So. This pic. It’s a thing. A real thing. Finding something to love, purely, completely, unabashedly…a thing that just makes you smile for no reason at all other than it exists…and then giving yourself permission to love it….and then loving it…this changes us. It settles us. It counteracts the obsessive, frantic, guilt/shame/desperation inducing energy of modern life.
Let’s call this little stick “blue” and the frantic drive of modern life “red.” (Hat tipped to you, Mr.Hoskinson.)
What drives the red is a lot of stuff we can’t control, and some stuff we can.
How To Not Get Eaten
Several ways of thinking have evolved in humans over millions of years that are really good at keep us from being eaten by other animals. These thought strategies, in the face of life or death struggles for survival against the forces of nature, work pretty perfectly.
Not so much when the greatest danger one faces in a day is a snarky comment by a co-worker, or getting slammed on Twitter. Or, to be less snarky, when we can’t pay the bills or we think our spouse is having an affair. These last two are pretty bad, but they still aren’t the same as being bitten by a snake or chased by a jaguar.
These ways of thinking impact how we see ourselves, other people, and the world around us. While they are awesome at keeping snakes from biting us, not so much for our reactions to everyday life.
One strategy is called the “drive for completion.” For example, what do you see below?
Filling In The Blanks
If you said four packmen, good for you! Most of us see a square. But there isn’t really one there, is there? Your brain filled in what it thought should be there, and you saw that, and not what was really there. Yep, we make stuff up.
As a therapist, one of the first things you learn in Psychotherapy 101 is to never ask a client, “Why?” You are guaranteed to get a made-up answer that may or may not have anything to do with what is really going on. That’s because we always fill in the gaps when there are missing bits in a story.
Even better, we fill-in those gaps in with the most threatening information we can think of. This s called the “threat bias.”
Imagine we are ancient jungle dwellers walking along a jungle path. Five yards ahead of us we see something long and thin lying across our path. It could be a stick or it could be a snake; we don’t know because we are missing important bits of information. So, our brains have to fill in those bits and decide how to avoid danger.
If we decide it is a snake and it’s really a stick, we’ve burned a few extra calories by taking the long way around, but we’ve also lived to walk another day. However, if we decide it’s a stick, and it’s really a snake? No more days, no more walks in the jungle, and no babies to pass down our DNA.
We have all evolved from those early humans who always assumed it was a snake.
Hang On! Landing This Plane Now
These two thought strategies (along with some others) trick our brains into seeing red when it isn’t really there. Given shady, incomplete intel, we usually decide something bad is happening. (Unless we train ourselves to question our assumptions. That’s another post.)
In the age of 140 characters, there are significant amounts of detail and nuance missing from today’s chatter. (Not to mention the 24-hour, violence saturated news cycle, and our obsession with cop shows, gangsters, street violence, war, and serial killers that basically just provoke us.) Our brains manage all this by seeing snakes…everywhere.
Our bodies react to snakes, if you hadn’t noticed. The podcast Invisibilia posted an episode which beautifully demonstrated our innate terror of snakes. So, snakes are a metaphor for threat and we perceive ourselves to be surrounded by them all the time….even when we are, in actuality, not. Result? We see red. All the time. Red equals sympathetic nervous system activation. (That’s the adrenaline/fight/flight thing we do.)
Red is supposed to be “on” for short sprints of time (like, literally running away from a snake). But, if we are seeing snakes all the time (when they aren’t even there), we are in red way moreover than we’re made to be. This is not good for a body.
Feeling the Blue
Where we are actually supposed to spend most of our biological time is in the “blue” (otherwise known a our parasympathetic nervous system). Blue is calm and enjoyable. Blue is mellow and safe. Blue is a return to baseline through energy dispersal. Blue is not best when facing a snake, but it’s awesome when you are settling in to watch your favorite TV show.
In a world addicted to red, blue is the brake. This is where squeeing and stick loving come in.
When you love something and give yourself permission to fully enjoy it…to Squee…to go down the rabbit hole…you engage your blue system. When your blue system comes online, good things happen. Satisfaction, joy, happiness, pleasure, all show up on you desktop.
Most importantly, blue turns off the red* and gives your body a break from the relatively harsh chemicals that make it possible for you to run away from that snake.
This is why unabashed fandom FOR ANYTHING is such a great (dare I say it) healing endeavor. By letting yourself love whatever you love (Doctor Who, The Blue Devils, Chopped, comics, Grey’s Anatomy, The Padres…) you offer an avenue to shut-down unnecessary red process and enter into the stuff that makes life good.
So, free the Squee. If you haven’t discovered what you love, set out to find it. If you know what you love, but are embarrassed, get over it. If you’ve found it and accept it, but don’t make time for it, figure it out and make some changes.
So, free the Squee. If you haven’t discovered what you love, set out to find it. If you know what you love, but are embarrassed, get over it. If you’ve found it and accept it, but don’t make time for it, figure it out and make some changes. Make friends with others who share your squee. Here a couple of examples of fabulous squeeing:
Pop Culture Happy Hour
After all, we’re never going to really, scientifically, with proof and charts and spreadsheets and statistics KNOW what the point of it all is, are we?
So, might as well grab our stick and enjoy our walk in the jungle (when the snake is sleeping, of course).
*For you science nerds out there, I’d just like to acknowledge that, yes, I am oversimplifying this rather complicated and complex process. Just trying to make a point and spread the blue…
Tell me…what’s your stick?