the spontaneous mind

The autonomous mind is…

the automatic mind. It is those program structures established that allow us to engage in various behaviors without a lot of thought. The autonomous mind can be very effective and economical, when used appropriately. We have automated thought so that any given behavior happens as designed not unlike dominoes. One single event, some specific stimuli, one single thought, can ignite a chain reaction of behaviors that occur automatically. For example, a dancer practices their dance, the various steps and maneuvers, which entails a lot of repetition. At some point, the various sequence of steps and maneuvers becomes ‘second nature.’ The whole dance can be performed quite well, automatically. The same could be said for a musician learning a song. Or a child catching a baseball. The neuro-muscular and spatial calculations that go into catching a ball are both complex and rapid, and happen automatically, once the ball is seen coming towards you. Most all behaviors which are routine for us now, started out requiring a lot of focus and attention. Through repetition of those behaviors, along with adjustments and refinements, they become well honed and automated. The same is true for cognitions, ie., the ways in which we think about situations, events, circumstances. Despite our best intentions and wishes, we may find ourselves becoming angry at a situation automatically. We often hear people say ‘I couldn’t help myself’ suggesting the action was out of their control. It just happened, automatically. It may currently be out of conscious control and happening automatically, but it came to be that way through repetitive introduction of thoughts, or behaviors, either by will from within or by force from external factors.

The word autonomous comes to English from the Greek with a definition of: ‘having one’s own laws.’ The root word ‘auto’ translates from the Greek as ‘self’ and the word ‘nomos’ comes to English as ‘law.’ Autonomous suggests self-rule, self-regulation and self governance. The word ‘auto’ is also at the basis of automobile, which is a good example of automation, or, perhaps better phrased, auto-motion, i.e., automatic motion. A great many operations of an automobile are automatic, such as transmission, acceleration, deceleration, or navigation. We may need to push one button or press a pedal to initiate the automatic process, but one step is a lot easier than dozens to get the same end result. Auto is also the root of the word ‘autism.’ Another word which comes from the same root is ‘autonomic’ as in the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).

The ANS is a part of the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) which spreads out through the body from the Central Nervous System (CNS). The CNS is comprised of the brain and spinal chord. The CNS is like a super computerized central switchboard. It is the hardware through which the operating system functions. Its function is to send, receive and interpret information from all parts of the body and the environment. It monitors and coordinates bodily activities in the context of its environment. Perhaps a better name for this complex operation is Central Message System (CMS). All the electro-chemical activities going on in the nervous systems are, essentially, signals and messages.

The PNS is described as the various nerve (message) channels outside of the brain and spinal chord. The PNS is a conduit between the switchboard system and the various operations of the bones, muscles, organs, glands, senses and skin.The PNS is divided into two categories: the ANS and the SNS, the somatic nervous system. The SNS is under voluntary control, such as walking, eating, catching a baseball, dancing, and most all behaviors in which we intentionally engage, and which can become automated. The ANS is, as stated earlier, self-regulating and rules over such processes as heart rate, circulation, digestion, elimination and breathing. These functions are also automated, but typically not within conscious control. Breathing, however, can be under voluntary control and becomes a critical feature in activating the ‘parasympathetic nervous system.’

The sympathetic and parasympathetic tapestry of nerves are part of the PNS. One way to view the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems is the former is ‘on’ and the latter is ‘off.’ The ‘on’ system responds to the various stressors and pressures of life, including the ‘fight or flight’ response. If one enters into the fight or flight response often, repetitively, if even through memory, it can become automated in such a way that even the slightest perception of stress or pressure in the environment, or in the mind, can trigger the automated response of fight or flight. The ‘off’ system is explained as the ‘rest and digest’ process. Like a wild animal after capturing their prey and eating, is at rest. There is no threat, there is no danger, there is no hunger or thirst. There is no need prompting action, and in such situations, the parasympathetic system is dominant. Another way to look at the on/off nature of the PNS is the sympathetic system as an accelerator and the parasympathetic system as a decelerator. One system speeds us up, and the other slows us down. Activating the parasympathetic system is an effective countermeasure to stress and trauma. One of the known effects of meditation and yoga is to encourage the parasympathetic system.

The autonomous mind is the mind in auto motion, and such automation is set up consciously, intentionally, which is the nature of self rule. Too often, however, our tendency to automate thought and behavior is imposed from the outside, i.e., rule by others, and this is not autonomy but rather tyranny. The CNS is remarkably sophisticated, highly advanced, hardware with which the operating system functions. The ability to automate functions such as thought and behavior can be very economical. And yet, it can also be problematic in that automated routines, whether thought or behavior, can get fixed and rigid and be then applied in situations for which the automation is not effective, useful, helpful or productive. One of the many features of the operating system is it’s capacity to adjust itself, which is part of self governance, and intelligence. One of the features which assists in this adjustment is ‘spontaneity.’ Spontaneity is disruptive to automatic motion of both mind and body, and yet an integral part of both intelligence and creativity. The word ‘spontaneous’ comes from Latin and generally translates to English as ‘occurring without external stimulus and originating of one’s free will.’ It is one’s free will which sets in motion the repetition that builds automation. But, just as that which we build, i.e.,  cars, cities, computers, tends then to define and contain our lives, so to our free will builds automation, which can then rule our thoughts, emotions and behaviors. If we have built up a lot of automated thoughts and behaviors based on the imposition of others, we are not going to sense the potency of our own capacity to be autonomous. The countermeasure to automation, and dysfunctional autonomy, is spontaneity.  The spontaneous mind is fresh, playful, impromptu, fun. It is a remedy for over automation and a preventative against the hardening of automated routines of thought and behavior, i.e, psychesclerosis. Our capacity for spontaneity is inborn and innate. Allow spontaneity in your life. 

“All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous unpremeditated act without benefit of experience.”

– Henry Miller

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