Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How We Change

Can we change? Do we change? How do we change? When considering personal changes I think I want to make I am reminded of a quote from Jungian analyst James Hillman who wrote, “That which we want to change, we want to get rid of.”

I think of the early sweat lodge ceremonies I led. I’d been taught to have people name their “giveaways,” the things they wished to be free of (fears, addictions, self-sabotaging habits etc.) But it didn’t work. People came back time after time to give away the same aspects of self. What it did do was create shame about the failure to change and, it seemed to me, that this shame would probably send the fears that drove self-destructive habits further into the unconscious, making them more inaccessible to the conscious desire for change.

So I stopped doing the giveaway round in sweat lodge ceremonies that way. Instead I asked participants to name some gift or strength or aspect of Beauty in their being that they offered to the world as their giveaway. Not surprisingly, many people found this much more difficult.

But I still wondered- how do we change? Was Hillman right- are we always trying to banish some aspect of self when we are seeking to change something about ourselves? Maybe sometimes we are just trying to find a healthy and healing way to address an old wound or live more fully who we are.

Reading Dan Siegel’s book Mindsight, I am encouraged to see that it is possible to actually develop new neural pathways in the brain throughout our lives. Novelty (learning something new or looking at something familiar in a new way,) attention (continued focus in a particular area) and aerobic exercise seem to be three key elements to making this happen. (Okay, so I only consistently go to the first two of these three- it’s a start!)

What strikes me as I read Siegel is that successful change is more about developing undeveloped aspects of self- brain, body, mind, awareness, personality, habits etc.- than it is about trying to get rid of already developed patterns. And I think that’s generally how change happens: by focusing on and enlarging what we want to build, where we want our energy to go.

We allay our fears not by trying to banish them, but by connecting with a deeper desire that can fuel our courage and shape new habits that serve those soul-deep desires. We develop habits that support creativity not by belittling or seeking to get rid of our left-brain ability to organize or analyze, but by doing activities that wake up neural networks on the right side of the brain and make new necessary connections between right and left hemispheres so we can actually do the creative work that calls to us.

We can change. We do change. It requires desire and knowledge, a willingness to see and accept where we are (instead of hoping we could start somewhere other than where we are) and move more deeply into our lives. It requires genuine curiosity about what we really value, what matters to us most and a willingness to consciously and repeatedly shape our inner and outer behaviour to be consistent with these values.

And these days, with all the challenges in the world, I cannot help but think that what we learn and put into practise about change on a personal level, will better prepare us to co-create necessary change on a global level.

1 comment:

  1. What I notice for myself is how change happens when I accept what is so, instead of wanting to have it different. When I can look at all aspects and events of my life without judging it as right or wrong, or good or bad, there is an adjustment in my way of seeing things. As I acknowledge my darker side and bring it to the light, it is no longer dark and no longer requires annihilation.
    Thanks for sharing the info on neural pathways. Good post, as usual.