“I believe in intuitions and inspirations…I sometimes FEEL that I am right. I do not KNOW that I am.” ~Albert Einstein
I’ve been thinking a lot. Maybe you have too?
There’s a lot to think about these days.
I’m taking in information, processing new ideas, adapting the conditions of my life to the current circumstances, and establishing new behaviors. Maybe this sounds familiar to you?
All of this reasoning is primarily a frontal cortex function. When we understand and organize information, that function occurs at the front of the brain. This part of the brain creates order out of chaos. Structure from disarray.
The threads of sensory and experiential input are woven together into an integrated fabric that turns disparate threads of information into something cohesive and comprehensible. Logic and language step in to further clarify and solidify the process. Our experience with the world around us becomes something that has meaning. It’s a handy tool. It’s a good part of our consciousness.
An interesting and often overlooked fact is that our brain does much more than this. When we refer to someone as brainy, we are often referring to their intelligence. And by intelligence, we are often referring to fact-driven logical prowess. Our language reveals much about how we interpret our capacities.
Even if we only take into account physical evidence, we possess a capacity for so much more. Our brains are more than brainy. Our intelligence is more than intelligent. We aren’t here only to make linear sense of things. Our existence suggests there’s more to it than that. Our purpose is bigger.
Which brings me to this pandemic happening in tandem with a flailing economy, massive dysregulation of most systems that govern the rhythms of our lives, and a social awakening rippling through the core of our society. Which brings me to why I’ve been thinking a lot. I’ve been thinking because survival and purposeful existence in this world demands it.
There’s always an “and.”
Purposeful existence demands more than just thinking.
The brainstem is located at the back of the skull, where the brain meets the spine. The brainstem regulates breathing and heart rate. It governs basic movement and sensory experiences by serving as a conduit for input from the spinal cord to the rest of the brain and vice versa. It’s the center of your most essential involuntary survival processes.
This is the place of your most basic presence as a human. It’s your sign of life. There is no logic, no language, no sense or order here. The brainstem is a portal from the nervous system to the brain. Nothing in the portal is interpreted or coherent. It’s just nerve firings and stimuli, electrical currents and rhythms. A jumble of input with no meaning or filter. The brainstem connects your body to consciousness.
This meeting place is potent. It’s the threshold between having a functioning, sensing, present body and the awareness to observe, understand, and trust into it. The brainstem is a liminal container, a transitory passageway of uncensored, unrefined experience.
Meaning making is necessary, of course. The stories we weave from our conclusions about the world are essential (though they can also be dangerous if we get caught up in negative stories about everything that could go wrong).
But, first, there is the elemental material of existence, the origins of presence. This is the fodder that transforms our presence into energy. Our existence into a resolute force.
I’ve been offering myself permission to think less and sense more. I get out of the front of my brain and sink into the back of my skull, right where the skull curves away from my neck. That place behind my throat. Sometimes I take a deep breath into that space, unhinge my jaw, relax my tongue, and open my mouth to breathe out.
Life has been unbelievably messy. No job. New job. New learning curve. No childcare. New living situation. Every habit I had a few months ago has been entirely reinvented. Most assumptions I had about how the world functions from day to day have been decimated. I’ve had to get creative. I can’t think my way through this.
When I sidestep my intellect, something else emerges. When I breathe into the back of my skull another kind of intelligence informs me.
Rather than thinking through or mulling over, I feel into something. I receive a nudge, a pull, an instinctive reflex to start in a particular direction, regardless of whether there is a path present or not. I’m nudged and so I go. It’s often messy, circular, and wayward. But I go, nonetheless. There is usually something there. The going is always worthwhile. And it is absolutely never what I expect.
This place does much more than govern my heartbeat and my breath. It’s the place I write from. It’s the place I tap into while I’m teaching yoga, when I seek to nurture myself and those practicing with me. It’s the place I sink into when I feel uncertain and unmoored. I don’t get answers here, but I do get clear. It’s where I go for the essentials. The dwelling of my instincts. The gathering place of my sensitivity. The sparking nerve fibers of survival, function, and purpose.
I’m getting out of the way. I’m diving into an ancient, intuitive, simple part of myself. I’m feeling and seeing in the most essential way I know how. The brainstem is a portal, connecting simplicity to intentionality. It’s a different kind of intelligence. I’m linking consciousness to my body, awareness to my experience. It’s as simple as that. And it’s so much more.
Want to try it out? I find this practice is most visceral for me when I lie down, so if you can, find a good spot to recline and rest. If you can’t lie down right now, it’s okay. Just sit and get relaxed.
Take a few breaths and sink into the place where you are. Let your body settle downward and feel present within your space. Become aware of your breath. Now, start to send your breath back to the base of your skull. Feel it swirl in that space where the back of your head meets your neck.
Unhinge your jaw, get space between your teeth, and relax the tongue. Let your mouth drop open and sigh out from that space at the very back of the throat. Repeat a few times.
Observe what it feels like to sink your awareness to the back of the skull. Also, get curious about what emerges when you lean into this space. What feelings, thoughts, images, ideas, or sensations come forward? What happens when you intentionally sidestep your reasoning mind and sink into a different part of your consciousness? What wonderful things could happen if you were to trust the most essential parts of you?
About Ethan Somerman
Ethan Somerman is a yoga teacher, meditation guide, and writer living in a crooked house in Midcoast Maine. Visit EthanSomerman.com for information about weekly classes, workshops, and to sign up for their newsletter. Sign up for their upcoming workshop series, Spiraling Inward: a yoga, meditation, and writing immersion to refine inner awareness and unshackle authenticity. Ethan is also part of the Maine Yoga Collective. Visit MaineYogaCollective.com to view their work and sign up for their newsletter.
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