So you’ve slogged through a little bit of practical neuroscience and you’re beginning to notice that everyone is talking about rewiring the brain which is fascinating but you’re the kind of person that would rather just get in there and do it. This of course has always been the hallmark of a young Jedi. George Lucas didn’t just sit at his desk and make Star Wars up. Lucas was driven to create a story that would describe the path of personal transformation, the way in which we become who we are, and how we might even transcend ourselves. The creation of this story involved a spiritual journey of its own, and Lucas’ guide was Joseph Campbell, a comparative mythologist who studied the myths and religions of all times in search of their commonalities. Campbell’s belief was that truth could be found behind the group of metaphors which held constant across cultures. For the film he was conceiving, Lucas chose the Japanese Samurai as his archetype. The weapon would be the sword in the form of a light saber, the religion, Zen in form of something we would all come to recognize as The Force.
By now, you are probably wondering how we got to the movies so quickly. We are not at the movies. We are trying to do something very specific: We are trying to alter the way particular neurons are connected in our heads and to tone up the vagus nerve while we are at it. Unfortunately we can’t see the particular synapses that we are trying to disconnect at the moment so it is maybe useful to borrow a metaphor, or in this case, borrow our metaphor back. So, if the brain can be rewired, let’s get to it.
What we are trying to do here, specifically, is to change existing patterns of thought, emotion, and sensation. We are going to have to fix the mind with the mind. To do this, there are three factors that we will need to concentrate on: effort, form, and harmony.
To begin, you need to recognize where you are and if you remember anything about Star Wars, you already know that you are in a swamp. This is not an accident; you are in the swamp because changing your pattern of thinking involves abandoning all your defaults. It is about leaving the paved road. The neural connections in the mind form an intricate network of pathways, roads, and superhighways. But like all road systems, we often discover that the highways no longer take us where we need to go, and yet still we travel them. You will have to make yourself a new highway, and the way to build that highway is to slog back and forth across new ground and to start pounding the earth with your feet. This sort of thinking is frustrating, awkward, and has the distinct feeling of slogging through a swamp. Again and again, your mind will try to drag you back to the highway and the proven connections and get those thoughts moving. You, however, will have to drag it back to the swamp. This is the challenge, but if you stay in the swamp long enough, if you keep thinking and doing, in time the swamp will drain. This can take some time.
In a study on depression, a very challenging state of mind, researchers surveyed hundreds of experiments to determine the indicators that might predict the length of time a person might be depressed. Type of treatment, medication, cause, or type of depression seemed to have no direct link to the length of a period of depression. In the end there was only one factor that seemed to reliably indicate the probable length of depression; time. Only the amount of time a person spent being depressed thus far could be used to predict how long it would take to get them well. As my teacher, Kosho, says, as much time as it took you to get into the swamp, it will take you to get out. If you want you really change the state of your mind, be prepared for mud.
And there you are, mud up to your chest, walking back and forth and not really believing this at all. Perhaps you’ve decided that you are not going to gossip about other people anymore and so you bite your tongue and make it your practice never to speak the name of anyone outside of the room. But this is frustrating. The people around you, so deserving of commentary, sashay in and out of the door and are a constant source of irritation. One coworker in particular seems to have honed in on your resolution to become a better person and now they seem to be talking about you. Nevertheless, you maintain a supreme and very beautiful effort and keep working, day after day. This is never going to work. You have to like to these people. So far all you are doing is just repressing hostility.
You will need to fake it until you make it. Put the body where you want to go and the mind will follow…it just takes a really long time sometimes. You will need to invent and observe a form. The purpose of the form is to create an actions in the world outside, that will be mirrored in the world inside your head. This coworker, the really obnoxious one, perhaps you might smile at them each time you see them and ask a question about their personal life. This will require that you learn about them and it will be much easier if you care. At first it will be excruciating to smile at them, but as your mind discovers that it is easier to do this if you really do care, it will build the necessary connections.
In another study on depression, people who were injected with Botox at the frown line we given a depression inventory before the injections and then again 90 days later. The Botox injections eliminated wrinkles by paralyzing particular muscles in their face and they were unable to frown. After 90 days the second inventory revealed that the Botox group had a rate of improvement which exceeded any antidepressant. According to the latest research, the most effective cure for depression seems to be simply not to look sad.
So now you are wading in slime up to your hips with a big smile frozen on your face, and you’ve even come to terms with the fact that this is going to take awhile but you’re still not free yet. Remember, you’re not really trying to say nice things about people, you’ve done that through gritted teeth for years – you are trying to make actual electrical connections on a level so small it takes an electron microscope to see them. This of course is impossible and so it is going to require something almost like magic. So here’s where the cool part comes – you get to…
Use the force.
And not even Yoda can tell you what the force is, except that you already know. The force is what you have to find. The force is the power to transform. Fortunately, the power you need to change anything is an intrinsic part of the thing itself. What you are looking for will be located at the point of constriction. It is emptiness. In a room full of noise, it is the silence that the noise arises from. It is the blue sky that contains the clouds.
To use the force, simply expand the emptiness to dissipate the constriction. Then repeat. The way to accomplish this, is simply to listen, to see, to add not a single thing more, but simply lose one’s self, continually seeking constriction and realizing that it really isn’t there at all. It is you. There is just a harmony…
This said I will return the metaphor where it came and if I have been at all successful, I will leave more questions then answers. Maybe this little spark catches fire in your imagination, and perhaps a few words might be of use, a few Google search terms that might help you out of this swamp:
Nuero-Linguistic Programming (NLP)
The Law of Cause and Effect