What superpower do you use most?
On superpowers, pushing the limits, being human, performance, and somatic mind…
We are taught that we need to be super at all times, to perform at our best, exponential growth, etc. And yes, this approach allows us to make things happen, and big things.
But it is also imbalanced, and as much as I love it, and I actually use it myself at times. But we also have to recognize this is just one side of the story, and we often forget the other side – And when I say “we” it’s not only us, individuals, but collectively.
This other side is not so much taught and talked about as the other super active side. So I think the “super” approach is great, and it’s also unbalanced. And in the long run, this is completely counterproductive, because it works until it doesn’t.
How much can you push the limits?
A client of mine when I was doing, shiatsu back in the days, came with her main complain being a pain in the right shoulder. She has a tank top so I could see her shoulder when she lied down on the belly. And immediately I could see the muscle of her shoulder moving with spasms. I didn’t see this very often. People are tight, especially in the shoulder, but to that degree, it was really impressive.
But she said she wasn’t in pain, really: “It’s tense, but no pain.”, she said. Before you jump to conclusion, she wasn’t not crazy. But this pain didn’t happen at once. The tension built up little by little, so she got used to some tension, and then a little more, and then a little more. It’s the story of the frog being in the water and you make it boil and the frog doesn’t feel it.
That’s how she was totally be honest in saying, no, I don’t feel pain, whereas she “should”, seen the level of tension in her shoulder. But she got used to it. So her nervous system adapts in a way that it overrides it. This is a normal reaction.
But the things that struck me most is that to her, the problem was not so much that her shoulder was tense, but that it was blocking her from doing things. So she had a solution: “Well, when I feel like my arm is too tense and I cannot go on, I just switch to the other arm. I trained myself to do things with my left arm and hand to be able to do things as before.”
This is where the super, making things happen, etc. story ends badly and become counter-productive. And again, she’s not crazy, she’s not sado-masochist, she just has a lot on her plate, she’s a solopreneur and she needs to get things done. And she just doesn’t know any other way to cope.
How limits become solutions
What she misses, is that the tension in her shoulder is not the problem. It’s the way to a solution. We have multiple intelligences, but often we rely only on the rational intelligence, and in our society it totally runs the show. It’s like a dictator upon a hierarchy of the other intelligences that don’t have a word in the play. And that’s too bad. When they cooperate, we are much stronger, basically life is easier.
The rational mind sees these kinds of things as limits: “I have a plan. I want to do this and this and this and that in those orders, I have steps. And if I cannot do it, I’ve got a problem. So I will find a way to do it anyway, like I have planned.” That’s what her solution was. I cannot do it with the right hand. Okay. It doesn’t mean it’s too much. It just means I have to find another way to do exactly the same thing.
Now let me introduce you the somatic mind. Somatic means physical, the body. The somatic mind just tells facts:”Hi. Your muscles are tired.” And if the rational mind overrides it and says:”oh, okay, I will just use the other hand.” Well, then you will have a second message a bit later: “Hi, the other muscles are tied too.” Then if you go on another message: “Hi. Now the muscles are failing.” And so on. You get the picture.
When rational mind and somatic mind talk
The rational mind just wants to push through because it has a story, it has a plan, and it sees any limit as to be crushed. If there is a limit, we can expand your comfort zone, get over it, etc. Somatic mind works differently. It’s very gentle, but it’s also very firm. Because it just tells facts, not stories. When the somatic mind says something, it means something is really happening. It’s not something that you think is happening, like it is the case with the rational mind. Something in your body, physically, is happening, want it or not, it’s there to warn us.
Not only the somatic mind is very gentle, it’s also always talking. Most often than not, we don’t listen. We don’t hear it, but it’s always talking and it will talk until you hear. And sometimes it will have to scream. Like in my client’s case, it will have to scream till we hear it. That’s what we call burnout. Where the signs before? Yes. Did we hear it? No (For reasons that we won’t go into here).
Somatic mind warns us that we need another strategy because the limit is structural. It’s not in our head. It’s structural, and it’s not a problem. It shows a solution. The only exception to this rule is when we want to do a specific thing in a specific time. So maybe you’re an athlete and you’re going to push over your limits to run a marathon or something like that. But even then, there are some limits that cannot push further. So in a certain capacity, we can expand our physical limits. But what I’m talking about here is our rational mind overriding the message of the somatic mind again and again and again every day. Let’s be honest, we do it every day… A lot.
Listening to the somatic mind to transform limits into solutions
When we experience what we recognise as a limit, instead of reacting to it and being in resistance… What about listening and taking the other point of view? From the somatic mind: It’s not a limit, it’s a feedback. It’s a feedback, a sign that the way we are operating is not optimal and is going to be a problem. And now it might be just a tiny problem, but it’s growing. So what can we do not for it to become a bigger problem?
Because if we push through, then it will just grow. And maybe if it’s just for one hour or two more, maybe it’s okay, but really watch into it because there will be a final limit. I like to take the image of the Pisa tower, the famous Italian tower that is not vertical. It’s leaning on one side, and it’s been for ages. Every year it leans a bit more to the side, a few millimetres every year, if I remember correctly. It’s going to go on – and probably will never crumble because people will do things for it to stop at some point. But imagine we don’t do anything. It’s going to continue to lean. Is it going to gently fall on the side? No, it’s not. It’s going to gently lean just a little bit, just a little bit. And then all of a sudden, it’s going to crumble because it will have reached the final limit.
And that’s what will happen with these limits. We perceive it as a limit, but then at some point it’s just your body screaming: “Listen to me now, please,and just stop.” And if we don’t listen, that last one, we just crumble. Again, that’s another image of burnout.
Choosing to be Human rather than “super”
This simplistic model we’ve been taught, where rest is seen as a limitation sometimes. I mean, come on, how many articles and blogs, videos have you seen about people being so proud, because they wake up 2 hours, 3 hours earlier in the morning and get so productive? And we never see them months after. Because maybe the first week it feels great because they are actually really productive. What happens two months after, two years in, ten years in, we never see that.
Anyway, my message today is we don’t need to be superheroes. We are humans and that’s already a lot. And our somatic mind, our physical body reminds us that we are human. If we listen to it, we are much more powerful actually than what we believe to be when we are feeling superheroes.
So next time you feel limited by your body, my exploration for today would be feel into it. When you feel limited by your body, by some tension, maybe by your level of energy going down… Instead of being upset about it and resisting, lean in. Don’t push through. Lean in.
Ask yourself:”What feedback is that? What feedback is my somatic intelligences giving me, that if I listen, I can do things in a smarter way, I can do things better?” And I promise you, when you listen to your body before it needs to scream, life gets easier.
I’m always super curious to know what you do with these explorations. I hope you try it. And when you do, come back and tell me: How did it go?
(Intro music for the podcast: “Tiny people”, by Alexei De Bronhe )