Unnatural Naturalness

The ideal is unnatural naturalness or natural unnaturalness. I mean it is a combination of both.
I mean here is natural instinct and here is control. You are to combine the two in harmony.
Not if you have one to the extreme, you’ll be very unscientific.
If you have another to the extreme, you become, all of a sudden, a mechanical man
No longer a human being.
It is a successful combination of both.

-Bruce Lee

The greatest superpower and the greatest weakness of humankind is our tremendous capacity for adaptation. Humans can get accustomed to and find a workaround for damn near anything. Our ability to accept the normalcy of any situation and fall into a rhythm of habit and automaticity is a double-edged blade that if not carefully wielded mostly cuts ourselves.

On one hand, our capacity for auto-coping can be a positive trait. Could you imagine every time you had to make some slight change in behavior you had to have an accompanying conscious thought? Not very energy efficient. On the other hand, so much of we do is without direct input from our conscious mind that it can be quite easy to arrive at “how did I get here?” moments. This is a fundamental disconnection from the concept of action and consequence.

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                                                  There is no such thing as a free lunch. All adaptations come with a cost.

For the last 20 years as a manual therapist, coach, and teacher it has been remarkable to bear close witness to the incredible power of human adaptability. I have worked with elite military personnel who had so much compounding movement dysfunction it was a wonder how they could operate at such a high level and accomplish missions with the highest of stakes. On the other end of the spectrum and much earlier in my career, I performed therapy with obese clients with such an array of metabolic problems that I wondered how they even walked into my office that day. It’s truly amazing what the human body can get accustomed to and keep moving forward.

Over the course of my career then I began to take notice of a simple and indelible fact; Nature finds a way. That the solving of problems to propagate forward motion (literally and figuratively) is what the entire system is designed to do and most of that adaptation happens without our conscious knowledge or input. Our physiology is constantly shifting in accordance with the messages we send; consciously or not. Even if you didn’t do that thing “on-purpose” every choice, every behavior compounds towards an adaptive tipping point that can suddenly seem as though, “it came out of nowhere”. There is in effect, no NOT ADAPTING.

Whether or not an adaptation or a set of adaptations is positive is simply a matter of temporality. All adaptations have their origin in one simple idea — a problem needs to be solved. I suppose it’s possible to say that an adaptation is largely positive if it solves the problem at hand but then the question becomes, how many more problems does it create as a consequence? Coping mechanisms, by example, are psychological adaptations that help protect us from psychological stress — some are good, like the development of a sense of humor, and some not so good like compulsive behavioral disorders. What’s the difference? The number of additional problems that are potentially created downstream.

So then, it behooves us to develop an awareness of the direction our adaptive “choices” are taking us and to answer the question — is this where I want to go? It’s like navigating a ship with a heading, there are checkpoints charted along the way to be sure the ship stays on course. The principle of adaptive checkpoints is applicable to nearly infinite layers of the human experience but easiest to see and feel in the realm of the physical. In human performance, a vast array of metrics are used to determine these checkpoints; on the performance side force, speed, acceleration, and agility are used and on the “recovery” side resting heart rate and heart rate variability let athletes and coaches know if they are on the right track.

While these checkpoints can be incredibly helpful it’s important that we do not get stuck on the checkpoints and the droll minutia of data analytics. We currently live in a cultural climate where we can measure more than ever before. The upside to this kind of data collection is that we can quantify if we are making meaningful changes. Conversely, though it’s a serious mistake to think that our means of data collection are free from flaw and the failure to realize that any data, however accurate the collection itself — still has to pass through the psychological filter of the human reading it. It is very important to realize that “science” is a process of investigation, discovery, and validation and does not represent the whole TRUTH as it were. Only Mother Nature and Father Time hold all of the cards.

Over time the combination of internal feel and external checkpoints can flow together into what is commonly referred to as — awareness. Learning to broadly apply this understanding, I would argue, is the deepest of practices the end of which is seen only in death. “Feel” is in effect, the sum of all sensory input flowing through our filter. Learning to feel deeply is important if we are to contribute to the trajectory of our adaptation(s) but not without some data to corroborate our internal narrative. The subjective and objective dance of adaptability metrics creates an elegant system of checks and balances that can help us achieve more significant levels of awareness into how our own behavior shapes our reality.

Adaptation is not a law of Nature it is THE law of Nature. The question here is what is your level of participation in your own adaptation? Living a life of conscious adaptation means actively participating in the trajectory of your own development, but not so much that you become “a mechanical man, no longer a human being.” Instead, learning to ride the crests and troughs can yield a beautifully imperfect state of natural unnaturalness.