Over-Buying? Over-Thinking? Over-Reacting? Over-Working? Over-Eating? TRY INTEROCEPTION
This past week, I was in the supermarket with a full cart heading to checkout when a voice over the loudspeaker said, “In just 2 minutes at the back of aisle 11, we’ll be giving away a free gift to everyone who comes to check out these exclusive new items.”
My first thought was, “Why would I want more stuff when I don’t even know what it is?”
To my surprise, several people with full carts course-corrected from the route they were on and quickly headed to the back of aisle 11 for that free, exclusive, new stuff. What is that about? In this post, I propose a solution to the craving that leads to over-buying, over-thinking, over-reacting, and over-working — and the related stress that leads to over-eating and other addictions.
There’s a cultural momentum on the planet these days that is easy to get sucked into. It begins with economics — defining a healthy economy simply as an expanding one, a healthy business by exponential profit increases, and a healthy consumer as one who is constantly accumulating more money, things, and experiences. We want “more” of everything we want, which can include more friends, more status, more likes, more points, and more rewards on the latest app we downloaded. We crave repeated hits of “more.” Yet, this “more” puts us in an endless cycle of stress. Stress escalates because there is no limit to how much “more” we can crave.
In this craving for “more,” we get sucked into over-buying, over-eating, over-thinking, over-reacting, and over-working — which is a hard cycle to break. We are constantly thinking about how we can get more of what we want, overreacting to every little thing that interferes with that, over-working to accumulate more money and accomplishments, and over-eating to fill the void that comes from feeling we lack the “more” that we crave. Strangely, the more we accumulate, the more empty we feel. The minute the euphoria of getting something fades, we are left with the insatiable craving for more.
How do we stop the “Madness of More!”?
Shifting Attention Inward
The solution begins with a simple inward turn, a shift in attention to what is called “Interoception.” Interoception is the ability to feel the inner state of your body, to feel inner sensations. This sixth sense is the foundation for experiencing the fullness of the present moment, as well as for cultivating intuitive knowing and experiencing deeper spiritual connections that fill us up on the inside. In a world that so consumes us with outer sensory stimulation of our five senses, this finer inner sense is neglected, atrophies, and fades from consciousness. As we lose touch with Interoception, we begin looking outside for what can only be found within. This is the genesis of the outward craving that can never be satisfied.
Fortunately, interoception can be activated and cultivated, so it becomes a prominent guiding sense. Cultivating interoception is a practice, just like any other skill you might learn. Yet, it’s free and readily available any moment you choose to pause what’s grabbing your attention “out there” and shift your attention to what’s going on “in here.”
Here’s a simple way to get started:
Place your hands, one on top of the other, on your abdomen. Feel the sensations of breathing there, inside your body. Notice the subtle expansion as you inhale and the subtle relaxation inward as you exhale. To tune in deeper to the inner sensations, you can close your eyes.
I encourage you to try this now for about ten breaths. Close your eyes, feel the sensations of breathing inside your body, and count your breaths on the exhale until you get to 10. See if, each time you exhale, you can relax and feel the sensation of “letting go” a little more. When you get to 10 breaths, come back. . .
So, how did this feel? Did you enjoy the sensations of breathing, of relaxing and letting go? Perhaps, it felt like a relief to just breathe for a few moments? Or, did you find it hard to keep your attention on your breathing? Did you get agitated or bored? Did you want to get on with the rest of this post or go to something else instead? Whatever you experienced is fine. There is no right or wrong experience. It’s the “noticing of your inner experience” that is most important — that’s interoception.
Why Is Interoception Important? What Does It Do?
Let me give you some ideas about how this practice can work. First, interoception activates a part of your brain stem that is involved in sensory processing prior to language. In other words, it works with a part of your brain that is not thinking. The more you tune into interoception and become absorbed in it, the more your non-stop thinking, analyzing, judging, planning function quiets down, so you can rest from all of that for a bit.
Second, interoception of breathing calms your nervous system. It activates your parasympathetic nervous response and dampens your “fight or flight” stress mode. As your nervous system calms, you can deal with other inner sensations less reactively, such as emotions that may be driving you without your consent. Instead of over-reacting, you can tune into the messages your emotions are trying to give you, which are meant to guide you to appropriate action.
Third, interoception enables you to feel the impulses that are driving your actions, rather than being a victim of those impulses. You can learn to discern the impulses behind addictive behaviors and cravings, step back and observe them, and make better choices aligned with your well-being. For many people, this is over-eating, over-buying, drinking alcohol, or distraction through entertainment. All these cover deeper feelings that, when addressed, can end the cycle of craving as it begins to come into consciousness — which is something you’ll notice through interoception.
Finally, interoception is a gateway to deeper feelings of connection with who you are and why you are here, as well as with others and Life itself. As you use interoception of breathing to enter into relaxation, this can lead to deeper states of concentration, in which you experience the life force within you, the life force around you, and your unity with all of Life. You can experience yourself as more than just a body, more than just your thoughts, feelings, and actions. You can become aware of yourself as subtle, spacious, formless awareness. This is a felt sensation that begins within and extends beyond you. You become aware of being part of One Life, One Consciousness, we all share. Perhaps, this is the connection you were craving in the first place?
Is that real? Is it true? Am I just making this up or spouting some esoteric philosophy?
You can find out for yourself. This experience is discovered by turning inward, activating your own powers of interoception, and exploring deeply. . .
You’ve experienced the results of not doing this — the stress, anxiety, anger, reactivity, hostility, addiction. . .pick your poison. . . If you don’t do something different, you’ll continue repeating these same experiences.
What might happen if you consciously, deliberately, intentionally, and purposefully decided to turn your focus inward and cultivate your inner senses?