Memes, Mantras, Mission Statements
Gong: wake up and choose the channel!
Part 1 of 2
Most people have heard that a staggering percentage of our decision-making is done subconsciously, on autopilot (a study from the Max Planck Institute calls free will into question), which leads to the claim that much of the time, we're using a tiny fraction of our potential brainpower.
We know this --it's ingrained in our language and culture. What happens when you "push someone's buttons"? --They react in a completely predictable, reflex manner. Dogs can be trained to salivate when a bell rings, which has nothing to do with food except for an association they have "wired in."
Although there's all sorts of problems with comparing mind and consciousness to a computer's operating system, the metaphor of programming definitely fits here. We have little scripts ("memes") running in the background that determine how we respond to things around us, often in ways we're not proud of, and we don't even know the memes are there, we didn't choose them, and we wouldn't choose them if we had the choice!
Rooting out and replacing these memes is at the heart of habit-changing and a guiding light in choosing the practices to make up a 100-day gong. Memes come from mimicking; what do you wish to reflect?
Step 1: Awareness
The word "meme" derives from the ancient Greek "imitation." We get programmed through imitating; we have "mirror neurons" that strengthen connections through reflecting what's in the environment. So, if mom always says she looks fat or criticizes "fat people," you're likely to embed some programming around body image issues, and if Mrs Shelby in grade school says you have no artistic abilities you might grow up repeating the mantra "I can't draw," and if your parents inveigh over every expenditure you might absorb a sense of financial scarcity.
If you don't know it's there, you can't can't change it. I did a lot of things wrong in my first gong, but one of the biggest gains was drastically improved clarity as to what programs I was carrying around in my head and acting on unconsciously.
During the gong, I carried the intention of curiosity to know what I was doing, and why, at any given moment. An amazing thing I realized was that when I self-sabotaged, e.g. procrastinating a more important task by working on my inbox, or jeopardizing my all-important sleep by drinking a bunch of caffeine in the afternoon even though I didn't want to do those things, I was actually visualizing myself doing them before I did them! The intention to work on the important project was overlaid by the visual of responding to/moving/deleting email; I saw myself going into the kitchen and picking out the black tea.
This was such a blessing, because it opened up the possibility that I could divert and visualize something else.
Step 2: Observation
Observation sounds much like awareness. Can't we just change it already? Not so fast.
I wish it came easier just to visualize what I wanted to do instead and end up doing that. But I found a scared little person inside of me who had been using these rote visualizations as burrows or tunnels to feel safe in. I found that I needed to forgive, and just to watch myself do these detrimental things, to ask myself, sometimes with a feeling of helplessness, "Okay, I'm aware--when am I going to choose differently?"
Step 3: Replace and Retrain
Those tunnels or burrows are well-trodden and deeply scooped out from being lain in, and so they need replacing repeatedly, by retraining. Like changing the channel of a stream. Like changing a radio station that defaults to preset. Like turning around a plant in a pot that's grown at an odd angle, turning it so that it'll move toward the sun at a different angle. Like a parent holding a child's hand around the pencil, guiding the formation of letters until it becomes as unreflective as signing your name.
We can reverse-engineer negative beliefs with positive affirmations. Mantras aren't empty words if they're replacing negative words we don't even know we're saying to ourselves all the time. I used to despise the idea of "act as if" as phoney, but thanks to those mirror neurons, if we smile only with our bodies, we actually start to feel happier.
A mantra is by definition something repeated over and over. You can't breathe just once and be finished. And if you've been saying "I'm not worthy" to yourself billions of times without realizing it, or visualizing yourself in flagrante with the cookie jar over and over, you'll need to take the mantra like medicine, practice smiling like a splint on a broken bone.
Mind mapping is helpful in setting up the gong to make real progress with this, because it offers the framework to get clear on which areas of your life might be infested with unconscious memes, and then to look at the big picture. Financial scarcity might match up with something in your social life. Beliefs about your lack of talent might make you less adventurous in other areas.
WIth this clarity, you can design practices--choose affirmations, meditations, commitments--that may work to strengthen many aspects of your whole self.
I'll finish up tomorrow with some brief thoughts about mission statements.