.

How our practices can shore us up

On a particularly tough day recently, smoke thick in the air from the fires burning a few dozen miles from my home, I began an evening of aikido—my central physical and spiritual practice. It was through an eerie indoor haze that I watched sensei take his place at the front of the room. We began as always, sitting seiza, taking a few moments to gather ourselves. Sirens shrieked outside—not fire-related, and not especially uncommon in our corner of the world. Still, it added to the air of something-not-quite-right-out-there as we bowed in.

In all the thousands of times I’ve commenced practice this way, it’s never felt holier to me. I sensed our group’s collective steadiness and inner quiet as the world was literally burning around us. The goodwill that we summon and send outward with every movement felt more significant; our connection to one another and the wider web far more precious and necessary.

Building capacity

This underscored a feeling I’ve consistently had in quieter moments: the element of my life that needs me most, that feels most necessary and right, is attending to my physical and spiritual practices. None more than they have given me the capacity to be where I’m needed. And what is needed, I’m finding—as many are—has to do with attending to those around us in more loving ways. Recognizing each other as human, listening to each other’s stories, and sharing what resources we can—both tangible and intangible.

In terms of my own development, my practices have given me a physical sense of my own core, my own strength, and my own ability. Giving to others from this place feels less like an exchange of limited resources, and more like a decision that comes from a place of autonomy, abundance, and connectedness. I can offer kindness and help in ways that don’t deplete me or call for something in exchange. This feels extremely useful, to say the least, at this moment in history. Almost like it’s all been leading to this …

It’s a process that will never be complete and is rife with backslides and frustration, but it is happening. It’s an often unconscious yet undeniable unfolding.

What is yours to uncover?

Naturally the direction of everyone’s development is unique. Maybe our times call you out beyond the realms of simple, local acts. Maybe you are driven to activism, warriorship, craftsmanship, heroism, education, divinity. Whatever it looks like, there is something that each of our lives is constantly building towards, and layers we can continually shed to get closer to whoever and whatever that is.

Now is definitely not the time to abandon what keeps us most centered. We actually have to keep turning back to ourselves, keep digging up what is cluttering our souls in a devotional pursuit of the place most steady and true.

We are all required to be uncomfortable

“Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. we must hold each other tight & continue to pull back the veil.”
— Adrienne Maree Brown

Uncovered, yes. All of it at once, it seems, and undeniably. Racism. Sexism. Abuse. Privilege. Unjust war. Injustice, period. Environmental destruction. The myriad wrongs baked into our human existence, that have been driving us for centuries in misguided directions. Nobody can look away from how we’ve been hurting each other and killing the world.

Behind the veil, also, is astounding kindness. And incredible, blinding fear.

Fast and furious the revelations come, at disturbing, sometimes triggering speeds. Calling into question what we’ve built our lives on. Yanking some out of complicity, out of sleep. Making others defensive and scared, having them burrow down into beliefs and hide behind catch phrases and false idols. Causing still others to be relieved and/or pissed that others are only just seeing what they themselves have known all along.

We’re bumpedy-bump-bump bumping through a kind of cosmic turbulence into new, uncharted territory, being forced to reckon with all we’re leaving behind. No problem can be overcome unless it’s examined. Here we are now, in the great examination. The great facing of consequence.

We are all required to be uncomfortable.

And we are all doing what we will with that discomfort: deny, wake up, be inspired, get impatient, get enraged. Be open and humble, admit to what we’ve done wrong, to how scared we are. Or double down on irrelevant narratives that reassure us that we needn’t change even as our world inevitably speeds toward newness. Or hover, frozen, unsure yet of what to do.

Likely different combination of these for everyone.

Hold tight to each other, yes, but not to what no longer serves.

To be a better ally

For my friends who hear the word “autistic” and cower in terror, who are committed to finding cures and advocating prevention (or who perhaps aren’t so invested but still assume that to be the only obvious route) …

I am writing this because I found myself in two situations this week where someone who thought they were being helpful or encouraging said terrible things about autistic folks. In both instances I froze, unable to articulate the truth of what I know—or at the very least defend my autistic friends who have been marginalized and abused for their whole lives. Thankfully in both cases there were friends nearby who jumped in with words of truth. That won’t always be the case though. I need to get better at this.

I am writing this, in part, to equip myself with a few words to say out loud when I’m blindsided by someone else’s powerful fear. I usually write more clearly than I speak, so my hope is that the former might give legs to the latter.

I am writing this not to shame, but to inform. We don’t know what we don’t know—and there is so much on this topic that most of the world is still simply blind to. So. I’m offering what I know. Which isn’t a great deal, and is relatively newly acquired. But. Here is a start.

Autism is not a disease. It is not life-threatening; rather, it is a particular way of moving through life. It’s a genetic variation, same as that which determines our ethnicity or sexual orientation. Nothing causes autism—not vaccinations, not lead poisoning, not anything done in pregnancy. It is not a disease—nor is it even a disorder. The reason it’s been labeled and treated as such is because our world isn’t set up to accept, accommodate or even recognize the differences embodied and displayed by someone with an autistic brain.

If you find speaking difficult, if eye contact is overwhelmingly intense, if you have a hard time coping with the various sensory assaults of our world, if you need more time or a different medium to express what’s in your heart, if moving around in certain ways in helps you feel safe and comfortable, others might become uneasy and start looking for a way to make it stop. Rather than face their own discomfort, they label you sick so that there’s something to fight, to cure, to prevent. To fix.

For this reason, autism (and other neurological variations like bipolar, ADHD, etc.) ends up being categorized as a disorder, a disease. Something that is wrong. (Even the term ‘autism’ infers a condition. People are autistic; they don’t have autism.) Our culture is all about fitting in, succeeding, getting ahead: ‘values’ we have always held in vastly higher regard than seeing and accepting one another for who we are. The labels we apply and ‘cures’ we seek for these folks ask them to contort into shapes that are painful and unnatural so that they appear more in line with the prevailing way of being—meanwhile abandoning everything that feels safe and natural to them. ‘Treatments’ like this are actually abuse, actually torture. And they’ve been going on for years. Still are.

Terms like ‘spectrum’ and ‘aspergers / aspie’ emerged as ways to sidestep the culturally terrifying label of full-on autistic. Failing that, sometimes the label is tempered with the qualifier ‘high functioning.’ Friends: to call an autistic person high functioning is a profound insult (akin to, say, a white person calling a black person ‘articulate’). Whoever you’re saying this about probably looks and talks and acts more or less the way you do and may appear to have less difficulty navigating the world as it is [unfairly] set up. Labels like this dismiss the person’s inner world and experience. They invalidate differences that are no less real because they’re less evident. Most of the autistic folks I know prefer to be referred to as autistic. We’re doing them no favors by inventing terms that make us feel better.

It’s taken me a long time to understand all of this and I know I’m only at the tip of the iceberg. It is a vast conversation with subtleties and sub-topics I haven’t touched on. It’s an entire paradigm shift, in fact, and the vast majority of the world hasn’t yet shifted—or even recognized the need to. My intention here is to lay out the broad strokes to help me (and others) simply begin the conversation—which, I have disturbingly and undeniably realized, I still have very little idea how to do.

Nor am I equipped to speak to every nuance or question on this topic. Luckily there are experts. One of them is my dear friend and teacher Nick Walker, who opened my eyes to all of this to begin with. His website Neurocosmopolitanism is a treasure trove of beautifully written material by an autistic person, plus links to trusted resources for still more.

Apart from this, most of my own education has come from spending time with my autistic friends and their allies, learning from them, and working through my own confusion, misinformation, and fear (after acknowledging it in the first place). It’s not easy to wake up from what we’ve been taught our whole lives, but it is necessary for our evolution, both individual and collective. Like any endemic area of social blindness where we’re called to wake up to our own privilege, we need to stay curious rather than get defensive.

Again, this isn’t meant as an argument so much as an outlay of basic information. Originally I’d asked that only my autistic and neurodivergent friends and their allies respond and let me know if any piece of this is obtuse or off the mark. It’s since been thumbsed-up by enough people I respect in that community that I invite questions from anyone wanting to join me in being a better ally.

Because I was scared (8/19/17)

I killed a spider
Not a murderous brown recluse
Nor even a black widow
And if the truth were told this
Was only a small
Sort of papery spider
Who should have run
When I picked up the book
But she didn’t
And she scared me
And I smashed her

I don’t think
I’m allowed

To kill something

Because I am

Frightened

– “Allowables” by Nikki Giovanni

Every bad thing I’ve ever done my in life I did because I was scared. Everything I regret was born of fear. Fear of death, rejection, ridicule. Fear of humiliation. Fear of retribution, fear of getting hurt. Fear of awkwardness or boredom or discomfort.

Unconscious dread coiled deep in my core, built up over lifetimes. Current terrors burning lightly on the surface like a sheen of lighter fluid.

Everyone I’ve betrayed, every feeling I’ve disregarded, every morsel of kindness withheld. Every time I’ve gossiped, every time I’ve lied. Every act of selfishness, mindlessness, cruelty. Every measure of harm to myself or others. Every question not asked, every assumption made. Every judgment cast. Every rejection of intuition, every lapse in integrity (there have been so many). Every act of violence. Every act of hate.

Every act of violence. Every act of hate.

Because I was scared. I am scared.

I’m forgiving nobody in our moment in history, making excuses for no one—least of all myself. I’m just pointing out that we’re all scared. We’re all so damn scared. Imagine if we could accept and admit that. Look into each other’s eyes and souls and mutually acknowledge our wounds and our terror, and that all we’ve done and continue to do are warped attempts to feel safe. We act  in ways we’ve learned, that help us make sense of the chaos and the dread.

I’m not calling for peace—too late, too ancient, too moot. Fear began when humans began; it’s nothing we can untangle in a moment, a day, a lifetime, a millennium. Kindness must be radicalized now, the volume on courage and sanity turned way way up. Anger—worlds different from hate—expressed and heard. That’s what is happening during this sea change and that’s side I’m on. No way am I neutral on this.

At the same time, though, I pray to stay connected in every moment to the okayness of the greater surround (not this earth, this earth is mortally wounded, our fear has done this. Forgive us, Mother), but the infinite intelligence of All That Is. Aligning with that knowing, that all is well, that all is love, and that there actually is no need to be afraid. There never was.

“Hey – don’t worry, don’t be afraid – EVER – because… this is just a ride.” —Bill Hicks

I endeavor to recognize the fear behind the hate in everyone who hates, and in every shameful act of my own. Try, try to ask questions instead of making judgments. Keep unearthing layers of my own fear: its roots, its origins, the age I was or lifetime I was in when it formed. Nurture that little being, acknowledge her feelings and her fear. Shake and cry with her. Love her into maturity. Forgive.

Try to see past the defenses and glimpse the terrified, vulnerable kid in whoever I look at, no matter how odious. Tall order. It’s scary. I try.

And I’ll join the mobs of good, brave, scared people marching out to stop ignorance from spreading. The immune system of our shared humanity rushing to the wound. Triage, stabilize, and maybe one of these generations we’ll be well enough to begin healing for real.

Self Doubt

From The Awkward Yeti
theawkwardyeti.com

Where’s your spine?

Where’s your spine? You’re spineless. Have some backbone. Phrases like these tend to be uttered by the mean and misguided to point out another’s fear or hesitancy. Horrible, hurtful … and, it turns out, inaccurate.

Of course, as with most concepts in our language that have become warped and contorted, it has some basis in the truth. Our spine is indeed the source of our strength, our courage, our autonomy, our attunement, and lots else.

Our spine, called the backbone because the vertebrae can be felt and sometimes seen through the skin on our back, actually runs right through the center of our torso. It’s a kind of tent pole, if you will, that holds our bodies up. It’s the core of our energetic field. Keeping our attention on our spine keeps us attuned to ourselves, our truth, our needs, our edges, our experience.

Some of us do this naturally. Many do not (*raises hand*). Instead, we reference the world outside of ourselves. (By “reference” I mean put our attention on; make central; use to determine how, where and who we are in a given moment.)

This particular pattern of attention references anything but self. It instead goes through life asking, usually unconsciously, “what is the situation here and how can I blend into it so I’ll be accepted? What is this person up to, and how can I give them more of what they want, or be like them, so that they’ll love me?” Someone who does this pattern can be charming, nurturing, generous. Emotional. Loving. They can also be overly social, scattered or chatty, seeking feedback through protracted eye contact or touch, and not especially adept on third plane without others doing things for them.

Having never gotten enough—food, nurturance, attention—as a little one, we are always reaching for more love. More approval. We’ll contort ourselves however we can to get it. We’ll abandon self—not by leaving our bodies, but by liquefying our field to merge with others’. (Which, if the other person isn’t accustomed to behaving the same way, they might feel invaded or ‘slimed.’)

The physical phenomenon beneath this pattern of attention is that we’re not aware of our own core. We’re so accustomed to referencing others that we forget (or actually, never knew) the same resources are available within, and that we are capable of holding ourselves up. We’re looking everywhere but at our own center, our own spine—hence, spineless. But not cowardly. How can someone unaware of their own capability willingly reject it? Would you do this on purpose? Of course not. As with all survival strategies, we can’t know what we never learned. Can’t do what we were never shown.

The great news about any habit that has its roots in our physicality is that we can address it there. We don’t have to spend years analyzing it or unearthing its initial causes. (I mean, sure, we can do that for kicks, too, if we want. It’s just that emotional wounding—any wounding—results in a warped energy field. I’ve come to appreciate the simplicity of going directly there.)

There are lots of other ways to take this up. Any martial art, where you’ve got to know where you are before you have any hope of interacting successfully with another, is a failsafe way to build core. (I didn’t realize this was what I was doing when I started Aikido, but I know that it’s helped me reference core to the point that my mergey tendencies are almost undetectable now.) Same is true of partner dancing. Pilates is the most obvious one as it goes right there: its stated purpose is core strength. There are also balancing exercises and meditations where we visualize our core going through our body and extending into the earth and up into the heavens.

With our attention on our spine more consistently through one of these practices, we can then start to notice where our edges are, when we might be invading someone else with our needs—and when that is happening to us.

We can help our friends who do this pattern too. Rather than engage their need for feedback (or in addition to it), we can put our attention on their alignment, their capability. Their spine, really. Pay as much attention to their courage and autonomy as to their great hugs and delicious brownies.

This is a small piece of a huge topic: a lifetime of behavior built on a strategy used to survive as a baby. We’ll explore it and others in Intro to Energy Basics.

Perfect

The other day I overheard someone say, “Oh, I overlooked that. I’m a terrible person!”

I know this lovely being to have perfectionist tendencies. But what hadn’t been so starkly clear to me until I heard this language is how he conflates his value as a human being with never making mistakes. On the rare occasions he slips up, this is what he says about himself. To himself.

And to others.

Panning back I suddenly re-witnessed a lifetime of this. Me doing it to myself; others doing it to themselves; others doing it to others; others doing it to me.

Yes, doing it to. This is an attack. It’s an assault. It’s a holding of an impossible standard: perfection. And not just perfection, but perfection according to an individual: a subjective, ever-moving target, impossible to reach or sustain.

There are some who do this prevalently, but even those of us blessed with a modicum of perfectionism will sometimes perceive others’ mistakes as affronts. If someone “messes up,” according to us, they’re a terrible person. They’ve attacked us with their awfulness. When really the opposite is true. We’ve devalued them with our assessment. We’ve deemed them unworthy of living (or at least living in our presence) because of their flaws. Our fear of our own imperfection leaks, often mercilessly, onto others who probably don’t hold the same standards for themselves (or they do, but the standards are distinct from our own.)

This breaks my heart a million times over. Especially since it’s not possible to project onto others what isn’t going on a thousandfold in ourselves. “I’m a terrible person” is a chant that took root at the back of some of our skulls at a young age. Our lives became about proving this isn’t true through constant vigilance, striving, performance, judgment. Never relaxing, never settling, never feeling okay. This can be too much for a body and mind to hold. No wonder we foist some of the burden onto others.

This isn’t a universal survival pattern, but it’s pretty common—even celebrated—in our culture. Achievement, productivity, performance determines our worth. Look at cover letters. Look at commercials. Look at the damn Olympics. Mistakes don’t factor in. They’re not allowed. They’re covered up, condemned.

And yet mistakes are the only way we have of learning anything at all.

Of course there are wonderful things about perfectionism too (every pattern has a light side). Without the minds and talents of our über organized friends we wouldn’t have beautiful design, helpful systems, or vital infrastructure. We need these tendencies in the world. It’s just that harm is caused when we are unconsciously driven by them.

So what to do?

Challenging though it is to try to deprogram a lifetime of learned behavior, we can always start with compassion. Turn toward that voice that asserts that we or anyone else who is flawed is also awful. Connect to it gently. Ask it where it got these messages. Find their origin; question their truth.

We can spend time around those we judge as being chaotic or messy or not having their shit together. Connect with the joy, ease and creativity they may also bring. Notice that mistakes as we perceive them don’t actually result in death or anything close to it.

And hardest of all: we can let ourselves start to feel. Feel the pain and sadness inherent in holding ourselves and others to such impossible standards. Feel the freedom in doing something insane like not paying a bill right away, or being two minutes late, or not being the one to replace the empty toilet paper roll. Feel into what your body and heart are asking for in a given moment versus what Should Be Happening.

And for the love of god, go easy on yourself with this. Don’t apply perfectionist tendencies to the task of loosening them. Easier said than done, of course. So, get support. Don’t do this alone. (Yes, I know you’re capable of doing it alone, but that’s not the point here. Quite the opposite, in fact.)

Under behavior—any behavior—is our essence. Our true value and worth. Who we really are. A beautiful, already perfect soul comprising love and joy. There’s nothing to prove there. Nothing at all. It is she who we’re looking to connect with.

We’ll explore this and other patterns in upcoming posts, and at the Energy Basics workshop coming up next month.

The agony of conscious incompetence

I wrote this for my coaching school’s blog in 2011, the same year I started aikido. At the time I didn’t connect the two. (Hindsight can be a lovely thing.) Though the context is coaching, hopefully it’s clear how this applies to any practice.

I was recently introduced to a learning model that’s opened up a lot of space around my own development and my work with clients. It’s known as the four stages of competence, the stages themselves being: (1) unconscious incompetence, (2) conscious incompetence, (3) conscious competence, and (4) unconscious competence.

Unconscious incompetence is when our blind spots are still blind, and we’re blissfully ignorant of what we’re capable of growing into. (Or maybe it’s not so blissful, and that’s why we seek coaching.) Once introduced to the new possibility or skill we want to develop, we may begin vague cognitive understanding of it, but the rest of our system has no reference for it yet. We don’t yet know what we can’t do.

Conscious incompetence then ensues. This is the stage when we are aware of the thing that needs to shift but we haven’t yet shifted. It’s having the desire for change while feeling stuck being how we’ve always been. I’ll talk more about this in a second.

Conscious competence comes when we’ve gotten the hang of the new skill or quality, but it’s not yet second nature. For example, if we’re learning to drive a car, we still need to pay attention to which way we need to turn our ankle to reach the brake pedal, remind ourselves to check the rearview mirror, and largely ignore whomever is riding with us so that we can concentrate on what we’re doing.

But eventually, finally, blessedly, comes unconscious competence, when we’ve embodied the new skill and it starts to happen automatically. We’re cruising with the radio on full blast, with our attention on the scenery, on our companions, on our own inner life.

But let’s back up for a moment to that second stage, conscious incompetence. This phase can be pesky. Actually, it can be hell. To use the driving example, it’s the stage when your mother is sitting terrified in the passenger’s seat, digging her nails into the dashboard and pushing down on the nonexistent brake pedal with both feet, shrieking at you to not hit the squirrel. It’s rolling backwards down hills and bouncing off the side of the garage. It’s making mistake after mistake after mistake and thinking you’re never, ever going to get it.

Can you see how this applies to growth edges in self-development? You are invited into a new narrative that is possible for you, but which you have not yet embodied. It can be immensely frustrating to see a new way of being in front of you, understand and be inspired by the possibility of it, and yet still employ your old set of behaviors because it’s all your system knows to do.

I had a client who had always believed that he was the catalyst for everything that happened in his life and in the lives of those around him. He didn’t think people would do things if he didn’t remind them. Once he realized it was possible to trust that the world could take care of itself, he began to taste the joy and freedom that comes with being able to let go. So he didn’t understand why, soon after he had this realization, he was still micromanaging his employees and doing the lion’s share of tasks at home. He became frustrated with himself and wondering why he was “sliding.” Which, of course, wasn’t the case at all. He was just learning.

When we encounter conscious incompetence, I think we have a choice. We could let our inner critic grab the mic and begin a running commentary on all the ways we’re utterly inadequate, for not being The Better Person We Know We Can Be, which invariably snowballs into greater self-loathing and a much slower progression toward the new way.

Or, we can remember what it was like to be a teenager learning to drive a car. We can observe toddlers learning to walk, falling on their little bums again and again and again. We can appreciate the how huge it is to be aware of something that wasn’t even in our consciousness until now. We can give ourselves permission to fall, and crash, and fail, and cry. We can surround ourselves with a support system of folks who will pick us up, dust us off, encourage us, forgive the messes we make, and remind us how far we’ve come.

And then finally, when we’ve reached that blissful state where we’re so used to our new way of being that we’re no longer aware of it, those same folks can remind us of the time when we thought it was impossible.

And this is the gift we have the privilege of giving our clients as well: letting them bounce off as many garage doors as they need to, and reassuring them that one day, they’ll be on cruise control.

How we know what’s true (or, why we need our bodies)

Sometimes at the beginning of class I have students walk around the mat feeling into different parts of themselves – center, feet, heart, the room, the earth, the universe, playing with what part of them is “driving,” experimenting with surrendering control and letting themselves be driven. Checking out how all of this affects their movement, interaction with others, feeling of themselves. Does it feel familiar? Is it new? What do you notice?

Regardless of what students are instructed to focus on, the intention is to awaken to how we move through space. To do so with attention in our physical being, rather than on the usual thoughts or judgments or goals or whatever is coming through our headphones. Out of the head and into the body.

This is vitally important for a million reasons, one of which is cultivating our ability, in any given moment, to tell what is true.

In these times when there is so much noise, so many claims, so much information flying around, we have a lot of sorting to do. Right now especially we are privy to much that historically has been harder to access, that had been behind the curtain, that we had to go looking for. Injustice is no longer only blatantly obvious only to its victims and warriors. It’s now in all our faces, all the time. These facts are ticker-taped across our awareness on a daily basis. We’re seeing shifts in our world that have potential for massive healing or destruction. Unless we take up residence in a Siberian cave, we cannot deny that it’s happening.

And yet, some do. Still. Even now. Why?

In anticipation of some difficult conversations and downright brawls in the years ahead, I’ve been reflecting on this. What is the difference between a being who is contact with the truth versus one who believes rhetoric and refuses to abide facts? (Of course I am framing it this way for the sake of argument, acknowledging fully that it’s not so black and white—pardon the expression—as that.)

It turns out that knowing and believing are not the same thing. One lives in the mind. The other, in the body. On a topic of oh, say, institutionalized oppression, to say that we’re merely disagreeing—that one person’s “truth” is just as valid as the other—is inaccurate.

Facts are of the physical universe. Science, for instance, relies on evidence—that which we can access via our earthly senses. “Gut feelings” are called that because they are actual sensations in the tummy. To have access to our senses we must be in our bodies, be attuned to them, know how to operate them. For many, this is unimaginable. We’re just not gonna go there. With good reason: we’ve all been invaded and traumatized, on purpose or not, consciously or not. We’ve gotten messages that our physicality is not a safe place to dwell. Not to mention that it’s been trained out of us for generations—Descartes saw to that.*

Denying our bodies by and large means a retreat to the mind. Not exactly a Siberian cave, but definitely a wind tunnel of myriad arbitrary ideas. In that abstract, un-rooted place where nothing is really real, we can pick and choose what we hold on to and what we let blow through. With nothing solid to test that truth against we usually end up surrendering our attention to whatever cacophonous presentation is the most relentless.

If this is what belief stems from, and I think it is, we can literally believe anything. Overwhelming and disquieting, to say the least.

Knowing, on the other hand, is when our cells vibrate with the truth of something. It lives in the gut, in the skin, in the spine, the throat, the connections between our muscles and bones. It’s when, for instance, considering a potential situation makes you feel solidly planted several inches deeper in the ground versus twitchy and spacey. Or when you’re somewhere and know you need to leave immediately because you feel that certain kind of nauseated. Everyone’s tuning mechanisms work a little differently. It’s up to each of us to learn our instrument.

It’s no coincidence that the deeper I’ve ventured into my aikido practice the less confusing things have become. (Mind you I say less confusing, not not confusing.) Over time, practice has connected me to the divining rod that is my body. I know what’s true more of the time because I can feel it. Not because I read it in a book or saw it on the news or heard someone say it (even if they’ve said it a billion times). As my attention is trained on ever subtler nuances of movement in myself and others, I become more aware of what it feels like when my cells sing in resonance with a thought or action that is true or right or loving or kind, or that forwards wellbeing or evolution—my own or the world’s.

Ai is unity. Ki is energy. Do is the way. When we practice aikido we’re unifying with the god force that runs through all things. We’re doing it to heal ourselves and heal the world through our alignment to ultimate rightness. Training helps us attune more and more to THAT truth—the one that, if we feel into it, is actually rather simple and obvious. It’s nothing to do with what our parents or newsfeeds or priests or friends or teachers or addictions have vied to install in our minds.

It’s a tough thing, choosing to abandon the conditioned behavior of hunkering in our heads, sorting information based on what ‘makes sense.’ The body can be unfamiliar territory, full of wounding and aches, full of memories we’d rather not dredge up, full of demands to move in different ways than we’re used to. It’s also our most necessary instrument in discerning what our life is for.

More on how we might navigate this tricky business in upcoming posts.

*If you’re a fan of utterly profound, gently delivered insight and are not yet following my friend Justin Wise’s blog, On living and working, I invite you to resolve that on that double.

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