Friday, January 9, 2009

The Rubber Band Effect

Today I was wondering why sustained change is so difficult. What does it take to change, and how do you know the change occurred? And if we are able to stay in the sustained change for a while, what is the time frame that qualifies as "a while" and when does sustained change stop being change, and start being the state of being? How do you know you are not just in a change state, instead of the new state that was the object of the change process?

The answer, I believe, is that the state of being is the point when you can no longer remember the pre-change state. Our minds and memories are actually a collection of thoughts, words, emotions and expectations that have been passed down for generations. Some have been passed down for hundreds and thousands of years through the stories that we tell ourselves, the values that we say we believe in, and even through our senses of sight, smell, sound and touch.

When I hear a crow cawing in the distance, I think of our farm, and my grandmother. I place myself in that time and place, and I am, for a moment, that little girl. Full of ideas about what women do, what men do, even the images of what I thought the ideal form was at that time, as defined by the pictures around me.

In fact, world wars are still raging today because of the storage of memory in the minds of people who were not even a glimmer in someone's eye when the conflict began. Think about it. Why would you fight for a piece of land, to the point of actually hurting another person, if you didn't have a deeper reason for believing the fight was more important than the person affected? If we could step back and understand the path of the memory contained in that rubber band, maybe we could affect world peace.

OK, so world peace is lofty. But what about personal peace? What about being OK with who we are? What if we understand the memory that we contain and act on without even knowing it. What if we understand the culture of our mothers, who came from the Victorians, and their mothers, and their mothers before them? What would we take forward, and what would be leave behind. What new stories would we tell to create new memories for our children, so that they could take the good forward and leave the bad behind

We are guided by memories that translate into practices, habits, and reactions. I find that the change process is really about stretching the rubber band, attempting to change its "memory" by shifting its environment. The longer you stretch the elastic, the more time it has to build a new memory. And when you let go of that elastic the memory is still there, but it is slightly distorted.

The good news is, even if you let go of the rubber band, you can still stretch it again, starting where you left off. Over time, the change becomes sustained by sheer energy and effort. At some point, the memory in the rubber band will be gone, and its course will have spent. And a new reality has occurred.

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