Aha! Moments: the first steps to sustainable wisdom
“I realized that it wasn’t my fault that my mother was emotionally unavailable to me.”
“I have been putting on a happy face to cover up my unhappiness for years.”
“I know I am connected to the Cosmos – I’m not alone.”
“I met a reservoir of grief in me that I didn’t know I’d been carrying around.”
“I experienced a Universe that is good.”
These are all personal accounts of amazing insight shared with me by clients and friends.
Mostly experienced in safe settings with a safe person, or in retreats where they were out of the usual daily grind, these moments of clarity were profound. The world appears “changed” in these moments, as if cobwebs have cleared, and it often seems as though the newfound clarity will be everlasting because of how radical it feels.
But what happens is usually quite different… unless there is continued connection with the clarity or insight. If there isn’t a continued exploration, the clarity and insight will lose its potency and not have a sustainable positive impact. At best, it will a memory fondly remembered. At worst, it will be forgotten, doubted and disbelieved, or it will reinforce/exasperate the initial patterning.
I knew someone who went on retreat and came back with mind- and behavior-altering revelations.
He’d realized that he’d been mistreating others – a friend of mine being one of them – because of his own shame and deficiency stories. He made many amends for the pain he’d caused, and explained that he wanted to live another way. He wanted to be the person he knew he could be when he wasn’t tangled up in fear and shame.
And then… he went on a two-month vacation.
“When I get back I’m going to jump right into continuing to explore all that’s come up,” he shared with her. He was very excited. So was she. When he returned two months later, however, he was very much the person he’d been prior to his retreat but with even more walls, fear, and separation from love. He was more violent and more disconnected from himself than ever. My friend was crushed – she was truly hoping that this time he’d finally changed. Sometimes we still talk about what might have happened if he’d really dug in deep and stayed with what had been unearthed. We think about how much pain and suffering could be averted if only he’d continued to confront his demons instead of running further from them.
This may be an extreme example, but I have clients with somewhat similar experiences.
They will have one session, feel great, and be ready to tackle the world. But that momentum doesn’t always stick around. The patterning of our behaviors and beliefs is a fascinating brain and neurological phenomenon. Science confirms: it takes time, attention, and a willingness to engage with one’s patterning’s (neural pathways) for sustainable change to occur. In other words, the insight or clarity – that Aha! moment – is just the very first step. Many many many follow-up steps will need to be taken for that insight to make a lasting impression both neurologically and behaviorally.
I think back to a retreat I went on. The retreat leader shared something along the lines of “Okay, you’ve all had some really great insights into your shadows, your patterning, your shame, your darkness, your trauma, as well as into your joy, your wholeness, your light, love and beauty. Now the real work begins.” And he proceeded to hand out a page or two of somatic-based resources to help with follow-up integration. It took only days for us to understand what he meant. Once back home, in our familiar lives, with our familiar people, and our familiar routines, it took dedication and discipline to not fall back into the same old patterning that we’d just had amazing insights into.
We all likely remember times when something felt so profound and real, and we knew we had to make and effort to “keep it going.” But more often than not, for whatever reason, we didn’t… and the profundity disappeared. Lots of intense Aha! moments are short-lived as we go back to what is familiar. In addition, the vulnerability that often comes with these insights can sometimes be too uncomfortable or unmanageable to stay with. We could say “The ego/separate sense of “I” wants to stay in control,” or “Egoic patterning won’t go down without a fight.” But I think it’s generally more useful to come back to brain science and neural pathways.
Insights are like newborn babies.
They must be tended to, coddled, fed and nourished. They will die if they are ignored, and require sustained attention and support as they mature and grow into adulthood (as they are embodied). Science explains this to us through the language of neural pathways: it takes anywhere for 18-200 days (with 66 being the average) for a neural pathway to change, so unless the insight is consciously explored – repeatedly – it just fades away. Conversely, if it’s actively engaged with it will become its own neural pathway, thereby forming a lasting impression and new habit or healthy behavior.
The more profound the Aha!, the more it must be tended to, because initially those are the least comfortable as the grooves of the neural pathways are most deeply formed. It isn’t always pleasant to unearth that which has been hiding in the dark, musky corners of our internal basements. We can experience shame and belief systems that have fueled our dysfunctions that we hadn’t previously seen. We can experience parts of ourselves that we’d, quite frankly, like to re-bury. Without staying with that new vulnerability, the ego or separate sense of self could easily come in and cover it back up, and sometimes even retaliate in the wake of said vulnerability. What may seem like a promising and expansive revelation can quickly turn into defensiveness and attack, as the opening may feel too threatening in its newborn baby state.
As anyone who has ever been around an infant knows, it’s not always easy to tend to a newborn. Infants thrive under stable environments, and so do the caregivers. If a person’s lifestyle and choices don’t allow for the sustainability and integration of those Aha! moments, then they will quickly fade. If a person’s sense of ego is too strong, or if there is too much fear, the commitment to follow up will be turned away from. Again, it’s the follow-up integrative work that allows the insight to “take hold” and be embodied.
What exactly is “follow-up?”
First of all, it comes down to the willingness and readiness to really meet what’s been revealed through the insight, how it relates to the everyday life of the person, and a commitment to continue looking and exploring.
Follow-up can be done many different ways, but generally speaking it takes the form of some kind of active engagement or participation that keeps the insight “alive.” This may look like: finding and then repeating new and useful behaviors as opposed to engaging in old unhealthy habits, reading something which supports the continued exploration of the insight, and/or inquiring deeper into the insight on one’s own using meditation or other mindful body-awareness approach.
Sometimes we need someone who is trained in embodiment/somatic practices to help us flush out the old gunk and give more room to the clarity received so that it can take up more occupancy in our being. Using the previous metaphor, this would be helping the infant insight grow into embodied maturity, until it is no longer just an insight but a fully-actualized and lived reality.
Patterning and habitual behavior are often buried for a reason.
Sometimes it’s become so routine or “normal” that we have been unable to consciously see our dysfunctional ways. Other times we’ve experienced pain or trauma in our lives that have led us to develop walls of protection which keep us from being truly available to the wholeness of life. Someone who is trained in exploring trauma and pain body will be able to help in the integration process, enabling the insights to move into a sustained way of being.
Insights and clarity – those magnificent Aha! moments – are gifts. Filled with wisdom, they can enrich our lives, creating a life that we feel at home with and a part of.
Here are a few simple ways to extend the shelf life of your Aha! moments:
Pause: Pause what you’re doing, and take in as fully as you can what has come into your conscious attention. Before jumping to analyze it or understand it (or announce it to the world as a facebook post), just pause. Breathe in the wisdom of the insight – not from your mind, but from your being. As we know, god/presence/love/etc does not live in our brain or mind. It is Known experientially. So take a few moments to pause, breathe, and feel what is coming in at the level of Being.
Be curious: After you’ve sat with the insight or Aha! moment, and you’ve taken in all that subtle but profound Knowing, grab a pen and some paper. Science tells us that the act of writing can help us somatically process and integrate information, so take some time to journal or make notes about your experience. Be curious and open to any further insights that might come from your initial Aha! moment. All sorts of connections may be coming to you now. Learn about yourself. Learn about your habits. Learn about your strengths, and your weaknesses. Be curious and learn. Write with abandon – don’t worry, no one is looking!
Feel: As you’re curiously connecting to the tendrils of the Aha! moment and writing about it, feel into your body so that you can write from that space of physical awareness. Feel into where it seems to be living in your body. This may feel good, or this may feel bad. Write about what you’re feeling. Write about the emotions that you’re noticing. Try to maintain curiosity as you do this. If you don’t like writing, try to make some simple notes or just jot a few things down. This isn’t for publication, it’s for your own continued journeying. If you aren’t able to write something, or you just don’t want to, that’s fine. You may want to record a voice memo to capture it. You may even want to call someone – sharing it with yourself or with others after you’ve taken some time to take it in may help you to further connect with the Aha! moment so it can be explored more later on.
Stay with it: What good is an insight if you don’t do anything with it? There are lots of ways you can stay with insights to see where the rabbit hole goes. Keep leaning into it, and keep learning. Keep exploring. You are a vast ocean of remarkable depths. You can do this as a solitary journey, with a professional, or with a group of like-minded individuals. If you need help finding resources, contact me and I’ll do my best to hook you up with something that meets your needs and interests. There are so many resources out there these days when it comes to embodiment practices!
Get support: We’re a tribal species. We’re meant to connect with others. Again, if you’re not sure where to turn, let me know and I’ll try to help you out. Keep going!
Dive in: Keep on pausing, being curious, and feeling with regards to your Aha! moment, and your continued insights. Get intimate with yourself and your history on this planet. Ask your insight for more insight. Ask for clarity. See what comes. Keep going deeper and deeper. Don’t stop until your mind, body, and spirit feel integrated. I meet so many people who think they have to live with their fears, their grief, their lostness, their misery and discontent. There is always another way when you feel stuck. There is always something deeper, underneath pain and suffering, that is waiting to be discovered. Stay with it, and get support.
Remember the insights I listed at the very beginning?
Those were just the first steps in these people’s lives. They were not final resting places – they hadn’t magically found peace. Rather, a door had opened up, and the magic was found when they opted to walk through it. Most of them dove into their Aha! moments with vigor and found a new and thrilling world waiting for them. It wasn’t always easy, or pleasant, but they were able to safely connect with and detach from belief systems that had been keeping them stuck and in suffering.
You are not alone.
Take in the wisdom that found its way to you, and always be ready for more.