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Self Smart

How habits help us become more conscious

Self smart means consciously doing without having to think.

If you've ever learned to drive a car, ride a bicycle or motorcycle, touch type, paint chinese, you've experienced what it means to be self smart.

It's like speaking your native tongue. You know what it is that you want to say, the language processing center and mouth control centers make your lips and tongue work in a particular way and puts your thoughts into language.

There is hardly any effort on your part, instead, you can speak without having to think about the act of speaking.

Or if you've ever leaned to touch type, you simply think of what you want to write and your fingers do the typing for you. You don't have to think about what letters to push, you don't even have to look for the keys. The act of touch typing is self smart meaning that you can focus on what you are trying to write, and the idea of typing that is inside of yourself does the writing.

Self Smart Ideas are Like Employees

Self smart has a parallel in the world of work. I've read about Starbucks and how they train their employees to think and act based on a simple set of guidelines. Rather than micro managing, starbucks empowers their employees to act on their own initiative.

Then there is the opposite sort of company where employees are trained to follow a set of rules without deviation. They become little more than biological automatons.

The Art of Calligraphy

One of my favorite examples of self smartness in action is chinese calligraphy.

I first started learning from books about ten years ago. I've had teachers who've given me work to copy, and I've also taken the time to teach myself so that I know how to paint the strokes of a character without thinking.

One of the ways that I learn characters is that I start by painting only a few strokes at a time. I practice those strokes until they become automatic. And then I add a few more strokes.

I repeat this process unitl eventually I can paint the whole character without having to think.

This is only the beginning. Once I've learned the strokes of a character I don't have to devote time to thinking about what those strokes are. Instead I can focus on the quality of each stroke and the quality of the character as a whole. What I strive for is a feeling that I get in Tai Ji, a feeling of flowing from one stroke to the next.

With enough practice, I can flow from one character to the next and instead of worrying about what to paint or how to paint it I can focus on feeling what I am doing or just enjoying it.

Usually the most beautiful pieces of work occur when I am most relaxed and most enjoying myself.

I could be practicing with a group of friends, practicing with music playing, but if my heart if full of joy then my calligraphy flows.

And it starts with making the characters self smart entities within myself.


I have experienced a similiar state when copying works of calligraphy. But that requires the ability to quickly and accurately observe what I am copying. It also requires having work to copy from.

It's like always needing a teacher or partner to follow when doing tai ji. It's like an actor carrying a script with him while they are on stage (or in front of a camera). It's limiting.

However, it can be a good place to start.

Ultimately the benefits of self smartness lies in learning the idea of what you are doing completely so that you don't need outside references. Then you can observe the idea as it "does" itself.

Negligent Discharges

The army is one of the first places where I learned the important of self smart ideas.

One of the most important aspects of being in the army is learning how to handle weapons safely. Most soldiers get drilled in weapons safety so they check a rifle without thinking whenever they pick it up, enter a building, hand it to the armourer etc.

The idea is to make a weapon safe whenever there is a chance an accidental discharge could occur.

The idea is to train this action so that it is automatic.

However, in my case they didn't.

Like many people I was never aware how dangerous guns could be, and so I didn't understand the purpose of all those weapon handling drills. Worse yet, because I was a tradesman, the army assumed I could think and so didn't train me in this act as much as others.

And so one day in N Ireland, I picked up a weapon to make a modification. As I pulled it apart I noticed a shiny piece of brass where there shouldn't have been. I put the gun back together again and pulled the trigger. Luckily no one was in front of the rifle when it went off.

A question might be, how do you become self smart?

With practice and repetition. However, it doesn't have to be done like you are in the army. Nor does it have to be done without understanding.

Training yourself to become self smart is as simple as learning to drive a car or even ride a motorbike.

Big Ideas and Little Ones That Make Them Up

If you know how to drive a car, you don't have to think where the brake pedal or accelerator pedal is. You also don't have to think in order to use them. You know what they do and you know how to use them. As a result, when you are driving and you see the need to speed up (light just turned orange) or slow down (cop up ahead) your brain automatically tells your foot which pedal to push down on and with how much pressure to do the pushing.

The ideas of using the brakes and the accelerator have become built into yourself.

Braking is a clearly definable action just as accelarating and steering are.

And because they are clearly definable they are easy to learn and easy to do.

And together they become part of the bigger action of driving.

Units of Meaning that "Do" Themselves

We can think of these clearly definable actions as

Initially, before we learn them they are outside of our experience.

During the process of learning we embed these ideas within our conscousness so that they become a part of ourselves, a part of our understanding.

With enough practice we can do all of these actions without having to think. Instead, they "do" themselves.

Conscious Patterns (or Patterns of Consciousness)

Some idea patterns we come equipped with at birth. Breathing is one such example.

We don't have to think in order to breathe, we simply do it or we die.

But we can also be aware of the act of breathing. We can change how we breathe, the muscles we use, the rate at which we breathe, the orifice we use to breathe through.

Although the idea of breathing is embedded into ourselves, we can still be "conscious" of it should we choose to. We can feel our breathing muscles and consciously control the rate at which they work.

Likewise while driving. We can use the brakes and accelerator automatically or we can notice how we use them and fine tune how we use them.

Self Smartness Helps "Unlimit" Consciousness

My assumption most of the time when I write about understanding consciousness is that the conscousness of ourselves is limited.

There is only so much of it that we can use.

And that is why we need self smartness. When we learn to drive, or touch type or do our multiplication tables without having to think we free up our main consciousness to focus on other things.

Learning to Drive

Most of us learn to drive on an empty lot free from distractions. This is so that we can focus on learning the idea patterns that make up the big idea of driving.

When we've learned the basics of driving, when we can brake, steer or accelerate without having to think, then we are ready to hit the road.

Traffic is ever changing and because of that, if the basic patterns of driving are built in we can focus our consciousness on observing the road and traffic that is on it. And we can drive without having to think about the smaller acts that go into the act of driving.

The skills that we've learned in driving school have become self smart units of consciousness embedded in the consciousness of ourselves.

The Wholy Trinity

The actual act of driving can be thought of in three basic parts.

Any conscious action is made up of these three things, the idea of what we are doing, taking in sensory inputs and responding to those inputs based on the big idea.

If at any point we have to think about what we are doing or how to do it, then this subtracts from the overall amount of conscoiusness that we can spend on processing sensory inputs and responding.

Making skills like braking and steering a part of ourselves means that we have more consciousness to spend on doing.

The more self smart we are, the more self smart elements we have within ourselves, the more likely we can act without thinking.

Becoming Conscious of Unconscious Patterns

Some idea patterns are a part of ourselves without us being aware of them.

We can learn prejudices or habits from family or peers and as a result act "unconciously."

Part of being conscious is learning to notice self smart things we do so that we can refine them or disconnect from them if we choose.

Some of us learn less than optimal breathing patterns. The un ideal breathing patterns become self smart and supplant regular breathing patterns. By observing our breathing we can relearn "healthier" breathing patterns.

Acts of Consciousness

When we learn the act of driving our driving instructor breaks down the act of driving into discrete definable elements so that they can teach us and so that we can learn them.

This is an act of consciousness, breaking things down into learnable idea patterns.

It can also be used to explore and understand our own "unconsciouss" patterns so that we can then supplant them with more preferable patterns.

Another act of consciousness is breaking a big idea, say driving into different sub patterns.

The idea here is so that we can become better drivers.

Maximal Self Smartness

The more ways we can break down the idea pattern of driving (and learn those different sub patterns) the better we can understand driving and the more likely we are to be able to handle different driving scenarios.

Maximally self smart while driving means that even if someone is driving towards you and they are on the wrong side of the road, you can handle the situation by looking for the way to avoid a crash. (This is as opposed to thinking "hey what the eff, he/she is on the wrong side of the road." Off course afterwards in restrospect, it may be appropriate to think such thoughts or instead think about how great it was that you avoided an accident.)

The act of driving, like doing a yoga pose, requires sensing and responding. The more self smart we are with respect to driving the more we can focus on driving. We don't have to think. Instead we focus on doing.

Learning Not to Think

How does this apply to doing yoga poses (or anything else for that matter?) Replace the driving metaphor with "doing yoga poses." I'd suggest that for yoga we can become self smart (or self smarter) by learning to drive basic elements of our body. Then we can learn idea patterns like yoga poses.

The better we know our body, the better we know the yoga poses that we are doing, the more we can focus on feeling and responding to what we sense instead of thinking.

And the better we know our body in general, the better we can use it in anything with a minimal requirement to think.

We can learn the idea of driving our body so that we become self smart drivers of ourselves.

Published: 2012 07 04
Updated: 2020 10 30
Clearly defined poses, exercises and stretches for improving stability, body awareness and flexibility.
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