So, what is involved in knowing that our movements are making us? What is it exactly that we are supposed to notice? And how will this awareness help us find wisdom in our bodily selves?
Good questions. First, we notice patterns.
Every movement we make—thinking, feeling and acting—has a shape and form, a rhythm and tempo.
So too these patterns of movement are never merely physical. Whether the movement involves analyzing a problem, bursting with compassion for a hurt friend, or jumping over a log, every one we make engages all levels of our being in the particular pattern of attention or inattention, animation or quiet that enables it.
Further, each pattern occurs in a given moment, as a way of sensing and responding to the situation at hand. It is these patterns of sensing and responding, then, that we are after.
Why? Because these patterns are the key to understanding how our movement is making us.
Every time we move, we exercise the pattern that enables that movement to happen. As we exercise a given pattern, it grows strong in us, and not only that. It becomes us. It makes us who we are. It guides us in sensing and responding to other moments in our lives.
My movement is making me. The pattern of sensing and responding that I make in any given moment makes me into someone who has made that pattern of movement, someone who can make that movement, and someone who is likely to make it in the future.
We are always making the movements that are making us. We can never not be, until we die. So the challenge is not just to know that this is happening, but to learn how to participate in it. Specifically, we can learn how our feelings of pain or discomfort in any realm are the result of movements we are making; and learn from those feelings how to move differently, in ways that coordinate our pleasure, our health, and our continued growth as human persons.
Take an example: riding a bike. I learn to ride as I learn to coordinate my arms and legs in the patterns of sensation and response needed to hold, propel, and steer the bicycle. Each time I animate this coordination of nerves, muscles, and limbs, the patterns of riding grow stronger, clearer, and more precise in me. I change. I become someone who can pedal, steer, and balance, and not only that. I also grow more able to sense and respond to nuances in the movement of my body and the bicycle. I sense the tilt of a tight turn and respond with a shift in weight that allows me to stay upright. I sense the spike of fear, the press of determination, and the release of relief that accompanies as I do.
In this way, the movements I make in learning to ride make me into a bike rider—someone who can bike, who is apt to notice bikes, and who can respond to any object that appears as like-a-bike by straddling it, whether horse or motorcycle. I become someone who feels the feelings and thinks the thoughts that bike riding stirs and can respond to challenges that feel similar by animating these patterns.
Of course, I can ride a bike without this awareness of what is happening. However, when I tune in to how my movements are making me, something shifts. I find myself making new and better movements that align my pleasure and well being with the challenge at hand.
For example, perhaps as I ride along I feel a pinch in my neck or a tension in my shoulder. As I tune into the movements making me, the pain suggests to me a possibility for moving differently. I spontaneously adjust, making micro-movements on all registers of awareness—my right shoulder twists, my chin stretches forward, my lower back softens, and the thought of last week’s embarrassment lets go.
Of course, “I” am making these movements, but in another sense, these movements are making me. As I attend respectfully to my sensations of displeasure, I find myself riding with greater ease and strength, in ways that are freer, faster, and more precise. It is intoxicating.
A similar dynamic holds in all areas of our lives. When we cultivate a sensory awareness of how the movements we are making are making us, we tap into an immense reservoir of wisdom. It is wisdom that is guiding us to make the movements that enhance our health and well being, that unfold what it is we have to give.
Next week: A concrete practice for cultivating this sensory awareness of the movement that is making us.
Think of a movement that you are very good at making—a movement that you identify with as something you can do, with something special about you. It may be playing an instrument or sport, engaging a kind of puzzle or problem, responding to a friend or colleague, preparing a meal or a performance.
What patterns does this movement involve? What kind of coordination do you exercise across the range of your sensations—physical, emotional, mental? What “muscles” does this activity exercise in you?
Now think about other aspects of your life. How often is it that you exercise these patterns of movement as you sense and respond to other challenges in your life? How often do you mobilize this sense of yourself when facing a problem or a new task to learn?
What are you creating?