“Out beyond left brain and right brain there is an integrated energy field called heart. I’ll meet you there.”
~ with apologies to Rumi
Once, when I was at one of my lowest life points – I’d just received divorce papers from my wife’s lawyer; the dream house I’d lovingly hand-built was being overrun by realtors with low-ball offers trying to take advantage; and I had no income-producing work – the single thing that kept hope alive was my growing understanding of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ongoing, ever-present process of reconfiguring its internal wiring, both by growing new connections, and more recently discovered, growing about 700 new hippocampal brain cells every day. All I had to do was look back at the astonishing network of events that had brought me to that moment to understand I had little clue and less control over the complexity of what I would encounter up the road from where I was. But little clue and less control is not NO clue and NO control. Growth and change happen, and to a some degree it can be directed.
I didn’t know or call such potential for growth and change by the name neuroplasticity then – I was just ending a 25 year housebuilding career and had only just begun to morph into a neuroscientist (Definition: someone who reads between 10 and 20 evidence-based neuroscience papers every day!). The name I knew it by at that time was paideia (Definition: lifelong learning of “the beautiful and good” with special attention paid to the essence or spirit of things). PAIDEIA is both the name of my consulting/publishing business and the environmental license plate I have had in both California and Washington State for 30 years.
The Power of Expectant Non-Knowing
Healing, learning, growth and change seem to be the general direction life tends to take, often, as transpersonal psychologist Hillevi Ruumet has detailed, in the form of a forward-moving, recursive upward spiral. What goes around comes around. Each time it does, we bring to it much of the healing, learning, growth and change we’ve picked up along the way on previous orbitings. For example, to best move through the divorce process with the least amount of pain and stress, experience had taught me, “Above all else, stay away from the lawyers.” And so I did, refusing to hire one, even though several of my lawyer friends were quick to point out to me all the ways I was being unfairly taken advantage of by my wife’s attorney. Why add one more person with legal training to take advantage? What I may have lost in money, I gained in reduced stress and peaceful sleep.
To Surrender or Abdicate, That Is the Question
Still, navigating the fine line between surrender and abdication is not an easy path to travel. Denial and rationalization can make for unhappy outcomes. How best to distinguish one from the other. To abdicate means to abandon or desert with a sense of resignation, often because circumstances are too painful or emotionally overwhelming to confront. I think of it as lacking heart when I’m being unkind to myself. More accurately, it results, I think from simply not having adequate neural fibers in the executive areas of the brain making sufficient connections to allow for clear thinking and easy emotional self-regulation. We’ve all been there. The fact of the matter is that there are some life circumstances our level of developmental maturity simply isn’t sufficient in the moment for us to skillfully meet. So, we’re forced to manage the best we can. Sometimes the best we can manage is abdication.
Surrender, on the other hand, is the opposite of turning away. Surrender is turning towards with hands raised, open to the possibility of outcomes we can’t quite imagine in the midst of the fray. Surrender involves expectant non-knowing. It is born of a recognition that there are complex forces in the world and their general direction is towards an ecological balance – a kind of “spiritual, energetic regression to the mean.” It’s similar to the way the body and brain continually work to bring itself back to homeostasis.
There’s great, life-guiding wisdom, I think, in The Serenity Prayer. One key though, is to remember that the difference-knowing wisdom that each of us possesses lives in a constant state of growing and changing neural inhibition, excitation and connection. Trust it.
On that closing note, here’s a trustable Enchanted Loom surprise for your viewing pleasure.