How to use your awareness for your own good

If there’s a core concept underlying all my teaching, it’s awareness. If you simply pay attention, I tell my students, to what’s going on in this moment (and this one, etc.), your system’s ability to self-correct will kick in and things will go as well as possible. I often think of this as evidence of our inner wisdom.

But it’s easy to interfere with inner wisdom. VERY easy. In fact, I do it all the time! Here’s a little story to explain how I got in my own way this week and then recovered nicely.

About a week ago, I noticed as I was walking barefoot down my hallway that my left toe was coming up on each step. Or, more accurately, I was raising my left big toe each time I stepped forward with my left foot. Over the next few days, I realized that I was doing this virtually all of the time.

Forgetting my own teaching advice, I decided I needed to fix this “problem,” and soon. So, whenever I noticed the toe-raises, I would direct my toe to lengthen forward and down as I stepped. It worked! My toe now stayed down as I walked. Whenever I was directing it, anyhow. But then I began to notice that my toe started aching. And it was moving with less freedom than my other nine toes. And I was straining in other parts of my body to “help” the toe maintain the new course I decided was right for it. Finally, it dawned on me that I had gone into fix-it mode, presuming to take over the reins from my inner wisdom. (Which, in my experience, knows everything necessary to make my body operate well, at least when I’m not interfering with it, as I was doing right then.)

No problem! In an instant, I shifted to a more neutral, scientific awareness of my problem (as I was still considering it). Within seconds, I noticed as I walked that I was not letting my bodyweight fall into my left foot in the same way as my right foot. In fact, I was avoiding the big toe completely as my weight fell onto the foot as I stepped. (This is actually a ridiculously simplified version of the massive amount of data my brain was taking in about the situation. This is one thing about our inner wisdom, it can absorb and respond to an amount of data that leaves our frontal cortex stymied as to how even to adequately describe what is going on, much less figure out what to do with the information. In my current case, I’d reduced the data to noticing my toe came up and decided to put it down instead. You can see why I consider my inner wisdom wiser than outer me.)

What I had thought was a problem was actually an inevitability. My toe was working exactly correctly for how I was using my body in walking. As soon as I opened my awareness, my inner wisdom took over and modified how I was walking to include weight falling into both of my big toes, which stayed down without my having to do anything special. This happened in a matter of seconds and with no effort or thinking necessary. And my awareness of how I let my bodyweight fall in walking has bloomed into a whole new universe of noticing and improvement in body mechanics….without my having to even have an intention for this to happen or to do anything.

Notice that I didn’t have to analyze the data, come up with solutions, or figure out why I was walking in that odd way in the first place. My inner wisdom—and YOURS too—is truly wise. It knows how to interpret data and use it to bring your system into the best equilibrium available in each moment. That’s it’s job, in fact.

Giving over the reins to our inner wisdom requires only that we provide it the data by paying attention to what is going on. Then our “outer” selves are free to eat chocolate, read books, and make love. (Feel free to substitute your favorite activities. Which I bet don’t include forcing your big toe to stay down.)

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