Know Thy Zone
In my last post I described three zones of our nervous system: the Freeze Zone, the Fight-Flight Zone, and the Flourishing Zone. In the Freeze Zone we go into shutdown and in the Fight-Flight Zone we go into defense, attack, or escape. Neither of these zones are happy places. They are about surviving, not thriving.
The third zone is what I'm calling the Flourishing Zone (psychologists call it the Social Engagement or Social Communication System). This is where happiness, resilience, and fulfillment are available to us. It's also where learning becomes possible, as well as creativity, presence, self awareness, groundedness, rationality and connection. So how do we know which Zone we're in?
Ask yourself this:
When I'm feeling an emotion, how do I know that I'm feeling it?
Let's take anger as an example. How do you know that you're feeling angry? Try and answer this question yourself before reading on.
The answer is largely in our bodies. We know an emotion is present because of the sensations in our bodies. When you feel tense, how do you know? Your muscles might tighten, perhaps your heart rate increases, your breathing becomes shallow, there might be jitters in your stomach, your posture might stiffen.
If you rely heavily on your mind for your work (and you haven't developed a mindfulness practice), there's a good chance you could be out of touch with your body. Even if you are physically active, that doesn't mean you have good body awareness. Many people in our modern societies dwell exclusively in their heads - they are numb from the neck down. We see our minds as the primary tool of our success and forget that they are embodied.
Our minds are incredibly important to our flourishing, but they are only half of the machinery of our experience. It's much more likely you are out of practice listening to the other half - your body. Yet the body is an incredibly reliable indicator and informant about your current experience.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to start tuning in to which (neural) Zone you are in. This practice starts in the most familiar place - our minds - and works from there. You can ask these questions anywhere, any time during the day. Give yourself a good few minutes to start with but your mindfulness muscle will get faster the more it's used. (It's helpful to close your eyes while trying to answer these questions, as our visual field takes up a lot of our attentional capacity.)
The practice is simply to describe what's going on for you in three areas:
MIND: what mind activity is present? Is there problem solving? Are there mental movies playing about some imagined future scene or one from the past? Is there planning? Storytelling?
EMOTIONS: what feelings are present? Are they generally pleasant, unpleasant or neither? There could be more than one. Ask yourself this question and then just wait to see what answers arise. Ask if there's anything else. Give it time. If the answer is close but not quite right, just ask the question again, and wait.
BODY: what body sensations are here? Is there tightness or holding anywhere? If so, where? Is there heat or cold? Is there movement? If so, what kind? Is it rhythmic, or jittery or something else? If you feel energy somewhere, what does that feel like? Describe it to yourself.
As you practice this more, you'll find your awareness becomes more detailed. Memorise the three areas of focus: mind, emotions, body, and practice describing what's happening whenever you can. If you are doing this, you're unlikely to be in the Freeze Zone, so practice identifying whether you are in the Fight-Flight Zone, or in the Flourishing Zone, based on the descriptions in my last post here.