Monday, December 28, 2015

Some enchanted evening..

Some enchanted evening
You may see a stranger,
you may see a stranger
Across a crowded room
And somehow you know,
You know even then
That somewhere you'll see her
Again and again.

Who can explain it?
Who can tell you why?
Fools give you reasons,
Wise men never try.

South Pacific

“You can’t be lonely, if you like the person you’re alone with.”
Wayne Dyer

Damn. It’s New Year’s again. It really kind of shines a light on things doesn’t it? I always feel kind of like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz when she sits at the fork in the road trying to figure out what to do next. We know what’s behind us, and what we DON’T want to do again. We’re hopeful about where we want to end up. But sometimes we don’t know what road to start on. The Gym? Tinder? A financial advisor? A Tarot Card Reader?

I’m going to start in 1992.

It was the first real “big boy” summer of my life. I was working in Yellowstone Park after many days, (and months, and years) idling away the time. It was an incredible adventure for me at that juncture of my life. Montana! Wyoming! I couldn’t believe it when I saw the signs pass by on the road.

I had started my life...

I was working at Yellowstone Lake that summer, and next door was the world famous Yellowstone Hotel. I’d never seen anything quite like it. Although I was far from an uptown kind of guy, I used to sneak over on many evenings and listen to this beautiful string quartet that played with the backdrop of the lake and the park behind it. I’d order a beer, find a chair, and just kind of close my eyes and get lost in the music. There was one song I particularly enjoyed called “Some enchanted evening” from the movie South Pacific. It captured the romance and beauty of travel and discovery so well. This is kind of what the scene looked like.

But there was something else about the song that grabbed me. Here I was, somewhere between a kid and an adult, and I’d never really BEEN anywhere. Never fallen in love. Never wandered away to some exotic place. I couldn’t even COMPREHEND the South Pacific.

But I was ready. My mind was clear and my heart was open.

And as is the case often in life, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.

And with the soundtrack of that string quartet playing that summer, I fell in love for the first time. And traveled. And explored. And found out a lot about life I never knew existed.

It seems like a “some enchanted evening” kind of story.

But it isn’t.

Reflecting back on that time, I realized it was because I was ready that I was able to attract all of those things to my life. I wasn’t chasing or desperate to be “in” love.

But I was ready. And I was open to that.

I wasn’t desperate to travel to “find” something I was missing. I simply enjoyed every second of the ride that summer. 

So why am I telling you this?

As with most things in life, we toss the riddles that perplex us out into the universe like a giant boomerang.

And sometimes, when we least expect it, that boomerang comes spiraling back around and smacks us in the head.

So that’s what happened to me.

Almost one lifetime later, I found myself in the strangest place this Christmas.

In the middle of the South Pacific! And you know what happened? I walked in, ordered a beer at one of the nicer hotels, and guess what song I heard playing softly in the background?

Some enchanted evening.

It’s an amazing thing about memory, but nothing quite wakes up those dormant parts of our hearts and minds like a song. I hadn’t thought about that summer or that song in a long time, but in that moment it all came flooding back to me.

I sat down and thought about the synchronicity of it all. I was in an eerily similar situation to the first time I ever heard the song; Alone, in a place I’d never been before, and very much by myself feeling I was on the cusp of a new adventure.

But maybe my younger self had something to teach me. I thought back to my state of mind that summer, and realized it was because of that state of mind that I was able to attract so many great things to my life. What was different now? I asked myself some questions I think we all need to ask ourselves from time to time when we find ourselves in transition. Am I open to a new person coming into my life, or am I still hanging on to baggage from the past? Am I here, in this moment, enjoying the ride, or am I looking too far ahead or too far behind? Am I focused on outcomes or moments?

You don’t even have to think about that shit when you’re a 20 year old kid.

But as adults, these are the knots we tie ourselves up in.

Eventually though, I settled in to a calm peace and enjoyed the music, the beer, and the beautiful ocean. It was nice to untie some knots and simply be in such a wonderful moment.

I knew I was ready again for what comes next. At peace with the past, not worried so much about the future, and ready to play another hand.

And yes, I did meet some ladies on this trip. And crazy island people. And Americans and Germans, and Australians, and everyone else I had a chance to speak to.

This story doesn’t end with a love connection. Not this trip. Not this time.

But some enchanted evening…

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Unreliable Narrator

There are lots of people who mistake their imagination for memory.
Josh Billings

We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.
Anais Nin

In the midst of the long rainy New Zealand winter, I recently found myself searching for a new TV series to watch. I settled on “How I met your mother," as I was kind of fascinated by the premise. A man looks back on his past and remembers, (And also misremembers. A lot.)

The technique is called “the unreliable narrator.” It describes how you can’t really trust the person telling the story, because they’re putting their own spin on things after the fact. If you’ve seen “The Wolf of Wall Street”, it also employs this technique. Often a person glamorizes the good, and perhaps intensifies the bad. The story allows the narrator to look back on the past with a kind of romanticism where they color what REALLY happened with a more charitable interpretation.

Wanna know an even bigger plot twist? This is how EVERYONE’S memory works. It’s fascinating really. I hear the most interesting things in my work when people recount memories from age one or two, (even the crib sometimes.) I don’t have the heart to tell them that this is not accurate or even really possible. For the first 1–2 years of life, brain structures such as the limbic system which holds the hippocampus and the amygdala
 that are involved in memory storage, are not yet fully developed.

But even when memory does start working correctly, there is something important to remember.

Memory lies. It lies, like Shaggy in the song “It wasn’t me” lies…

As a psychologist trained in Adlerian techniques, there is one tool that demonstrates the fascinating adaptability of memory called “Early recollections.” In this technique we ask people to select several of their most enduring memories from childhood and describe the feelings that accompany them. Most people have no problem with this, and even have a little fun with it.

There’s another plot twist though.

Those memories we select? They have more to do with how we're feeling NOW than any kind of reliable recording device. If we’re feeling lonely and rejected in our current incarnation, we’ll select childhood memories that reflect loneliness and isolation. When things are going well, we’re more likely to “remember” the good stuff.

Memory is absolutely unreliable, fallible, and unstable. It even changes over time. Eyewitnesses get things totally wrong within MINUTES!

So why the heck am I telling you all of this??

I’m glad you asked.

In part because much of what I see in patients suffering from anxiety and depression involves two things, regret and guilt about the past, (or in some cases overly romanticizing it,) and worry about the future.

None of those things accomplish anything. And they are both so unreliable. Memory lies, misremembers, over-glorifes, and in many ways gives the past way too much weight over our present. Conversely, anxiety gives way too much power to the future, which, as people like Dan Gilbert have made clear, we are terrible at predicting.

So let’s be really clear here. Our memory play tricks on us, and our built in “prediction” machine, which manifests as anxiety, are often both dead wrong. They’re both very unreliable narrators, one telling stories about the past and one telling stories about the future.

But really they’re both big fat liars.

So where does that leave us exactly? Here. Now. The present moment. Playing the cards that have been dealt to us today. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Today.

Nothing new there really, Lao Tzu said it 2,500 years ago,

“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

But what’s interesting is modern science has now gotten caught up with these ideas. This isn’t a “philosophy” as such. It’s absolutely true.

So next time you find yourself endlessly flogging yourself about the past, please remember this. You’re likely not even remembering things as they happened. Remember what ole’ Anais said, “we don't see things as they are, we see things as WE are.”

Also. Those of you going home for Christmas remembering all the glory days.

Yea, you’re probably getting it wrong as well.

Enjoy this year. This December. THIS Christmas.

This is the last little spin around 2015 we’ll ever have.

Make it a good one…