created by Kristin Prevallet

Reprogramming the Self-Sabotage Code of Human Evolution

Here is another one of my poetic tangents into evolutionary biology, featured today on Reality Sandwich.

As Gregory Bateson said in a lecture called “Men Are Grass: Metaphor and the World of Mental Process,”  perhaps theories of mind and theories of evolution are very close to being the same thing….

mustard seed DNAIn a recent study, scientists found that memories may be passed down through generations in our DNA. The study suggests that experiences are somehow transferred from the brain into the genome, allowing them to be passed on to later generations.

That’s not such good news if phobias, anxiety, and PTSD are written into your genome, but it does provoke ideas about how other kinds of memories — such as those experienced during Past Life Regression and other trance narrative experiences — can be so meaningful to people’s lives. We know that our genes can and do turn “on” and “off” when triggered — by environmental influences, as well as internal thoughts. The idea that stories are written into our DNA means that DNA can be rewritten — positive stories can also be passed down.

Of course Shamanic healers have been performing radical revisions of biological narratives for centuries. The ancient belief that disease is the fault of evil spirits who need to be banished from the body of the sick person is a kind of ritual editing in which disease is removed and replaced with a new story — one where the person’s now-restored soul can begin the healing process.

Using very different methods and philosophies than shamanic healers, poets have been the keepers of memory throughout written history. And in the epigenetic spirit, 20th-century avant-garde traditions of poetry have been un-telling old stories and re-coding them into new experiences for the reader. William Carlos Williams connects this practice of linguistic magic back to healing in “The Yellow Flower.” (Click on the link to hear Williams read this amazing poem).

Given that poets and shamanic healers have known for centuries that the body houses memory, it seems to me that the importance of this study — and others like it — isn’t the proof that ancestral memories are encoded in our DNA. This isn’t proof about destiny, or fate, or any other pre-scripted ending.

Rather it’s a reminder that memories are biology; that narratives of memory are the congealing of cells, chemicals, hormones, and blood into the moment of the telling. The passing down of memories is central to how we communicate the deeper messages — what some might call The Information — in ways that have the power to both cure, and kill us. The body is written as the memories are retold, from blood to bone, to mustard flower. 

Believe that memories are  not set in stone and that revision is possible. Then pass it on.

...the tortured body of my flower
which is not a mustard flower at all
                        but some unrecognized
                                                and unearthly flower
for me to naturalize
                        and acclimate
                                                and choose it for my own.
-
From "The Yellow Flower" by William Carlos Williams

***

(NOTE: The photograph I’m using for this blog entry was found putting the keywords “Mustard Flower” and “DNA” into Google Images. Mustard Flower is “The Yellow Flower” evoked by William Carlos Williams. The photograph is linked to a study of wild mustard weed, and the ways that it may uncover how the environment and genetics interact during a crucial moment in the life of a plant: Genetic Flower Power. Somehow,  it’s all related.)

fire ritualCelebrating the winter solstice with a fire ritual (no matter if by candlelight or bonfire) is a good way to honor the cycles of seasons as symbols of your own cyclical life.

One way to ritualize the solstice is to acknowledge yourself within the cycles of space and time by locating yourself within the specifics of your location. What is to the North of you, and what is to the South? Where is the nearest body of water, or the nearest mountain? Whether you live in the desert or in the Northeast, winter is symbolic of the land preparing for its Spring re-emergence.Preparing, in other words, for the amazement that Spring brings. 

This metaphor of covering/uncovering, freezing/thawing, hidden/emerging has applications in our spiritual/emotional/physical lives as well. You can think about what in you has been buried that you might release into the symbolic and transformative field of fire. Fire that transforms wood into coals and smoke also transforms your physical/psychic/emotional field.

So participate in it by conjuring up something you’re ready to manifest, to realize, to feel, to express, to be done with, to move on from, to metamorphosize…perhaps not now when it is winter, but as you symbolically articulate your intentions now, when Spring comes, comes you’ll be ready to be amazed…

Write/draw a symbol of what in you is buried that you’re either ready to manifest in the world. This is private and does not need to be shared except with the fire as it carries your intentions via smoke, skyward…

Examples of buried energies: healing, creativity, love, hope, beauty, joy, belief in your capacities, belief in the possibility for change.
Practical effects: letting go of old resentments, letting go of control over other people, releasing tightness around money, re-opening of your physical/sexual body, new perspectives on work/family/relationships, creative outpourings.

Or, you can simply think of something that you’re ready to get rid of from 2013, so that 2014 begins with a fresh start.

Or, you can spend some time reading Bernadette Mayer’s poem Midwinter Day out-loud.  Afterwards, dance!

This morning my husband appeared at the breakfast table, agitated. He was anticipating a meeting at work, and had it all planned out in his head. In a nutshell, it went something like this: his co-workers were going to be so intent on stopping his project that he was going to have to yell at them.

I reminded him of the “This Means War!” scene in Duck Soup, one of his favorite Marx Brother’s films. Rufus Firefly works himself into such an indignant fit that by the time the Ambassador arrives to make peace, he slaps him.

Most things that cause us anxiety are, quite literally, a projected future that is all in our heads. This COULD happen, that COULD happen, he COULD say that, I COULD feel that…and the firestorm begins.

If you’re prone to this kind of thinking, here are three things you can do right now:

1) Take a deep breath and say “stop” out loud.

2) Close your eyes for a moment and focus on your feet on the floor.

3) Take inventory of what is ACTUALLY happening, now. Right now. What is true, and what isn’t?

4) Re-assess, and repeat as often as is necessary.

Most importantly, next time you work yourself into a fit remember this scene from Duck Soup and laugh. Richard did, and just sent me an email saying that his meeting went very well. It works!

 

It seems pretty clear that the metaphors that are commonly used to describe the immune system — “fighting off” diseases and “pumping up” your immunity to “fend off” “invading” tumors or parasites —isn’t the whole picture. Really, because your immune system is evolving simultaneously with the cacophonous yet totally synchronized symphony of your body’s billions of chemical processes per second, it’s more like a braided river: A network of small channels separated by small and often temporary islands:

Image

The flow of channels that form this braided river work best when they are moving coherently, and not surprisingly the Braided River is a metaphor for acupuncture: the channels are opened, blockages in the system are re-balanced. In the midst of this energetic movement, a body is evolving into who (heshe) is at this moment of cellular organization.

According to Francisco Varella, your immune system defines your identity. It is “self/non-self discrimination” and defends itself only when it is excessively perturbed — just as the channels of a braided river will do its best to push out, or diffuse, chemicals that are dumped into it.

And our immune systems — like our waters, our ecosystems, our forests and our economies — are excessively perturbed. We are excessively perturbed and right now your immune system is evolving your identity in order to reject or absorb these perturbations into something useful that will allow you to survive. 

This is useful knowledge for everyone battling the medical model.

A poetics of coherence: language changed with music, patterns, and meaning is a frequency, an emission of energy that provokes thought. Thoughts can trigger a chemical wash of cellular permutations and reactions that always cause a physical reaction. Always.

 Think about someone you love and who makes you smile. As you think about them smiling, you can’t help but smile yourself. And when you smile into thought you are regulating your heartbeat. You are calming your fight or flight response so that it can properly defend you when you really need to freak out. You are igniting a slight dose of serotonin that as it moves up and down your spinal fluid is stimulating your immune system. Just a little smile. Imagine what a daily dose of gratitude in the midst of all that sucks does for your immune system. 

Gratitude means remembering the most basic stuff: I’m grateful that my heart is still beating. I’m grateful that I have two hands that can type. I’m grateful that I still have two eyes.

FILL THE WILDERNESS in the eye-bags,
the call to sacrifice, the salt flood.

 

Come with me to breath
and beyond.

                                 - Paul Celan (from Corona)

This doesn’t replace political and social action and it doesn’t replace being pissed off about the environmental and social injustices that are perturbing our immune systems. It doesn’t replace paying attention to and effecting actionable change in communities who are under attack.

It simply means that the bodies who are not being sustained by the protective shells of corporate, institutional, or family tethers are empowered by their self-identified and evolving understanding of immunity. 

Language, in other words, transmits the knowledge of how to survive, not just through action, but through thought and emerging evolutionary immuno-self-awareness.   

 

From a sketch of the revised preface of Trance Poetics: Your Writing Mind (Wide Reality Books, 2013). Written for a panel at Naropa University’s 2013 summer writing program on “Eco-Poetics & Poethics: The Braided River.”

 

realitysand

As promised, here’s the elaboration of my previous post on Automatic Writing. It’s published on Reality Sandwich and available in my new book Trance Poetics: Your Writing Mind.

Language is always there. Write to find it and soon you’ll know what you’re looking for.

Writing professors and hypnotists have completely different ideas about language.

Image Owen Phillips: http://www.googleplussuomi.com/%5B/caption%5D

Remember being told to avoid using gerunds (verbs ending in …ing) and the passive voice?

An article in the New York Times warns us against the use of “Zombie Nouns” in our writing (nouns that suck the life from other parts of speech: eg: “what the country needs is a new state of calmity.” You know what I mean, but it would be far more correct to say “the country needs to calm down.)

But just because grammar is correct doesn’t mean it’s good for your brain, or your deeper sense of learning. If you’ve ever had that experience of a book that “changed your life,” you might recall that part of its power had to do with the fact that you found it challenging to your world-view.

Milton Erikson, the father of hypnotherapy, believed that if a person allowed even a fraction of a second to knock out habitual thoughts with a radically different frame of reference — something that surprised or shocked them so much that their previous patterns of association had to leave their body and mind completely — that this moment of “pure awareness” and fascination could result in something new: an opportunity for a shift in perspective.

Recent studies in neuroscience seem to be supporting this idea. And Shakespeare — who in spite of his reputation for being difficult has been changing lives since 1603 — is interesting to consider in this regard.

 

 In an article called “The Shakespeared Brain,” a team of cross-curricular researchers from the University of Liverpool found that reading Shakespeare has a dramatic effect on the human brain.

 

One of Shakespeare’s stylistic feats is his ability to create sentences in which parts of speech are scrambled or used in ways that defy the rules of grammar — he loved Zombifying grammar. For example, “he childed as I fathered” — a line from King Lear in which nouns “child, father” act like verbs. 

 

What the researchers realized is that when people read, nouns and verbs are processed in different parts of their brain. So when a person reads sentences that messes with their order, the brain has to fire extra neurons to measure and process the confusion.

 

Those extra neurons result in what they call a “P600 surge”— meaning that when our brains encounter difficulty or confusion it has to work a little harder to fit what is difficult into what we already know. Think of this like a jazz quartet — you’ve got the bass player keeping the background beat going, while the pianist pushes the melody towards ever more complex vibrations and syncopations.

 

This movement of mind (and its subsequent re-kindling into new learnings) involves experiencing change in a way that re-configures our deeply held beliefs about self and world.

So if you’re writing articles for the New York Times, please mind your grammar. 

But if you’re looking to blow your mind, Zombify! 

Here’s an amazing Radiolab episode on this topic: http://www.radiolab.org/2007/sep/24/

And here’s a new book out by Clark Coolidge, king of Zombienounification: http://www.fenceportal.org/?page_id=4679

 

 

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