Proprioceptive Thinking: The Sixth Sense

Lost your way? The Proprioceptive Question will guide you to the answer.

Proprio what? And what the heck does it have to do with a 6th sense??

Last summer, a dear friend of mine (Steve Bernstein, author of Stories from the Stoop) introduced me to a gem of a book: Writing the Mind Alive: The Proprioceptive Method for Finding Your Authentic Voice. Co-authors, Dr. Metcalf and Dr. Simon offered a form of meditation through proprioceptive writing. Through a powerful yet simple ritual of writing to baroque music on unlined paper, we possess the ability to create a conduit between our inner and outer world.

But not all of us are writers. Some of us find meditation in running or baking or gardening. So, I began to wonder: Could the proprioceptive method work in other forms of life?

Proprius is Latin for “one’s own” and typically refers to our body’s proprioceptive system. We are regularly taking in life through our five senses, transmitting whatever information comes into our brain, processing “from the inner world of our bodies, the world we alone inhabit.” (Metcalf and Simon). It’s this proprioception that allows us to feel our bodies, as our own. It’s why, when we have a stroke or illness, we can sometimes lose the feeling of literal embodiment. 

The 6th sense is the invaluable gift we all have to synthesize our five senses, reacting to the world around us on a physical, mental and spiritual plane. But we often lose awareness of our 6th sense, even take it for granted while we are healthy. We run on autopilot and can lose the gift of self-reflection.

Enter proprioceptive thinking—a cognitive and spiritual launching pad for those moments when you’ve lost your way, when you’re uncertain about a relationship or a situation, when you’re anxious or depressed. While proprioceptive writing involves handwriting to slow down and answer the proprioceptive questions throughout what is known as a Write, proprioceptive thinking is an opportunity to ask a proprioceptive question—either aloud or in your mind.

So, what is “the” proprioceptive question?

What do I mean by _____________________________?

Think of the above blank as your metacognitive/spiritual Mad Libs:-)Into the blank goes whatever is going through your mind as you draw, talk, swim, cook. 

I’ll give an example from my own life now. Today was spent collecting pathetic drops of water from the spigot outside my house. I was trying to garner enough water to flush a toilet in my home.

My proprioceptive question is:  What do I mean by pathetic?

By asking the proprioceptive question, I am slowing down, using language as a tuning fork for my intuition. Slowing down literally awakens our gut (and our gut is lined with millions of nerve cells that actually “talk” to the brain).

At heart I’m a writer. I can ask the proprioceptive question in my head, but the revelations flow from my pencil.

What do I mean by pathetic? I mean it’s three days without a shower or running water. Pathetic that so many people are living without water and heat and electricity for days now. Pathetic as in sad. Houston, we have a big problem. 

I encourage you to consider the proprioceptive question when you are feeling stressed or confused. The question just might recharge your inner compass. 

An Alternate Reality

There’s a greater reality that technology will never surpass or achieve...

Our perception is everything. How we interpret the world around us and our engagement with it greatly determines our lives in both quality and creation. Check out an Amazon review for almost any product and you’ll discover five star and one-star reviews—for the very same item! Listen to couples—happily married, on the brink of divorce and every state in between—and you’ll hear two different tales regarding the same relationship.

Technology is in the midst of creating an ever-evolving AR (Augmented Reality), where you can simulate life in an alternate world (i.e., bungee jumping in Costa Rica, skiing in Aspen, playing tennis at Wimbledon).  The pandemic has caused us to gravitate to this screen-laden world where attendance is taken virtually or noted in the clever acronym, IRL (In Real Life). Our life lessons are growing more comprised of chats, texts, emojis and screenshares, where an icon is considered sufficient (albeit online) presence.

I’m not knocking the myriad of gifts that arrive as a by-product of our tech-savvy world. I’ll be the first to admit that I love knowing my lessons can be found easily on a universal learning platform that our school uses, lessons that I create and decide when to share with a convenient click of a button. Children with underlying health issues are no longer prevented from engaging in learning now that we offer a streamlined learning program; students can learn at their own pace, replaying a lesson for greater understanding, translating into their first language where necessary.

But there’s a greater reality that technology will never surpass or achieve: the ability of humans to alter their perceptions and by extension, create their own reality. As the late Dr. Wayne Dyer said (author of The Shift

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

The other day, one of my 6th graders sounded palpably upset when I announced an assignment to read a few chapters independently that week. His icon glowed as he spoke:

“I feel so much pressure. My head hurts. This book is hard for me to enjoy.”

The boy is a voracious reader and extremely bright. His voice was tight with unshed tears. The stress he was feeling was his reality, his perceived reality.

I reminded him of how much he loved to read. I asked him what was different this time.

“I like to read at night, under a blanket with my favorite stuffed animal beside me.”

“Then that’s what you’ll do,” I said.

Oh, how he let out an audible sigh. Gone was the shaky, holding-back-tears in his voice. Gone was his perception that the world was closing in on him.

We are no different from my sweet 6th grader. We all possess the power to perceive the best and worst at every moment. My student had perceived me as “safe” to articulate his anxiety, which in turn, created an alternate reality for him. 

Consider your own life and how you perceive it. If there’s an area you aren’t happy with, how might you alter your understanding of it? Each moment is a gift for you to interpret and manifest a different reality.

The Power of Belief

We are Powerful Creators. The question is: What Are You Creating?

We all know that our words matter. Whether we compliment or insult someone or anything in between, our words have an effect on the listener. But before words are spoken or written, there’s an alchemy that’s even greater forming: our beliefs.

  The talented author, O’Henry demonstrates this power in his fictional tale, “The Last Leaf.” A young woman is plagued with pneumonia and announces:

 “When the last one [leaf] falls, I must go, too. I’ve known that for three days. Didn’t the doctor tell you?” 

Before the young woman [Johnsy] spoke these words, she had already made a decision between her heart and mind. She is so filled with the belief that she will die once that leaf falls that she even interprets the doctor’s message as a fatal diagnosis. 

Yet the doctor’s words regarding Johnsy’s prognosis were far from tragic:

  “She has a chance, if she wants to live. If people don’t want to live, I can’t do much for them. Your little lady has decided that she is not going to get well.”

   Johnsy’s belief that she isn’t going to get well is determining her prognosis, her future.

   While O’Henry’s example of faith in action is fictional, consider Anita Moorjani (author of Dying to Be Me). At 42, Anita discovered a lump in her shoulder and was subsequently diagnosed with lymphoma. After four years, the cancer had attacked her vital organs, and she was in a coma. 

  Anita writes about her NDE (Near Death Experience) where she became aware of what brought her to the current physical state she was in:

    “I also understood that the cancer wasn’t some punishment for anything I’d done wrong, nor was I experiencing negative karma as a result of any of my actions, as I’d previously believed. It was as though every moment held infinite possibilities, and where I was at that point in time was the culmination of every decision, every choice, and every thought of my entire life. Many fears and my great power had manifested this disease.”

   We all possess the power to believe. Many of us do so unconsciously. We are pharmacists, magicians, creators—our perceptions regularly manifesting our reality.        

     The great news: we don’t need to acquire pneumonia or cancer to alter our beliefs. We can choose to believe that things are always working out for us; we can choose love over fear; we can choose to trust ourselves; we can choose faith.

A Latent Choice

The words and images in our minds render powerful consequences in our lives.

We are all familiar with the word choice and how it applies to our everyday lives. We make choices every day, hundreds of times a day, deciding everything from what foods we will consume to the time we go to bed, and everything else in between.

But there’s an altogether different kind of choice we make just as many times a day that plays perhaps an even greater role in our lives: The choice to heed or change our thoughts. That’s right—our mind seems to want to run the show of our lives, making decisions that are not always in alignment with our heart, our inner knowing. These choices occur, if we aren’t mindful (no pun intended;-) in subtle, often unspoken ways. And if these moments of disregarding our inner knowing are said aloud, they’re often done so out of habit, without reflection or even awareness.

As a secondary English teacher, my ears often hear a barrage of self-proclaimed negative statements from students:

“I hate reading.”

“I’m just not a good reader.”

“I’m not good at writing.”

“I’m a procrastinator.”

“I’m lazy.”

Adults often share their own list of self-ascribed truisms:

“I hate exercise.”

“I have a sweet tooth.”

“I’m a spender.”

“I’m not relationship material.”

“I can’t live without my morning coffee.”

Obviously, the list in both cases could go on ad nauseum. Their minds have created these pejorative statements and, receiving no argument from their inner knowing/heart, believe them. The mind is a neutral repository, offering up whatever information you feed it.

According to Rapid Transformational Therapist and TED talk speaker, Marisa Peer (author of Ultimate Confidence): “Your mind does exactly, specifically what it thinks you want to do….It does what it thinks you want.” If we aren’t experiencing what we, in our heart of hearts wants, we need to consider the words we are saying or thinking.

What if we tell our mind a different story? What if we start priming the cognitive pump, using words we think and say that will garner a pleasurable outcome?

Marisa Peer states that our brain only responds to two things: the pictures we make in our head and the words we say to ourselves.

When we make a choice to collaborate with our brain, we are altering our lives in the direction our hearts want to flow. This is not positive thinking; this is proactive thinking.

There’s a famous quote by Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.” Your mind is listening to your thoughts; it’s up to you what you tell it