Repetition Rant and Interlude part II
It is funny that we do things over and over again. There is comfort in it; as we repeat things we build confidence and expand our comfort zone. The repetition of a particular behavior is actually how the brain- our actual neurons- reinforce the myelin sheath that ‘insulates’ our neuropathways, thus resulting in acquiring knowledge, skills, mastery. If we do not repeat something, we don’t learn. At least, not very efficiently, and forget about remembering stuff without repetition (yes, corny pun intended). The memory relies on repetition and/or emotionsl charge to create certain types of memory. Like I just said, if we don’t repeat something, the reinforcement does not happen. (See what I did there?) So we need repetition to learn. We need repetition to actually grow and form new connections in our brain, mind and behaviors. How do you think we learned to walk upright as a species? We evolved to do so over time, and during that time, our muscles- and our brains-needed to be programmed to learn how to best do it.
I spend a lot of time watching my baby. When first born, it was nothing but erratic- seemingly random-movements, but through repetition, those movements, without verbal instruction from me, figured out how to focus the muscles to move more intentionally. Enter desire. Now, I watch as he crawls and grunts his way across a room to hoist himself up to stand upright. His little feet wobble, and there are moments when I wonder if he is in pain, because I know the ankle should not bend that way (then I ask if he even knows that pain is a thing that he recognizes as discomfort, but that is another blog post for another time). Then he stands up, and balances himself against something, and it is as if he always knew how to do it. Then plop; down he falls, only to start the whole pattern again. And each time, repetition is necessary. Maybe he repeats an action 1,000 times the same way with minute variation. It is simply through repetition: the repetition of muscle movements, of what he witnesses others around him doing, saying, being. I wonder how much repetition the brain can handle, and just when I can hardly imagine him being able to take the next step of growth and discovery, when it seems to me that he will never figure it out- it seems without effort, the next step happens. - A SHIFT! He is leaning against the chair without holding on. Repetition is how we learn.
We are taught to repeat things; in school, we reinforce the idea that repetition is GOOD thing, and because of this “training,” our brain’s instinct to repeat gets made stronger. We subscribe to the group collective belief that repeating something is helpful for us. Our entire education methodology is based on repetition- in varying ways- to reinforce the information being taught/learned, and because we all repeat this belief, we magnify its ability to become integral. Kinda neat, how repetition can make something stronger.
So why do we bother getting our panties in a bunch every time we experience situations in our life that repeat themselves that are not to our liking, experiences that cause drama in our reality, experiences that cause us-or others- to suffer? Why do we forget to apply the knowledge that the brain is simply processing information the way it is literally made to do?
It can hurt to be experiencing life in a dysfunctional repetitive pattern, but what happens when we choose to acknowledge that our brains are doing their job: processing information based on specific formulas that it believes create a helpful result?
When I was six, I had a speech impediment; the letter ‘R’ was difficult for me to pronounce, so often that sound took on a ‘w’ or ‘l’-like intonation. Technically, it was a Boston accent. Only, I had never lived in Boston, so the school I went to labelled it as an impediment, something to be changed, fixed, and eradicated.
Our first grade teacher had us count out loud daily; she called on students to recite numbers in groups of tens. She always called on me to recite the forties. Every time, my classmates laughed at me when I spoke,
”Fowty, fowty-one, fowty-two…’ and so on. I knew I could count, and I had not gotten the order wrong, so I did not understand why they were laughing at me. What reason could they possibly have? I felt embarrassed, pressured, and from that moment of repeating numbers and being the object of ridicule, somehow perceived as humorous by my peers, an interesting thing occurred. A feeling of insecurity and a desire to hide, even though, I always felt a strong desire to be seen emerged. I wanted to be seen, but the way I was was somehow imperfect, funny, and wrong.
So I figured out then:
I can be seen ONLY IF I AM MOCKED or the butt of a joke.
Fast forward through my life:
Countless experiences, opportunities to perform on and off stages to be seen, heard, received, and no matter how much I worked, how much I practiced, I was never able to be cast in the lead, always type cast in a supporting comedic relief role. By my early teens, I found my way into ensemble work through improv comedy, where your identity as a “lead” is over-shadowed by the need to support the “entire” group, where it is a good thing if people laugh at you. Your “funniness” is a just a tool to use to support the whole. Another way in which I could blend in, hide, be contributing without becoming vulnerable.
Fastforward: I discover commedia dell’arte, an Italian mask comedy with set characters that follow scenarios and improvise the details. OF COURSE, certain characters I was drawn to, but the one character my teacher said I excelled at above most of the students he instructed was Il Capitano: a braggart who spends most of his time blowing smoke up his arse about how many battles he has won and making jokes about his sexual stamina, when in reality, he is a coward and perhaps impotent. After the breakthrough of discovering my inner capitano, I left the program. Afraid of confronting what truths I had hidden underneath my mask.
I’ve sabotaged my success in so many ways over the years, as an academic, a writer, an entrepreneur, even as a teacher, making progress to a particular point, and just stopping, falling short, losing interest, or creating some scenario to stop, delay or alter my progress towards fulfillment and success right when I reach the threshold I know so well as being the very edge of my comfort zone, using humor, comedy, and playing off of the universes’s sense of irony, I justified my choices Instead of stretching the zone, I looped back, and started the journey, the repetition all over again in an arena that was familiar.
Why? Because I knew how to do it. I’ve done it before. I can expect certain things, and prepare in ways to deal with foreseeable setbacks, because I have been there before. Did I say I’ve been there before? Well, I have.
Why loop back? It offered me a sense of control and completion, in a paradoxical way, to stay in the shadows, nurturing the belief that if I step out in my truth, if I honor my mastery, and let everyone know , “yes, I can count to fifty, and guess what Mrs. _____ I sound awesome doing it!”- If I truly let my self be seen, speech impediment and all, and hold fast to the knowing that I am worthy, I am deserving, and yes, I am f$2king brave, then maybe the universe will surprise me and cast me in the lead role of my own life, and hey, I can be hilarious to boot.
When the result is not helpful, or the behavior is dysfunctional in some way, why not make a conscious choice: to abolish the way we have been taught to look at pain and suffering: as a blemish, a blight, or a problem to be eradicated (thus bringing with it all the complex heavy emotions one feels like judgment, fear, doubt and resentment for having something ‘bad’ occurring in our reality), what if instead, we identify the dysfunctional behavior as a message?
Looking back at the message, it is no surprise then, that as a six year old in first grade, I was pulled from English class to go to speech therapy, and there, I was taught to growl like a lion, for hours every afternoon, in order to more easily pronounce the letter “r.”
Changing a dysfunctional repetition pattern takes bravery. Lions have tons of it. They are, after all, the “kings” of the food chain, so to speak, respected, honored, full of confidence, without judgment of themselves, they choose how they wish to be; they’ve found some pretty useful patterns to repeat to give them the label ‘king.’