Monday, November 30, 2015

Endorphins, Sensuality, and Lucid Dreaming: What I'm REALLY Doing While I'm Sweating

I don’t know what it is about twenty minutes. Twenty minutes in and something changes. The heart rate increases, the sweat  comes, and it seems - at least in my case -  the nerve cells in the brain become momentarily more robust, more communicative, running like speedy little rodents, back and forth, chasing their tails, chasing each other. The firing rate speeds up, boils my creativity to a twinkling, orgasmic, critical mass. This process never fails and I’ve really begun paying attention to, and capitalizing on it. It is sort of like finally gaining access to a secret meadow you’ve heard about, where the fireflies are always sailing about, waiting to be swept into your eager, swooping net.

My idea factories are surprisingly easy to come by: trail runs and zippy, sweaty rides on my road bike. There’s also my high intensity, music-flooded cycle class at my gym. However... those classes would be more conducive to creative problem solving if the cycling room had no ceiling…

When I’m jogging in the crunchy, leaf-littered trails by my house, my eyes are usually tipped toward the sky, absorbing the sensual energy of the clouds and the sun’s rays slanting toward me like long, fuzzy lazers.  When I am outside there is no cap on the ceiling - the lid is always off - and I can feel my connective capacity following suit, reaching farther. It’s an Inspector Gadget-esque reaching, wherein my go-go-gadget neurons (commanded by my increasing heart rate) strive and strain to mentally go where no other jogging blonde has gone before.

I consistently feel that creative connection twenty minutes in. I feel the buzz and check my watch, or I check my watch and if it’s time, I literally open my mind like the ramps on a drawbridge, welcoming ships of ideas in on a wave of adrenaline.

I’ve had sudden ideas for art pieces, lines of perfect poetry which assemble themselves in rhyming order, or solutions to ongoing projects, all fall effortlessly into my jogging or pedaling lap.  I’ve started bringing my pad and pencil to catch these hot, elusive ideas before they cool down and evaporate like sweat.

I realized the other day that this whole process reminds me of lucid dreaming, and of what are called hypnagogic hallucinations (things you imagine as you are falling asleep). When you become aware that you are hallucinating in that “middle state” of consciousness, you take risks. You are operating void of logic, void of mental gravity, void of convention. You yell, you outburst, you fly into fires. You choose to go toward what you might normally run away from.

I once heard a podcast about a kind of “school” you can enroll in to learn how to dream lucidly. People who suffer from recurring nightmares can learn a gradual process of awareness similar to that learned in meditation. You are taught how to control what goes on inside your dreams. They teach you how to do this gradually, first by learning to manipulate one small detail at a time. This would be in a dream you have all the time, a dream in which you know what is just around the corner, that way you can go in and make changes, or at least plan for when and where you’ll try to do so. Kind of like learning the Jedi Mind Trick to move the intangible. To move thoughts, ideas, scripts, you have created and for some reason keep playing over...and over...again...and again...

Eventually, while dreaming, participants will be able to first speak to their tormentors. Once this is mastered, they learn to physically interact with him, her, or it, until at last, when they’ve advanced to “dream Jedi” status, they go for it and take drastic action to fight off and kill their dream “monsters.”  

Although I was deeply intrigued by that podcast, I don’t suffer from nightmares so therefore I never conducted further research on the lucid dreaming school. I never thought much about it until I discovered - and started toying with - the notion of my “runner’s high idea factory.”

I think those dream coaches start by teaching participants to notice the particulars of reality; something I do especially well when I’m running and cycling outdoors. I start by being sensually, qualitatively, more AWARE: aware of smells, sights, little sounds in the background, murmurs first, then pieces of distinct words. Water running, birds chirping, sneezes, a siren up the street, dogs barking in the neighborhood. When you know how to do this - during meditative practice or while lucid dreaming - you have graduated from level one: increasing awareness.

Awareness brings me to yet another connection. The chairman of the psych department in my graduate school (a short, grey-haired, former hippie) used to say to us students: awareness leads to change. I’ll always remember that line, because it applies to almost anything. Once you’ve broadened your awareness, almost like expanding an invisible net that emanates from your senses, you can start to notice how things make you feel. Specific things you may not have noticed before. You’ll find that there are little invisible threads, like fishing lines, connecting your eyes, your ears, your feet, your genitals, to stimuli around you.  Because they are connected, they control you and you control them (to a degree). It is symbiotic.

However, the boss is always changing: sometimes the stimulus has the control, sometimes you do. For me, it depends on how weak or how strong I’m feeling on any given day. Or, sometimes, I want the stimuli to control me, such as a sunrise or a sunset I’m looking at. I WANT it to move me to a place of inspiration. It might be the way the color of the leaves change at dusk, the shift that occurs in the cells of the eyes as they struggle to interpret color coming into them under the influence of the changing light of the setting sun. My exercise-induced endorphin rush, coupled with my heightened “sensual” awareness help me to strengthen the connections I desire, whereby allowing me to then harness the driving force of my creativity.

There is beauty and pain all around us. We can let it influence us as much as we are willing. However, if you can learn to open and close the filter between yourself and the stimuli, you’ll be amazed at how much more you are capable of. It all starts by taking a jog outside while keeping your senses wide open. So the next time you see a sweaty runner, or one of those sinewy, bent over cyclists, don’t write them off as dumb jocks. They might be in the process of curing cancer.

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