The Instincts are the Wise Motions of Life

instincts inner outer MSW

A short list of instincts. From time to time, ask yourself, what is missing? When you are exploring your experience, or teaching meditation and listening to a student, inquire, "What instincts are missing?"

  • Homing
  • Nesting
  • Resting
  • Feeding
  • Sleeping, Dreaming
  • Exploring
  • Orienting
  • Trail Blazing, Way Finding, Way Marking
  • Hunting
  • Communing with Nature
  • Gathering
  • Purifying, excreting
  • Patrolling Boundaries
  • Negotiating Boundaries
  • Negotiating Dominance
  • Migrating
  • Protecting Self, Family, Tribe
  • Mating Dances
  • Courting
  • Grooming
  • Playing
  • Bonding
  • Socializing
  • Communicating
  • Creating, Innovating

Some practices for you to explore this month:

  • Get an extra ten minutes a day of sleep.
  • Feel free to make tiny changes. If you haven't been meditating each morning, then meditate for 3 minutes. 180 seconds. Time it.
  • More tiny changes: If you haven't been reading The Radiance Sutras or Meditation Made Easy every day, then read one page.
  • Spend 10 minutes in the morning shaping your day, rehearsing and preparing to do your best. Spend 10 minutes at the end of the day reviewing how you did.
  • Consider meditation to be time you spend training yourself to have a great day.
  • Linger for one minute extra after a meal, to savor the food.
  • Do something nice for your home: bring it a present, or clean a closet, or wash a window.
  • Walk at different speeds––very slow and leisurely, then rapidly.
  • Sniff the air as you walk, sort of like how dogs inhale, but don't put your nose in the weeds!
  • If you can, spend ten minutes every morning and every afternoon or evening before dinner reviewing your notes on the instincts and meditating instinctively.
  • If you can, give half an hour every morning and afternoon or evening to your meditation and study, including a leisurely 5 to 10 minutes at the end to transition.
  • Organizing is a human instinct. Do something, even one minute, of organizing. File some bills. Give away clothes you haven't worn in a year.
  • Be early for everything and get settled. Use those couple of minutes extra to observe the instincts in action.
  • Since you are early for everything, you can enjoy moving through the world. It is a totally different experience to be way early and feel gracious toward everyone and grateful for every red light.
  • Actively structure your daily life, as much as you can within the boundaries and limits, to be instinctively satisfying.
  • Actively endorse yourself, and throw yourself in with total gusto, to each instinctive activity: bathing, grooming, feeding, socializing, forming a team/tribe to cooperate, playing, homing, nesting.
  • Rub lotion all over your body with great pleasure, so that you feel wonderful in your skin. Or go get a massage.
  • Make a collage – grab images from magazines, cut them up, make a beautiful art piece.
  • Enjoy the AHAM–IDAM meditation. I AM, I DO (or I AM, I AM IN ACTION.)
  • Read pages 115 - 123 of Meditation Made Easy. Then read it again and do the exercises.
  • Read pages 155 - 166 of Meditation Made Easy. Then read it again and do the exercises.

Some meditation tips to explore:

  • In the mornings, if you can, walk outside before meditating. Look at a tree, the horizon, the sky for even 60 seconds.
  • Let your mind be as vast as the sky.
  • During the workday, go stand outside or stroll around for a few minutes.
  • Remember that everyone has their own secret internal style of meditation.
  • Take a cold shower before meditating.


Whenever you notice an instinct, track the desire. Whenever you notice a desire, honor the instinctive energy behind it.

Desire! Here is an exploration, for all those interested. Consider each instinct in turn, and SENSE the desire inside it – then celebrate that desire.

For example:

HUNTING AND GATHERING - I want to go shopping
EXPLORING - I want to go visit a particular foreign country
HOMING - I want to go home. I want a new sofa.

Here is a list of BASIC DESIRES, from Steven Reiss, who did some very interesting research.

  • Power
  • Independence
  • Curiosity
  • Acceptance
  • Order
  • Gather a supply of food or supplies
  • Social contact
  • Be with family
  • Status within your social group
  • Romance
  • Eating
  • Physical exercise
  • Serenity

Take each desire and honor it ....

I DESIRE ORDER let's clean up the house
I am hungry! Let's eat!

In this way, relate all the instincts to the desires.

Train yourself to welcome ALL desires as they arise during meditation to be felt and sorted.
And if you like, you can notice the SENSATIONS that go with each desire and the areas of the body, including the chakras, associated with the desire.
Also - desires can be felt EVERYWHERE IN THE BODY. If they are squeezed into a little area, explore letting a desire FLOOD YOUR WHOLE BODY AND DISSOLVE into your overall sense of vitality.

Scroll down toward the end of this page
meditations and explorations.









mandala instincts

The list of instincts needs to be expanded upon from the simple mandala above. For example, human beings seem to have an instinct to practice. Around the world, I see teenagers endlessly practicing with their skateboards, for example, spending countless hours developing their skills.

So what would an extended list of instinct be?

  • To practice skills
  • To create
  • To reshape the world to make it friendlier for human life

Mammals tend to teach their young how to survive. Tigers teach their cubs to hunt and swim. Bears teach their kids about how to be a bear. Because human babies are so helpless, for such a long period of time, humans have an instinct to gradually teach them, day by day, what they need to know to survive and thrive. Thus, humans have a strong

  • Instinct to teach, to share skills.

Instincts as the Wise Motions of Life

What we call "life" is a self renewing, self evolving interplay of energy and matter and consciousness. This word, "instinct," is a name we can give to this brilliant, creative, endlessly inventive, evolutionary force. The instincts are the wise motions of life. They are not stupid, or "lower." We do not "rise above the instincts." The instincts are ineffably sublime, and function on every level.

"The instincts" is a name for what life is always doing, the genius energies at play.

In yoga terminology, the instincts have various names, such as pranashakti.

Just listen to these beautiful sounds: homing, exploring, socializing, nurturing, gathering, feeding, bonding, mating, resting, nesting, communing, playing.

Homework: Make your own chart of the instincts. Make a collage, of photos or images representing the instincts.

There are more instincts not on the above chart––storytelling seems to be a human instinct. An essential capability that allowed humans to survive ice ages, famines, migrations, and predators.

Definition of Instinct: "in·stinct

1. An inborn pattern of behavior that is characteristic of a species and is often a response to specific environmental stimuli: the spawning instinct in salmon; altruistic instincts in social animals.
2. A powerful motivation or impulse.
3. An innate capability or aptitude: an instinct for tact and diplomacy.
1. Deeply filled or imbued: words instinct with love.
2. Obsolete – Impelled from within.

[Middle English, from Latin īnstīnctus, impulse, from past participle of īnstinguere, to incite : in-, intensive pref.; see IN-2 + stinguere, to prick; see steig- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]

Online at: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

1. Of, relating to, or prompted by instinct: an instinctive ability to build a nest.
2. a. Arising from impulse or natural inclination; done without thought or conscious effort; spontaneous: an instinctive sympathy for the downtrodden.
b. Being such by natural inclination rather than conscious effort or study: "Both men were instinctive masters at seizing unexpected openings and turning them into victories" (Nick Kotz).
in·stinctive·ly adv.
Synonyms: instinctive, instinctual, intuitive, visceral. These adjectives refer to things that arise from a natural tendency or impulse: an instinctive desire to help others; an instinctual respect for authority; an intuitive feeling that something is wrong; a visceral reaction to the scandalous news.

Play with the Instincts

"Homework" or Home Play for Everyone.

Every day, take a walk with the instincts. Write down on a 3x5 card a series of instincts: patrolling, exploring, boundary marking, communicating, playing, grooming, bonding, feeding, trail making, excreting, and so on. It is interesting to make gerunds or present participles of the instincts, adding –ING to the end. This is cute because –ING is an essential mantra in yoga.

Then while out walking, notice the instincts everywhere. The birds flying overhead –– are they migrating? Are they flying to a feeding spot, or a nesting area? The dogs are marvels of instincts. Some dogs look at their owner's face every couple of seconds to read their emotions. People interacting with their smartphones –– are they engaged in communicating with someone?

As you go through your day, you can notice the instincts in yourself. Have fun with this. Shopping is an instinct. A form of gathering behavior. You go out and get something, then bring it home, or you wear it.

Optional exercises: analyze a meditation technique––any technique––in terms of the instincts involved.

Optional exercise: Analyze the R's in terms of instinctive activity.


eagle nesting


Grebe Courtship Dance

Bonding with Young

Mutual Grooming Behavior
Mutually grooming ponies


polynesian sailing canoe

Let's also honor GREETING Behavior

Where Does Your Mind Go When It Wanders?

During meditation, notice where you mind "wanders" (we don't use that term without quotes, in general.) Are you inwardly communicating with people you love? Are you inwardly patrolling your boundaries? Are you resting? Are you inwardly praying for protection of your family?

Selection from Breath Taking


We have all heard the phrases “survival instinct” and “homing instinct.” So what are instincts? They are the basic impulses of life. When we get hungry, we seek out food; when we get thirsty, we look for something to drink; when we need a place to live, we go hunting for one; when we feel the need for a mate, we start putting out signals that we are available. I like to think of instincts as the wise motions of life.

Instincts are the animal part of us, so be a healthy animal. Above all, do not hurt the instinctive energies inside you. For example, all mammals play, particularly when they are young. Little girls may play lawyer, doctor, mother, cook, or fireperson. Kittens play at attacking things—they practice the moves they will use later to catch mice. No one has to tell a kitten or a 4-year-old girl to play. No one should tell them not to. Instincts urge what’s best for you.

If animals or humans hide from a predator, they instinctively quiet their breathing. The sounds of breathing are a dead giveaway, and all earth-bound mammals (as opposed to those who live in the sea) seem to know this: Once they stop running and find a place to hide, the body quiets their breath. So if your breathing feels restricted in any way, it may be because either you are afraid of something and are hiding, or you’ve been afraid of something for quite a while and breathing this way has become a habit.

When you are at rest or engaged in conscious breath taking, the brain instinctively sorts through priorities, unfinished tasks, and things you could have done better while checking in on survival strategies and attempting to choreograph the future. One moment you may feel as though you are gathering power, charging up; the next, resting, dozing off; getting excited, revving your motors; then, feeding quietly on breath.

This variety is what makes life interesting. Unless we specifically give ourselves freedom to range, there is a strong tendency to make up rules that shackle our instincts. In reality we are nurtured by all the forces of the universe—our eyes are nourished by light, our ears and bodies are informed by sound, our bones are fed by gravity. We can play, explore, feed, and rest in each sensory domain.

Do not feel you need to mindlessly submit to any particular practice that is said to be from the traditions of meditation. Mindless submission IS an instinctive behavior, you can do it if you want. That is imitative behavior, herd behavior. Rather, indulge your own instincts. If you let it, the wisdom of your body will guide you and make you more versatile. A childlike appreciation of the breath is necessary for this to happen. That is why I say that the techniques themselves are child’s play and your approach to them should be also.

Stay curious. All creatures map their environments. Ants wander around looking for food, then race back to the nest and tell the others about it. Keep exploring.


Listen to Your Instincts

Examine your needs at this very moment: a vacation, more sleep, better food, comfort, a good laugh, a good cry, the rent money, or the sense that you are a good person capable of caring for those you love. These cravings are all deep and essential movements of life.

Right now, give some attention to those thoughts in the back of your brain and those sensations in your belly, chest, and shoulders. Give them permission to stand up and talk. Ask yourself this question and see what answers come up: What needs, callings, yearnings, desires—instincts—are calling for my attention?

Homing Attending to offspring
Hunting and foraging Exploring
Gathering and hoarding Patrolling territory
Mating Feeding
Nesting Communicating

You may not think in these exact words, or in words at all. Perhaps you think in pictures—you may see a plate of food, a person to whom you are attracted or related, one of your children, a vacation poster, or your own front door. You might be feeling vague bodily sensations. It could take some unraveling to realize that the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your stomach means that you feel threatened by the new person at work. Or, if you are feeling threatened in some more immediate or obvious way—you are late in paying a bill, you don’t like the building that is going up across the street, or it suddenly dawns on you that you are 40—your protective instincts kick in and grab your attention more aggressively.

In any case, your instincts are constantly communicating your needs. When you rest, as in breath, there’s a powwow of the instincts to determine how much you need to be aware of. As you do the exercises, accommodate your primary instincts first and welcome whatever unexpected ones emerge. And remember that healing comes through balance—not just with rest, but in the balance of rest and exertion. In the same way, making contact with the inner self is not enough; balance is struck by sharing the self with the outer world.


The more instincts you allow to inspire your conscious attention, the more interesting your breathing will be. So take some time now to consider which ones you love and which ones you shy away from. Identify your favorite instincts and scenarios. For example, if you like to go to shopping malls, you are acting on your foraging and gathering instincts. If you enjoy meeting friends there for lunch, add socializing and feeding to your constellation of instincts. If your favorite activity is to drink beer with your friends and watch baseball on television, that is an instinct for socializing as well as for group observation of ritual combat. (There is an anthropological theory that people invented civilization in order to have better access to beer: To make beer, you need not only a supply of hops but also clay pots in which to brew the beer. So somebody invented pottery. And to grow the hops you need a stable farm community. And there you go.)

When you enter your inner world through breath, the same constellation of instincts will be operating, although usually in a different sequence. As you breathe deeply, you are foraging for air, seeking to gather in an abundance of oxygen; if you breathe in with an awareness of those you love, you activate a very intimate bonding instinct.

You don’t have to adapt instantly to your instincts in order to breathe with awareness, but whatever instincts you deny will shape your experience strongly. If you ignore your desire to play, for instance, and are always serious and working, that attitude will affect the techniques that you do—breathing, yoga, therapy, meditation, whatever.

As you become comfortable identifying your basic instincts, you will notice that your constellation rotates. You may be involved in acting on one instinct for a long time, then suddenly shift over into pure rest, delicious and satisfying. Then you might find your body flooded with erotic feelings as you start thinking about your mate. When you set yourself free to be with yourself, these are the kinds of things you will experience.

Breathe with Each Instinct

Give yourself 1 to 3 minutes to settle down. When you are ready, breathe about five breaths with each of your instincts. Recite each of the following sentences in your mind once or twice and then breathe with that mood. Pay special attention to the resonances that are evoked.

I am exploring the process of breath.
I am playing with awareness of breathing.
I am nesting, making myself at home in myself.
I am resting, which I know makes me able to function better.
I am feeding on the air, which I need every minute to stay alive.
I am hunting for information and techniques that will help me survive and be happy.
I am welcoming the breath into my body as a lover welcomes her beloved.

Breathe as a hunter, a mother, a father, a cook, a child playing, and a lover nestling.

To take this exercise further, pay attention to the sensations in your throat, chest, belly, pelvis, and throughout your entire body.


Whenever you take a moment to feel your breath, one of the first things you will confront is the stress you are under. You will feel it in your muscles and nerves, and in the thoughts that clamor for your attention. It is ironic but true: You may undertake conscious breathing expecting to express the quiet ecstasy of Ahhh, what a relief...but instead find yourself exclaiming “Man, my shoulders hurt!”

These days there are no saber-toothed tigers stalking us, but there are many other predators in the world wanting to buy the land out from under us, raise our rents, downsize our companies, downsize the country, change the economy, devalue the money we have saved, make us move, or make us learn new jobs. In the course of a typical day you may feel any or all of the following: bullied, hurried, trapped or boxed in, fear of failure, fear of being abandoned, worry over whether you can protect your children, overwhelmed, underappreciated—in a word, stressed.

The stress response in humans is extremely swift. You can be sitting in your office chair in utter safety on a physical level, and if your boss comes in and tells you that in 10 minutes you have to speak in front of the entire company within a second, your heart will start to race, your glands will start secreting hormones to activate your body for physical combat, your digestion will stop, you will begin to perspire, and the flow of blood to your skin will diminish so that if you were cut, you wouldn’t bleed as much. Growth is delayed, pleasure is delayed, and cell repair and healing are delayed. In short, normal life functions are more or less put on hold while we are engaged in the stress response.

The good news is that you can start to come down off the stress response almost as quickly.

Breathe with Stress

Everyone is different in terms of what stresses them—some people are afraid of snakes and others have them as pets; some people are terrified of public speaking and others love it; some people are afraid of roller coasters and some crave the excitement. I have been swimming the Malibu coastline for more than 40 years, and in all that time only a couple of people have been attacked by sharks. But still, every time I swim over a patch of dark water, such as you see over a reef, my pulse quickens and my chest tightens.

Everyone is different also in terms of what relaxes them. Explore the following ways to breathe with stress when you’re not stressed, so that you’ll be ready when you are.

Heavy Breathing. Take three deep breaths and exhale slowly with a whoosh or a sigh. This is a natural move; you can see people doing it unconsciously when they have been under stress. By doing it intentionally, you are signaling to your system that it can stop pushing the emergency alarm. In about 15 seconds you should begin to regain your poise.

The Lookout. Move both your head and your eyes left, right, up, and down. Let your body see that there are no actual “tigers” crouched nearby. Face forward again and hold your head still as you move just your eyes left, right, up, and down. Then take three deep breaths, exhaling slowly.

The Belly Breath. As you inhale, let your whole torso expand, especially your lower torso. Practice this at least once a week while sitting or lying down. Find your favorite rhythm—there will be a speed you love. Even a couple of deep and slow belly breaths can be like a glass of wine—really good wine.

Paper Tiger. When something that is not an immediate physical danger scares you, give it points. Good one! You got me going there. This quickly changes the context; you are no longer a victim, you are playing. Then congratulate your body on the speed with which it hit the adrenaline button.

Dog Breath. If something is making you mad, honor that anger. As you breathe out, make a “grrrrr” sound, like dogs do. (If you are in public, make the sound very quietly.) This lets your body know that you are aware of the threat. Don’t try to make it go away, just breathe with it.

The Shoulder Lift. As you breathe in, lift your shoulders high, then slowly drop them as you breathe out. If you are in a safe place, do this over and over for a minute, with great leisure. Do this for at least 5 minutes each week.

Homework with the Chakras

As an exploration, correlate the instincts with the chakras. It is better to think of the instincts as permeating the entire body, but for the sake of discussion, we can sometimes consider them as associated with particular areas of the body. Make your own map.

Homework with the Pranas:

Correlate the instincts with the pranas - prana, apana, udana, vyana, samana.

Instinct Quotes

"The greatest gift an actor has is instinct. Sometimes that instinct has no grand intellectual vocabulary. Sometimes you just have to say "no." - Jodie Foster

“I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me.”
― Hermann Hesse, Demian: Die Geschichte von Emil Sinclairs Jugend

“Trust instinct to the end, even though you can give no reason.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

“There can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis.”
― Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

“It is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilization is built up upon a renunciation of instinct....”
― Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents

"I guess if you have an original take on life, or something about you is original, you don't have to study people who came before you. You don't have to mimic anybody. You just have a gut feeling inside, an instinct that tells you what's right for you, and you can't do it in any other way." Barbra Streisand

"I have always liked coming home and sharing what has happened that day with my loved ones. I like comparing notes. I know other people do, too. I think there is a human instinct to tell stories, no matter who you are or where you live." Sarah Kay

"I get highs, to be totally honest, in second-hand shops. My hunting instinct, I expect, really kicks in." Bjork

Meditation as an Innate Human Instinct

I learned to meditate accidentally, in a physiology lab at the University of California in 1968. They had been doing brain wave research on all sorts of things – yoga breathing, hypnosis, meditation and guided imagery. There was an experiment on brain wave biofeedback going on, and I signed up. When I arrived at the lab for the first session, I was put in the control group. This meant I was to get no instruction and no feedback, just sit in the totally dark, climate-controlled, soundproofed room, in an overstuffed lounger chair, with brain wave monitoring wires attached to my head, for several hours a day every day for a couple of weeks. There were no instructions and no feedback of any kind. I had never heard of meditation (it was 1968, and I wasn’t a Beatles fan) and I had no conception of what to do.

I drifted and dissolved into the dark. I didn’t fall asleep, I fell into something else, a vast and spacious peacefulness. I remained there for several hours while in the next room, the brain-wave machine recorded the electrical activity of my brain. In surfing, one thing you do is paddle out, stay as long as you can, then come in and lie on the beach soaking up the warmth of the sun. If you have ever been in cold water for an hour at a time, you know how ecstatic it is to get out and lie down on hot sand. Perhaps doing this for a lifetime trained me in how to let go, but I certainly was not a relaxed person. I was very intense and tense at age 18, before participating in the experiment.

So I knew from direct experience that meditation happens naturally. Just two years later, after being trained as a teacher, I forgot that, and would be offended if people told me they taught themselves to meditate, or learned from a book. I didn’t realize that I had become an elitist snob, (it’s possible that elitists never do). Even though, thousands of times, people would walk into a room with me and be meditating a couple of minutes later. I thought it was the technique that was so good, not people.

It was a couple of years before I realized that people did just fine on their own, or with the sketchiest of instructions, and sometimes, just knowing there was such a thing as meditation and then making up their own.

Usually meditation is approached in a sacred context, because the spiritual traditions of the world have done such a fantastic job of preserving the teachings. It may seem odd that I am approaching meditation as an instinct. Aren’t the instincts base, the Seven Deadly Sins? Well yes, they can be. But the sins are all about overuse of an instinct without letting it be balanced by the other motions of life.

The ancient meditators often lived in nature, with the nearest town a few days away on foot, there were no electric lights, tigers were stalking in the mountains.. We live in a very different world. Most of my friends practice meditation in the context of an imported religious tradition, one of the innumerable forms of Buddhism or Hinduism. They have statues of Buddha or Ganesh or Shiva on their altars, and they mix and match among religious elements they like, choosing this guru or that lama to call their own.

The instinctive path is about the wisdom of life you find in yourself and all around you, not that which comes from very special Asian males.

The impulses that guide meditation love all the instincts and use them in the service of something greater, the wholeness of life. When all the instincts are playing in you during meditation, you will have at times a sense of melody, as if you are a symphony sounding forth. You may feel electrical currents flowing through you.

The instincts connect you to all life. When you meditate with the instincts, you relate in awareness to the lives of your cells, organs, the circulation of your blood and lymph and vital energies, as well as with other living things and the large system in which we live and move and have our being. When you cherish the instincts, you are not above life looking down at it as an alien. You are in it. Everything feeds, excretes, rests, grooms, socializes.

The instincts are the passions. Thus, instinctive awareness is the practice of compassion, being with the passions, from the inside.

The instincts help you to answer the call when your body or heart call for healing of some kind. The natural interaction between the inner and the outer realm of the instincts helps you connect your life and make a seamless tapestry of it.

Your body is designed to function best in the free flow of all instincts – this is the situation that we call health. Full vitality is using all the instincts, but everyday life often or usually leads us to overwork some, deny others. When we don’t live in the fullness of body wisdom, imbalances often occur and then become somatic, physical ailments. Illness is often correlated with blocked instincts, where you remain in one and do not give over to the others in a rhythmic alternation.

We have many instincts, many ways of accessing life’s mysteries.

A couple of years ago I was standing in the self-help section of a bookstore. A woman walked in and asked the staff, “Where can I find a book on meditation?” The staff person, Sherry, said, “That is really complicated. There are books on meditation all over the store. There is Eastern Religion, of course, but also the Western Religion and Christianity sections have books on meditation. Over here in Alternative Health, and also in Women’s Health, are dozens of books that have instructions on how to meditate. In self-help, there are many more books with approaches to meditation that different psychologists have worked out. In the Sports section there are books on Yoga that have sections on meditation. Over there in Addiction and Recovery, quite a few of the books are about meditation. What approach to meditation are you looking for?”

Sherry’s exposition wasn’t complete, actually. She did not mention, or did not know, that in the Sexuality section there are wonderful books on how to meditate as preparation for and part of lovemaking; in the Biography section there are books detailing the writer’s experiences in meditation; in the New Age section there are many different approaches to meditation, and in the Outdoors section are books on tracking, hunting and meditation.

Each of these approaches is wonderful in its own way, and I cherish them. They each tend to treat meditation through the lest of one or two instincts. And quite a few books treat meditation as if the real spiritual thing to do is run away from everything, go to a foreign country, shave your head, give your money to the ashram, change your name, and sit on the dirt there for a few years.

One of the truly great things about meditation is that you can give yourself space to let all your life energies flow through you without restriction. You are not acting out, so what does it matter if you let it all zoom? So even though you are not living every impulse, you are there to let it give you its gift of energy, hormones, activation, perception and feeling.

Probably there are instincts you do not feel your life can accommodate. Maybe you can’t live out your desire to travel, or be wild and free, or to beat people up, or to retreat from it all and stay in your nest. In meditation you can open up a space in your heart to keep your yearnings alive. You may not be able to live them in the outer world, but you can let them flow through your inner world, nourish you and be integrated with the totality of your being.

This is why meditation is such a great space for yourself. When you meditate you can be with these sacred powers and let them live inside of you. They are like vast wildernesses, forests, mountains, oceans. You can call them impulses, the wise motions of life, the gods, the instincts, the animal powers.

For this reason, you may find that a more “primitive” conceptual framework is a better context for your meditation – shamanism, hunting, tracking, for example. There is a beauty and simplicity in Native American teachings that has been lost in the “advanced” teachings of the more formal meditation schools.

A great thing about approaching meditation through the instincts is that everything in nature becomes your teacher: animals, plants, the weather, forests and mountain.. You don’t have to read meditation books – you can read biology, ethology, anthropology.

There is an outer and an interior aspect of each instinct. Each leads you both out into the world and inward.

You can meditate on any aspect of nature, using your interior senses, and the instincts texture the tone of that relationship.

In the past, meditation was practiced under close personal supervision in closed-door religious communities. Part of the adaptation to life in a religious order was to give up your personal desires.

In the present, only a small percentage of meditators are working with a teacher, guru, shaman, yogi or lama. If you are in this situation, then the authority and the spirit of guidance must be within.

If you are on your own, you need to bring your own gut instincts into play, learn how to fly by the seat of your pants. If you are in the yoga tradition, you may know that yoga has years of training for the seat of your pants – there are more exercises for tending to your tailbone, working your butt muscles, anus, sacrum, and pelvic area than you could ever imagine. So the seat of the pants is taken care of by tradition.

–– Whole Body Meditation, by Lorin Roche

Instinctive Language in Yoga

svarasa –"instinct of self-preservation"

(If you want to play with Devanagari, Google has a handy tool here. Select Sanskrit from the pull-down menu on the upper left. Type in English or your native language and see the results spelled in Devanagari.)

Svarasa - ”One’s own (unadulterated) juice or essence, natural flavor, one’s own inclination, the feeling for one’s people, instinct of self-preservation”
Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary, p. 1282 and 1276:

m. own (unadulterated) juice or essence MBh. Car. &c
natural or peculiar flavour W.
proper taste or sentiment in composition ib.
a partic. astringent juice or decoction MW.
the sediment of oily substances ground on a stone W.
own inclination (-tas , " through own inclination " , " for pleasure ") A1pS3r.Sch.
feeling for one's own people Ka1v.
instinct of self-preservation (?) Yogas.
analogy L.
mf(ā)n. agreeable or pleasant to one's taste , congenial Katha1s. TPra1t. Sch.
m. N. of a mountain Pur.

More Sanskrit words pertaining to "Innate, inherent, natural." see

Extra-Credit: Consider the relationship of the wonderful Sanskrit word nitya and the instincts.

Explorations with the Instincts

  • Consider meditation as a time to practice listening to your instincts and giving them a chance to listen to each other.
  • If we consider the chakras to be instinctive centers, then much of what seems like mental and emotional noise we experience in meditation is the chakras talking to each other and working out their coordination.
  • Make a list of all the thoughts you think in meditation and consider each one to be an instinct or combination of instincts, just doing its job trying to keep you safe.

Questions to Explore

What happens when you ignore your instincts?
What happens when you follow your instincts.
What do you do when instincts collide or conflict?
What skills are involved when engaged in a particular instinctive activity? (shopping, making love, cooking food, putting on a party, exploring a new city).

Practices with the Instincts

Review the senses and your sensory awakening walk. Carry over the great stuff you have discovered about your senses, and relate them to the instincts.

Develop an instinctive awareness walk that you enjoy, and start doing it every day.
  • Observe notice enjoy savor the floor of instincts through your body
  • Be amazed by the wisdom of the instincts and dogs birds animals people
  • Your instinctive walk could be very simple –– you just name each instinct as you see it.

Look at each instinct and make a mantra out of it:

“I am at home.” Use this as a mantra to breathe with.

Expect opposites to arise and welcome them as a sign of success. When you meditate on feeling of being at home, it will bring up the pain or distress of not feeling at home. This is success. That pain has come up to be healed. Worries have come up to be cleared out and dissolved. There are several dimensions of opposites: feeling at home vs. traveling and being on an adventure. The opposites love each other – Traveling and adventure on the one hand, and feeling at home on the other.

While doing walking meditations – explore this kind of mantra:

  • "I am at home here"
  • " I am at home in my body."
  • "I am at home in the world."
  • "I am in wonder, I am exploring, I am seeing the world as a for the first time."
  • "everything I see is new to me"
  • "I am at play. The world is here for me to play
  • "I am nourished by this breath

Train yourself to recognize the innate wisdom of the instincts. They are self-balancing, self-healing.

  • watch babies
  • children
  • athletes
  • musicians

Addiction Exploration

  • Do you have an addiction?
  • what instinct is driving it
  • what instinct is corrupted
  • What are gamblers doing?

Journal exploration: What is your instinct to meditate?

  • self care
  • tending
  • resting
  • nourishing
  • healing
  • preparing to succeed
  • rehearse action

Journal exploration with THOUGHTS and impulses.

MAKE A LIST OF THOUGHTS AND TYPES OF THOUGHTS. When meditating, just list all your thoughts for 5 or 10 minutes. Note what instinct the thoughts are related to or expressions of.


Notice thoughts as action sequences in your internal asana flow. Notice the flow of thought as internal movies or video games.

Extra credit: Correlate the R's with the Instincts. RELAX AND REHEARSE. Look at the R’s as instinctive. Look at the rhythm of instincts.

Journal exploration: When have your instincts felt superbly tuned? When have you felt like a healthy animal? This is called remembered wellness. What is the most fun you have ever had with the instincts?
- shopping, sex, food, traveling, making a home, being at home, grooming, being adventurous, feeling safe. When have you felt DELIGHTED by an instinct, SCARED by an instinct, ENJOYED BEING SCARED.

Here is a chapter from Whole Body Meditations on Instincts, for you to download. PDF.
Whole Body Meditations

List of Human Instincts (from the Mead Project)

" . . . We find the generally recognized instincts in man to be as follows: Fear, anger, shyness, curiosity, affection, sexual love, jealousy and envy, rivalry, sociability, sympathy, modesty ( ?), play, imitation, constructiveness, secretiveness, and acquisitiveness.

Many authorities would add hunting to this list, and it must be admitted that in many races, and in many individuals of all races, it gives strong indications of a fundamentally instinctive nature. It is, however, so honeycombed with the effects of experience, and so irregular in its appearance, that it may fairly be given a position among the disintegrating instincts. Walking and talking are also included by many writers. Whether they shall be counted in or not is, as we have already observed, simply a question of classification. We may call them either chained reflexes or instincts, according to the criterion which we adopt for our divisions. James has added cleanliness to his list, and there are some facts which point to the correctness of this view, both in its application to men and to animals. But it is at best a very imperfect and erratic trait, as any mother of normal children can testify, and we may omit it in consideration of the necessary brevity of our discussion. We shall similarly forego any description of sympathy and modesty.

A perusal of our list brings at once to notice the union of instinct and emotion. A part of the terms apply primarily to acts, and so connect themselves with the common implication of the term instinct; whereas the other part suggests much more immediately the conscious feelings characteristic of the several forms of emotional experience. Imitation, play, and constructiveness are examples of the first kind of term; fear, anger, and jealousy illustrate the second. A few comments upon each of the instincts mentioned may serve to emphasise helpfully the typical conditions under which they appear."

from –– A Mead Project Source Page has more.

Lee Child on the instinct to tell stories, in the New Yorker.

Ten thousand fathers ago, we would have said nothing, because we didn’t yet have language. We didn’t yet have much of anything. A passing U.F.O. would have written us off as a certain dead end. Our contemporary competitors, the Neanderthals, would have got the nod. We were weak and slender, and often sickly, and shabby toolmakers. Then we developed language, and everything changed. We had grammar and syntax, which turned out to be the best tools of all. Now we could plan, and discuss, and theorize, and speculate. We could coördinate ahead of time, with a plan B and a plan C already in place. A coöperative pack of early humans was suddenly the most powerful animal on Earth. So that if the U.F.O. came back today it would have to admit that its first impressions were wrong.

But along the way something extraordinary happened. At first, we prospered by planning and speculating based on what we knew to be true, or could reasonably and responsibly infer to be true. In other words, we lived in a nonfiction world. We still do, in every practical way. My wife might tell me that her phone says it’s going to rain, so I should take my umbrella, and every step of that transaction would be meaningless without the fundamental assumption of truth. Most of life is like that. It’s a great strategy. Ten thousand generations ago, our bones were piled high in hyenas’ dens. Now Voyager has left the solar system. Or not, depending on how you—reasonably and responsibly—interpret the Oort Cloud. These are the things we talk about, and this is how we talk about them.

At some point, though, we invented a parallel option. We invented fiction. We started talking about things that hadn’t happened to people who didn’t exist. Why? Not for entertainment during our leisure time. We were still deep in prehistory. We had no leisure time. Everything was a desperate struggle for survival. We did nothing unless it had a chance of keeping us alive until morning. Fiction evolved for a purpose. Warnings and cautionary tales could be sourced from the grim nonfiction world. A sabre-toothed tiger will kill you. O.K., got it. Fiction pushed the pendulum the other way. It inspired, and empowered, and emboldened. It said, No, actually, there was a guy, a friend of a friend, who came face to face with a sabre-toothed tiger, a huge one, and he turned and outran it, all the way back to the cave, safe as can be. So don’t panic. It doesn’t always turn out bad. Then, perhaps a hundred generations later, the story evolved, and the friend of the friend killed the tiger. The action hero was born. Strength and courage would save us. And it worked. Fiction in its various forms proved just as powerful to our survival as any other factor. Some would say more powerful. Some would name us not Homo sapiens but Pan narrans: the storytelling ape. Would Voyager be leaving the solar system if we hadn’t long ago formalized and mythologized our inchoate desire to wander?

But the bad things would not be happening, either. Every bad thing depends on the same two components as every good thing: people prepared to lie, and other people prepared to believe them. The habit of credulity, bred into us, albeit inspiring and empowering and emboldening, has led to some very bad outcomes throughout what we know of our history. From small things, like a father believing a son, to much larger things, like a billion miserable and terrified dead. All balanced against the good things. Is it fifty-fifty? Or worse than that? And what about babies and bathwater? Could we give up the stunning joy that the good side of storytelling brings in order to erase the appalling horrors of the bad side? Where does the balance lie?


Patterns of Instinctive Expression in Humans

See also:
Instinct Explorations
Desire & Instinct