A friend called recently, and seemed to ascribe a lot of recent bad luck to having bought a particular car. Well, maybe. More likely, his actions had delivered consequences he didn’t like. But that involved pointing the finger of blame at himself, which he was unwilling to do. Any more of that, and the next question is obviously about doing things differently in future. Safer to have a naughty car to blame for what you don’t like. Isn’t that a Stephen King story?
I know a family where the teenage daughter has been self-harming for a while, and with the aid of a counsellor learned to do so in a safe and controlled fashion. But still, she’s harming herself. Or was, anyway. Since starting a job that’s allowing her control of some of her own money for the first time, and being told that she can’t allow her wounds to be seen by customers, she’s shown no inclination to damage herself. Presented with a stimulus which supports her independence, a behaviour which was damaging her has stopped. No need for months of therapy, a coaching intervention, or for her to be asked to love herself.
Change is the natural state of things. A lot of the time, we blinker it out. We have a calendar that is organised in cycles to encourage the idea that life happens in repetitive chunks, and perform the same activities in the same subdivisions to confirm that notion. Monday at 11, time to schedule the coming week. Tuesday at 4, Skype chat with a client. Thursday at 8, open bottle of red wine with spouse and watch The Shawshank Redemption on DVD.
There was a guest on Desert Island Disks recently who had a very different notion. Simon McBurney founded Theatre Complicite, and has built a worldwide reputation for daring and innovative live experiences for audiences. To the extent that he can, he approaches every minute with the attitude ‘You spent your while life preparing for this moment’…which sums up his outlook in a quote from another theatre great, David Mamet, in his screenplay for Spartan.
This sometimes means that McBurney cancels business meetings to spend time with his children, for instance. Meetings are a lot easier to schedule than kids. And it seems to help empty his head for more important matters – like recognising on first sight that the woman he was looking at was to be the one he spent his life with, at a point when he’d put aside the notion of a life partner. It’s a good example of my inclination to believe that the more effectively you sort out your mental hygiene, the easier it is to recognise a genuine intuition when one comes along.
Stories can help us realise that we’re misattributing the cause for the ills that afflict us, or mesh us within their comforting order. Get past a certain age and we’ll fess that our imaginary friend was absent when those biscuits were eaten, that we weren’t actually looking when we shut nan’s hand in the car door. Some linguistic spooks remain to haunt our thinking: we acted thus because of the recession, the way she looked at me, because someone was obsessed with Batman.
Cause and effect really isn’t that simple, and is always partial. That example earlier, about the teenage girl who no longer self harms? Many of those who really would advocate that therapy, coaching, or self-love is the answer are likely to believe that somehow their solution-of-choice was mysteriously administered, in some sort of implicit way. Same as there’s implicit meat content in communion wafers and wine, whether it’s believed to be really really there, or just sort of symbolically present, regarding which options there was a lot of argument a few centuries back.
Change happens constantly. Like Heraclitus said, you can’t step into the same river twice. And along with that it may be helpful to realise that, a lot of the time, what we’re doing doesn’t actually make a difference – and that if a difference is sought, then maybe best to look at what would naturally bring about the desired result and help that happen, whether or not we can claim credit for it, or present a bill when ‘it’ happens.