A week or so back, I wrote a post about what I consider to be the “goal” of working with the nervous system. Here’s a snippet from that conversation:
“What we are seeking to develop is not calm if we feel anxious. It’s not energy if we feel flat. It’s not the ability to up and go if we’re frozen to the spot. Not exclusively. What we are really wanting is accurate responsiveness; a brain and body that responds to reality of its present moment in way that matches and meets the situation.”
Someone commented on that post, ‘well yes, but who gets to decide what’s accurate?’ which highlights one of the greatest misunderstandings we have about ourselves that gets in the way of our physical and mental wellbeing.
The answer is: No-one gets to decide and everyone gets to decide.
Confusing right? Well, here’s the thing.
That question- who gets to decide what’s accurate?- is based on the idea that we are or should be consciously controlling our reactions and responses. The principle of conscious control underlies many streams of practice when it comes to the development of mental and emotional strength and balance. On the whole, we are obsessed with conscious control; positive thinking, affirmations, controlling the focus. Those are just the first that spring to mind but the well is deep.
It’s also our downfall.
How our nervous system responds to the moment it finds itself in is not under our conscious control. It’s the domain of our autonomic nervous system, which is unconsciously governed. And it’s not a matter of opinion or methodology. It’s just how the body works.
When I’m talking about accurate responsiveness, I’m not talking about making a conscious decision about how to respond to what’s going on, nor relying on the thoughts or ideas that someone else has about it.
I’m talking about a sensory nervous system that is alive and online, feeding the unconscious brain information so that IT can decide and guide us. When this is the case, the conscious brain works in support of the unconscious; as the observer and ‘decider’ of the next action, but NOT as the information gatherer.
Your responses are going to happen before you’ve had a chance to consciously consider them. This is the way it should be. When we’ve lived in our survival system more often than out of it, sensory information coming in starts to get limited. In this way, our brain starts to lack new, incoming data and as a consequence can respond only in ways that it has previously (hello ground hog day loops).
Which brings us back to: No-one gets to decide, and everyone gets to decide.
No-one gets to decide consciously.
Everyone is already deciding unconsciously.
Adaptability and responsiveness is not about controlling the outcome. It’s about working with the body in a way that allows it to listen to what’s happening in the present and to move forward accordingly.