“I don’t know how to do this, but something inside of me does.”
We are master adapters. In many ways, this is a positive trait, and a survival skill that helps us cope with our changing environment or circumstances in our lives. Adaptation is also the emotional intelligence that is needed to stay in relationship through compromise and learning.
Adaptation can also be the process of losing ourselves.
Think of all of the ways we numb and entertain our time away. When we become so-called bored of one thing we seek the same thing in different clothing. The stronger drug. The next season of that Netflix show. Another show. What is new becomes old and so we look for the old and familiar in a new job, relationship, or residence.
This is not even the worst of it. Adaptation can make us forget our values, our instinct, and our inner trust.
That is the worst of it.
In her book “Women Who Run With The Wolves,” Clarissa Pinkola Estés describes a dog experiment from the early 1960’s with the purpose to understand animal and human instinct. In the beginning of the experiment a caged dog was exposed to a small electric shock generated from the floor of only one side of the cage. Instinctively, the dog learned to avoid the charged side of the cage. The scientists then generated electric charges from the entire floor of the cage, so that the dog would receive random shocks no matter where he stood. Eventually the dog gave up on trying to hide from the shocks and sat in one spot, just leaning to accept the random jolt. In the next phase of the experiment, the scientists opened the cage door, giving the dog the option to escape. The expectation was that the dog would run out immediately, but he stayed. The scientists concluded that through the repetition of random electric shocks, the dog adapted to the violence. The animal no longer connected to the healthy instinct to flee.
The researchers gave this behavior the name, “learned helplessness,” and Estés further explains, “The normalizing of the abnormal even when there is clear evidence that it is to one’s own detriment to do so applies to all battering of the physical, emotional, creative, spiritual, and instinctive natures.”
It’s the self-abuse after the other-abuse. This is the demagnetization of the internal compass that disorients us enough to stay in situations that deplete and harm.
This is a complete estrangement from our center.
In the yoga asana practice, each pose offers us a complete estrangement from our center. Think about the poses that fold us forward, bend us backward, turn us on our head, and stand us on our hands. What an array of opportunities to forget who we really are and to scatter our “physical, emotional, creative, spiritual, and instinctive natures.”
Therefore, the real practice is learning to reorganize what has been scattered. When we approach the physical challenges of each yoga pose we are present enough to feel the currents of instinct arise. The breath will pause, the muscles will tremble, and emotions are no longer caged within the walls of our cells. What is instinctual within us will nurture the clay of our experience into the form. Through devoted practice we find the deep inspiration and exhalation to soften the medium of our bodies. The centrifugal force of energy that swirls like wind through us will set the pattern.
We can give this process the name, “learned rediscovery.” Our practice is the workbench for transmuting the battery and the disorientation that we have unearthed through our lives. There is no better map or manual to rediscover what deeply inhabits our bones.
The breath is the call that echoes through the body to bring us back again.