Slowing down any action can make the ordinary extraordinary. Great art can do that too and it’s like turning a base-metal to gold.
Any action you make in the world does not begin with muscles twitching and contracting. Much has happened before muscles get in on the act! The beginning of the action is much further back where the great neuro-turbines turn. There is always neuro-activity preceding muscle action. We can become so busy doing, that it is no longer obvious that there is a first thing in the line before the “doing”- before the muscle action. And the neuro-action runs the show.
The highest capacity in our brains involves a stop. It is possible for the Power of No to intervene- just as the neuro-action is just about to become muscle action. I call this the point-of-not-quite-yet – or PONQY for short. It is a Big Call and it requires you to exercise the highest level of cortical organisation. I refer to it as a neuro-effort of attention. To exercise the power of no has the facility to down-regulate the upcoming muscle action. At that point you enter into the present moment and unlock the Power of Now. If you try, and fail to exercise the power of no you will then know for sure, that you are habit-locked.
How is it that the Power of No is the key to present centred awareness: the Power of Now?
How can we use a simple every day action to make the ordinary extraordinary?
Here is a sequence to explore that uses the every-day action of lifting your arm:
Be still and present with the intention to lift your right arm.
Start with the intention to lift your arm and just a moment before muscle contractions startup exercise a neuro-effort to pull back on the reins and hold back from the action. Alexander called that potential, Inhibition.
Suspend this moment. Appreciate that you have arrived at the interface between your mind (neuro-power) and your body (muscle power). In an important sense you have arrived at the still-point of the turning world, at the fulcrum or crossover point between mind and body.
Next, we are about to exercise a little bit more of that neuro-power in the form of a direction. At that key moment: consider yourself at a pinnacle of poised and necessary tension – ready to act. The direction that you give at this point is not to do something, not to add tension but quite the opposite, to subtract tension. Notice that this is not a collapse of the pile of tension but a subtle and graded trickling of a release. Think of it like a pile of soft sand with just a few grains trickling falling away from the top.
Next comes that subtle subtraction or release of tension. It simply allows the weight of the arm to hang freely from its suspension system located in the shoulder. The suspension system responding to the stimulus of released arm-weight. Gravity is now user-friendly! It is helping in the preparation for more efficient and economical action.
As a consequence, when the neuro-action now goes ahead and flows into muscle action you will use only the necessary amount of energy to carry out the action. This is why it feels light. We have evolved to be efficient and economical in exactly this way as we manage better our expenditure of the body’s precious energies. This is mindfulness-in-action. Only in this way are you able to step back and observe the initial change. The change you create comes from conscious presence. Most of all do bear in mind that it feels good! It is the body’s endorphin affirmation of an improved integrity.
For long years I worked with these principles before reaching a forehead-smiting moment with regard to the process of release that I call subtraction. When we are on Automatic Pilot we mindlessly and thoughtlessly add tension. Far and away the majority of our many arm-reaches are reactive and therefore unconscious. You cannot possibly hope to be fully conscious and present for every single one of those arm reaches. But the ones that have the conscious blessing of your attention will spread out like jam on bread. Moments of presence are moments of self remembering. This is when you re-collect yourself. Think of it as a pause – a moment of suspension and self-questioning. You are not rushing headlong to do something or correct something but to be something – initially to be there in a caring way for yourself. Remember it all begins with a stop. Mostly we are only really concerned about achieving the end: we want to get the cornflakes off the top shelf in order to have breakfast. If instead your attention stays with the process rather than the end then it becomes really obvious that to subtract successfully you must be present for the existing pattern of tension in order to let go of those few grains from the top of the pile. The economy and efficiency that result are part of our evolutionary inheritance of economy and efficiency and an alert present-centred connection to what is around us in the world. The current virus crisis that has so brought us to a halt and potentially to some still reflection could potentially be a moment of awakening and re-connection to who we are and where we have come from and how in the post-crisis future we might learn to change.
Action point: take just one very familiar routine, reach and apply the above principle once a day for a week.
It turns out that our capacity to down regulate habitual action is also the all important precursor for us to engage and co-regulate and cooperate with other human beings in the world. It makes us compassionate and human!
Remember: It is possible for purposes of cross contamination to be isolated and socially distant and yet together! But we are going to have to change our habits!