Descartes was wrong. Whatever you think: your reason is not you. There’s more to know than the rational part of your mind can tell you. And if you ever want to feel in control of your life, you’d better start to explore your other senses.
(if you’re a how-to-list-kind-of-person: scroll down, it’s at the end of this post)
Have you ever seen anyone who’s ‘in the zone’, like a basketball player making all his shots or an actress delivering this great soliloquy or a jazz pianist playing the greatest solo you’ve ever heard?
Have you noticed how these people seem to be somehow disconnected from reality?
If you’d ask them about how they’ve experienced these moments, they’ll probably tell you that these moments were like a heightened sense of life. They were there, and they weren’t there at the same time.
Last weekend I read that Belgian’s olympic champion high jump Tia Hellebaut couldn’t recall the sensations and the emotions she had during the olympic final. She knew she was there, but today it feels like it was just completely the opposite.
For me that’s an intriguing paradox.
These people seemed out of control and yet at that specific moment they controlled life in a very powerful and even unimaginable way.
Why is it that people who are in a flow seem more in control while at the same time ‘letting go’ is something we tend to describe as being passive, as allowing yourself to be out of control?
All life is movement
Suppose all life is movement. Everything strives for something and everything is driven by something at the same time.
If that’s true then when are you in control?
When you understand the full picture and you can consciously manipulate reality?
How on earth would you be able to grasp reality to its fullest extend? How on earth could you possibly recognize and control all the impulses in life that trigger your thoughts and reactions. Let alone that you’d be able to measure the impact of everything you do?
We can’t. Or at least, we can’t if we only rely on our sense of reason.
Reason as we know it (do we?)
This sense of reason works like a filter. We’ve designed it to help us to rapidly pay attention to those things which are more important than others in our quest for survival. In short: we depend on reason to make clever judgements. It gives us a picture of life which makes it easier to handle, so it seems.
Yet this instrument is far from perfect. Because however smart we are, we still manage to make a tremendous amount of mistakes which seem to make sense. People actually believed they earth was flat you know. And it made perfect sense.
Also, I highly doubt that any one knows exactly when it’s appropriate to use our sense of reason and when not. Mainly because no one told you to but also because letting go of reason seems like a pretty silly thing to do.
It’s something which artists do, or yogi or other people who don’t need to take reality that seriously. In fact, we believe this can actually be a dangerous thing to do. Madness is luring around.
In fact, we’ve become so used to using our sense of reason that we’ve forgotten that it is only one of the many useful ways we use to deal with knowledge about this world.
We’ve also become so obsessed with it that it actually made us teach ourselves that it is the single most important sense we have and that it is basically the only one you can trust. So worrying about when to use it and when not is not even a valid question. It’s common sense, for all you know. (Something Theodor Adorne refers to as the instrumentalism of reason)
Imagine a world without reason (and it’s not a dream)
It has even become hard for us to imagine that the world would be meaningful without our sense of reason.
And yet it is.
Because besides our sense of reason there’s also something which I call physical intelligence (*). Physical intelligence is the way your body (to its fullest extend) reads reality and responds to it.
Physical intelligence is basically what helped you growing up and understand about life on earth long before you even had a sense of reason and long before you could understand how reason would help you to get on in life.
We don’t know this physical intelligence that well because we tend to unlearn how to trust it. The older we get the more we get the impression it becomes useless. It is not useless, but we’ve made it useless though the way we’ve organized and designed our lives: i.e. in a rational way.
Still, our physical intelligence remains far from useless and it actually keeps us more alive than reason allows you to realize.
The power of physical intelligence
Once and a while, when physical intelligence takes control – or when we allow it to take control – it turns out to be more suitable to life then we could ever imagine.
That’s when people are in a flow. That’s when they allow their physical intelligence to do its work.
And for a lot of people, that’s a frightening experience.
Because your sense of reason can’t understand what’s happening. It just has to sit there and watch how something else takes over your life which is something it’s not used to (and the chances are you’re either).
The secret of being in control is … being
People who are in a flow allow their whole body to ride the wave, to go with the flow.
And since they intensely feel the flow (which is actually a set of very complex movements), I believe they are also in control because they allow everything to do it’s work, gravity, the wave, the board, the surfer.
They truly are. Here. Now.
And they have faith.
Because without faith they’d probably start thinking about how they’d get control over the whole situation, how their mind should give their body directions, how it should read the wave, how you should position your feed, what size your board should be, and so on …
Now being in control is also knowing (or should I say sensing) when to get in and out of the flow.
At some points it is actually quite useful to reason about something (ask your accountant).
The hard thing to grasp is that this is actually something which is hard to understand for your sense of reason since your sense of reason makes you believe he’s all you’ve got.
How to understand that there’s more to life than you know? (love story)
Think of it as a long lasting relationship.
After all these years, your relationship isn’t what it used to be. In fact, most of the time you’re just arguing with each other. All your friend does is criticizing you for who you are, and trying to improve you or change you because according to him you’re far from handling life in a perfect way.
One day you meet this great guy who’s far more understanding. He listens to you instead of criticizing you and bossing you around. He actually loves you for who you are (how great is that?). You feel you’re falling in love with him (or what did you expect).
But that’s as far as it goes. Because all of a sudden you become afraid. And you decide not to take this relationship one step further even though deep down you feel that this is guy is way more pleasant to be with, and even though you feel that this might be the guy, he might be the one.
Aye, there’s the rub.
He might be the one. You don’t know for sure.
What you do know for sure is that you know your current partner. You’ve built a life together and it works, well,sort of. It’s not great, but at least you know what you have.
So why risk losing that if you don’t know how your relationship with the other guy will work out? After all, the world is a dangerous place and you never know what you’re going to get. And for all you know you current situation is pretty safe.
But it doesn’t make you happy, does it. And since happy people generally tend to live longer (they definitely enjoy life more), it’s not really what you’d call the best option
As far as the senses are concerned, bigamy is a great thing
Our relationship with reason is pretty similar. The good thing though is that we actually can explore different relationships without having to have a brake up first.
In fact, having different relationships with our different senses at the same time will actually make our relationship with our sense of reason healthier.
So whatever you think: your reason is not you. Descartes was wrong. There’s more to know than the rational part of your mind can tell you.
And if you ever want to be in control, probably the best thing to do is allow yourself to learn to use all your senses, so not only your sense of reason.
It means you’ll have to have faith in your physical intelligence. It means you’ll have to allow it to make mistakes without criticizing it and making yourself believe it is less smart than your sense of reason.
So how to start flowing?
- learn to play again
- allow yourself to lose yourself into small things
- enjoy wandering around
- if you find yourself in a situation where you cannot come up with a solution through thinking, why not follow your guts?
- love life
- love yourself
- getting lost is just life trying to tell you you’re about to discover something you haven’t seen before. Make sure you notice.
- have fun
For those of you who’d like a more reasonable approach to this matter, try Dan Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational, Timothy Gallwey and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi their writings or this brilliant lecture on consciousness as a movement.
“We should reject the idea that the mind is something inside of us that is basically matter of just a calculating machine. There are different reasons to reject this. But one is, simply put: there is nothing inside us that thinks and feels and is conscious. Consciousness is not something that happens in us. It is something we do.
A much better image is that of the dancer. A dancer is locked into an environment, responsive to music, responsive to a partner. The idea that the dance is a state of us, inside of us, or something that happens in us is crazy. Our ability to dance depends on all sorts of things going on inside of us, but that we are dancing is fundamentally an attunement to the world around us.
And this idea that human consciousness is something we enact or achieve, in motion, as a way of being part of a larger process, is the focus of my work.” (Alva Noë)
(*) It’s possible that what I call physicall intelligence is actually a general term for things like emotional intelligence or social intelligence, like they are described by Daniel Goleman.