“Take responsibility for the energy you bring.” ~Jill Bolte Taylor
The Buddha once advised, “You are not responsible for who drinks from your fountain, how much they drink, or what they do with the drinking. but you are precisely responsible for what you pour.”
The question then, for you … and for me … is …
What are you pouring?
Most of us have heard of the five basic senses, touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing, but you might not know the term interoception. Interoception means sensing internal signals from our body, like when we are hungry, when our heart is beating fast, or when we need to drink some water. Basically, interoception is the ability to answer the question how am I? It allows us to aptly describe our inner landscape at any point in time. While interoception mostly operates outside of our conscious awareness, we can pay attention to internal signals, so that we notice them consciously. This allows us to be more aware of our own state of being before we interact with others.
Neuroception or the way our nervous system “listens” to other nervous systems. Our brains evolved in a way that prioritizes safety and survival. The limbic system – a part of the brain – scans the background environment constantly for threats to that safety and survival. This is automatic. Neuroception describes how our unconscious and subconscious neural circuits distinguish whether situations or people feel safe, dangerous, or life threatening. Neuroception explains why a baby coos at her mother but cries at a stranger, or why a toddler enjoys his father’s embrace but feels like a hug from a stranger is an assault. We’re always looking for signs that we can trust the people around us. We’re subconsciously monitoring and reacting to their body language, word choices, and other more subtle cues. Consider those “gut feelings” you get about people you have just met. That’s neuroception at work.
So if we are responsible for, as the Buddha teaches, what we are pouring, then it’s crucial to have a conscious understanding of these two states of being. This is dual awareness, or being aware of and caring for what our bodies are experiencing inside (interoception) while simultaneously being present to those around us (neuroception). It’s the key to being held and holding space for others.
Awareness is limitless and spacious. The Buddha called it the green ground of our being and the blue sky of our consciousness. But it’s also an intentional choice we have to make. It’s easier to let default thoughts and emotions rule our lives, following the clouds as they drift aimlessly around.
Take, for example, my career. I hold energetic space for people all day long. That’s the basic job description of a yoga therapist. We breathe mindfully, meditate or do exercises to strengthen our focus and attention; this is a top-down approach, using the brain to affect the body. Then we move and stretch and roll around on myofascial balls; this is the bottom-up approach, using the body to create change in the gray matter. Both are crucial in honing body-mind awareness. One without the other is ineffectual. We need both sides of the coin (top-down and bottom-up) to create real integration.
Same with showing up in the world. I know that if I am (in order of importance) hungry, tired, or cold, then the world isn’t going to get the best version of me. If I am – God forbid – all three? Run. My nervous system won’t be welcoming. I won’t even have to say a word. Your unconscious brain will be on alert that I am not a safe haven. Before class, I almost always eat a handful of cashews or pistachios and slide on a pair of warm, fuzzy socks I keep in the studio just for this reason. I have to consciously choose dual awareness so that I can better pour kindness, compassion, grace, empathy, inspiration, and joy.
What are you pouring?