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Stop Running Headfirst into Problems
in which I inch my way towards once again praising non-linear problem-solving
In retrospect, it’s clear that I started out with meditation because I was stuck in my head, and meditation is all about the head, right? I read manuals, listened to guided meditations, watched videos—almost everything was about the head.
Slow down your thoughts
let your thoughts flow by
focus on your nostrils
ignore your thoughts
relate to your thoughts as not-me
notice how thoughts come on their own, un-generated
focus on the spot between your eyes
Even when materials did go below the neck, it was in the language of “scanning the body,” which carries a strong implication that the real you is up in the head, and that head-self is reaching out to check on the body, which is not-you.
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I spent a lot of time not getting very far with meditation. For some reason (???) it only got me more stuck-in-my-head, more disembodied, more disconnected from myself. Sure, I felt more calm, my head was a little quieter, and I was no longer in constant despair—but it was only turning the volume down on the acute symptoms, while maintaining (perhaps strengthening) the root causes.
Things didn’t start actually changing until I found somatic meditation1. This meditation ignored thoughts, ignored the head entirely, and dove directly into the body—which finally did give me room to get my head sorted out, by getting me out of my head.
There’s a lesson there. Okay there’s like 5 lessons there, but I only have time for one today: the tools, techniques, and activities you choose will hold you at their level.
Large parts of the meditation world focus on thoughts, even if that focus is a negative one, trying to slow or stop or separate from them. When your tools are all focused on thoughts, you’re gonna keep working on thoughts.
Same thing with the body, if all your techniques are physical, that’s going to hold you at the level of the body. I’ve had a hell of a shoulder problem for years, and I’ve done all the physical remedies you can imagine, from physical therapy to electric shocks to stretching regimens, but it always comes back. It only started loosening up in a real, focused way when I backed away from the mechanical aspects of the issue, and started dipping into the emotional content stored in that tissue.
—Okay I know I said I only have time for one of the lessons, but the second one is inextricable, now that I’m in it. The second lesson I’ve taken from that experience and a hundred others is that I need to have a lot more respect for non-linear processes. If I think my problem is in the head, I’m going to work with the head, because that’s the linear, logical way to approach it. But it’s not the way that worked. I fixed my head by diving into my body. I made space in my rotator cuff by working with the emotional body.
This pattern shows up a lot more than we recognize, I see it in people all the time:
The solutions to a problem are very very often not located in the same spot as the problem itself. A whole lot of issues only get solved by fixing up seemingly-unrelated stuff.
I’m gonna be honest, I started writing this because it’s been feeling increasingly important lately, and because I’m trying to write more often, even when I don’t feel like it. Now I don’t have a way to wrap this up, except to point at a few more possibilities and examples that might evoke something:
If you’re having trouble with stress, maybe stop running through a checklist of stress-reduction strategies, and instead get obsessed with eating micronutrient-rich foods for awhile. Or learn the names and appearances of local flora.
If you have a closed-off heart, and find it difficult to open yourself emotionally to other people and experiences, maybe stop running headfirst at trying to connect, and instead just take a cooking class, get way way way too into Jiu Jitsu or slavic poetry.
If you have an intractable, long-running problem in your life, and you’ve tried everything you can think of as far as running at it headfirst—try switching tracks, leaving that problem aside for awhile, and getting really, really into whatever pops into your intuition. Have you been meaning to learn everything there is to know about Indian cuisine? Go do that. Check in on your problem in a few months, see where it sits.
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Specifically I found Reggie Ray’s “Somatic Descent” practice, if you’re curious