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Difference that makes a difference

How many times a day do you actually notice how you feel? Do you get an idea of slight differences in your mood and energy levels or you can only notice how tired you are only after your legs no longer carry you?

I definitely used to be one of the latter… I remember the times of office work, when I dreaded but in a strange way also liked those periods of last-moment urgency caused by deadlines. My heartbeat goes up, my mind clears out and I am 110% focused on the problem at hand. A sweet feeling of full concentration… I completely lose a sense of my body, as if the mind was the only thing there was.

I could sit like that, in front of a computer, for hours. My chronic pain, not a priority at that moment, fully disappearing from the radars. But then, when the task would be over and I would come back to the normal state, I would be hit by a huge wave of fatigue, physical pain and other discomforts that were put on hold and accumulated. Sometimes the pain would be so strong as sitting would become unbearable with the only relief being lying down on the floor. These times taught me a lot. The usual state of full concentration resembled a great deal of a fight-or-flight response. In general, such a reaction to serious stress is natural and quite a healthy one.

The problem is that I was somehow addicted to this state of clarity of mind without realising it. To the extent that in order to get it I would experience almost any challenging situation as a life-or-death emergency. Thus, without understanding it, I was closing myself into a cycle of constant stress even when it was not necessary. Getting an idea of this subconscious wiring was a great first step, but actually changing was a whole separate challenge in itself. How do you learn to sense what is going on in your body halfway to losing a feeling of it completely if you’ve never done it before? The first seeds of self-awareness and sensitivity were planted when I started personal therapy, even though I don’t think I realised it back then.

My psychotherapist would kindly bring my attention to where in my body I felt the emotion and then give me time to stay with the sensation and experience it. Then, after the discovery of the Feldenkrais method and somatic education, the practice of mindful movement reinforced the development of this capacity further.

I learned to sense smaller and smaller differences in the movement of my body. A notion of “quality of the movement” appeared.

When you hold a sick book in a hand and a fly sits on it, you will not be able to detect the difference in weight. If you hold a piece of paper, however, the chances are you will be able to sense the difference. This is the reason why it is important to slow down and decrease the intensity of the process while learning to sense yourself better. One of the best ways to learn to notice differences in sensations is through the body experience itself. To enhance this capacity directly on the physical level, refining old and building new neurological connections. The outcomes of such work often extend outside the lesson's boundaries and infiltrate into daily life, allowing you to appreciate the benefits of fine-tuned sensing abilities in other situations. Maybe next time when you sit in front of your computer and you suddenly notice your fatigued eyes instead of ignoring it you’d rather allow yourself to shift your gaze to the scenery behind the window or close your eyes for a few seconds.

Or, when you feel the tension building up in your back, you’d invite yourself to stand up, stretch out, or go for a 5 min walk around. These tiny actions can have a lot of positive impact on the quality of life if you invite them into your day.

And it all starts with an ability to detect the small changes in your sensations and to be able to notice them sooner rather than later. It's true that we are evolutionally tuned to be much more susceptible to negative emotions and threats rather than positive ones. But, the ability to detect small differences in the physical state or mood on the pleasant side of the spectrum starts at the same place. This month, I invite you to carve out some time for yourself to explore your sensations and feelings through curiosity rather than judgement.

You can be surprised by the resourcefulness you might find within.


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