Harness Yourself

I start my days early. And not because I’m a morning person. (Coach Will checking in 👋)

I pull myself out of bed, slip on sweats, and stumble in front of the little space heater in the office of my apartment.

Yawning, bleary-eyed in the artificial overhead light, I take a sip of water and settle onto a purple cushion that my love gave me.

I start breathing as deeply as I can, pulling in enough air to stretch the sides and back of my ribs. The quick rush of oxygen usually makes my fingers tingle; I imagine the lights being switched on in each of my cells.

After thirty (or so) breaths--I can never count clearly--I hold.

I just stop breathing.

I feel my hands on my lap. I listen to my heart beat. I watch my eyelids.

After a few rounds of heavy breathing, I am ready: I start meditating. My breath is now smooth, unhurried.

With as little effort as possible, I become aware of everything in my field of consciousness. All the sensations and thoughts and sounds. I just notice them, and then notice as they slip away.

And in those moments of early morning stillness, void of breath and to-do lists, I find space, which is what I’m after.

With space, I have room to maneuver, to consider, to explore, and to not do a damn thing. I have space to be myself.

And much like physical space, inner space--the expanse of our minds--takes a conscious clearing to be maintained.

In a very real sense, space is a rare thing in our universe: atoms are compelled to fill available space, merely because of the rules of dispersion and entropy. The incessant energetic vibration of all things means that open space doesn’t exist for very long before it is filled.

This physical reality, which is such a central focus in mobility training (joint space is the prerequisite for healthy joints), is a characteristic of our minds as well. Except instead of vibrating atoms rushing in, we have thoughts, emotions and sensations ricocheting around our consciousness, clogging the potential space of our inner world.

But recently, through the work of meditating, I came to realize that the space I was after, that made me feel on firm ground before I waded out into the chaos of life, was just that: a feeling of my conscious mind, and specifically a feeling of being unencumbered.

Further, and critically, I realized that such a feeling was not actually a void of activity, but was made possible by the shifting of processes (like breathing and heart-beating, but so much more, too) to my unconscious.

The unconscious brain is a fantastic thing, with much more capacity than the conscious brain. We rely on the automaticity of this unconscious for countless daily mental acrobatics (like driving, reading strangers, understanding language, “intuition”, etc), and accomplish these tasks much more quickly and efficiently than a computer might.

Which is all to say: the “universe” of our minds--with more than 100,000,000,000,000 connections--is mostly made up of processes of which we are unaware. Imagine an iceberg 50 stories tall, with just a few feet protruding out of the waves. Our unconscious is all of the ice under the water.

To me, that is a reassuring (conscious) thought. Suddenly, the space I work to feel in my conscious mind isn’t actually a refuge at all, but a vista from which I might witness the operational majesty that is the unconscious brain.

Put another way: the feeling of lacking space, of being closed in by thoughts of worry, anxiety, distraction--all events in the conscious mind--is really just a function of how limited the conscious mind actually is. It is the seal sitting atop the iceberg, who hasn’t yet realized that they can swim.

But of course, we can “swim”. By clearing the space of our conscious mind, we can become aware of the incredible agility of rest of our minds, and direct that power.

To your gold,

Coach Will