In mindful awareness we have the opportunity to get beneath the layers of adaptation and enhance the possibility of change. Dan Seigel from The Mindful Brain
All of us have our own story, our own narrative, memories we recall and use to extract lessons to organize our lives. It is common to my experience to speak with a friend and hear a story that draws a conclusion that seems to point to a more constricted life.(I’ll never get that job, she’ll never forgive me, I can’t do that…) We can not change our biography, but we can change the story. The novel is an opportunity to illustrate how a character changes the narrative and how that change alters the story of their life. All of this might appear to be understood, but how many times have we needed help because we’ve become trapped in a narrative and find it almost impossible of letting go? “Why do you think that way?” someone might ask. What stories do you tell? Are you aware of these stories? How might changing these stories change your life? Why is it so difficult to do perform this trick….
Fear of change comes into view when it requires hoisting up a mast of a sailboat to change a light bulb. The mast on this Jeanneau sloop measures 45 feet from the deck. One person goes up the mast to do the work while a second is depended upon to winch the worker both up and then back down safely. Fear and trust are not intellectual when doing this work. Fear doesn’t seem to be located in the mind although it does seem to clutter it. It seems out of the mind and in the body where it advertises its presence…slight shaking, sweaty palm, rhythm of breath. When looking aloft from the first spreader to the next spreader and then from there up to the top of the mast I get the opportunity to stare right into the jaws of my instincts. Then, as if a symphony is playing my mind becomes orchestral…heart is timpani…hello gut it says, are you sure you want to do this? Yes, I am sure. I don’t want to do this. People who tell me they are bored, that nothing ever happens to them. Have I got a cure for you….
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….