Past and Future

Reasons to be Nervous

Tools in a Nutshell

How we use the tools available to us matters a great deal. It always has and always will. Combined with certain behaviours it creates a base for stable navigation (sense-making) and defines a key component of our agency (what we can do for ourself and for others). In the 21st century, as was the case in every preceding era, this relationship also determines how we learn and engage socially. Our central and peripheral nervous systems developed along the same evolutionary path as the social structures that shape our lives. While social structures were evolving and becoming increasingly complex, parts of our nervous systems remained stubbornly focussed on a single, immutable purpose; survival of the organism. Today, this extraordinary biological function, which we all possess and share, is potentially causing us more problems than it is solving.  

“Change alone is unchanging.”

Heraclitus

Back in the stone age, we figured out how to use natural materials to fashion basic tools: flints (sharpened stones) used to make fire; axes to chop wood; knives to cut and whittle. We learned to focus this creative ingenuity to master, first terrestrial, and later maritime travel and with this rising dominance, weapons to protect, conquer and subjugate. In the pre-industrial eras, there were needles to make clothes and horses to plough fields. After, came the great era of automation where it seemed every labour-saving device that could be imagined was invented and either worked or not. We as a species now take for granted our super-natural ability to achieve today what was unimaginable only yesterday. Nothing surprises or awes us anymore, from rapid and massive geographical movement; man-made limbs and organs; space travel; autonomous robots and AI. Miracles, it would seem, have become the everyday norm but at what cost? Maybe we just need to figure all over again how to light a fire with a flint and use a needle to make clothes to keep us warm, whatever the weather?  

“I was a scared kid… I think I was born a nervous wreck, and I think movies were one way to find a way of transferring my own private horrors to everyone else’s lives. It was less of an escape and more of an exorcism.”

– Steven Spielberg

Born Nervous 

When do we pause to reflect on what all this progress is doing to our mind, body and soul? Most people know that too much stress is not good, but how many of us understand that stress can become, in effect, invisible as we “tough it out” and take pride in the scars and thick skin that come with? Being subject to this kind of prolonged “invisible” form of stress can have a serious impact on the quality of life and even reduce life expectancy. The ACE Studies (Kaiser Permanente / Vincent Felitti) ) is an influential evidence base outlining how childhood trauma manifests in later life in terms of negative consequences on health and wellbeing.

Even the most natural human experience of childbirth is punctuated by a separation from the mother in order to take measurements, rather than giving priority to those critical early moments of maternal bonding. From that moment (and even before) such events can heap trauma upon trauma not just for the growing child. But what if we can develop practise (mind tools) to help us manage our emotional state and in effect rewire our nervous system use our emotions to fuel creativity? And most interestingly of all – what if we’re already born with those tools? These are not questions someone else can answer for us. We would have to be able to check-in with ourself; pay attention to our mood-state and feel within our body the semi-subconscious impulses that trigger us, and learn and relearn to choose our response to them. The million-dollar question being: is this possible outside a therapeutic context?

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