Earlier today, I was tapping my toe. I was tapping it as fast as I could; at a point, I was hardly even controlling its movement, just trying to get it to vibrate as fast as possible. I started making smaller movements in order to be able to vibrate faster. After a little while, my toe stopped moving entirely — but a muscle was still vibrating.
How was that possible?
I could feel a muscle vibrating, and I could see movement on my foot. But it wasn’t on my toe: it was underneath the bridge of skin between my ankle and the top of my foot. I had been inadvertently vibrating this muscle all along, but previously my attention had been focused on my toe.
After some practice, I found that I was able to control this new muscle. I could not just vibrate it, but flex and unflex it independently of any other muscle. Sometimes I would accidentally flex other muscles (and I still do), but I was generally able to make this muscle move on its own.
The trippiest part was that I didn’t really know what I was doing to move the muscle. When we move our arms or legs, we understand exactly what will happen when we have a certain thought. We think to move our arm or leg, and a chemical reaction sends a message through our nerves and down to the muscle, causing it to twitch. But with this new discovery, I hardly knew what thought to think. The hardest part isn’t the movement itself; that’s not hard at all. No, the most difficult part is knowing what to think in order to will the movement. I believe that the best technique is to imagine that the skin on the top of your foot is moving upward and then will it to happen; but seeing as how this muscle is in effect still very young, I’m not sure.
I practiced flexing this muscle for about a half hour. After all that time, I still have trouble getting it to flex for the first time. And I can only do it on my right foot: on my left, the muscle might as well not exist.
Some time during those thirty minutes, I came to a realization:
This is what it’s like for babies all the time.
Babies are new. They, unlike us, are not used to using their muscles. It takes a lot of practice to figure out what they do and why, and how to work the controls. I at least have the advantage of already knowing how to use many of my muscles, so I know what to look out for; babies don’t have any such luxury. And for babies, it’s not just one muscle that they have to learn how to use: it’s all of them.
Perhaps the reason why learning to use this muscle was so mesmerizing is because we have a deep-seated instinct for learning new muscles. It’s simply irresistible. Such an instinct would drive us to become master puppeteers of our physical beings.
Now I feel like I understand babies better, if only a little. If you’ll allow me to offer some advice, I suggest that everyone try to learn how to use a new muscle today. Find a muscle that you didn’t know existed, and practice with it. It will change your life.