Part 6: Liberation from Groundhog Day
30 years ago this year Job’s Body was published. This 8-part essay is a tribute to Deane Juhan’s unparalleled narrative of the body.
The Enigma of Changing Habits — You Have to Get Somatic
This essay offers an interdisciplinary synthesis between aspects of Deane Juhan’s Job’s Body and Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. Linking physiology with presence revealed an unexpected answer to the enduring question, “Why is it so hard to change a habit?”
part 6 of 8 (see part 1)
When it comes to altering our life’s circumstances, sometimes it feels like there is a chasm between what we know we should do and the actual doing. We may know the right thing to think or to do, yet too often we still don’t just do it, or even remember to think it. If we have bought the idea that what creates change is merely changing a thought, then we have put all our money on the new idea itself to change us once and for all and lead us out of Groundhog Day.
Because presence affects every other state of mind (see part 5), presence also opens the path for clear action. Yet even when we discover the portal to the ever-present moment and experience satori — the felt experience when we disidentify with psychological time, when thoughts recede to the background, and the inner body energy of pure consciousness rises to the fore (Tolle p.96) — why can’t we stay here? What is it that makes changing habitual ways of being such an enigma?
By now, you know my answer. Beyond having the requisite skills to perform the task, it is that we either do not recognize…
our true nature,
or the role our muscles have as sense organs in our experience. Or both.
With this point of view, the common way of conceiving of procrastination becomes irrelevant. When a behavior or experience isn’t changing the way you would like, be assured your nervous system is designed to not relinquish the old patterns without…
a whole lot of repetition.
Now recall how many times Phil Connors (Bill Murray’s character) has to endure the same existence in Groundhog Day before he is finally released to experience a new day. Only after a series of excessively arduous trials and errors which lead him into the deepest depression and despair, does Phil begin to recognize the limitations of living only for himself.
Eventually Phil accepts that there is no future, and so, nowhere to get to; there is no way out of here. He starts to go deeper in by engaging the relationship between right action and presence, and discovers the value of living to be fully alive.
As Phil relaxes and increasingly finds pleasure in the joys of exploration and participation in experience, it is still many, many, maaaany more days before his gamma motor system takes up the new program. Along the way, as this new mode of being gradually embeds in his gamma motor system, Phil discovers an innate inclination to make the day easier and more fun for everyone around him — which happens to also be the ultimate formula for getting the girl. Presence is sexy.
Thoughts are alternately elusive, malleable, misguided, imaginary, and, at best, fleeting. So intending to think differently typically doesn’t directly result in being different. Thoughts are not synonymous with consciousness, but without awareness of presence, of our deeper essential nature, we have to rely on thoughts for orientation. Tolle explains how presence is distinct from and infinitely more powerful than thought. Presence is an essential ability for processing feeling states through the body (Tolle p. 26, 75, 120).
Presence may be experienced as pre-sense. Pre-sence is the difference between thinking your way through something and sensing-experiencing-being-living your way through. This means experiencing sensations directly. Or, as Bill Bowen called it, accessing the raw data of experience before sensations go through the usual process of instantaneous — and typically mistaken — interpretation, in the process of becoming known to us as thoughts.
In other words: to be present, you have to get somatic.
“The fact is no one has ever become enlightened through denying or fighting the body or through an out-of-body experience… in the end you will always have to return to the body, where the essential work of transformation takes place. Transformation is through the body” (Tolle p. 114).
Contact as a Principle of Change
Contact between two objects is the way the nervous system recognizes and alters itself, and throughout Job’s Body Juhan espouses the tactility of bodywork and movement as direct routes for accessing the organizing mind; the mind that continually makes meaning of sensation:
“It is the touching of the body’s surfaces against external objects and the rubbing of its own parts together which produce the vast majority of sensory information used by the mind to assemble an accurate image of the body and to regulate its activities” (Juhan p. xxvi).
Different forms of internal contact within the body are named according to the material being transduced. Proprioceptors, mechanoreceptors, nociceptors, and thermoreceptors each involve contact between various energies or substances. Hearing, for example, is a process of mechanosensation. Hearing involves longitudinal sound waves that oscillate pressure through a labyrinthian relay of contact through membranes, bony structures, and fluid to produce the differing aspects of sound: pitch, timber and hertz. The signals are picked up by the brainstem via the auditory nerve, and travel on to the temporal lobes and the rest of the brain for further processing.
Then there’s the calcium ion’s role in the smooth functioning of skeletal muscles which demonstrates another of the countless relays of contact inside the body:
“the calcium ion [is] the event which triggers all the rest of the process [of muscular contraction], while their retreat brings an end to contraction…when a muscle is stimulated by its motor nerve…this charge is picked up by the transverse tubules…where it contacts the membranes of the sarcoplasmic reticulum. When the reticulum is touched by the charge, pores in its delicate membrane open up, allowing the positive calcium ions to rush into the cellular fluid, where they bond to the actin chains, initiating the cross-bridging cycles” (Juhan p. 123).
According to this body law, then, that an external stimulus is registered by an internal physiological response (including between the layers of internal body structure), a relay of contact between parts of the body/self occurs not only through physical pressure via the skin, but also through dialogue, through increasing sensory motor awareness, and through tracking movement, gesture and impulses.
Next in Part 7: Attention as Contact / Contact through Bodywork