This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Our ancestors would have to make snap decisions on whether something was dangerous or not as a means of self-preservation. If they experienced significant danger and lost, they were at risk of not passing on their genes. So they had to form beliefs about themselves and their environment by extrapolating their limited experience and that which they learned from their culture.
We “modern” humans do the same thing. We all have beliefs that are formed by experiences and predictions, and learned from society. But most of us, thankfully, are not in mortal danger during the vast majority of our existence. So we hold these theories of ourselves and our capacities without ever fully testing them. Maintaining a belief about something that has not been reality-tested affects our neurophysiology in a very tangible way — it modifies our behavior to perpetuate the conviction.
If I believe my back is weak or damaged in some way, because a physician showed me a scary MRI or I hurt my back once when doing a particular movement, wouldn’t I move in such a way to protect it? Wouldn’t I perceive tasks as more dangerous than they actually are? Would my nervous system and muscles be at a higher resting tone, ready for fight or flight at any inkling of danger? The answer, obviously, is yes. But there’s a way to cut thru this distorted behavior — the inquiry of exploration.
Inquiry and Exploration
“Is there actually a problem?”
“What do I feel, not think but feel, when I move in such a way?”
These are the questions we should try to answer when we move in exploratory and curious ways. Exploring movement in a secure and progressive manner, going slowly at first and being in tune with the senses, is an excellent way to examine how we think about the way our bodies work. Essentially we are inquiring into our opinions of ourselves, an investigation into the reality of our beliefs.
Inquiry thru movement reveals the unknown, and most of the time it’s just not scary. If it ends up being scary, if you really do have a problem, at least you know what you’re dealing with which significantly reduces the stress* and allows for better resolution. The inquiry of movement exploration is a powerful tool that creates space and reduces the unknown. This is where we all should be.
Perhaps this inquiry, this reality-testing, of our beliefs about our bodies is the reset the nervous system needs. A permission to heal* and let go of compulsive psychomotor patterns.
After all, we are not beholden to our current status, only our beliefs about our current status.
P.S. It only took me three years but I have now added a search engine to the website to allow you to search my archives much more easily.
- Check out this fantastic article on the Evolved Self-Management System by Nicholas Humphrey. It’s something I find myself re-reading often when I find myself chasing symptoms.
- *Sapolsky discusses how the feelings of predictability and control make stressors less stressful in his seminal text Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. Part of my Recommended Reading list.