neuroscience

Musings and Mindfulness

man standing on shoreline

Photo by Rick Han on Pexels.com

I haven’t blogged much. I would love to say it’s because I’m writing novels and getting them out into the world. The truth is I haven’t been writing much of anything. 2019 has been full of transitions. Too many for my distress tolerance to manage, or so it seems.

Transitions are hard. Just ask the kids I used to work with as an Autism Specialist. Epic meltdowns would ensue if they were forced to transition abruptly, especially if they were transitioning from something they love to something less tolerated. There were days I wanted to crawl onto that floor and tantrum with them because I got it. Transitions are hard.

This year has been full of a lot of transitions and somewhere my spirit is screaming out into the vastness of the universe that it’s had enough already. Can it be time to just rest now? To not have to deal with any more transitions because oh my god change is hard and I just want to sit here for a few hundred years in the shade and sip tea while listening to the gurgle of stream as it drifts past.

But life doesn’t stand still. There will always be change.¬† There will always be opportunities gained and opportunities lost. We will always have people and things moving in and out of our lives. And we will always have to accept transition.

I’m leaning heavily on some of the things I learned as a therapist, and as a client, and did pulled out all the information I have on Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). If you don’t know what DBT is, this site has some useful information. Note that while DBT was initially developed as treatment for individuals with borderline personality disorder, the therapy model itself has proven useful for many types of people.

One of the tenets of DBT is mindfulness. Mindfulness requires us to be in the present, facing the now instead of the past or the future. I’m not very good at sitting with myself in the present. There are so many things going through my mind at any given moment I’m amazed I haven’t been crushed under the pressure of all these thoughts and voices. The human system is so very resilient when we allow it to be.

I learned about Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) a few years ago when I first started searching for different ways to manage my dysthymia and depression. My current therapist isn’t certified for MBCT but she has long practiced mindfulness herself and is a font of not only information, but practice, and one of the practices she had me start using is tapping.

Had I been told about tapping ten years ago I would have scoffed that such a technique could actually work. Then my closest friend started a master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Acupuncture, which opened me to several complementary modes of healing. Tapping borrows from acupuncture and involves tapping one’s fingers against various meridians on the body. Where it differs from acupuncture is that tapping focuses on meridians near the surface of the body and ignores the way the meridians and energy pathways within the body align with the physical body and body systems. This is an extremely high level interpretation of how tapping diverges from acupuncture and TCM. I have no doubt my friend, now in the first year of a doctoral program in TCM and Acupuncture, would give a far better explanation of these differences.

Tapping is used for emotional regulation, pain management, and healing from various forms of trauma. It’s also been used for managing phobias, performance management, and many other areas. It seems highly versatile, and while it’s not considered a mindfulness practice in and of itself, the two practices share similar goals, as stated in this article¬†from The Tapping Solution website.

My therapist realized I have a difficult time recognizing anxiety in my body. She notices my shallow breathing or my agitated fidgeting and slowly brings me into the present where I can slow my body down with intentional deep breathing and centering. Knowing that I’m not always aware of my body’s response to stress or past trauma, she realized I might benefit not only from mindfulness, but from centering practices that require me to check in with my body. Hence her recommendation with tapping.

The technique outlined in the above mentioned article is similar to the one my therapist shared with me. What I do is less involved and meant to be a door to mediation and doesn’t contain phrases to repeat as I am tapping the various meridian points, but it has the same goal, to allow me to center within my body, to calm myself and breathe so I can sink into the now instead of being caught in the net of the past or the lure of the future.

Next week we are going to explore using mindfulness and other techniques to address blocks I have with my writing. I’m actually excited about this since over the last year writing has been like slogging through a swamp. I want the stories to flow again. I want to uncover any and all blocks I’ve created around the writing process so I can blow through them and build new practices that nurture the process rather than stifles it.

 

Revisions, Neuroplasticity, And Me

 

at the end of a day

Photo by Monique Laats on Pexels.com

I did it! I wrote “the end” on my novella last month. For the third time. And there will likely be a fourth time. At minimum.

Writing is a process of incremental revisions. At least it is for me. I dream an idea, spew out the words while learning my characters and the plot, then revise, rinse, and repeat. My first draft is usually sparse on description and a sense of place, overflowing with dialogue. I learn my characters through what they think and what they say, then I learn how they react. The physical always follows the cerebral. I think it’s because I used to be a therapist. Or maybe I’m just wired that way.

Each revision adds layers. Physical behaviors. Grounding in time and space. Nuances that add depth. And with each and every revision I learn something about the story that surprises me. In my novella, tentatively titled I Thee Wed, in revision three there was a bit of magical realism at play in the final couple of scenes. Which makes me wonder just how much about the heroine’s deceased mother should make it’s way into the story. Do I need to add a plot element to encompass this? Or do I take out the soft breath of magical realism that currently resides in this story.

I used to hate revision work. It felt like drudgery to pull the story apart and put it back together again and again and again. I still don’t love digging in to see whether I have knocked the GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict) out of the park. Or if I have balance within and between the various plot and character arcs. My brain hurts when I try to analyze my stories that way. For years I felt like it was a sign I shouldn’t be a writer. All because my brain processes story differently.

This isn’t to say I don’t try to use many of the tools of craft and plotting. They are tools, and sometimes while the brain is forging new neural pathway those tools feel foreign and wrong. With continued exposure these neural pathways are reinforced and the brain “learns” these new concepts. This is an oversimplification of what happens as the brain is a highly complex organism, but you get the idea.

Building new skills require repetition. And sometimes looking at the skill in new ways. It’s also important to know that we aren’t going to be come competent with every skill we try to develop. And that’s okay. If it’s a skill necessary to move my story forward, I will find someone who has the skill to review the story and offer suggestions. Freelance editors are terrific for this purpose. So are beta readers who can give detailed feedback. Just know that if the person you talk to is usually paid for this service, be prepared to pay them. No one needs to work for free.

I’ve finished my third round of revisions and am feeling rather happy with the shape of this novella. Perhaps I will have something to self-publish this fall after all!