The human brain stores information as a narrative, with each of us as the central character. We think of ourselves as a singular person, but we are not one person. We are a series of reactions to moments that we weave into a definition of ourselves, a definition that takes more than it gives.
There is the person we are when everything is perfect when life seems to be going our way. There is the person we are around other people, when we are alone, or when we’re in any number of situations. Then, there is the person we are when we are triggered. When in a fight or flight response, our awareness heightens to all the potential threats around us. We might feel threatened by financial worries or relationship issues or in our position in society. We feel bound by the definitions we have here like we will die if things don’t go a certain way—maybe because somewhere in our ancestry, we have.
Everything we are during these moments is who we have been, not just as individuals but also as a genetic line. Because we feel threatened, the only thing we can conceive is the threat—possibly, to the point where the brain creates it. The eyes see figures, the ears hear noises, and the brain complies by creating the perfect picture. We experience the threat at every sensual level. Even when the perils do not yet exist, we experience them as real, and the power we give them controls our lives. We will see our story of others, regardless of what they say or do. The same is true of them. They are going to see their narrative in us, regardless of what we say or do.
Until we become curious enough to observe, it’s all conjecture, steeped in past experiences. Our subject’s history was torturous. It was the same for her entire ancestral line. Therefore, she assumes torture. Even in a place of respite, she will perceive threats. It can be no other way. Her brain responds to life as it does to dreams. It creates definitions from the sensory input it processes. It can do nothing else from the language it knows, which for her, is torturous.
When we are not conscious, reality works the same as it does in our dreams. An unconscious state is an unconscious state. We are bound to the perspective of our ego-mind, but it is not just a function of limited consciousness. The ego-mind or lizard brain is a critical part of our consciousness. Without peace in the ego, we cannot feel safe in the world, and safety is our brain’s primary function. Definitions of survival are stories passed from generation to generation to surround us like a bubble of protection. Whether in our dreams or the states of reactive consciousness, the mind is trying to recognize potential dangers. It then accesses our ancestral storehouse of information and uses it to create safety.
However, the brain isn’t processing this information as an experience. Our subject has not defined the moments of her quest as safe or unsafe. She has defined herself as safe or unsafe in them. The moment becomes an aspect of her identity. She recreates the narrative of fear and isolation that has been her life because she can create no other narrative.
It is a common human misconception that if we “show” a person a different way, the person will obviously understand the benefits and follow it, but this seldom works. We can’t just speak a noble sentence. We must also teach the language of that sentence. We must give the concept definition, but instead of limiting ourselves to a description of behavior or experience, we gain more benefit from building our definition around identity. We must use the narrative to our advantage.
Think of your life as a highway, with towns along the way that represent experiences. Imagine your life is represented by having traveled across the United States, beginning at one coast and ending at the other. Your family of origin gave you a particular perspective to begin your journey, and then, during your travels, you have had experiences that you have used to define further who you are.
Imagine someone teaching you something about one of the stops you made along the way, maybe in Milwaukee. You might gain benefit or insight, but with wouldn’t go far beyond the boundaries of that city. Imagine, instead, someone pulling on the thread of who you were traveling along the highway. Imagine they changed your car from a station wagon you drove and gassed to a limousine that catered to your every whim. The vehicle changes the whole trip, every stop. The better the definition we have of ourselves and our journey, the more we affect.
In her last entry, you can see how our subject tries to redefine herself as she reaches for a new parent. She is willing to question her identity, which opens the door to changing more than just one circumstance along her journey. It gives her a chance to change her entire perspective of reality.
Think of how you define yourself at this moment. What if you could think of that perspective as just a suggestion? What if it wasn’t definitive? Are there things you would change? Our subject is open to that change. She is willing to change every perspective she has of herself if it means she can finally be free of the suffering that is her life.
When we ask a difficult question, one we cannot answer, the brain tries to turn to something more comfortable unless we don’t let it. Now is the time when our subject must willfully impose a new possibility on her mind, but the only way she can do that is with novel information and a new narrative.
This willingness she has is the secret. There is a saying common to habitual patterns that I have never like. It says, “They did the best they could do at the time.” I don’t think that’s true. There are times I knew I could do better, and I didn’t. I think we do what we’re brave enough to do when we have the resources to do them. Change takes great strength, a sense of internal power. Being aware of where we are gives us the power to choose where we want to be.
Our subject has spent most of her life powerless. With no real ability to affect any situation, she lived a life of vulnerability. At this moment, she finds a glimmer of hope by questioning her ancestry and believing in a power greater than herself. It begins with a gentle smudge of sage provided by her sponsor. A moment that tells her she might not be alone in the universe after all.