La La Land, Neutrality, and a state of Embodiment

A while ago I posted the following, inspired by my friend Linda Eskin:

The post had to do with the states of unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence and finally unconscious competence. Lately we’ve been working with some similar states of being at the Dojo. Sensei will work several classes on topics like this to allow us to see what our bodies do when we are in these states. At the start of this series, I asked Sensei if these three states are similar to the unconscious incompetence/competence that I wrote about earlier. He invited me to form my own conclusions.

So we are working with three different states of awareness Sensei has called “La La Land”, “Neutral Zone”, and “Embodiment”.

He defines them as follows:
La La Land is a place we go to “check out”. For me, it’s a place I go to when I have a menial task at hand that I want to get done, a place I go to to avoid doing other things, or just a place where I don’t need to decide anything.

Neutral zone is the state we are in when we realize that we need to shift into a place of more immediacy. We need to shift into this state because of many reasons. We are put into a position where we have to make a decision, where we have to be conscious and alert or the impending elephant stampede is at hand and we have to move.

The embodied state is a place that we inhabit when we are fully present. This state is hard for me to express. I started this post on 2/7 and have repeatedly gone back to this paragraph, scratched my head and shrug my shoulders as to how to describe it. I think it’s best to refer to something Sensei said about his T’ai Chi teacher. He has had the great fortune being a direct student of Cheng Man Ch’ing. Years later, Sensei was interviewed by people writing about Professor Cheng and he was asked what he was like. Sensei thought about it and said simply, “He was always there.” What he meant by that was when you talked to him, you always got the feeling that he was not only paying full attention to you, but that he was fully present in his surroundings as well.

So for this series on the mat, Sensei asked us to feel in our bodies what it feels like to be in La La land, what it feels like in our bodies to make that shift into the different levels of the neutral zone, and finally, to get a glimpse of what it may feel like in an embodied state of consciousness. He maintains that if we can feel what our bodies do and commit those things that happen to us into memory, then transitioning from one state to another is an easier thing to do. He also maintains that rather than shun ourselves from the state of La la Land, see what it is that we like about it and see how we can enjoy them in a more embodied state of consciousness. If we quickly try to remove this or put a judgment on this, then we are at risk of never fully acknowledging it and hence not able to make those transitions more quickly, and enjoy those more full embodied states.

Working this series at the Dojo, hearing other students talk about their experiences along side me has tremendously helped me understand this. Through their descriptions of these three states, I was able to form my own thoughts. Here is what I came up with for myself:

La la land – I see with my mind’s eye. I’m seeing what I want to see verses what is actually in my surrounding. I’m hunched over, my head is down, my shoulders, lower back is tight. If someone is talking, I am listening but not hearing.

Neutral state- Rather than seeing with my mind’s eye, I see what is actually there. I am aware of my visual surroundings, I am conscious of my posture and sit up straighter, I allow my shoulders and back to loosen and I hear the person speaking.

Embodied state – For me is not that much different than the Neutral State with one exception: I now have proprioception. I didn’t know this word up until a couple of years ago but Sensei has mentioned this a couple of times. Proprioception is the ability to sense your body and limbs, relative to you. This sounds easier than it actually is. Wikipedia sums it up nicely in the following sentences, “proprioception is a third distinct sensory modality that provides feedback solely on the status of the body internally. It is the sense that indicates whether the body is moving with required effort, as well as where the various parts of the body are located in relation to each other.”

I’ve enjoyed this series a lot. I think of all of this as a series of tools that Sensei gives us so that we can take our Aiki practice off of the mat and into our daily lives. For me, this does not just mean conflict resolution, but it also means the ability to tap into these tools in the creative process as a musician as well. Being able to feel present and alive with my instrument is a great benefit and my guitar playing grows much better in these states.

To answer my question at the start of this post, no. The three states that Sensei describes are definetely not the same as the spectrum of unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence. The state of La La Land, while may not be a conscious excursion is a purposeful one. We make the choice somewhere in our heads to go there, either to get work done, dismiss our surroundings, not accept the realities of our situations.

I’m looking forward to what Sensei has next, but in the mean time, I think we are going to start doing more test preparation for our upcoming kyu tests. Time to brush up on my Hanmi Handachi (where are those knee pads).

Onegai shimasu!


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