Part four: Patterns
Is this the end or is this the beginning?
Whether actually or ideologically, the things we relied on to help us survive turned out not to work in the ways we hoped they would: financial system, medical system, government. Long before COVID-19, a lot was crumbling (and the effects of the crumbling was always worse for people outside of white heteronormativity), but now it is not possible to avoid it for anyone.
According to an abolitionist framework, whenever broken systems crumble we have two types of work to do. One is to support the destruction of what isn’t working and perhaps mourn its loss. The other is to create cooperative systems and ways of living that will work in the future and allow us to thrive. Now and in the coming months, economic recession, many people will experience a kind of end of the world: we will lose jobs, houses, aspirations and a sense of “normal” and many things we thought were necessary. But maybe we well also realize that so much of what we felt was normal and necessary wasn’t working for us, individually or collectively, but we had been made too busy trying to survive to notice. For some of us, the lockdown is the moment when the band-aid gets ripped off and we have an excuse to start fresh. We can demolish in the morning and rebuild in the afternoon.
We are able to reproduce our lives within capitalism and other systems by forming habits of behaviour, of thought, of hope, of fear and of relationship, and these habits also do their part to reproduce those broader systems. These systems keep us so busy and on edge of survival (physical, emotional, social) that we rarely have the consistency of time to examine let alone change our habits, even if they don’t actually serve us well. From within the lockdown. we have a chance to change some of our habits and patterns, so we don’t have to go back to an expensive and violent normal. It’s interesting to think about the world we want to live in in a theoretical way, but now we have a chance to experiment with how we live our daily lives and how we value ourselves and each other, and let those practices define the future. Of course, contrary to the new age, self-help industry’s suggestion, simply believing something doesn’t change reality, and that kind of individualism will only reproduce capitalism. Organizing and organization will be required, and we have the fight of our lives ahead of us. But a revolution like the one we need will not come about or stick unless we, as its participants, transform ourselves together. Changing our patterns and habits alone won’t liberate us, but it will help us prepare for liberation, and for the world we will have to build.
Prediction, cognition and emotion
“Predictions are basically the way your brain works. It’s business as usual for your brain. Predictions are the basis of every experience that you have. They are the basis of every action that you take. In fact, predictions are what allow you to understand the words that I’m speaking as they come out of my –” Lisa Feldman Barrett
Neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett explains that, while we typically assume prediction is a complex and advanced mental function, it’s actually at the core of how we think, and deeply connected with our emotions. As we experience the world and even in our dreams our brains are constantly making predictions about what will happen next, based on our past experiences. “Predictions are primal” she explains “They help us to make sense of the world in a quick and efficient way. So your brain does not react to the world. Using past experience, your brain predicts and constructs your experience of the world.” This all happens at lightening speed, outside of our conscious mind. A lot of our emotional life stems from this: when our past experience has shaped our brain to expect somethign good from an experience, we can be pleased, calm and satisfied when our predictions about that experience are right, and the opposite is also true. We can become distraught, angry or hostile when our predictions are incorrect.
Ultimately, then, the way our brain experiences and makes sense of the world is through a combination of habit or patterns and emotion. This agrees with a lot of our common experiences of feeling trapped in cycles or stuck in a rut. When we provide support to friends or family, it’s not just about commiseration but helping them recognize patterns and unhelpful emotional responses. If that’s all true, and if the brain is as elastic and changeable as we know it is, then we can repattern and transform the brain, and ourselves, by creating and sustaining new habits and patterns.
What happens when everyone, at the same time, experiences the need to create new habits, when the pressures within which we created our patterns disappear?
De-habituation from capitalism
So many of our patterns and habits have been formed as ways to survive within the pressures of capitalism, but in this moment many of those pressures have evaporated. There is a rare opportunity to experiment and build new habits and patterns.. For example, within capitalism, we have habituated ourselves to imagine that when we receive something, even if it’s a life-giving object or service, we are obligated to reciprocate somethign considered to be of equal value, whether it is for gum or toothpaste, massage or rent. On the one hand, maybe the impulse for fairness comes from a good place, but in many ways this habit is deeply unhelpful. For instance, most of our most important relationships, with friends or parents, are necessarily unequal in terms of the time, energy and “resources” one of us commits relative to the other. Your brain is so programmed that you give something equivalent to what you receive, but that’s not always appropriate. Sometimes people give and they don’t want anything in return. In fact, this inclination is absolutely essential to society and life. It works because, as the saying goes, what goes around comes around: giving without the need for reciprocal exchange is something we all benefit from and we all do, but not always with the same people. But in spite of the fact this is central to our lives, it’s hard to see and trust because our brains are so patterned by our experience of capitalism that insists that all value comes from competitive exchange. We feel compelled to give, or even guilty if you don’t reciprocate. This is a big gross pattern. I have a friend in Palestine and she told me that until recently her mom had never bought food. She had only grown it or raised it or was given it. To spend money on food was, for her, absurd. I have only ever bought food. This made me consider how deeply limiting my experience and patterns have been, formed as they are in a transactional culture.
Creating new patterns
The Hologram necessarily relies on and makes possible the creation of new patterns. When three people turn their care and attention on one it fundamentally challenges many of the habits we have formed to survive under capitalism. We cannot change our habits alone. It is partly for this reason that we consider the hologram a teacher and not just a subject of care: when she allows herself the vulnerability and generosity to accept help in identifying, breaking and forming new patterns, she offers an opportunity for the whole triangle to learn how such a process might work. Even accepting such care, or learning to provide it, necessarily means we have to break many patterns and habits. In The Hologram we quite literally rewire our brains, together. Here are some examples of patterns we transform:
Complicating reciprocity You receive care but you don’t give back to the person or people who gave it to you. There is no equal exchange, tit for tat. There’s a chance here to reprogram our ideas about reciprocation and transaction within a caring network of people, when we know that care is being well distributed and that reciprocation is always happening, and it isn’t a mystery how to do it well. Importantly, The Hologram as a distributed social technology, “works” when many hologram groups are interlinked, so that reciprocity isn’t a two-way street but a network: those who provide care do, in the end, also receive it, but from others.
Learning to see each others’ patterns This is the primal idea of the hologram: even after a short time, but especially after a long time (10 years), a triangle is likely to be able to see a hologram’s patterns and help her move past them if they do not serve her. There is something profoundly powerful and transformative about observing and identifying others’ patterns and they help us recognize our own patterns and habits which, while they might be very different, perhaps emerged from similar pressures and circumstances. This is one important reason why the hologram is a teacher, not a patient.
Creating new patterns Within the hologram we have chances to think about creating new patterns for each other. A lot of us have had really shitty experiences receiving attention, care, commitment or asking for support. We build up psychic defence mechanisms based on these bad experiences, which makes it harder and harder to receive support. In the Hologram we have the opportunity to give ourselves and each other positive experiences of these things, outside of our family, friendship and professional commitments.
To give yourself healing hands, so you can heal anyone or anything, even time.
- Rub the palms of your hands together briskly for 3-5 minutes.
- Then stretch your arms out to the sides, parallel to the floor, palms up, thumbs pointing back as if you are balancing a dish on each hand. Set a timer and do the “Breath of Fire” for 3 minutes: forcefully exhale from your nostrils in a rapid, rhythmic way (your body will automatically inhale between breaths). You can start by letting your tongue hang out and pant like a dog, then close your mouth and keep breathing through your nose.
- After three minutes, inhale and hold the breath in and, with your arms still out to your sides, bend your wrists so your palms are facing out (away from the body), as if you were pushing out the walls on either side of you. Feel the energy in the center of the palms flowing to your entire body. Exhale and relax the breath.
- Rub your hands together again for 2 minutes and continue Breath of Fire.
- Inhale and hold your breath. With your arms still out to the sides, turn your elbows so your hands are in front of your chest, like you’re holding an 8-inch ball a few inches in front of your diaphragm, with the right hand flat on top of the ball and the left supporting it from below. Meditate on the exchange of energy between the palms of the hands for a few minutes.