In other words, drastic change, under certain conditions, creates a proclivity for fanatical attitudes, united action, and spectacular manifestations of flouting and defiance; it creates an atmosphere of revolution.
Eric Hoffer, Longshoreman, Philosopher from his book The Ordeal of Change
I think we all look and wonder at the changes taking place in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. We look at the clash in Wisconsin and some cheer while most look aghast at the effort to rescind the right to collective bargaining. In this hall of mirrors the CEO of 3M, Mr. George Buckley bellyaches on the front page of The Financial Times about how repressive the current President is to his business interests. I grew up along the San Francisco waterfront. There is this concept called foreground/background. In the foreground for example there is an individual and in the background a time, place, and circumstance. Individuals in pursuit of personal change try to cultivate wholesome and skillful means toward that end. In the background it seems there are social/economic/political forces let loose from one side or another attempting to change the balance of power. In my second novel I am trying to describe individuals who are caught up in the Great Recession that came about by the implosion of the financial sector. At least eight million American workers lost their job. It is difficult for me to understand how in the world we have not put a single person in the financial sector in prison and instead political forces sympathetic to this financial sector have decided to launch an attack on the public employee unions. This is change… just not the kind I can believe in….
I am fascinated by the psychological structure of character. I am interested in a more robust approach, that doesn’t persist in identifying character problems. So, what this might look like is that by pulling the lens back and looking at the larger world we find in the wider more diverse set of psychological practices. Dan Seigel, Jon Kabit Zinn, Jack Kornfield, David Richo, and John Welwood among others have been expanding on this topic. I attended a David Richo workshop and he commented that in his decades of practice as a therapist most of his clients faced a crisis of personhood and few actually needed therapy. This bigger picture, this larger possible framework allows for new approaches to exploring change…in other words we can embark on a story in a novel and not force our characters into the straitjacket of western psychological frames… we have a much more diverse, much larger set of possibilities….so many more…it allows for the author to introduce readers to new pathways that might offer a more robust, more profound transformation…
How fictional characters change in Highway Home and Bankrupt Heart.
Neuroplasticity is a term to describe how we build connections in our brains. We can build connections by physically moving our bodies and we can build connections simply by thinking. Old thinking tends to travel down familiar neural highways. New thinking tends to travel along new highways. Jugglers know that repetition leads to the ability to do new tricks. For a very long time it was believed that the brain was fixed in size and structure, but now we know that we grow our brain throughout our lives when we use our brain. When we use our brain in new ways we potentially grow new parts, new regions, (connecting one region with another in new and interesting ways). So, it seems there is something of a virtue in making up our minds to make up our minds…
Resistance seems natural. Our survival techniques encourage us to reduce the number of variables so that we might reduce the number of threats in the jungle we hunt in. In this modern jungle we find ourselves interconnected to complexity is both ally and enemy. We cheer change we like and resist change we fear. There is no end to the paradox. As they say we are entitled to our own opinion, but we are not entitled to our own set of facts. Change happens! It is a fact. We are sure to be pushed by change, sometimes that push supports our opinion and sometimes that push is supported by fact. Climate change is one such fact. Getting a facelift after consulting our changing looks in the mirror another… Small Change got rained on by his own 38……resisting change in this jungle of life is self inflicted… If you listen you will hear facts speaking. An open mind is a ready mind…what are you open to? What do you resist?
I am interested in thinking. Cognition is a word used to describe thinking. Metacognition is the process of thinking about our thinking. Dan Siegel a psychiatrist from UCLA has been doing brain scan research. He has been mapping brains of people while they think. We are learning many interesting things about how our minds actually work. Metacognition is a tricky thing. Our minds are always thinking and while trying to remain alert to being aware of our thoughts we can end up lost in them. Then, a light bulb goes off and we wake up and remember that we just forgot that we wanted to continue to think about this one thought and not the new thought that just swept our attention away… Now, Dr. Nora Volkow has been doing research on cell phones. Her research team did brain scans of people who are using cell phones and find that the weak radiation is having a measurable effect on the brain. In fact the brain is speeding up! Now, skeptics have already struck at the finding! It is important to raise doubt as soon as a fact has been established. My mind goes into ping-pong mode, bouncing from one thought and then back to the other. I am swept away by debate, and then find myself finally not knowing what to think! And then I wake up and remember that I am the species that remembers that I forget, and that what I had been forgetting is that I only get this one ride on this trip called life and I want to remember to take care of my brain, remember that, remember not to forget that I am the one in charge of that important action. So, I try to remember not to put that phone near my head, then I forget, and then I remember, and then I forget to remember, and then I remember that I forget….
Technological innovation is external change… Changing relationships, changing jobs, changing where you live… changing your own habitual way of thinking about the world is where change meets the interior human soul. Finding tools to work with our changes seem scattered here and there. It appears many people don’t know that what they are experiencing is a loss of knowing that they are going through enormous change and not knowing how to work with it, shape it, understand it, and nurture it. When you find a toolkit you can rely upon to work with change you have found humanities tranquilizer to the modern changing world we find ourselves born into at this lightening quick flashing phenomenal moment in time.
And with that I’ll leave you with an audio track, a fragment from my new novel Bankrupt Heart….
Transformation, change, what is old, what is new, where we’ve come from and where we are going…sometimes we feel we are just standing still. I am married to an engineer, and she is married to an artist. I entertain and I am a novelist. We discuss what all this new technology means. Some discussions are about the technology and some of our discussions are about the content. Both discussions are about the nature of change. What do I mean by that? I mean that much of what we are now experiencing is already no longer relevant, no longer matters. One structure we thought existed is supplanted, replaced, or made obsolete by the emerging structure. I attended the San Francisco Writers Conference the last three days. The old order has watched while the new digital structure continues to unfold.
For a street performer it means less than it does to an author of novels. Distribution of a street act remains the same. Stand on corner. Gather an audience, do a show, pass the hat, and another turn of the wheel of life has been made. For an author the mechanics of distribution have been changing and remain in a state of rapid, revolutionary change. Writing evolves at the level of human time frames. Technology moves at another speed. The slow and careful composition of a novel has something in common with a street performer. This digital revolution, this new technology is frantic, fast-paced, breathtaking, and has created not just amazing uncertainty, but amazing opportunity. The challenges are many… as always the most important part is to finds way to use it and not let it use you… I want to think at my own rate of thought, I want to create at my own pace, and enjoy technologies convenience not its tyranny.