Back to the Basics — Reconnecting with Our Instincts
“Lose your mind and come to your senses.” ~ Fritz Perls (German psychiatrist)
This disconnect from our bodies has not always been the case. In fact, back in the hunter-gatherer era of humanity, only a few centuries ago, we relied on our instincts for survival. Without having access to this critical bodily-based sensory information, our ability to successfully track prey and/or protect ourselves from possible predatory attack would be compromised. Getting lost in one’s head meant death.
For the majority of us who live more-or-less sedentary urban lives, it may seem like these survival-based needs have become obsolete and non-relatable. Perhaps we may look back on our ancestors with an acknowledgment of gratitude for their perseverance (making our existence possible!), but that tribute quickly gets overshadowed with ‘real-life’ problems—such as ensuring we secure that next job promotion, figuring out between buying or renting a house in a bubble-market economy, and whether or not to jump on the constantly updating health-trend in nutrition guidelines (are eggs good for me or not!?). While the concept of going on a wilderness retreat to reengage with our primal nature may sound enticing, it can seem for many to be a quaint getaway from their pressing responsibilities.
So how does this information translate to the present, you may ask?…in more ways than you might think.
Our nervous system is finely tuned to our environment, informing us on whether to approach (fight), retreat (flight), and when all else fails, to shutdown (freeze). These subliminal impulses that stem from our instinctual-feeling programs are what characterize our likes and dislikes, our passions and irrational fears. They are the material which directs our internal compass for all actions that we make. This complex telecommunication system which is constantly running in the background, underneath our conscious awareness, is the unsung hero of managing our lives.
The good thing for us is, while many of us have become out-of-touch with this primal connection, I assure you it is not lost. A quick example of this would be when deciding upon going out to a restaurant. Do you do Italian or Mexican food? On the surface, it may seem to be a process of rational thought analysis, but in reality, you are evaluating from your felt-sense of need and desire. This can present itself as one-night craving Italian, while another night feeling ‘in the mood’ for Mexican. Another more meaningful example could be when you just ‘knew’ that your partner was ‘the One’, or that it was time to make a career change. Sure, one could take a methodical approach to this by writing down the pros and cons to any decision, but, speaking for myself, the joy and clarity that sets in after coming to these realizations is when you have an internal experience of it just feeling ‘right’. It needs no explanation.
Possible Reasons for the Growing Disconnect
So if our instincts, or mind-body connection, are such a primary component to organizing our lives, why do we rarely hear about them? In most psychology texts you will come across drives, needs, and motives, but reference to our more baser nature gets generally overlooked. Why is this?… In our present-day society, one could argue, especially for men, that we are being trained to denounce them.
Having ‘evolved’ from our primate cousins, we imbue a lot of importance in critical thinking and our ability for self-restraint. Underneath this pretense of civility is the belief that, without these measures of conscious control and left to our own devices, our primal inclinations will be destructive to self and others. The outcome of this is, on a deep fundamental level, we are being taught to distrust our own nature.
This fear is heightened in men, where there seems to be a notion that man is the more inherently violent and ‘wild’ gender. Characteristic of this sentiment is the ‘boys will be boys’ attitude which promotes more aggressive behavior in our young, while also hearing the adage that a ‘good’ wife knows how to reign in her man in his adult-years—to settle down. In fact, popular media figure and psychologist Jordan Peterson has been quoted, in addressing the outcries of abuse on women at the hands of men from the #MeToo movement, that “Violent attacks are what happens when men do not have partners… and society needs to work to make sure those men are married.” (Bowles, May 18, 2018, p.2).
Given this unsettling depiction of man, derelict to himself and a potential danger to those around him, it is no wonder why men may have internalized an unconscious belief that they are a ticking-time bomb and to disengage with their bodily senses as precautionary measures.
Finding a Balance is Key
The purpose of this piece is not to suggest that we completely drop our mental inhibitions, or capacity to reason, and live life solely through our instincts, but that we seek to find a healthy balance between the two. Connecting with our instincts is what brings us into the present and in our bodies, creating a sense of aliveness and rootedness. And yet, it alone doesn’t allow us to grasp the bigger picture of events and plan ahead in the future. Reason and the capacity to self reflect provides a container for our drive and impulses, giving us the best of both worlds; updating our ancestral blueprints to our ‘civilized’ environment.
The divide between thinking and feeling is smaller than we think. When somebody says to “be rational”, it is being used as a means of policing the other’s behavior away from their emotional, ‘erratic’ side by someone who is representing the ‘voice of reason’. However, in order to be rational we have to feel rational, which implies a state of calm abiding presence.
Keeping this in mind, it behooves us to spend more time to get to know our bodies, because it is through this primal connection that we can get to know ourselves and what matters most to us.
* Bowles, N. (2018). Jordan peterson, custodian of the patriarchy. New York Times (Online)
* Levine, P. (2010). In an unspoken voice: How the body releases trauma and restores goodness. North Atlantic Books
Previously published here and reprinted with the author’s permission.
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