Embodied Well-being starts with Vivid-Imagination
Individually and as a culture we are faced with the challenge that our safety zone no longer overlaps our comfort zone.
The path forward is by conditioning ourselves to face uncomfortable somatic sensations, slow down and appreciate the power of inter-connectedness.
January 2021 — Version 1.02
A transcript of the Vivid Imagination podcast by Aluba Fenix, Executive Manager at Google Cloud and Bjorn Heijligers, Founder of Rogue Stars and embodiment coach for the technologically gifted.
Welcome, everybody to the latest edition of my podcasts. I’m Aluba Phoenix. And today I’m joined by a very special guest, Bjorn Heijligers, who describes himself as an empowerment coach for the intellectually gifted. I first met Bjorn last year at a tantric training course. And I’ve been working with him since on the development of some program within Google. So first and foremost, Bjorn, I would like to welcome you to the podcast. Thank you so much for making the time to be with us here today.
Thank you for having me.
So I’m curious about your description of the work you do and empowerment coach for the intellectually gifted us. Tell us a little bit about your backstory and what specifically you focus on on your your coaching work?
Sure. I guess my backstory starts somewhere when I was four years old, walking in Black Forest, in Germany, with my parents, looking up at the night sky, being completely blown away by this starry night, and the beauty of it. And ever since I’ve been on this quest of trying to figure out what this reality is. How does all this stuff work. I started my journey studying astronomy. So I learned a lot of physics, mathematics and did research into the beginnings of this universe. From there I slowly drifted into data science. Working with computers.
So I’m an Uber Geek. I scored a solid 50 on the MIT nerd test, including the mismatching socks. Having done that, for 25 years, at some point, I noticed that, though I was quite skilled in working with computers and working with systems with logical rules, I was missing something relating to working with people and working with the paradoxes that I kept encountering in life. So at a certain point, I embarked on one of these tantric trainings you talked about. And in that first weekend I discovered my body. Where before that weekend, I was this mind with legs, and my body was only the instrument to bring my brain from point A to point B. Now I suddenly discovered that my body has its own intelligence, it has its own consciousness, it can take its own actions. And that was about eight years ago. And ever since I’ve been on this journey of discovery of how can this be. How can there be these two vastly different relationships to the world. One that is purely logical, conceptual, incredibly powerful, as we can see, as Western society has shown us, but also where certain certain ingredients seem to be missing. Compared to when I relate to the world only from that conceptual part, bringing my body in, has given me so much more relaxation, fulfilment , pleasure. and dare I say, wisdom.
Yeah, yeah, I totally resonate what you’re saying, I often say in the work I do with my own clients, that it’s, it’s all about the conversation. And that’s the conversation between the cognitive and the somatic, you know, between that mind and the body, because you say there are very different perspectives, they each have their wisdom. And it’s really important that there’s a respectful relationship between the two, and that we can shift from one to the other. But it’s interesting, that shift is difficult for a lot of people and a lot of the work we’ve been doing together has focused on this concept of embodied well being really inviting people back into their bodies and connecting to the wisdom that does reside within their bodies. And that can be a struggle for some people. Tell us a little bit what you’ve noticed kind of are some of the barriers That can prevent people from really connecting with that wisdom within the body.
Well, the biggest barrier, I’d say, is our success. Our mind has been incredibly successful at categorising, analysing and creating systems to relate to this world. At the same time, due to our success our biology is lagging behind. Our biology comes from an age where we were fighting Sabre tooth tigers. Where our intellect was incredibly useful at dealing with these deep survival challenges. And at the same time, there are all these fear-based instincts in our body that our mind has been trained to take care of. Nowadays, we’re not fighting for survival, at least not on the individual level. So our minds are overactive. And they pull us away from what is actually in front of us. And it’s kind of funny! Often, it’s the things that we want most, that stands in between us and our bodies. For example, fear is something that is a primary motivator. When you are afraid, your body has been trained or evolved to think: “Okay, let’s come up with a conceptual solution to this problem in the moment. And the moment we do that, we’re actually no longer in the moment. We’re thinking about, okay, what brought us here? What did I do wrong in the past? What are possible problems I could encounter in the future. So we step out of the present moment and are no longer in relationship to what is happening around us. The second thing, also, it could be your success, that precisely that what we want, the moment we seem to be getting it we sabotage ourselves. Well of course! These are high stakes riding on this and the same thing happens. We leave our bodies. We start relating to our experience from our minds. And in that moment, we often have a higher probability of not responding optimally, because we’re responding to what we believe is happening, as opposed to what our senses are telling us in the moment.
Yeah, yeah. I mean, for me, as you talk, what comes up, is the idea that we often have a need to control. Yeah, control the nature of the experience that’s unfolding. And rather than just surrendering to it, you know, kind of allowing life to liberate us, we want to kind of hold on control and that tense control, that often is a block to high performance as well. And then people start to increase trying, that increases tension in the body. And we don’t get actually to optimal high performance states, when we’ve got that tension. It’s all important to learn to relax and learn to sink really, into the body itself. Yeah. So So tell me a little bit about the work you do specifically with your clients and to help them make that transition. I mean, this is obviously a transition that you’ve made yourself. So you know, you’re speaking from experience , and actually, being an embodied model for that. What’s possible with that transition, but what specifically worked for you? And what do you offer your clients as tools and techniques to enable them to make this transition?
That’s a good question. First of all, I would like to note that this process is a highly individual one. So I don’t really believe there is a one size fits all solution. Which brings us actually to a very, very important part of this conversation that is neurodiversity. Like we’re so used to thinking about there is one right and one wrong, there’s one truth, there’s one real perception of reality, and everybody who sees it differently is wrong. And we find that there is actually a quite a large difference between the ways people’s brains are built. They differ in the way they perceive reality, in the way they prioritize it. So that’s, the first part, right there. It is giving people an experience where they learn to relate to themselves in a way that they haven’t done before. And because I’m such a nerd, you know I love technology. And it turns out there are many ancient and less ancient technologies available for this. At the same time, my scientific mind kept wondering, Well, how do I know this is true? Give somebody a pressure point session, or guided meditation and why does this work? So a lot of my effort has actually gone into first figuring out the science behind it, so that I can offer my clients a science based narrative. So that, when we are doing some highly counter-intuitive things, there is a reason behind it. Because that is often what necessary for our brains and start trusting that a different method can be useful? Our brains are constantly convincing themselves to they are right, because that makes us feel safe. So I first have to give people an experience like a strong pressure point session. Which in the moment might not always be very pleasurable. But by learning to relax in that tension, by learning to find the tension that the body was holding in the first place. People often have this “aha-erlebnis: “ oh, wait a minute, I never realized how tense I was….” I compare it to trying to explain to a fish that water is wet. Only once they you are taken outside of the water can you form an perspective on the wetness of water.
I cannot tell a fish water is wet. It will look at me and just be like: “What are you talking about? I don’t know this word. What is wet?” I can only do that after I’ve taken somebody out of their habitual state of being and show them there’s actually a different way of being and then putting them back in, they can figure out well, what did you like better? One modern technique that I use is neural entrainment device, beautiful word, basically, a very strong strobe lights with which I can alter brainwave patterns. And I can bring people into a deeper state of regular relaxation, more problem solving modes, more receptive modes. And there they can also start to experiment with: “Where are you? Is your current attention within yourself? Are you relating to your senses from your thoughts? Or can you actually relate to your senses, from your embodied feeling? Or directly, just as your senses? So they are these these trainings, where I help people that there is an extra degree of freedom within themselves! So in that you can actually shift between identifying with your thoughts identifying with your body identifying with your senses.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think, for me, what I found is one of the biggest challenges for many people in this respect is: just to slow down. No, everyone’s always moving so quickly. And often we’re not paying attention to just what’s happening in the moment within our bodies. And so, by slowing really down, and coming into attunement with that. That’s for a lot of the time, the beginning of the process. And I often say to clients, I got to give you a challenge, go have a sensory experience. They said, What’s that? Well it could be anything. Yeah. But maybe it’s with a cup of coffee in the morning, you know, as you pick a cup of coffee up in your hand, and you look at the black coffee, and you smell it. allow that to fill your senses, you know, and then you taste it and notice as it goes to the back of your throat and runs down What are you feeling in your body really start to connect to that without trying to you know, as I said, put any story on it just feel what’s actually happening and try to sense through thing. And I think what I loved about your work you you said to me once that the journey of being one on is that you had lost your mind and come back to your senses.
Yeah, yeah. And that’s that’s that’s a great way of putting it and there are there more authors who said something like that: ”The mind is a great servent, and a very bad master”. Like, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t use our intellect. It’s a beautiful tool and we should know its limitations. We should especially know that true fulfillment and true well-being can never be achieved through our conceptual mind. That’s, that’s an embodied experience. And only there, can we create meaning for ourselves.
Yeah, the other thing that’s interesting to reflect on, I think, is that this conversation that happens at an individual level, you know, the one between, the cognitive and the somatic, obviously, when it’s not functioning well, that can lead to disease. It can lead to the individual becoming out of relationship with themselves and as a result of that coming out of relationship with the world around them. When I reflect on wider society, I also reflect on the fact that culture actually has a body as well. I mean, it could literally touch you, right, you know, think about it, you know, in terms of our interactions with others. And so, when we consider what might be the impact of, you know, a culture moving in a particular direction, where people are struggling with this conversation, how does that then begin to play out for the culture as a whole, in terms of the directions we go? And what does that mean, in terms of, you know, where we are, as it common species on the planet right now, and some of the challenges that we face? Do you have any thoughts or perspectives around that?
That’s a very interesting question you raise. As a society, especially now, during Corona-times, we are able to see — how governed we are by the language that we use, and by the habits that we’ve created. And how many of these habits are, at least in Western society, comfort related, that most of our consumerism is not because it really makes us happy. It makes us feel good. And it makes us comfortable. And anything that inconveniences this comfort, like this pandemic that comes around and we have to adjust our individual behaviour to take care of each other, is met with a lot of resistance. And I say maybe even mixed intentions, that causes us to create all these polarities. “I’m right, you’re wrong”, “you should wear masks”, “you shouldn’t wear masks”, and we’re losing ourselves in this verbal diarrhea, as opposed to tuning in deeper into ourselves about what is actually motivating us to take all these positions, and to make all these claims or judgments. Global warming shows us or should show us: “Guys wake up! We need to start looking at at a larger relationship. But that’s uncomfortable because I as an individual have no power over the outcome of global warming, at least it feels to me like that. Not realizing that global warming, for example, is a symptom, it’s not a problem in itself. It’s a symptom of how far we have removed ourselves from our habitats. From relating to the world as a whole. So in a way I see the pandemic right now as a beautiful opportunity where they suddenly are more empowered to take care of our environment. To use the discomfort of a lock-down or the discomfort of wearing a mask. To inquire within ourselves. Okay, why am I meeting this with so much resistance? What is my mind trying to protect me from. Good times create. not bad people, but soft people. Hard times creates strong people. And there’s this constant flux between opposites. After a war, there’s this huge hype, because everybody has gone through this deep, dark, dark night of the soul. Having faced that we’re all mortal and how vulnerable we are. And suddenly, we have so much more reason to fight for each other. Once, these challenges are gone. So with this work, I hope to especially inspired intellectually gifted to start learning a different way to relate to this world because our future society will be shaped by technology. So if we can create a different kind of technology, we make it much easier for ourselves to become embodied as a species.
Lots to unpack in what you just have said, but what came to mind for me, first and foremost, was the idea of discomfort as a gateway and actually leaning into it, as opposed to moving away from it and the benefits that can come for that. So can you tell me kind of a little bit more about that? And how that specifically applies when it comes to the work that you do?
Um, great, great question. I don’t like discomfort. I’ve discovered through my body that oh, I actually like pleasure quite a bit. I like to be touched, I like to dance. I like to swim in water. Water feels great! Yet at some point, especially during these tantric courses, where one can play with a lot of pleasure and sensory experiences. One can start to notice: “Pleasure in itself is empty.” There is no lasting effect of pleasure in itself. Unless you use the pleasure to retrain your habits, then pleasure can be an incredibly powerful tool. And what I have found is when I, and maybe not exclusively, just go into the discomfort, I discover these incredible experiences.
…and there are people who just go into the hard way. That also creates a lot of hardness. That’s been my way when I did full contact karate, American football, anything where I could feel something in my body. But I needed a lot of strong impressions to be able to do that.
So there are these two incredible experiences. One are these myofascial pressure points. When I touch you on certain spots in your body, where your body itself is holding onto tension in order to protect itself from some experience in the past, you can become conscious of that tension. Then when you learn to release that tension. That is an incredible relief. That’s like taking a weight off your shoulders.
And the second thing that I like to work with is ice water. Going into ice water is not a pleasant experience. After 30 seconds, one minute, two minutes, though, something in the body kicks on and says: Hey, wait a minute. I was made for this. I can do this. No matter how unpleasant it is, I can handle this. And nine out of 10 people come out of the ice water with this huge grin on their face and giddy with life. Now suddenly they’ve had this experience where in their body they felt, oh wait a minute, maybe it’s not so bad to step outside of my comfort zone, because my body can handle much more than my mind things. And that is a great way of looking at our current challenges, as a society and on an individual level. “Our safety zone no longer coincides with our comfort zone!”
Everybody knows the concept of a comfort zone: you are okay in the middle and on the edges, it starts to be stressful and outside a certain limit there is just blind panic. This comfort zone arises around where we are safe. Before we were fighting nature and catastrophe and scarcity. So our comfort zone has been: creating a lot of productivity, and consumerism. But now that is no longer our safety zone, we are no longer safe in this habit of focusing on increasing productivity and increasing consumerism. So our safety zone has moved outside of our comfort zone. So in order to stay safe and comfortable in the future, we now have to embark on this journey.
Yeah, yeah, that was really interesting what you’re saying. And you know, I’m a big fan of the ice baths myself. It’s interesting what you do and how much you can achieve beyond what you think you can achieve. And there is that wisdom of our ancestors that resides within us. And I’ve looked at a lot of different traditions from ancient traditions, shamanic traditions, and there are a lot of different initiation rituals, where active discomfort is part of the process. Because by going through that, you begin to discover yourself beyond yourself. Yeah, So I do think it’s kind of an invitation to see what’s possible. And I’ve been doing them this week, I’ve been doing a seven day fast. And that, for me, again, is another example of tuning into what the body actually needs. You know, when I get these inclinations to reach for food — I’m actually really hungry now — What is the other positive need, that my reaching for the foods is seeking to fulfill? And let me go in and try to connect to that, and maybe a different, more human way. Because when I do tune into my body, I’m not actually hungry. There is a some other positive need that I have been using foods to satisfy. I think that’s a very interesting process of inquiry. That applies to lots of things. Certainly when I do work with clients who have addiction issues, I say: “That part of you , who is reaching for the alcohol or reaching for whatever the substance happens to be, has a positive intent. There is a positive need that it is looking to fulfill. It’s just maybe not doing it in a healthy human way.” Such interesting work.
Where do you think we’re going with technology in terms of our future society? There is a lot of concern right now about things. Like the movie, the social dilemma. And people are incredibly distracted a lot of the time as a result of technology. What’s your feeling in terms of, where we’re going and some of the challenges that face us?
I like that question.
In the meantime, I can can say my relationship to technology is a little bit ambivalent. Maybe even that too is a to strong word. I’m questioning questioning it myself. I have noticed I’ve lost some ability to do really deep work, because I’m so used to having my cell phone around and acquiring information about information often is my addiction, not so much social networks, but reading science papers. So on a larger scale, I think we can be grateful. We can be grateful that technology will become so incredibly powerful that we cannot imagine it right now. So in that sense, I don’t believe we should be in a state of panic.
At the same time, we should be concerned because the technology that we create will be nothing but a reflection of our own innermost drives. And as long as we are operating from a place of control, of domination, of creating differences, then the technical technology we will create will reflect that. Technology companies have a responsibility to create awareness around this. That creating a social network that has a certain addictive quality to it. It will take it does take people away from their embodied experience and that has real repercussions. At the same time, we can also use that technology To create awareness around that, and we are having this talk now across a digital medium, and we can reach many more times people then without this. So I think it’s, it’s just a matter of learning the proper application of this technology. And if I speculate a little bit deeper on, on the future of science, and especially artificial intelligence. I’m writing a book “Losing your mind and coming to your senses.” And part of it, I am actually writing it for our descendants. So I do believe that even when artificial intelligence might not be the same kind of conscious experience as we are, that it will behave like one in many similar ways. Now, just as we face a journey of somatic descent into our bodies after having discovered the power of language, I believe AI will have to go through a similar process.
Interesting. Yeah. It’s fascinating to think what the future holds. And I think you’re absolutely right. It’s our relationship to the technology is the issue. And you know, our relationship to ourselves, because that’s what creates the technology, individuals and cultures and societies is also the issue as well. And I think it’s, it really is all about the relationship, and how do we strengthen and deepen that with ourselves and by extension with the world around us? Yeah. Can I take you back to your time as a cosmologists because I got an interesting question I want to ask you, and I was listening at the other day to somebody who specialises in evolutionary game theory, which, as you know, was a mathematical theory. And he was debating this idea of the hard problem of consciousness, and whether or not, and the reality that we perceive is actually the reality at all. And he says, If you apply the tools and models of evolutionary game theory, what he found is that natural selection, and does not choose our sensory systems to show the truth. We know whatever, whatever that truth may be, and it tunes our sensory systems, to our perceptions to act in ways we can survive and reproduce. So even when we think about spacetime, our perception of it, and it’s not necessarily the truth, what we perceive, yeah, I don’t I just got really kind of blew my mind was listening to him. And being a cosmologists and a mathematician yourself, I wonder if you have any reflections on that kind of thought process?
Donald Hoffman for sure.
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You hit the nail nail on the head, that is a fascination to these train of thoughts, that when you follow them, you come at a conclusion that this reality might be vastly different from the one that we meet in our daily lives. We are so used to sanctify this material, Cartesian world, and maybe even a nihilistic view of it. Nothing. Nothing really matters. Whereas, if you look at quantum mechanics and experiments that we’ve done. We see that there is a non local effect, that things can influence each other that shouldn’t influence each other, or shouldn’t be able to influence each other across vast distances of time and space. Space Time itself now more and more seems to be this emergent property caused by the entanglement of particles. I’m noticing a lot of interesting new physics coming out to tackle this problem. Most notably, Erik Verlinde, a Dutch physicists just came up with a new model of gravity, which would supplant Einstein’s model. His claim is that gravity, just like space-time, also isn’t a fundamental force, but emergence from this quantum foam of entangled particles.
What predictions hold true when consciousness is considered fundamental?
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Especially this network of connections is a very interesting paradigm, when you compare it with process relational philosophy by Alfred North Whitehead.
Process-relational thought rejects the Cartesian idea that there are minds, or things that think, and bodies, or matter that only acts according to strict causal laws. Rather, the two are considered one and the same, or two aspects of the same evolving, processual reality.
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He was a brilliant physicist and mathematician and logician about on a hundred years ago, he was trying to build the fundamental laws of reasoning. Together with Bertrand Russell, he was working on the Principia Mathematica. And together they wanted to determine once and for all, how do I know what is true and what is not. And every time they started building that system, they were encountering these paradoxes that they couldn’t get the system to work because every time they found something where the system contradicted itself. And a few years later, an Austrian mathematician, Gödel, actually proved that any system of rules will always encounter either paradoxes or things that are true that cant be proven to be true. I don’t want to go too deep into that, because that’s a whole a whole other rabbit hole, then the one that you’ve pointed towards.
What is interesting about is Alfred North Whitehead, is that he then went on to create a more naturalistic philosophy for life. You can compare it to a Western version of Eastern thinking. Eastern philosophy is very different frorm Western society. Western society has, in effect, objectified the world, and made power, the most fundamental aspect. An object exists, because it can resist outside influence, and can exert its influence over the outside world. That is what deeply defines Western Western society. Whereas Eastern society and its process relational philosophy, flips the world upside down, where now, maybe objects don’t exist, but its relationships, relationships are fundamental. And the more I allow myself to be influenced by my surroundings, and the more I can reconstitute myself from that influence, the more relational power I have together with my outside. So it’s power with as opposed to this power over.
One of his basic conclusions of that hypothesis would be is that consciousness itself is a fundamental ingredients to today’s reality. So bringing this back to your question of the hard problem of consciousness, which is this, when reality is purely materialistic, I only have these these atoms that have no internal experience whatsoever? How in the hell can I then come from a reality that is without an inner experience, to organisms such as us, where at least I have convinced myself that I have an inner experience? Because that’s the first thing that I encounter, I don’t encounter the outside world, I first encounter my own internal experience, my senses, and then I find that all these senses seem to relate to something outside myself. And that I can and do encounter entities that claim they they have a similar experience.
Yeah, fascinating stuff, Bjorn. And I think I could riff with you on this all day long. But what’s the best way for people to get in contact with you if they want to kind of find out more about your work and get involved in some of the programmes that you run.
That would be to connect to me on LinkedIn and go to Bjorn Heijligers. You can find me through my work with Rowan Andrews and the “No more Mr. Nice Guy UK bootcamp”. My meditations are announce at: https://chat.roguestars.center. I do a lot of individual work. I run custom workshops or assist you in building your own. I tailor my training to the individual and the organisation.
That’s fantastic. And so we’ll post the links for people to connect in the show notes, Bjorn, once again, thank you so much. It’s been a real pleasure getting to know you. Thank you so much for the work that you’ve been doing, and also what you’re bringing to the world. I think we’re at a moment where the importance of understanding our interconnections to each other is crucial. And that begins with understanding our interconnections within ourselves. Yeah, and to all parts of ourselves. So again, really appreciate you what you’re doing and the work you bring to the world. And thank you so much again.
My pleasure. Thank you.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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