Monday, May 14, 2012

Hands On Living

The brain, as recently reported in The New York Times, is unable to distinguish between reading about a thing and experiencing the thing itself. Reading produces a "vivid simulation of reality," to the point of lighting up the same neurological regions in both instances.

I don't know. I've read a lot about boxing, watched videos, went through scenarios in my head. But when I got hit hard for the first time, in my head, something in there went "Hmmm. So this is what boxing is about."

I'm convinced we live out experiences in order to understand a thing more deeply and then, it follows, to help others in the same neurological boat.

Our pastor once took up a sermon series on the seven deadly sins. Perhaps he was holding back, but I had the distinct sense that he had encountered these vices mainly second hand. His examples came from books, and his insights didn't ring true. Surely the man's a sinner, but in comparison, I was the repugnant whore, having bedded at least half the list.

When you experience a thing, everywhere you look you'll see it, and someone else like you.

Someone once described the Honda CR-V make to me and said, "Just start looking for one, and you'll see: they're everywhere."

It never fails to happen that when I'm recovering from an injury, someone will come to me with questions on strengthening or rehabbing that same part, and I am able and enthusiastic about answering. They, in return, are grateful, which gives some value to the pain.

You can read about a thing, but experience it, and then you'll know.

The Times article went on to say that "in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people's thoughts and feelings."

I'll give them that. We can't experience everything, but we're charged with a directive to live, keep living, and open our eyes through books and media to that which we would never know a thing about.

And yet.

Theatre of the Oppressed--go click on the label at the right and read about it--is what its founder, Augusto Boal, called a "rehearsal for reality." Enter into a character's world through a book, yes, but now, can you step into the shoes of this person's husband? Speak his words? Fight the same fights? You can practice here. And you can be you with your wife, and try on possible solutions to a stressor.

A woman once told me a story of painting a picture. This was for an art therapy class, and she used lots of solid black lines, and some red, to symbolically represent her childhood. She was satisfied with what she expressed in the painting, she said; it captured the emotions well.

And then the teacher asked her to step in front of the painting and speak as that little girl, the one she was remembering.

The woman wept. As she embodied her younger self the raw feeling came through her as bold as her black lines, as fiery as her red paint, and more vivid than any stroke of a brush.

It's a vulnerable step, walking into your life's painting. And yet this is the only way we can truly know.


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