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PART IV: The Messy Middle

Updated: Sep 17, 2023

We all have a gap of knowing better and doing better.

Knowing better is in our brain, doing better is a full body circuit.

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Like a Mary Poppins finger snap, we expect that knowing better automatically means we will do better. And yet, we have all experienced moments of watching ourselves behave in a way that goes completely against every desire and belief and known end result. It is like watching the scene unfold on the TV screen and screaming “Oh God… WHAT THE HELL IS SHE DOOOOING?!”

And every parent has cringed a thousand times over watching our children behave in ways that feel completely outside of every parenting effort.

This is the gap between Knowing and Doing.

A conditioned response doesn’t feel right in our body.

When we have cultivated rest (slow down), awareness and embodiment, our neocortex clocks the sensation of discomfort, analyzes, and creates narrative often including how to resolve the discomfort. (Do Different)

But now there is a new layer of discomfort as the limbic system does not have the salient emotional data to support this new course of action. And in fact, has tremendous data in opposition. Further, the parts of our brains that KNOW and can DO do not speak the same language. Paradoxically our bodies KNOW through sensation and the neocortex DOES through language and logic.

This is where our “messy middle” lies as we navigate change and new terrain. There are no specific set of procedures that we can each employ step-by-step to negotiate between these three parts with different needs, experiences, and languages. Navigating this process is a fluent lifelong and artful journey.

Since the “messy middle” contains a great deal of discomfort (or pain) our Reptilian Brain automatically, with bodily sensations, attempts to convince us to avoid diving into this space. The Reptilian Brain does not know the difference between “good” pain and “bad” pain or “short term stress” and “distress” but we can employ our neocortex to help us navigate this contradicting experience. The only way out of the messy middle is through. Which means we need strategies that allow us to tolerate the pain and discomfort. Ideally, we will employ low cost, high reward strategies that allow us to experience a peak and release of the pain. That said, we are all juggling an infinite number of unique variables from our genetic make-up, to intergenerational trauma to real-world physical resources. While numbing strategies soothe pain at a higher cost, there are important survival reasons why we choose them. Judgment and shame around those decisions only drive that cost up. Grace and compassion without understanding are the discount codes.

There are plenty of frameworks and tools we can have at our disposal. In my estimation, the most impactful is accessing Active Imagination. Neuroscientists have shown that salient memories, a remembered experience that activates our saliency network rooted in all three parts of our brains, are powerful datapoints in our emotional database. We can tap into the power of our imaginations in order to create the salient memories, building a full body circuit, without necessarily needing to live an experience. We can also tap into our imagination to transform a current experience into catalyzing salient data point.

Practices that allow us to tap into this transformative superpower are infinite. Further, each practice tends to morph and evolve as our capacity to imagine, and the pleasurable results, expand. (My faves in the postscript)

Understanding this work cracked open a wealth of embodied patience and compassion in my soul. It both informed and inspired my creative piece, The Oak Tree. To understand, on a very real level, that we when we change our patterns, we are changing our very physiology, transforms us from destructive villains into superheroes. And that’s a much easier and empowering place to start from.

Active Imagination Practices

· Artistic Expression

· Music, Rhythm & Movement

5 Post Series: (Rolling out Weekly)

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