When I was younger, I remember having a conversation with my older sister about hard times that invariably appear throughout life. How do we handle them? What’s the go-to response when things get tough? She told me that she always relied on her body for managing the challenges. I was so surprised. For me, it’s always been my brain. I’ve always thought that by turning inward and digging deep into my mind that I could manage almost anything. Michael would watch me thinking and roll his eyes and say, “ more brains.” I think it’s a quote from a Night of the Living Dead movie. He referred to me as his existential little soulmate.
I think that’s a pretty fair assessment. A lot of people view space as the final frontier. For me, the space between our ears is the most mysterious and still relatively unknown place for exploration. In the past week, I’ve read two interesting articles about the brain. One was about whether or not there are structural differences between the brains of highly creative people and everyone else. The other posited that there may be a universal brain Wi-fi system that connects all of us. That when we get a feeling about someone and suddenly your phone rings and you hear that voice, it’s because of a transmission rather than a sixth sense. I’m really interested in all this stuff and figure I won’t live long enough to truly know all the answers about what’s in my head or anyone else’s. But there are some things I feel really certain about and I’d like to share them.
If you’re not constantly questioning and wondering, you run the risk of getting stale, thinking you’ve got all the answers. We live in a perpetually evolving state, inside and out. Getting too comfortable and taking anything for granted is a dangerous trap. Especially if you don’t like unexpected bad surprises. No one knows what’s around the corner or a phone call away. Staying plastic and flexible in your mind helps when life dishes you a piece of darkness.
Then there are the tricks that I’ve worked hard to develop that always work for me. My two most annoyingly repeated pieces of advice, especially if you’re one of my kids, are the following: 1) If you want to have a good life you need to develop excellent coping skills. People with the best lives have done that because most of life is about coping. Poor skills=poor life. 2) There’s a 5 year rule. When you’re smacked down in a hole by a life event, stop and ask yourself what you were doing exactly 5 years ago today. I mean exactly. Unless you’re one of those unfortunate people with total recall, you won’t remember. Just like you won’t remember the monster you’re dealing with today, 5 years from now. Not in the same way, at least. Indeed, perspective is everything. It all winds up in the rear view mirror.
I have a few more techniques that help me manage the unmanageable. One is by making sure I look back and comb through my history and my experiences. Often, I find something back there that shines a light on the now, some nugget that drops a useable tool in my my mind that helps me navigate today. Stuffing all your negatives away is a good way to get an ulcer. Looking them over demystifies and normalizes almost anything. And there are little gems hidden in those memory banks.
Finally, there’s cutting whatever the monster is into manageable pieces. I saw this cartoon in a newspaper once-it was a giant ball rolling downhill and there were feet, hands, heads and other body parts sticking out of it as it swallowed everyone in its path. Don’t get sucked into the giant ball. I usually sit down and write about whatever is happening, working my way from the worst parts to the less painful. I look for tiny pieces that I can somehow manage and manipulate rather than letting myself get completely flattened by the weight of the pile. Baby steps take time but after awhile, the impossible becomes doable and little pockets of being okay reappear. A process that for me is a metaphor for life. If you only think about the whole, you get paralyzed. Find the small. A little bit at a time. The next thing you know, the ball can be kicked instead of swallowing you whole.
So, brains. I’m working on mine. It helps. My son would say, there you go again, being the itinerant lecturer, offering up advice without ever having been asked for any. Michael would say I’m trying to be the cruise director. Whatever. Brains. Think about them.