14. We Know More than We Know We Know

Good morning and welcome to your fourteenth meditation. Have you ever heard the expression “we know more than we know we know”? Think about those words for a moment. What do you suppose they mean? We harbour vast stores of knowledge in our minds and in our bodies that we rarely consider. We tend, rather, to confine our idea of what constitutes knowledge to a very narrow set of criteria. We think it must have to do with memorizing facts and numbers; or with worldly wisdom; or perhaps the knowhow required to accomplish some specialized task. And so it must. But we often forget to count as knowledge certain highly specialized tasks that we all do: like breathing. And walking. And fighting diseases. And healing wounds. And regulating our metabolism so that we can send energy wherever it is required at exactly the moment it is required. How can we possibly know how to pull off these wonderful feats when we are scarcely even aware of doing them? It almost seems like someone else is doing it all for us, doesn’t it? But they’re not. We know how to perform these incomprehensibly complex tasks all by ourselves.

It’s a cool thought, but what good is it? How can it help us in our day to day lives? Well, to start, knowing that you have access to unfathomable depths of knowledge is a pretty good confidence booster. And so it should be! ‘Self-confidence’ is just a fancy way of saying that we trust ourselves. And if we know that we can trust our bodies to do exactly what is required of them in a given situation and to communicate important information when we need to know it, then that is self-confidence in action. The trouble is we often don’t listen to what our bodies are telling us. It is an unavoidable human trait that we use conceptual modes of thinking to define and diagnose signals that our bodies send us. This can be helpful when these concepts allow us to harness our body’s energy and use it to our benefit. But if we aren’t careful or precise enough with how we understand the messages our bodies are sending us, those messages can become obscured to our detriment. Concepts, like tools, can be very useful for certain jobs, and at best ineffective and at worst destructive for others. For example, you may feel butterflies in your stomach. This is your body sending you a message. But how you interpret that message as a concept will determine how your body processes that feeling. So if you understand the butterflies to be anxiety or fear, the outcome will be very different than if you understand them to be excitement or determination. Neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett tells about her daughter’s karate teacher who, in preparing his students for their black belt test told them to “get their butterflies flying in formation”. He could have said “I know you’re all nervous and anxious and that is normal” and his students would have interpreted the messages their bodies were sending them as a handicap that they had to overcome. But construing that sensation of excitement as a fleet of butterflies of which each student is the captain reframes the body’s message as a goad to action that can  propel them to do their best.

We may not always be the best listeners when our bodies are trying to communicate something to us, but our bodies are excellent listeners. So practise telling yours encouraging things. Practise directing its incredible power and knowledge to benefit yourself and others. Try not to impose limitations on yourself. You have no idea what you’re capable of. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

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