Learner Therapist (70) … Breath taking focusTorrey Orton
Jan. 26, 2016
Breathing, preparing muscles for action and initiating imagined action, without taking action
Both Custers and Bargh acknowledge that their research undermines a fundamental principle used to promote human exceptionalism — indeed, Bargh has in the past argued that his work undermines the existence of free will. But Custers also points out that his conclusions are not new: people have long sensed that they are influenced by forces beyond their immediate recognition — be it Greek gods or Freud's unruly id. What's more, the unconscious will is vital for daily functioning and probably evolved before consciousness as a handy survival mechanism — Bargh calls it "the evolutionary foundation upon which the scaffolding of consciousness is built." Life requires so many decisions, Bargh says, "that we would be swiftly overwhelmed if we did not have the automatic processes to deal with them."
Think You're Operating on Free Will? Think Again
Friday, July 02, 2010 TIME Inc.
We know that physical preparation for taking action occurs faster than the conscious thought of doing so does, which has been taken as evidence that we are not in control of what we do, that we do not (effectively, we cannot) choose. It is ‘evidence’ like this which encourages me to continue learning how I work in therapy and related activities. The question is ‘what are the facts evidencing’? The following are some of my recent awareness acquisitions in search of that what for me.
First, there’s the actual breathing of writing – the partly held breath of an idea’s first sentences appearing in writing. It is not at all the same thing as editing an existing text, which is much slower, and while also focussed it is in another place of my thinking self. Just writing the last few words has that breath-holding character to it…even though the ideas I have are already available in a hand-written version a few days ago.
Actions without intent
Second - and in the night, too – slight jaw preparations for an imagined talking interaction. Then there’s “restless” legs or feet as I’m ‘walking’ myself through the byways of a search for something, a definite something but not definite enough to be grasped fully yet, and so not yet a matter for any action, but between the first and second stage of change – pre-contemplation and contemplation. In this grasping process my jaw is often chewing lightly, giving me experiential meaning to ‘mastication’, a word I’ve never used (too dental for normality?), and which now gives access to rumination as a normal productive process rather than its defective mental health relative. That it is still some ways from intentional action is confirmed by lack of teeth grinding in the chewing.
Breathtaking experience is a relative of breath-holding in that both imply a constraint of a highly motivated (in the moment) intent, a readiness on a leash. Trauma patients’ breathing is often choked or squeezed or throttled, depending on the traumatic matters which are seeking expression through the constraints of inhibitions long established and constantly maintained. Shallow breathing can be seen, and a yawn often arises, after the release of a previously constrained subject. In this way their repressed or out of awareness or unremembered or dissociated matters are present to them in the struggle to breath in everyday interactions. And, in that sense they are not forgotten. As Van Der Kolk says: “the body keeps the score.”
As I’m re-reading this and shifting between composition and editing from moment to moment (shifting from a productive intention to contemplative attention) I am slightly rocking in my desk chair, the upper half of my body backing-and-forthing rhythmically, reflecting the light touch of my mental gaze’s eye movements across my field of vision and back - a process out of consciousness. (http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Human_saccadic_eye_movements )
Back to the unconscious…
Now all this sits in the context of our self-defence system which always operates in the background. It is perhaps the system which mindfulness competence accesses in as much as this system is the repository of the ability to be present but not active in the present, and eventually to be present while also active in the present. Our everyday access to this system is through spontaneous perceptions on the edge of our fields of perception – hearing to the side and back, sight to the sides and above - which work to warn us by interrupting our forward focussed actions to announce an unexpected, and unexplained, percept – a flutter, a squeak or rustle, a feeling of ground moving, etc.