Braining Ourselves In
“Between stimulus and response there is a space…in that space is our power to choose our response. In our response, lies our growth and our freedom.” Viktor Frankl, Auschwitz survivor.
Just like our experiences can change our DNA, so too can they change the structures of our brains. This to a great effect, is much more substantial to our overall progression as a species and as individuals because it influences our processing of the world around us and determines what decisions we will make and in turn, what actions we will take. The stories we tell ourselves about the world and our place in it are what is building the world around us.
When the narrative of our stories is altered, everything is altered. The plot, settings, and characters can remain the same but by changing the theme or context, the entirety of our view changes so now the characters and setting and plot all become altered to suit the new theme. The same old things look different. We can’t view them in the same way as before. Everything stayed the same except the perception of the viewer. So even though we can’t change history, we can change how we see it. It’s how we change ourselves.
Stories are an important method of teaching. We tell kids stories because they learn from them in a fun and interesting way that doesn’t feel like learning. When we imagine ourselves as the characters, a part of our brain becomes them in a very real way. Through our empathic co-journey we are forcing our brains to have an experience that can be and often is as visceral as our real-life experiences. Sometimes more. Stories are so captivating; we lose ourselves in their alternate reality. We can go there to escape our own. Or learn lessons we don’t want to directly expose our actual selves to. Or to relive someone else’s moment. Moments that changed time. Changed history. Changed us. Changed our brains.
People from all around the world have regional cultural expressions that are rooted in the history that bred them. The Hindi cultures are different from Native American cultures and both are different than Abrahamic. The Australian Aborigines are even different still. The stories that each of these cultures tell their children are the building networks in their brains. Repetition reinforces those networks. Strengthens them. Builds them into adults who will repeat these same stories to build similar brains, build similar cultures. It’s tradition.
What stories are we telling ourselves? How have they made us who we are? What kind of brain has been constructed in each of us? What have our brains built? What minds us? Are we cool with that? Do we like our brains? Seriously, no judgment, no shade, no one is listening but you…. Are you happy with your brain? Do you tell yourself nice stories? Are they true? Is your brain nice to you? Does it say offensive things? Does it lie to you often? Is your brain mean to you? Brains don’t just think things; they feel things too. They are the commander of your entire nervous system. They are the chief of your organ systems. The are the king of your crown. And all of your other parts are conscious of that fact. What kind of ruler is presiding over your mental kingdom? What thoughts are leading you? Where was I going with this? It’s something to think about.
Philosophy is the “love of wisdom”. Psychology is the study of the “breath, the soul, the mind.” The combination of these two teachings allows us to examine the parts of us that make us who we are and love the wisdom that self-knowledge and self-awareness bring. Modern psychology is basically a therapeutic method of rewriting our internal narrative in a way that helps us strengthen a storyline within us that promotes personal growth and mental and emotional healing.
They say, it takes twenty-one days to form a habit. Most of the studies I have read extend that time period to around two months. It takes much longer to break a habit. Are we trying to quit cold turkey? Are we replacing our habit with a new one? Are we deprived from the source of our habit and quitting against our will? Our plan? Our intention? If replacing, is the replacement any different? Is it a substitute? It is a cure?
I used to tell myself one thing about what happened. Now, I tell myself something different. The past can’t be changed. “What’s done is done.” “It is what it is,” as my brother would say. This is confining and restricting and freeing and a relief. Depending on how we choose to view it.
Blame is the easiest way to avoid growth. As long as issues are externally driven, the need for internal turmoil is obfuscated. Growth never occurs. We have no control over outside events but we do have control over how we face those events so, concentrating too much on them causes undue stress. We can control certain factors that are within our means but so much is outside of our control that the feeling of powerlessness becomes overwhelming. We are driven to action by this in an effort to quell the stress of the fear of the unknown. Take some part of it and wield it to our defense. Give ourselves the false illusion that it should be some other way. We become resentful when things don’t go along with the stories we tell ourselves of how it was “supposed” to happen. We can be eaten alive by this. There are plenty of things we can control but they are almost exclusively within ourselves. Whatever we are unable to address manifests itself in our waking lives so that we must look at it. These avoidances of self will grow larger and larger until the exterior world we have build around them threatens to take us down. We had the power of control the whole time. We just weren’t controlling the right thing. Ourselves.