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Andrea Juhan

Basic Sanity - or the least amount of embodied emotional intelligence I can get away with and still feel functional

Mar 13, 2019

What supports you in feeling at ease, centered, and able to cope? If you are like so many of the people I have asked, some form of exercise, movement, mindful breathing, sleep, surrender and good connections with loved ones are part of the answer.

In Open Floor, we focus on developing and strengthening these kinds of support through the medium of Conscious Dance. We consider having an embodied practice an essential resource for the kind of emotional intelligence that facilitates us in feeling Basically Sane in our crazy world.

When we are out of balance or off center (note both expressions are physical and emotional), we can be reactive, cut off from feelings, cut off from clear thinking and cut off from those we would like to be close with. When our resources are low and we are overwhelmed from the inside, the outside, or both, it can give us that “I am going out of my mind” feeling. Actually, we are out of our body as well. In these moments, the world can appear to us as random and chaotic (in a threatening way). When we fall into these states, it can feel near impossible to find or feel any goodness or have even a fraction of perspective on our situation. Without a good solid sense of safely resting in our own body, we will feel lost.

Sanity — the feeling that what is happening is manageable inside me.

Embodied emotional intelligence is key to sustaining a sense of basic sanity. It is not mood management or reprogramming negative thoughts with better thoughts. Embodied emotional intelligence is the cellular process of being able to stay clear, grounded and steadfastly IN one’s body while being in contact with others and/or a situation in a way that supports you rather than compounding the difficulties. With embodied intelligence, we are able to stay present, feel vital and alive, our mind is clear and able to perceive choices. Our perspective is more likely to be broader; we understand we are not the only human struggling on the planet today.

There are many components to emotional intelligence. The aspect I want to unpack for this article is working with the 4 Differentiations. This is the content that we work within Basic Sanity, an Open Floor workshop, that I teach.

What is differentiation?

It is the ability to perceive differences within yourself and between you and your world — the ability to be able to separate or distinguish. Distinguish, as a synonym, is interesting to me because when we say someone is distinguished, we attribute some kind of elegance or nobility to them as well. Likewise, a well-differentiated person, has a sense of presence, capacity, and congruence.

In Open Floor, we work with embodied differentiation, which means not just knowing the difference in one’s head but being able to feel, articulate and choose differences in the movements and sensations of your body. An additional element we bring to the process of differentiation is that it is not only about being able to separate one thing/feeling/person from another but to simultaneously hold the wholeness of the situation — a both/andfluid state of embodied consciousness.

All experience is multidimensional; we experience and process our worlds both inner and outer thru multiple channels. Many sensations, perceptions, and thoughts all bring us information at the same time, more than we can even be conscious of. The ability to hold those inner sensate conversations, taking it all in and sorting it all out, is one definition of consciousness.

Open Floor’s 4 Differentiations.

In Open Floor Practice, we work with 4 essential embodied differentiations that are key to keeping us fundamentally relational, functional, creative, and happy. They support us in having self-responsibility on and off the dance floor.

It seems to me that these four trajectories or continuums, if held well, can steer us thru the ups and downs of emotional life, thru the unpredictable nature of our relationships, and the often chaotic and out of control feelings we might have about the world, the environment, politics, etc.

The basic territory is to be able to

1. Differentiate between past and present

2. Differentiate between you and me

3. Differentiate between story and sensation

4. Differentiate between intention and impact

The tricky part of all this is, these happen at the same time, particularly in the unconscious. It is the conscious mind, our embodied witnessing or mindfulness, that holds a wider perspective that includes both/and.

Because each continuum is happening both separately and at once, at least part of any differentiation will be conscious, and another part will lie in body memory — conscious in a different way.

A taste of each differentiation

1. Differentiate between past and present

Time is and is not linear. It progresses forward and backward. There are gaps in time and so on. When we move our bodies in life or on the dance floor, much of what is informing our movement is implicit memory from the past. However, it is also true that the bodily experience of the present moment is activating all sorts of creative solutions to navigating what we encounter. To be able to know and articulate what is past, what is present, and what is both is essential for any healthy journey in this life.

It is important to realize that this information is not available only thru cognitive processing (top-down). It is also available from sensate processing, from the body, (bottom-up). We need this combined way of processing to get the full picture.

Mindful movement provides the pathway to bottom-up processing. Thinking can often make matters more complex, whereas the action of moving gives us the resources we need to sense our way in, around, and thru any given encounter. This is what we need to understand where we are on this continuum between past and present.

2. Differentiate between you and me

We are separate individuals, and we are not separate individuals. We do appear to be an individual within our own body, intentions, and actions, but every feeling, action or intention we have is entirely dependent on the others around us. This is true whether they are actually there or we are imagining what someones response might be. There is a me, there is a you and as Dr. Daniel Siegal puts it — there is a “mwe” (me/we).

Often it is hard to tell — Am I initiating something with you, or am I responding to something you initiated, or is it both? Our logical thinking compartmentalizes; our deeper, sensate perceptions in the body do not. Becoming an adept mover in these waters teaches you to know and be able to differentiate between the sensations of something that is primarily a me (1st body), or something that is primarily a response to, or a perception of another (2nd body), and the skill to expanding one’s awareness to include both — “mwe” (or 3rd body).

3. Differentiate story and sensation

This territory is often so glued together that we can’t tell the difference. Our stories come almost simultaneously with any given sensation. In fact, neuroscience studies show sensation is registered first. Some of the first stories and actions aren’t even known by the conscious mind.

We often take the story to be the truth or reality. However, as we become more skilled in being an embodied mover, we can teach ourselves to distinguish between — I have a sensation, and this is the story, opinion, reaction, self-talk I have about it.

We can learn to be embodied and present the other way around as well — I hear a story in my head or from another source, and I have an immediate sensation. The sensation could also be different if I were aware enough to see my habitual responses and then make a choice.

Dance practice is at its best in this terrain. By moving, we produce a slew of physical sensations that may mean nothing or mean something but when a story and sensation is glued together, our sensations can produce a story which then leads me to continue the story, therefore shaping the situation into a self-fulfilling prophecy unchecked.

We spend a lot of time in Open Floor moving to notice sensation, follow sensation, notice the story we connect to it and let it go. This is one way to develop a strong, reliable sensory channel. We can also move with a story, for example, a fixed belief one has. Through moving we explore the sensations that come along with the belief, then we can begin to separate and choose — is this belief true to how I know myself now? Is it perhaps an old story?

4. Differentiate between intention and impact

It would be nice if just having good intentions towards one’s self or others were enough — “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” — but we cannot control the impact our intended actions have on others or the world. This is a key emotional intelligence for sustaining longstanding healthy relationships — the ability to acknowledge each and both — the intention and the impact.

But why dance?

Because we can get very attached or justified in either our intention or the impact I experienced by your behavior. It can get messy and ugly quick, particularly if you remember that the conscious mind is not even half of the exchange.

As movers, we can nonverbally intend something like — I am going to dance near you so we can be close. — and by mindfully moving towards that, we can listen to see what the impact of that move might be. We can do it slowly; we can pause; we can practice noticing and feeling the impact it has on others; we can learn to ask and not assume. When we become aware of the actual sensations of intention and impact in a variety of ways, we learn to be better at understanding our intentions and being curious about our impact. We become much more relaxed and natural with articulating and predicting this complex aspect of being a relational animal.

Truly comprehending these 4 Differentiations takes practice; we need to be able to be in the mess of it to sort it out. It is actually an act of kindness to do this on the dance floor in a room of mindful others, where the consequence of our confusion is simply a messy (and even enjoyable) dance. Becoming proficient on the dance floor helps us be articulate and distinguished in every other part of our life.

Basic sanity is a high-level embodied mindfulness practice, and because we learn to find the dance of it, we can embrace the beauty, creativity, joy, and playfulness in what life offers us.

For Further Reading:

Daniel Coleman, Emotional Intelligence
Daniel Siegel, Mindsight
David Richo, When the Past is Present
David Schnarch, Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships