Gayle found herself reaching out toward a group member during an exercise about moving intuitively with awareness of others. She later reflected, “I kept reminding myself that I don’t do this kind of thing… I can’t spread out and take up so much room on the floor. I can’t leave myself so unguarded as to stretch out my chest. I don’t do that and yet, I was still doing it. Something else was moving me, some other memory of safety or security, pleasure or unfolding.”
Every action we take, every thought we think or breath we inhale involves the body. Yet, within our everyday lives, we behave as if the body is secondary, using it like a dumb beast intended to carry out our will. Moreover, we also tend to misidentify our body as our “self,” often judgmental about what we perceive. Consider then, what might occur if we consciously attuned to our body as if it were primary, trusting its innate wisdom in movement, thought and daily actions, the way we trust it to digest food or use oxygen for respiration.
Intuitive Life Movement® (ILM) is based upon the premise that we are animated by an intelligent life force. When we allow this Intelligence (known by other names such as the Tao, Self or Source) to become the focus of our awareness and the initiator of our actions, we experience a release and realignment in our body and our sense of self. ILM facilitates this realignment by teaching us to attend to subtle somatic impulses that arise spontaneously from within. This practice is a way of being fully present in life, a body-centred meditation in action that can be used to help us become more alive in our bodies or relate more authentically with others. It can also be used for emotional and physical healing or artistic expression. Recently, a student applied it to her Red Cross disaster relief work as a way of staying focused and energized as she tended to large numbers of people in distress.
“Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?” — Lao Tzu (Mitchell 15)
In 1971, during a period of deep self-questioning, I awoke one night and my body began to move “intuitively.” I was not consciously creating movement but remarkably, I was moving with exquisite gentleness and detail. Although I did not understand what was happening, the movements felt trustworthy—a lifeline to myself, to something True. I allowed these movements to guide me for hours each day. Increasingly, I became more connected to my body and at times, experienced deep emotional release. Even when I felt a painful memory or sensation, I discovered an inner joy and wholeness that I’d never known. After about four months of moving intuitively, I returned to my life as a young adult. Forever changed, I knew the truth of my identity was something far greater than the person I had been raised to be—something for which I had no words.
Eleven years later, I was in a serious accident. While in the hospital, the intuitive movements began again, this time with a sense that I had to find a way to teach what I had learned years before.
There is in the body a Current of energy, affection, and intelligence, which guides, maintains and energizes the body. Discover that Current and stay with it… Find the spark of life that weaves the tissues of your body and be with it. It is the only reality the body has. — Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (I Am That)
There are many disciplines, both ancient and new, that help us remember and connect to the Current. Since ILM uses the physical body to directly access this life source, it does not rely on prescribed movements like yoga postures or tai chi forms, though it can complement these practices. While unfamiliar to most adults, moving intuitively in our body and in life is actually natural to us—we can reconnect to this way of being. Without effort, we can reclaim the authenticity and grace we expressed as young children before the constrictions of family or culture became our habitual way of relating to ourselves, our bodies and our world.
Anyone who can observe their inner, body-based experience can learn to move intuitively. It involves differentiating what I call intuitive life movements from four other kinds of movement: habitual, consciously-directed, creative, and free-flow, all of which are necessary to live a balanced life (see sidebar—Types of Movement). These four ways of moving and being each have unique characteristics and may or may not include mindfulness. They share the experience of the egoic self in which “I am the doer” (e.g. I am walking habitually, I am consciously observing or directing my walking, I am creatively discovering new ways to walk, or I’m choosing a flowing way to walk).
In contrast, when moving intuitively, “I am the receiver and the witness” as well as “the doer” (e.g. I let my body intuitively show me walking and I experience it now, for the very first time). To do this requires both mindful attention and receptivity to our subtle somatic impulses that are totally in the moment and not directed by the conscious mind. This way of walking will not look or feel like the familiar way of doing an action that has been repeated countless times before.
If I take a moment to slow down, breathe and feel the support of my chair and the ground beneath my feet, my view suddenly widens. I become aware of my surroundings—sounds, smells, temperature and people. I notice my thoughts and the constrictions in my body. In this moment I have a choice to override my increased awareness and keep going as usual, or simply be with it. In choosing to be with it, something changes naturally. I don’t have to do anything, except just be.
I am aware of two forces that call me into presence. One is mindfulness—still, open, receptive, multifaceted, and non-judgmental. The other is attunement—to the precise impulses within my body. This process is not personal and yet, profoundly intimate. As the impulses become the foreground of my attention, my thinking mind quiets. My body effortlessly begins releasing tension, my spine lengthens and I soften. [I’m in a restaurant with friends. No one knows I have shifted my attention, but our conversation has become slower, more focused. I notice others are sitting up straighter too!]
ILM shares challenges that are familiar to practitioners of many spiritual traditions. One of the most significant obstacles we have in common is the ego’s attachment to its identity and habits. Our egoic identity has learned to survive in our world. Accustomed to being in control, it does not readily surrender its “knowing” to the “not knowing” of being in the moment. Moreover, habitual patterns of thought, feeling and action rush in unbidden in daily life, regardless of our best intentions. Neuroscience has shown us that these habits exist in the most powerful parts of our brain. Fortunately, as an intuitive life mover keeps choosing a deeper truth, new neural networks are strengthened and more options to live consciously emerge.
By affirming the connection between our physical body and the Source of our being, Intuitive Life Movement brings our innate authenticity to awareness. It is here, not surprisingly, that we meet another challenge: our cultural inability to nurture such a natural and instinctual expression of aliveness. It is helpful then to enlist the support of community or a trusted friend to reinforce our ILM practice. As we move intuitively with others, we can experience in relationship, a kind of love and honesty that is rare but readily accessed. In the end, the reward for persisting through the challenges and for allowing “right action to emerge by itself” is the realization of a profound change within ourselves and in our lives.
Types of movement
1. Habitual Movement is the movement of everyday life. Automatic, predictable and goal-directed, there’s generally little conscious attention paid to the kinaesthetic sense. We repeat long-term patterns of movement, muscle tension, and posture without awareness that we do so. These habitual patterns reflect organizing beliefs and images about ourselves and the world that are out of conscious awareness. When moving habitually, the sense of “I” reacts to the world and identifies with experience.
Exercise: Raise your arms up, then down. Repeat.
2. Consciously-directed Movement engages increased awareness of goal-oriented movement and the kinaesthetic sense. The focus of attention may include: the quality of movement, the internal felt sense, time and spatial orientation, as well as thoughts, emotions, images, or memories. Acquiring a new skill, such as learning to drive requires consciously-directed movement. When moving consciously, the sense of “I” intentionally observes, directs, repeats, or alters experience.
Exercise: Raise your arms up, then down with conscious awareness of your movements. Repeat.
3. Creative Movement expands movement possibilities. Using the body as an instrument, we can explore different ways to move, the use of space, rhythms, emotional expression, story telling and interpersonal relationships. When moving creatively, the sense of “I” intentionally creates and explores the experience of movement.
Exercise: Explore creative ways to raise your arms up and down.
4. Free Flow Movement is a type of creative movement in which the body moves freely in a fluid motion. Moving in this way, the body seems to take on a life of its own. Free flow movement may at times be confused with Intuitive Life Movement. Free flow movement can help to free up habitual patterns of movement and thought.
Exercise: Explore raising your arms up and down with free flowing movements.
5. Intuitive Life Movement brings us into alignment with our own life force directly through the body. Intuitive Life Movements are accessed through subtle, non-directed, internal physical cues such as sensations, impulses, tension, breath, images, or currents of energy. Mindfully scanning our body repeatedly, we allow these inner cues to guide us with effortless precision. Each experience is unique, but typically includes an unwinding of physical or emotional constrictions and an inner stillness. Intuitive Life Movement can be accessed with or without an “intention.” In Intuitive Life Movement, the sense of “I” is not only the doer but also the receiver and the witness.
Exercise: Let your arms hang in a relaxed way. Notice where the very first impulse is in your body to raise your arm. Repeat, finding the first, second, third impulses, etc. and allow the impulses to move you effortlessly. (Note: the impulse may occur anywhere, such as the heart, back, belly, toe, breath, etc. There may also be an absence of impulse).