I’ve been trying to get back to my instincts for years.  I stopped milking the cows at Twin Oaks because I was uncomfortable with “taming” those big, beautiful animals out of their instincts (like kicking at a weird human trying to milk them).  I stopped wearing deodorant because it masks the complex smells that we respond to instinctively.  The idea of something “feral” (something domesticated that returns to a wild state) makes my mouth water.  But this week, this love-affair with my instincts is being put to the test.

poison ivy vine on a tree

it got me

I have a nasty case of Poison Ivy, all over my body.  The arm where it originated is swollen and blistered along the entire length, and my chest, legs, and belly are covered in swaths of red itchiness.  I wake up in the night scratching for relief, knowing that scratching today will make it worse tomorrow.  This is where I get confused — I instinctively want to scratch that damn itch!  It’s a biological response, right?  In my cosmology, our instincts lead us towards health and growth… so why am I instinctively wanting to do the exact wrong thing for healing?  Am I wrong about holding my instincts so sacred?

sugar sugar sugar

this gets me, too

Then I started thinking about other instincts that might not be so healthy… craving sugar was the first that came to mind.  I see it in 4 year old Aurora, too… this insatiable desire for sweetness.  All sweet stuff isn’t unhealthy, clearly, but my instincts don’t distinguish between apple juice versus the high fructose corn syrup in the jelly beans in the Easter Basket.  I just want it.  And after I’ve had it, I want more.  So, instincts, are you not the “voice of God” I believed you to be?

And then there’s emotions… fear or defensiveness or anger that seem to arise from that deep “instinctive” place within me, but can toss me into the darkness of a closed heart.  It’s been my practice over these last many years to respond to those emotions by connecting with something even deeper… a knowing, an awareness, a rootedness and a calmness.  It’s beyond my instinctive reactions — what is it?  Intuition?  Or am I just training myself to develop new instincts, the way dancers or athletes train their bodies to hit the move or the shot just right, without thinking.

So, if that’s true, then our instincts are not necessarily biological.  They’re basic chains of reactions that we do without thinking, and we’ve acquired these instincts from different sources: our bodies, our family, the culture around us.  (yep, confirmed by Merriam-Webster, definition B: “behavior that is mediated by reactions below the conscious level”).  Instincts by this definition don’t have the value that I’ve been giving them.  Huh… time for a shift in cosmology.

So it’s not instinct.  There’s a different kind of knowing that I want to be putting my stock in (in addition to and sometimes trumping rationality) — I think it’s intuition.  It’s asking myself a question and having the answer bubble up without thinking.  It’s letting my plan for the day shift because I have an inkling, or a desire, or an inspiration.  It’s knowing what to say without thinking about it.

Instinct.  Intuition.  Inspiration.  Random thoughts that don’t matter.  Knowing myself well enough to know which is which seems to be the work of maturing.  And then choosing not to itch even though I know it’ll relieve me in the moment… maybe that’s just simple rationality.

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