The Yoga of the Instincts
How to Trust Your Instincts
I call the instincts "The wise motions of life," because they are deep impulses through which life is always renewing itself, evolving itself, creating its art.
Here is an excerpt from Meditation Secrets for Women
. (Amazon.com link). It applies to men also. Check it out for yourself.
The Wise Motions of Life
We know that we are inextricably part of nature – we smell, taste, hear and breathe Her wisdom every day. When we recognize ourselves as creature on this Earth, the texture of life is enriched and simplified. Metaphoric reality speaks of our inner nature, and is not a far stretch from the literal. We are human beasts; we are walking trees; we are the soil that gives birth to new life. This awareness makes our needs immediate and clear: What does my creature self need to thrive? Tend to your inner nature, honor it in the movement of your life, and let meditation support this self-care.
To get the most out of meditation, expand upon the prevailing limited views. There are two – one modern and one ancient. The newest is a by-product of scientific research on how good meditation is for your health. It is seen as a daily maintenance tool, a monotonous and mechanical routine like brushing your teeth; you hate to do it but you figure you must. The other, older view is that meditation is arcane and elite, a complicated method for transcending earthly life. In both cases, it is considered a man-made technology, like a new, improved toothbrush or a spaceship for interstellar travel. While there is something to be said for each of these approaches, we want to call your attention to a simpler and more stunning paradigm.
Meditation is instinctive. It is natural. Your body already knows how to meditate, because the ability is built-in. Meditation is an aspect of the body’s innate survival strategy, and it is good for healing, balancing, adapting to the environment, resting, recharging, renewing, and creating greater alertness. The body loves meditation and takes to it like a duck to water.
The techniques of meditation arise from the body itself. People fall into meditative states naturally and spontaneously for a moment here, a moment there. You already have times when you border on meditation or slip through meditative states: listening to music; watching a sunset; lying there after lovemaking. On the way to waking from sleep, and on the way falling into sleep, there may be moments when you are very restful and yet awake inside. In meditation you learn to extend such moments of “restful alertness”. What we are calling a technique is when you give in to this process for half an hour and let it carry you deep within.
Sometimes you will be led into sublime realms that feel deliciously delicate. At other times you will feel earthy, primitive, wild and sexy. Learning to tolerate the co-existence of these opposites is one of the basic skills of meditation. The old stereotype of meditation is that it is rarefied, ethereal, abstract and otherworldly; you “leave your body” and float around in the ethers. It is often implied in spiritual circles, or even overtly stated, that you are supposed to overcome your primitive urges and disown your instincts. Because people associate the instincts with being lowly, dangerous, and confusing, they try to control and transcend them. This one-sided stance is myopic, impoverished and fragmenting. It is based on a profound misunderstanding of what spirituality is. If you try to conquer your instincts, you will only succeed at being at war with your inner nature.
A healthy approach to spirituality embraces the full spectrum of human experience. You do not deny anything. Meditation is a vessel of awareness, and you bring your entire being into it. You welcome every impulse, every emotion, and every desire. When you pay attention to your inner life without prejudice, you begin to appreciate all these impulses are part of your body’s innate intelligence. The instincts are sacred. They are the wise motions of life that impel us to survive, breathe, feed ourselves, rest when we are tired, heal and seek out friends and mates. These natural movements are exquisite and precious. Engaging with the wondrous process of how life renews and sustains itself on every level is a foundation of meditative practice.
When we honor our instincts, they put us in touch with our human creaturehood and what we require to be healthy animals. When you embrace them consciously, each impulse gives you a gift and enriches your life. As you meditate, you bring awareness to these movements that are usually subliminal. You give them all permission to be alive and shimmering in your being, so that they have a chance to integrate with each other. Having lively access to your instincts will give you a raw physical vitality, so learn to befriend them all.
As the human brain has evolved, it has not abandoned earlier development, but built upon it. Evolution has been an inclusive process, and meditation is as well. We actually have three brains, and each speaks to us with its instinctual wisdom. The most basic is called the reptilian, and it includes the spinal cord and the brainstem. It is the reptilian brain that clues us in to our primitive needs for safety, survival and territoriality as well as the human need for order, regularity and routine. Then there is the mammalian or limbic brain, and surrounding it is the cerebral cortex. The limbic system is the “seat” of the emotions; it connects us to our social needs, including our desire to bond and communicate with each other. The higher brain gives us consciousness, the ability to reason and to understand ourselves. As human animals we need all three levels of knowing; we are not fully human without all of these brains functioning in synchrony. We see meditation as something the brain does to tune itself up and strengthen the communication between all its parts.
Hunches, gut instincts and intuition are forms of instinctive knowing. When the three parts of the brain are working together and all the instincts are flowing, we get revealing sensations. The responses to the outer world we call "gut instincts.” When the senses track the inner world, we call it intuition.
With the development of the neo-cortex, humans have self-reflection and the ability to ponder the intricacies of the universe. It may even be that we have an instinct for meaning. We are able to perceive and make connections between levels of experience and create mythological significance. This ability no doubt has evolutionary purpose. It is a scientific fact that having a sense of meaning is a prime factor for optimum physical and psychological health. Even such elegant responses as awe and wonder can be seen as part of our instinct to orient to the environment. To place oneself within the "larger picture" – however ineffable that may seem – is not only a relief from existential isolation but a deep source of nourishment. Wonder is brain food. When we gaze at the stars, for example, we feel small, humbled within such vastness, but in touch with the mystery of our place within the whole. This points to how meditation is both primitive and refined.
Awe, gratitude, sorrow, longing, humor and joy are all instinctive responses, and can evoke spontaneous states of meditative awareness. People will naturally pause in them – Ah! – but only for a breath or two. The secret is to stay there in the intensity and let it transform you. That is the secret of meditation: allow life itself to inform, reform and transform your sense of yourself and the world.
Be Natural with Yourself
Meditation happens spontaneously when you have the right conditions and you allow it. You don’t have to force anything. The body, in its wisdom, seizes the opportunity to heal and balance if you give it half a chance. Meditation is that half a chance. You have marked the time out and said to the nervous system, “You are free. You don’t have to do anything else right now.” The goal of all training is to be natural with yourself, so that meditation does not feel like a technique at all, but rather just a way of being with yourself. There is something wonderful and almost miraculous in how meditation works. If you do the simplest technique, in the easiest manner, you will tend to enter a state of profound physical relaxation and regeneration.
When you are natural and unaffected with yourself, your experience will change continuously and your senses will pulsate with novelty. And you will feel as though the knowledge of how to meditate is your own, that it comes from inside you.
Many people who have studied the Eastern wisdom have been overcome by its dazzling riches, and have come to feel that the knowledge resides outside themselves. They become dependent on external authorities, and then are infected not only with the ancient wisdom, but with every ancient superstition as well. Many of our friends who walk Asian paths are still not at home in their skins and bodies even after twenty or thirty years of meditation. They have to call India to get permission to break their vegetarian diet and eat some fish.
The wisdom of India and Tibet is like a mountain range composed of jewels of all sizes, dazzling by sunlight or moonlight. It has been built up by steady, consistent work over thousands of years by millions of dedicated souls.
The wisdom of the instincts is at ground level and is like dirt and water, soil and seeds, green plants and your own little garden. It is about living things, not jewels. The instincts are what life does; they are right here, pulsating in every breath and every beat of the heart. It is a humbler approach, but it is one that leads you to your inner life in your own native way. When you are natural with yourself, you always know how to enter just the meditation that you need in the moment.
The Instincts in the Outer World
Everyday life is structured around the instincts:
• Resting – sleeping and dreaming.
• Feeding - yourself and your family and pets.
• Grooming - bathing and getting dressed, doing your hair. Picking the nits out of your children’s fur.
• Gathering - foraging by going to the store or the garden and bringing food home.
• Hunting – searching for what you need in the environment, shopping for the best buys
• Exploring – looking and sniffing around to discover what interests you. Going on an adventure. Expanding your horizons.
• Homing – the navigational skills to find your way home when you have been out exploring.
• Nesting – building a home or tending to it, decorating, cleaning. Being cozy, snuggling in bed.
• Socializing – talking on the phone, getting together with friends.
• Playing - having fun, doing things for sheer enjoyment.
• Courting – flirting, considering possible mates.
• Mating – developing a love relationship. Having sex.
• Procreating – the urge to bear children.
• Communicating – expressing, singing out, saying what you know.
• Protecting - the self, the cubs, and the tribe.
• Establishing dominance – competing in the workplace. Finding your place in the pecking order.
The Instincts in the Inner World
This is how the instincts work within you during meditation. Your experience will change every few minutes as you shift from one to the other.
• Resting – relaxing into a state of restfulness much deeper than sleep.
• Feeding – taking nourishment from the silence, from the air, and letting your deepest cravings be fed.
• Grooming – a gentle massage of your nerves, skin, and senses.
• Gathering – the sense of picking valuable things from here and there in the universe and holding them to yourself.
• Hunting – moving through your inner world on the trail of what you seek.
• Exploring – strolling along inside yourself just for the adventure and to expand your horizons.
• Homing – finding your way to the places inside yourself you feel most at home.
• Nesting – being at home in yourself and doing things to maintain the nest, feathering it, making your inner world stronger and more beautiful.
• Socializing– hanging out with all your inner voices and attributes, listening to the conversations between different parts of your brain and body.
• Playing – meditating for the sheer enjoyment of it.
• Courting – exploring the possibility of making a union with some part of yourself you have not owned yet.
• Mating – forming a deep bond with your inner self and consummating it physically, letting your body be penetrated by love.
• Procreating – nurturing within your body the new life impulses growing there, the new sense of self, carrying it to term.
• Communicating - saying what it is you want in meditation. Prayer.
• Protecting – using meditation to strengthen your sense of boundaries, and enhance your ability to maintain them.
• Establishing dominance – working out which parts of yourself are on top at any given moment: the child, the sexual woman, the worker, the mother, the ancient crone.
Not a Separate World
You can see from this that meditation is not separate from life in any way, and is not guided by a separate set of impulses. The same instincts that guide you in daily life also guide you in meditation. In addition to the basic impulses of eating and sleeping, you have instincts to learn, explore your environment, create a home, protect your loved ones, make alliances with others, communicate and play. Each of these is a vital part of being human and is actively guiding you in every moment of every meditation. All of the instincts come into play when you meditate, and a technique is a way of cooperating with them.
For example, breath is a much-loved focus for meditation. And what is breath? It is the process of taking in life-giving substance from the air, and assimilating it into your body. Air is our primary food, we consume hundreds of gallons of it a day. In 24 hours, we breathe about 22,000 times. To pay attention to this process is as basic and satisfying as eating a meal.
The urge to rest is another fundamental instinct. Every organism operates within a cycle of rest, regeneration and action. You know how refreshed you can feel after a good night’s sleep. During meditation, the body often goes into a state of rest more profound than sleep. So the urge to meditate can be a response to the need for rest.
The urge to nest, to make a home for yourself and your family, is a deep craving. Meditation allows the human homing instinct to lead us into being at home in ourselves and in the universe.
The need for inner grooming is another strong impetus for meditating. Sometimes you feel as though your feathers are all ruffled or your fur is out of place, your inner hair is a mess. You have the wrong clothes on, or your aura is the wrong color. The quality of attending to yourself in meditation helps to put everything back in place.
There is something joyous about participating with any or all of the instincts. When the instincts work together, it is like a symphony. Spirituality can be looked at as the process of refining the instincts and bringing them into concert. Meditation is that time when the orchestra comes together to tune their instruments, warm up, synchronize and prepare to perform with finesse.
Working with the instincts is always surprising, because there are so many layers of intelligence within each impulse. You pick up a clod of dirt from your garden, and upon closer examination, you suddenly realize it is comprised of jewels, each speck of dirt shimmers with multicolored light.
Taken together, this means that you do not need to impose the desire to meditate on yourself. The motivation is already there within your primitive desires. Life’s timeless wisdom is pulsating within you as your deepest hankerings. Orient yourself to pleasure and let it be your guide. Get used to the idea that pleasure is instinctive. It is part of the great design of nature that rewards us when our basic needs are met: we take pleasure in drinking water when we are thirsty, in eating when we are hungry, in resting when we are tired. Approaching meditation as a healthy pleasure will protect you in the long run from any negative side effects. You will be activating your own self-correcting instincts.
All living things have auras around them, concentric spheres or living fields of force which filter energy from the universe to a level appropriate to their nature. The earth, for example, has many layers of atmosphere to edit sunlight to a level that sustains life rather than kills it. A cell is surrounded by a membrane that lets in the elements it craves (oxygen and nutrients), and excretes what it does not need. Healthy boundaries are the result of the interplay of all the instincts, not just one or two.
As a human being, you have a right to filter out what is harmful to you and to say yes to what helps you thrive. Healthy boundaries take care of you by giving you this choice. It is one-sided and unbalanced to think of meditation as dissolving boundaries and merging with infinity.
Meditation is a place to consciously cultivate your own “atmosphere”, your healthy aura. It is to help you know your boundaries, not erase them. Only then will the expanded perception of no-boundaries, non-separation and oneness that also comes with meditation be a life-serving, integrated state. Many women on a spiritual path miss this important point.
While you are meditating, a certain percentage of your time will be taken up reviewing any “boundary invasions” you have experienced – times when you said “yes” but you felt “no,” or when you disrespected your own internal rhythms. In every evening’s meditation, the events of the day will come to mind to be felt, and usually there is something about boundaries. If you have been too fierce during the day, bristling at every request, then you may find yourself moving in the direction of compassion, seeing the other person’s point of view. But if you have been too gentle, too accommodating, then your meditation will lead you into seeing the wisdom of saying no. This is why it can be harmful to try to impose “virtues” such as compassion on yourself. Unless you are a really selfish person, cold and uncaring, you may not need to consciously practice compassion. In any case, the free flow of attention during meditation will lead you into seeing and feeling balance.
Suppressing boundaries is a denial of the energy for self-preservation. A healthy immune system is a boundary – knowing what’s me and what’s not me. Imbalance can be created in either direction: the rigid walled-in boundary of “everything is not me”, which is based in fear, or the flaccid lack of boundary, “everything is me; all is one”, which is false surrender. Strong yet flexible boundaries give us integrity: the choice to say “yes” or “no” and mean it.
Saying “yes” when you mean “no” saps a great deal of psychic energy. This creates a lot of disturbance in your meditation: discomfort, emotional pain and the noise of repetitive thoughts as you review the situation over and over. You can give yourself a break by learning to say “no” when you need to. The clarity and freedom of healthy boundaries can be yours.
Awaken Your Animal Power
In fairy tales, myths and dreams, animals generally represent the connection to our bodies and instinctual knowing. They come as helpful allies, messengers or guides to what the seeker needs. Sometimes a dream animal will appear wounded or deformed – a sign that our relationship to the body requires healing, acceptance and care. Always the creature gives us very specific clues to what is essential to our health, personal relationships, or creative expression and can reflect what is necessary when boundaries have become confused. They show us what energy must be accepted and embodied – from ferocious power to vulnerability or retreat. Reclaiming your creaturehood is a primary key to healthy freedom, joy, and comfort in your own skin.
Claire, a woman in her mid-50’s, journeyed from New Zealand on a conscious and determined inner quest. Her occupation spans leading high-level career development seminars and clairvoyant dancing. Spiritually oriented and brightly positive, she had come to work with me to understand how to perform her dances and to open her body to subtler realms of energy and movement.
Claire’s burning desire for truth makes her rigorously honest. In her first session, she admitted to constant pain in her sacrum and problems in her lower back that had plagued her “forever.” We entered into a body meditation, which immediately revealed that something in there was snarling. She was astonished but willing to go with whatever showed up.
As I asked her to stand and explore the sensations, an image appeared to her – a tiger trapped in a cave. Courageously breaking life-long taboos on expressing anger, she became the tiger, pawing the ground and pacing in rage. Though letting vocal sound come out was still too terrifying, nevertheless the tiger was loose and Claire knew it. Energy coursed from her pelvis through her legs and up through her spine. With it came tears of sadness – and relief.
The next morning Claire reported that for the first time in many years, her back was free from pain (and remained so). Days later in her meditation the tiger was sitting outside the cave in the sun, happily licking its fur with a big pink tongue. Tending to her tiger self has become an ongoing method for Claire to stay true to her body and emotions in a vital, natural way.
In the thousands of women we have worked with through body meditation and expressive movement, I cannot recall a single one who did not discover healing and liberation through her instinctive animal power.
Each Day Is Different
When you follow your instincts, you have a marvelous sense of choice. Finding how you want to meditate each day is a lot like going shopping. Think of it, shopping is a deep primordial instinct! Early woman would know when her tribe needed some variety in their diet, and would go out and find the exact root or herb that provided those nutrients. This same intuitive selection functions in your inner world; you forage or shop for your daily technique to find what satisfies your need that day. Here’s how Ilene, an experienced meditator puts it:
“Each day is different, so I dabble around and choose what meditation feels right for this moment. It’s like multi-tasking, which women are so good at. Women need to have access to all their tools. I wear a toolkit on my hips, like the workmen and their leather belts with all those tools on them. Men go through a change every six weeks; I’ve studied them and observed this. They go into their cave; they withdraw in different ways. But for women, every single day is different, like the weather. There is not just one thing to do that suits my nature.”
The inventiveness of women knows no bounds. Give yourself freedom to choose where you meditate, your style for the day and even what you wear. Step into your wardrobe and play. Perhaps you have power clothes or jewelry, like amulets for the tone you want to create. Some days you might come out of the shower and want to put on your most beautiful silk; other days you might want to be butt naked, or adorned with only a necklace and rings. If you feel like Artemis or Diana, you might need to be outdoors for a walking meditation, or sitting on a rock in the woods or lying in the grass. If you’ve been out in the garden, the most pleasurable thing might be to stay there and meditate covered with mud. If you yearn to surrender in ecstasy, play music that inspires you, dance or chant. Solitude and darkness may be what you crave, so you could meditate in the containment of a closet to feel safe. Or if a cozy nest seems most appealing, you could snuggle under the covers in bed. Each of these tones fulfills one of your instincts, and to give it gratification is pure delight.
Try meditating after exercise, in the afterglow of sex, or when you’re filled with the emotional richness from a good movie. I’ve been known to watch tapes of the hilarious improvisations on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” I’ll laugh uproariously out loud (even when I’m by myself) and then meditate with the sense of humor still bubbling through me. Discover your weird and wonderful idiosyncrasies and revel in them brazenly