How to ruminate effectively
a movement based approach
Ruminating begins for me in my guts. This checks out. Ruminate comes from Latin ruminatus, the past participle of ruminare ‘to chew the cud,’ also, related to the word ‘gullet’.
It’s quite normal to brood, to fester, to ruminate. Sometimes, interrupting rumination is the best path forward. A circular rut of rumination is an easy hole to fall into.
There are other times when it can help to ‘run the dogs out’. My ruminations can be like an eager and insistent puppy from a working breed. They need their time.
Just as they want to GO! I want to SPIN!
The desire to ruminate, to spin festers from inside my stomach. Sure my head is spinning, but the ruminations? They are a physical experience with a story. Notice how ruminating, turning things over, spinning - descriptions of the experience are all physical, movement adjectives and adverbs.
Ruminating seems straight forward, it seems to have a direction. And yet, they always seem to turn back in on themselves. Some have described their as ‘a dog chasing its tail.’ So this spinning, this ruminating for a ‘dog chasing it’s tail’ ruminator, has a size, a shape and weight in addition to it’s direction.
If we wanted to break this down even more, we'd ask how is the dog chasing its tail? Does it appear to be viscous, deranged, manic, desperate or playful? All of the ‘how’s’ when it comes to the dog are informed by the size of the dog, space it takes up, and the speed it’s moving.
We can use this movement framework to look at any aspect of our lived experience. I don’t want to spin. I don’t want to turn back on myself. With this in mind, rumination can be channeled with awareness to ‘move differently’.
When either I or someone I’m with catch me ruminating, I begin by noticing there’s something I feel compelled to spend time with. I could act as a dog trying to catch my tail. Or I could imagine I’m a manual coffee grinder.
I am an addict. I’m physically addicted to the caffeine best delivered through coffee. There are always mason jars filled with beans. When I grind beans in the morning, I don’t grind all of the beans. I grind what I need for the day. I leave the rest for tomorrow.
The vegetables in the fridge are the same. I don’t cut up all the vegetables. I chop some and leave the rest for the next day. Firewood? Same. There’s no way I could ever cut all of the firewood I need in a session. I cut what I can and come back to it later.
Ruminating is a lot like this. How big is the issue you’re dealing with? How much physical force do you need to hack away at the problem? Are the issues you’re spinning with small enough to fit in a coffee grinder? How much grinding do you need to do to wake up and get on with your day? How many veggies of rumination do you need to chop up in order to feed yourself? How much wood of worry do you need to cut in order to keep yourself warm?
When we enter into our ruminations with awareness of their size, weigh, relative velocity and an idea of ‘how’ they move, we can choose to disrupt their circular intentions. When does a ruination go? How does making it smaller make it easier to handle? How can we move from something that turns back in on ourselves, pulled by the gravity of fear and shame, into something that enters into a realm of curiosity and desire.
How can our ruminations wake us up, feed us and keep us warm?
Try this experiment. Every time you begin to worry or start to ruminate notice as soon as you can. Try to determine how big the problem is. How many coffee beans? If it’s huge like a stadium filled with them, decide how many you have time for. Next, pretend to grind coffee with a manual coffee grinder.
Do the action. Make the sound. Ruminate. Ruminate with purpose, on purpose. Visualize grinding the beans. Better yet, actually grind some beans, chop some vegetables or stack some wood. Do something with your body that will cause a change in the world.
Notice with some satisfaction where the ruminations have led you. You’re no longer a dog chasing its tail. You’ve accomplished something. Did you solve the problem that you were ruminating over? That’s usually a no. But our brains? We register some satisfaction from our loosely related activity.
Rumination, which typically leads nowhere, can have a change of direction, and a purpose. Rumination can be made productive when given a direction outward. Rumination can be made productive when it doesn’t have to solve the whole problem at once.
Get a coffee grinder and make your big problem into a whole bunch of smaller ones.