Playing with Impulses

In a previous post I discussed the idea of experiencing the substrate underlying our experience as a sea of impulses, from which we we assemble our perceptions of and interactions with the world around us. This video explores ways of experiencing and responding to external constraint by dealing with underlying impulses. The accompanying narrative describes the themes or storylines Bob and I use through the video, keyed to the running time as shown in your video controller. (I’m keying to the running time because it’s more precise than the clock time displayed on the screen, which I used earlier.) I’ve also captioned the video to identify the theme or storyline in play. If you find this useful, please let me know in the comments.

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00:00 Bob is twisting my arm. I experience this twist in terms of two opposing impulses. One impulse, which I experience as coming from Bob, is twisting my arm, while the other, which I experience as coming from me, is resisting that twist. I experience the pain I feel as resulting from the conflict between those images, and as long as the twisting impulse feels stronger than the resisting impulse, I will feel stuck.

Bob coaches me to take over his twist, by shifting my perception of the source of that twist from him to me. When I do that, I experience myself as the one responsible for my arm being twisted, then I can stop. From a conventional perspective this doesn’t make sense, since Bob seems to be the physical source of the twist. But whether it makes sense or not, it works; when I take over the twist I can easily untwist my arm, and Bob falls over.

01:28 We reverse roles; I squeeze Bob’s hand, then coach him to feel responsible for the resulting sense of being squeezed that he feels. When he makes that shift, my grip involuntarily relaxes and he is free. The deeper theme that we’re exploring here is that all the impulses you experience are your own, even those you normally attribute to outside sources. We do each create our own reality; we are each responsible for everything we feel. That’s a difficult responsibility to accept, because of our lifelong conditioning to automatically and unconsciously assign that responsibility to sources outside ourselves, but when we do accept it, that creates a marvelously freeing experience.

02:13 At this point Bob takes over my impulse but doesn’t do anything with it. This puts me in a strange limbo where I’m incapable of any voluntary action, and I just bob around like a bobble-headed doll for several seconds. Bob then redirects my impulse in a different direction and I fall down.

02:25 We change focus slightly, now describing our impulses as weightshifts within our bodies, and we work with the idea of being those weightshifts rather than doing them. The difference here is that in order to do a weightshift I split myself into two parts — the part that the shift tries to move, and the base from which the shift is launched. The conflict between these parts is what allows me to feel stuck. When I become the shift, on the other hand, my entire being flows with it.

03:17 Examining that split more deeply, I see that I begin my action by initiating a subtle impulse, then get stuck when I shift off that impulse and into a stronger push in response to what I perceive of as an obstruction. If I can stay with the initial impulse though, and not shift to the push, I can continue to act freely.

04:48 Generalizing that insight, we realize that it’s not necessarily staying with the first impulse that produces the sense of freedom, it’s staying with any single impulse. When I stay with a single impulse, that impulse will manifest itself. I get stuck when I try to manifest multiple conflicting impulses, though, which is what I habitually do. The gridlock is produced by the conflict between multiple impulses.

08:35 We focus on the impulse to stand. Ordinarily, when I perceive any potential threat to my stability while I’m standing or walking, I stiffen my body slightly to resist that threat. The threat may be minor — someone touching me lightly, or perhaps even not touching me at all, but with the potential to touch me. I nonetheless respond with a defensive stiffening. This happens automatically and habitually; it’s part of the conventional way of being in the world that has guided me and that I’ve reinforced throughout my life.

That stiffening requires effort, producing impulses that conflict with the impulse to just stand, effortlessly and without conflict. The conflict between these impulses produces instability, which seems to validate the need for the defensive stiffening. But the stiffening is what makes the conflict possible. When I’m able to truly inhabit the impulse to stand, and  stay connected with it in spite of Bob’s attempts to distract me, he can’t touch me. His experience is that he can’t control his own movement enough to make contact with me, that I’m unreachable in some strange and not understandable way.

11:00 We shift from focusing on the impulse itself to looking for the source of the impulse. I would ordinarily focus on the impulse at the point of conflict –where my attempt to move runs into the restriction that Bob imposes on my movement. That’s the point where the restriction suddenly “pops up” and grabs my attention. But if I back off and look at what’s going on more carefully, I can see that point of conflict as the endpoint of a larger trajectory that started somewhere further back.

Bob’s restriction doesn’t exist at points earlier along that trajectory, so if I focus there I can move freely. There isn’t any single unique point where the impulse started, I just need to find and act from a place on the impulse trajectory before I’ve encountered Bob’s restriction. (This storyline, which involves shifting my focus back in space along the impulse trajectory, is analogous to a related storyline about shifting my focus back in time, which I’ll explore in my next posting.)

14:06 We play with the impulse to defend against being hit. When I strike Bob with a foam roller, he involuntarily tightens to resist being struck. That tightening is what lets me hit him. When he can inhibit that tightening, there’s nothing there for me to hit. I may simply miss him, as the roller takes a different trajectory from the one I think I’m intending, or I may suddenly find that the act of striking may suddenly feel pointless, so I just stop. At the point (about 14:37) where I step back and say “don’t do that to me!” Bob has somehow taken over the space I was occupying, and I feel unaccountably forced out of it. As we shift and Bob begins hitting me, I see a feeling of coming forward as what allows him to hit me, while staying back inside makes that impossible.

15:43 I have a sudden insight that when I’m staying back I don’t have to defend against Bob because I’m no longer perceiving him as a solid being who has the potential to invade my space. He doesn’t feel real to me, in the way he usually does. This shift away from the perception of ordinary reality makes me immune to the consequences that ordinary reality would normally impose on me.

16:38 When Bob swings the roller to strike me, he ordinarily does so with the expectation of encountering a solid mass and unconsciously stiffens to apply force to that mass when he encounters it. This stiffening, along with my stiffening in response, is what makes the contact between us possible. But if I don’t stiffen, contact between us is impossible and he can’t hit. We now play with the other side of that interaction, with Bob’s impulse to strike with the roller rather than my impulse to defend against the strike. When Bob inhibits this stiffening as he strikes, I can no longer inhabit the space through which the roller passes. As he brings the roller down my arm moves out of the space through which it is passing, involuntarily and before I even realize what is happening.

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