Any time we are “in our heads” we are out of phase with the present moment. That is not a problem in itself, since we need to think in order to function as humans. It is one of our more endearing qualities, perhaps the most human of attributes. But thinking does require separating out from what is going on so that we can fit it into our story (how things make sense to us). Without our story, things have no meaning.
On the average, it takes a quarter to a half a second to process information through the nervous system to come up with a conscious thought. Most of the time we don’t notice the delay because everyone else is just a little off too. In martial arts, sports, or in emergencies, however, a quarter second is a punch in the nose, a swing and a miss, or a bicycle swerving into your lane. Operating system 1.0 defaults to the reptile brain in such situations, which does not allow for a nuanced response. During periods of stress, blood flow in the frontal cortex may be reduced up to 80%, making us a little stupid. Many people are in a constant state of imagined emergency, and find themselves imagining all sorts of possible dangers and difficulties.
So how do we re-set? Not just for superior gongfu, but for a happier existence?
Many readers of this blog already know about The Edge. It is an exercise I created to retrain the nervous system to avoid getting stuck in the reptile brain when dealing with challenges of all kinds. It’s done as a physical drill because that is the only way to really make a lasting change. It’s not an intellectual exercise or a meditation, but a gongfu, a practice designed to yield a particular result.
The Edge provides alternatives to primative fear-based responses by providing gradient steps to open to new possibilities and create internal space. The coach challenges the student by slowly pushing her off balance, designed to provoke internal a mild contraction from the body/mind. We don’t like to be off-balance. The Edge includes five steps:
1. Receive. You receive the incoming energy without resisting, avoiding, reacting, shutting down, or contracting. You welcome the push and go with it.
2. Edge. Here the coach takes you to the tipping point and keeps you there for a while. You hang there like a kite on the breeze and the coach holds the string. You acclimate to not being in control for the moment.
3. Coherence. Establish a heightened state of energetic coherence by pointing you index fingers and reaching. This improves your root and the tensegrity of your body, which allows you to safely expand your internal space.
4. Presence. Get more “here” by bringing your awareness the space and time that you occupy. You ask, “Where am I now?” and answer, “Here I am!”
5. Engagement. Locate your partner in present time in an I-You relation by asking, “Where are you now?” and answer, “Here you are!” You are not just locating your partner as an object, but connecting soul-to-soul.
These five steps are a cycle. That is, Step 5 precedes Step 1, and also follows Step 4, just as winter precedes spring and follows autumn. They also spiral upward, and each cycle includes and builds on the previous cycle. Meeting includes all of them.
So when I say that “meeting precedes the event,” I mean that you don’t wait for something to happen and then implement the steps of The Edge. You want to embody them so naturally that when a challenge comes you are not starting from zero. Your consciousness is already open to the new experience.
What could be better than that?