An old friend of mine committed suicide a couple weeks ago.
I can’t say it was a surprise, as he was suffering for a long time, but it was shocking. It was shocking seeing the joy on his face in old photos at the funeral juxtaposed with his absence. Mutual friends came together to remember elevated moments with him.
I’ve gone back and forth as to whether I should share my thoughts around this, or abstract them completely so as not to tie them to tragedy. But I’ve been thinking about it daily, and I think it matters. And it may help someone like my friend explore alternative options.
So please, consider this nothing more than rumination on life, death, and the mind-body that rides that line. If it aids, apply it. If not, discard it. And as always, be weightless.
The somatic archetypes (mind-body personality traits) of Weightlessness Training - grit, sensate, cerebral, fluid - are powerful things. They’re not innate, as many personality traits are considered, but either embraced as immediate solutions (coping mechanisms) to childhood conflict, or cultivated over years. In either case, they can be altered, dialed up or down, or balanced in the whole person.
What’s more, they can be developed with soft attention. One doesn’t need to consciously adopt or improve those traits (though can and should for more tactical, behavioral options), but can elevate their capacities for them through mind-body training.
Two of these personality traits - grit and fluid - are on opposite ends of the will-flow axis in the Weightlessness Somatic Coaching Model. While this might seem obvious from a ‘traits’ perspective, where those who are gritty tend not to be too flexible in approach, and vice versa, it may be less obvious that these traits are trained, cultivated, or counteracted through physical tension (or its removal) and structure in the body.
The Doldrums of Grit
Over a short period of time, gritty people can release tension (imagine a high-stress type going to a wellness retreat to combat burnout) and fluid people can generate it (imagine a more passive type taking up yoga or CrossFit), without significant change to their dominant archetype/personality type. Given enough time, however, the practice of releasing or generating tension imbues that mind-body with the skill of the antagonistic trait, and eventually, embodiment of that trait.
In lieu of those efforts, each of those somatic traits becomes polarized, compounding the vices of that trait, and handicapping the virtues. Which brings me back to my old friend.
For as long as I can remember (going back 20+ years) he suffered from back pain that was, for some crazy reason, undiagnosable. He’d seen specialists and therapists, and as many do when those directions fail, took to pain killers. Which sometimes worked.
It’s a burden to carry that not many can relate to… level 8-10 pain on the semi-regular. It’s enough to make anyone question the meaning of it all. But it does something more. It constructs a world full of risk, where everything, from reaching for a can in the grocery store, to sitting in a car seat, to twisting for soap in the shower, could lead to crippling pain.
And so the deep mind begins to remove those options, and isolate movement to more predictable (and safe) actions. It becomes less open, less fluid, less adaptable.
And as the mind begins to tighten, the body follows suit. Tension is generated to add structure to the frame - to minimize free play and therefore minimize risk. This is unconscious, and deeply wise given right context. But when it becomes policy, the body becomes a cage.
This story is told by the body.
Grit, the original protector archetype, the one that organizes one’s structure and generates the tension needed to power through struggle and suffering, winds up becoming the cage that suffocates novelty and joy from life.
Again, this isn’t merely a mental operation or approach to life. It’s literally programmed into the body over years - into mind-muscle patterns, self-reinforcing stress hormones, a body that literally feels less due to sustained tension, and the hardening of soft tissue meant to facilitate free movement.
Fleas in a Jar
Something peculiar happens when you place a host of fleas in a jar. At first, they go nuts, jumping and banging against the lid. This goes on for quite a while. But eventually, they stop leaping to the height of the lid.
After a time you can remove the lid, and they will only jump to the height of the previous barrier, and no more. They won’t leap out.
Programmed by the limitations of their previous environment, their action potential is reduced. Fleas are not reasoning or emotional creatures, lacking neocortexes and limbic systems, but they do have subjective experiences governed by nervous systems that take into account useful vs non useful action.
This is often presented as an analogy for personal paradigms and worldviews, and the limiting experience of life they can cause. When one believes something can’t be done they often don’t try. Not terribly complicated.
But one need not go to the point of metaphor for an incredible insight. The direct experience of the fleas leads to behavioral conditioning that precludes, in their case, life-saving actions. They’re not reasoning about their meaningless existence, and have no heartfelt convictions about the lid. It’s just not the type of thing they do anymore.
All is not lost, however, they can become their old selves again. But, and this is important... it’s not enough just to remove the lid!
The felt-knowledge of hopeless action is literally STORED in their bodies. And nothing short of dumping them out or breaking the jar itself will create the space for reprogramming.
But it can be done.
Programming can be reversed, and jars that confine can be broken.
If you, you reading this, if your life today is not sprinkled with rainbows and unicorns, at least some of the time, and in asymmetric volume to the stresses and pains of daily living, things CAN change.
While therapy and perspective shifting can play a valuable part, don’t overlook the unconscious patterns playing out between you and your environment - the lid on your jar.
Take note of repetition.
Take note of freedom and degree of expression.
Take note of the movement of your body, it’s limitations in range, and the tensions you’ve assimilated to power through the discomforts in life (or laissez-faire acceptance of plight that stems from a lack of grit altogether).
Start there. And begin to see the gradual tightening of the lid on your jar of experience.
Celebration of Flexibility (Fluidity)
The pillar of mind-body training responsible for the somatic trait of fluidity is flexibility. When the body experiences a loosening of tension, a liberating of confined range, so too does the mind begin to open. IT’S THE SAME NERVOUS SYSTEM. The brain is alive in the body.
If therapy equates to removing the lid to the jar (which allows the mind space to see one’s obstacles are no longer real), flexibility training is breaking the jar (which trains the mind-body to experience boundaries as malleable and impermanent). It's the difference between knowing vs. being.
Flexibility is not a panacea, it’s one of four key pillars, each interrelated with the next.
It’s the third in line, after nutrition and strength, implying those foundations must be in place for flexibility training to take hold and affect the mind-body condition in deep ways - to the point of mental fluidity. The raw materials of life and the strength and structure needed to fortify joints and tissue must be present for flexibility to perform it’s incredible, mind-liberating feats.
And when it’s undertaken with conscious awareness, when the mind no longer resists the discomforts (if not pains) of stretching, then fluidity as a personality trait can begin to manifest naturally, and later, expressed with intention.
Flexibility is also critical foundation training for meditation - momentary experiences of psychological non-attachment, of true presence. A mind-body trained in facing pain and non-resisting (if not embracing) sets the stage for a mind that doesn’t require the comfort of ‘knowing,’ and the realization that there is no lid... there never was.
The pillars of Weightlessness are sacrosanct and interdependent. But there are times when one should be prioritized over the others, where developmental pillars act is medicine.
What would have happened if my old friend discovered a little more range in his body? More expression in his movement? What if he felt less fear reaching for a can at the grocery store? A little less tension and a little less pain? A little more confidence in his ability to express his will, or to will in general?
What would happen if you do?
Explore your edges, tribe.
Break the jar.