Sunday, January 24, 2021

To Flip or to Be Flipped

My last posting, "Resetting Perspective Post-Trump" was a good example of reframing. I even slid in a reference:
Reframe Donald J Trump as just another creature in this universe.
Like a chiropractor, I loosened up the tissue (420 words working up to it) before administering the healing readjustment.

I'm sure none of it struck anyone as strange. Nobody felt HYPNOTIZED (cue scary music). It was clear enough what I was doing, because reframing's innately familiar. We all reframe (except those in the throes of major depression, which is another term for frozen perspective), though usually subconsciously. Since we don't talk or think about reframing, we've developed an assortment of tricks and misdirections to try to coax it, indirectly.

Michael Jordan would find excuses to cultivate hateful impressions of competitors so he could punish them on the court for their grave sins. He gave himself "something to prove." Obviously, it worked. Jordan existed in a whole different movie than other players, having deliberately reframed himself. Reframing is the secret weapon of talented people.
Me, it's really all I've got. Tell me to raise my right hand and I'll need to think about it first. Give me a novel or movie and I'll miss 30% of the plotting and forget all the characters' names. I read painfully slowly, can't follow instructions or retain dry data, and rarely operate flawlessly (writing lets me clean up my mess before anyone sees, creating the illusion of brisk fluency). I feel hopelessly confused nearly all the damned time. All I can really do is reframe - and coax reframing in others. I am a one trick pony, but it's a hell of a trick. I've built worlds with it. And now that I've consciously recognized it for what it is - full awareness having dawned only a few years ago - I'm like frickin' Merlin. And I've been trying hard to pass on the trick, so you can do it better than I can!
But Jordan overcomplicated things unnecessarily. We don't need to trick and coax our way there. Reframing isn't a massive log to be laboriously pushed. It's an effortless, instant flip of perspective, literally the easiest thing a human can do. But, here's the only catch: you have to want to.

Consider forgiveness (as I did here). You can forgive the most toxic person you know in this very moment. You could mentally embrace them, wish wonderful things for them (while meaning it!). You could soothe the psychic constrictions resulting from the foolish notion that harming yourself hurts them. You could do all this right now if you want. If it "seems hard", or "would take time," that's just your internal narrator scrambling for a way to make it fit the fake ongoing story you tell yourself about yourself. You don't really need to weave this new plot development into the storyline. Framing precedes storytelling. The narrative (if you even really need one, which you don't, because you're not starring in a TV show) can catch up later. You might simply reframe; in any direction and at any time. You're free!

Framing is contagious, and this opens up realms of possibilities. It's ultimately a matter of personal choice, but it can be assisted. If that sounds odd, let me phrase it more conventionally: it can be inspired. I define art as any human creation devised to induce a reframing of perspective. The shift of perspective we experience from movies or poetry or music is the same shift empowering forgiveness - or making a mortal enemy of the opposing team's point guard. Art is a way of inducing shifts from outside, a neat trick (explaining why we revere great artists...and why we find them "inspiring"). We can effortlessly flip perspective, ourselves, in any direction at any time (we're free!), but it's an extra groovy delight to be coaxed into flipping from the outside in.

For example, here are the first two paragraphs from a harrowing account of Financial Times writer Tim Hayward's experience with a particularly gnarly case of Covid-19:
I’d been under the weather for four days. Back then, in mid-November, the government’s pet message was the three symptoms of Covid-19: a persistent cough, loss of smell or taste, or a raised temperature. I had none of these, just the sort of chesty flu that hits me every autumn. My wife, Al, and my daughter, Liberty, both had bouts of something flu-like, so I followed orders. Then, on November 15, things suddenly got very weird, very quickly.

I woke feeling unusually short of breath. I’d bought, on the recommendation of a medical friend, a little gadget that measures SAT, the concentration of oxygen in the blood. My score was not out of the ordinary — above 94 — but something felt wrong nonetheless. Just after lunch, I called 111. I felt “out of it” and had an overpowering feeling that life would be a lot better if I could just take one decent full breath. The ambulance was outside in 15 minutes.
Wow. "An overpowering feeling that life would be a lot better if I could just take one decent full breath." Were you exactly the same person after reading that? Was the world the same world, your inner experience the same experience? This sentence was a masterful little bit of judo. Suddenly, I'm no longer standing. I'm flat on the mat. And nearly ready to call an ambulance, myself.

So how does it work? What gives these words the power to reframe us, to bring us completely into the world of the writer?

I don't know. Sorry.

I'm a guy with lots of answers (the inevitable result of a lifetime spent persistently asking myself lots of questions), but I can't explain this magic. Physics-defying miracles are not possible, but the ability to coax reframing (wielded by everyone from standup comedians to artists to politicians to therapists to messiahs) is miraculous, though utterly inexplicable (one helpful tip: you need to bake fresh every time).
If it could be explained, then it could be reduced to formula, which would make this a vastly different planet. Consider deliciousness. If you could formulize it, then McDonald's, with its billions of R&D, would long ago have ensured that each bite made you weep tears of joy. The best artists coax reframing, and great chefs are artists, and truly delicious results defy cheating and shortcuts despite massive commercial effort.
You can neither describe nor explain a shifting of perspective. That’s why eurekas and “peak moments” and “spiritual enlightenment” are so notoriously slippery. It is about subjectivity. While objects (stuff!) can be described and explained ad infinitud, subject (perspective) is mysterious, though not in a religious, hushed/awed way. That's a misinterpretation (other religious implications here). It's banal mystery, because, being the essential core of who we are, it's our most familiar part.
Swimming, if you discussed it with a particularly intelligent fish, would strike him as both utterly mysterious (because he has no idea he does it) and utterly familiar (because it's all he ever does).
I can, however, help you foster it. This Slog, among other things, has been an instruction manual in exactly that (e.g. this, this, this, this, and this, just for starters). But before you can help induce shifts in others, you need to reclaim the faculty, yourself. Meditation gradually unfreezes your access (fwiw, I do this practice, along with this breathing thing, and skip the other writings, forum, etc.). And just play with your camera. Frame things differently and see what happens! You’re free!

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