Unifying intent is the opposite of micromanaging. It’s acting with faith rather than acting with doubt.
Let’s suppose you are organizing a trip for six persons, yourself included. Let’s suppose too that every person has to wait for you to tell them what to do. You believe you have to micro-managing of every person… This trip will probably be pretty difficult, won’t it?
Micromanaging our movements leads to confusion
That’s how a lot of us think about improving our physical movement. Let’s do a squat, and micromanage it like how people sometimes suggest:
1. arch my back like this. (micromanaging the 1st person)
2. keep my knees here. (micromanaging the 2nd and 3rd person)
3. press through my heels. (micromanaging the 5th and 6th person)
4. furthermore, they’re all going to happen at a very specific sequence, this and then this and then that
If everyone does exactly what they’re told, at the exactly right time, when I tell them to, it will work great. Except, it probably won’t be perfect, won’t it?
The natural animal movement
One of the insights I had towards achieving natural movement is that we have to do it as it was intended in nature. We humans are brilliant, we can learn all kinds of things. To throw a snowball, to type a letter, to drive a car. But in our learning, we are modifying our movement system, our motor control system. As we experience success, we try to reinforce certain things. When we experience struggles, we develop compensations and work around. These experiences teach us to micromanage our movement. We become attached to these ways. We become attached the process and lose sight of natural way to succeed. We gain something but we lose the natural movement.
Other animals only move with natural movement. Hence, all cats move like cats and all horses move like horses. Even though you and I may move very differently from one another.
Humans can do it too
So what is different between humans and animals? It is the unity of intent. All animals have a movement system that unify the animal behind the intent and automatically accomplish what’s necessary. But we have that too! When you stumble, your foot will shoot forward and catch you, as long as you’re strong and fast enough. You don’t have to specifically tell it what to do. In fact, trying to decide what to do with your foot in that situation will probably lead to you hesitating and stumbling worse.
Micromanaging our natural movement only makes it more awkward. When we admire a skilled athlete or performer, aren’t we admiring how natural and thoughtless their movement look?
Automatic coordination by letting go of the past
Animals use a singular intent, like a dog wanting to catch a frisbee, a snake catching a mouse, a cat landing softly. Their body will automatically figure out what to do. A body part become the leader: the mouth to the frisbee, the snake mouth to the rodent. And the rest of the body follows that leader automatically. They don’t think about pushing off their heels or arching their backs.
We can regain that. We simply have to quiet the ego mind. The part of our mind that judges and discriminates. It taught us that “this is right and that is wrong”. It taught us that “this is better and that is worse.” It’s controls us based on past experience.
But we are going to move based on the present moment. Not based on experience, that is the past. This present moment is unique and it is all there is right now. We will have an intent, to catch a ball or to catch oneself from falling. We will let go of our attachment to the past, of the ways we learned. The past has already made you who you are now. You don’t have to actively think of the past. When we let go, we will allow the motor control system to reassert its expertise and help us move as we were naturally intended.
Letting go isn’t the same as discarding or disregarding. What we have learned about doing a particular movement is helpful in one situation, but it may not be 100% match for this. If you indoctrinate yourself to a rigid method, it can get in the way of success. So we let it go. We respect the past that brought us here. We accept it with sincerity, but we will live in the present. Living in the present means responding to the present, rather than acting as you have acted in the past.
On conflicting intent
Not only is having multiple micromanaged intents confusing, it sometimes makes success impossible. Suppose you want to travel from LA to New York. But at the same time, you have another intention to insist on going West. Well that will complicate things. And what if you also insist that you don’t leave California? Now that is not going to work!
Regaining faith and allowing growth
At first, we will not be very fast or very strong at this. Just like our initial group trip example. If you just told everyone to follow the leader and do their best, at first they’ll be lagging a little bit. But if you persist, with experience, they will become a smooth running team, supporting each other just like the best NBA champions.
“But it’s hard to do this!” Yes you’re right. It can be difficult to perform more complex movements. So as we start out again on this natural path, we start with the simplest of movements. As we regain our trust in our body, our faith in the universe, our body will become more involved. We call that integration. And the more you allow your body to integrate, the better it gets at it, just like the team who plays together, each player will become more familiar with how to support the team.
The story of Houyi and how One Sun Gate got it’s name
An ancient Chinese story tells that the sun are birds of fire that fly across the sky, one each day, to warm the earth. One day, all ten of them decided to fly out together, bringing heat and drought to the world. A hero named Houyi took his great bow, and shot down 8 of the birds. His wife pulled his arm as he shot the 9th, causing him to partially miss, only wounding it. The wounded 9th bird became our moon, and the 10th unharmed bird our one sun. I borrow this fable to illustrate that “more is not better”. When we rely on the one sun, let things be as it was meant to be, we thrive.
Just reach for it
So when you walk, you just need one intent. Forward. When you punch, you just need one intent, fist to the target. When you reach, just let your fingers drift towards the goal. You may lean, or turn or step. Allow whatever happens to happen. As you do so, don’t think about whether you’re doing it right or wrong. Don’t think about whether it’s getting better or not. Don’t think about what you feel. Don’t think at all. Just let it be. We call this unified single intent the single yang point.
And that’s how we re-integrate our the natural coordination. Next time when we have our trip for six persons, we will let them know that we’re all going to Yosemite, that’s our unified intent. We will let everyone do their part, support each other, and we will have a good time. 🙂
Can you remember a time when your body moved perfectly for you? Share your experience in the comments!