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Being on autopilot is a survival response

Not too long ago, I woke up from a dream. Only it was not a dream, it was weeks of being on autopilot. Being on autopilot is a survival response. When life is overwhelming and there is not enough space in our days for quiet, processing and rest, we often end up doing our best just to get by, putting one foot in front of the other. In my mind, autopilot exists on the shutdown/freeze continuum of the dorsal nervous system, a mild form of dissociation. Although we can function like this for awhile eventually it takes it toll either on our physical or mental health. The psycho-spiritual side of this may feel like a sense of being lost, untethered, or unreal. Dissociation is disconnection and humans cannot tolerate feeling disconnected for long without moving into unhealthy coping or soothing strategies.

In this state of disconnection, we lose access to our inner voice or wisdom which needs quiet, rest, even boredom or daydreaming, to have enough space to emerge. Without access we become less confident, lacking self trust and intuition. It may become harder to make decisions and certainly harder to create as creativity is one’s inner voice materialized in some kind of art form. Being on autopilot is uncomfortable and sometimes discomfort wakes us up. Autopilot is a call from our inner voice to wake up.

We may not realize how many obstacles there are in our day-to-day life to finding the space for that inner wisdom. The discomfort of being on autopilot may have us reaching out to other voices to find inspiration or answers but finding the sweet spot between inspiration and quiet can be challenging. We need actual quiet to connect inside. The pull in too many directions, having too many things to deal with, or highly charged emotional events can lead to overwhelm. We might turn to our devices to “help us unwind” but although understandable, what we often are doing is disconnecting further. The constant bombardment of podcasts, TV, social media, and the opinions of others, while helpful sometimes, in too high of a dose become deafening.

Discovering that we feel unreal or disconnected from ourselves and our lives can be scary. Fear is the felt sense that something is not right. Somatic therapy has been helpful for me to be able to feel fear without being afraid of fear. Sometimes it is there to help us recognize that something needs our attention and there is a potential for a more connected way of being.

Often the simplest tool is the most effective. Autopilot is a sign to slow down enough, quiet the noise around us so that we can hear what we need. Meditation, sitting by the water, being in nature, sitting without the need to be doing anything, looking out the window, daydreaming, the simple act of non-doing are all ways of quieting the noise. Sometimes we need a safe other to help us slow down which could come in the form of yoga, somatic therapy, movement practices, art, or music classes.

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