Solitary confinement is considered the worst punishment in high security prisons. Most would rather live among murders and rapists than spend a significant amount of time alone. How should we interpret this? Anyone who has attempted a silent retreat knows how excruciating it can be to sit with our own thoughts for an extended period of time.
However, it is only by making a moment to moment effort to observe the contents of consciousness that one can realize experientially that there is an alternative to simply identifying with the next thought that pops into one’s mind.
Even the experience of joy or an inner sense of achievement lasts for mere moments or maybe a couple of days at a time. Then the feeling subsides and we move on to look for the next experience of this. Is there a deeper source of well-being or happiness that goes beyond the seeking of pleasure or avoidance of pain/suffering? Beyond having good food, our friends & family within arm’s reach, or having something fun to look forward to on the weekend. Is it possible to be happy before one’s desires are gratified, even in the very midst of physical pain, old age, or disease? In my experience, this is most people’s underlying quest.
The problem is, we often look externally for fulfillment. The next promotion, the next vacation, the next relationship, and so it continues...It sounds so simple - just look within. If we sit back and observe the way we fill empty space, we’ll see that as a culture, empty space feels uncomfortable; or unproductive. This is even more true with the advancement of technology.
Can we find an internal locus, or do we measure things by an external locus? An example of this is social media. We behave in ways that we think will “look good”. We are constantly aware of how we will be perceived and we behave accordingly. This external orientation clouds our intuition. We may even get a glimpse of our internal push but then dismiss it due to social pressures. This can be very subtle.
I heard someone once tell the story of being out to dinner with a group of friends. When the food came he had a feeling that it shouldn’t be eaten. He didn’t want to appear rude, and so started eating it anyway. Later that night everyone that had that particular dish became violently ill with food poisoning. His intuition may have caught a brief smell of something rancid, not enough to register completely, just a feeling that he didn’t want to eat the food. The threat of possible embarrassment can affect our relationship to our own intuition.
Do we listen to our intuition or shove it aside in the face of cognitive biases. The power of cultivating our mind-body connection is underestimated because it’s perceived as being so simple. Just because something is simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. If your best friend were to ask you how she could live a better life, you’d have many useful things to say, but you may not live that way yourself. We know how to stay healthy, eat right, exercise, & achieve goals, but it’s not easy to actually live the way we know would be beneficial. Such is the practice of meditating. That’s why it is so important to build it in as a habit like brushing our teeth.
There are so many cognitive biases, such as our tendency to search for or interpret information that confirms our own perceptions, or the way we interpret the logical strength of an argument based on our belief in the truth or falsity of the conclusion. To see these clearly, to keep an openness to our experiences, we have to sincerely work at being present.
We can sense danger, sense whether we feel comfortable around a person or not, but in order to really tap into our inner wisdom, we have to still the waters. Cultivate the practice during your most peaceful time - maybe right before bed. Use an app like Headspace. It is only with consistency that it can be refined. If we practice cultivating it, then later we can more readily tap into it - even in complete chaos.
I write about human behavior, meditation, body awareness, and a variety of other things that pique my interest.