Diverting the river: The difficulties of change
Harold Fisk Map of The Mississippi River
To do the same thing over and over again is not only boredom: it is to be controlled by rather than to control what you do. Heraclitus
Is there a core of you that has remained since you were a child? A definable essence that the rest of your conscious self has been built around? How much of what is you is just memory and how much of that memory is accurate? Why are some memories, despite seeming innocuous or unimportant, so vivid and recurring?
It is memory that gives us a past. It allows us to use the information that we have gathered over time to help make decisions in the present, based on an imagined projection of the future. The problem is that the information we have gathered previously is rendered incomplete and our spectrum of decision making is often constrained by past actions, habits and bias, shaped by time, experience and culture. What determines our future is the result of decisions made in an amorphous present based on a vague impression of the past.
This is why it is so difficult for people to change. Past thoughts and actions are like rivulets, carving tracks of thought and action that, deepened by time build into banks of habit that become increasingly difficult to divert. To redirect the flow requires first a pause, and then conscious action to guide the torrent onto new ground. At first this action will feel undirected, the water will splash over the new ground. Some of it will be lost and because of the difficulty and resulting frustration, there will arise the temptation to return to the old, established path. However over time, through repeated action, new channels will form, new attitudes and behaviours will slowly develop and new banks will become more firmly established as the new torrents of thought and action carve their paths deeper.
Our past selves and the memory of that self can be the thing that makes it so difficult to change direction. Often it is an external event that shocks us, forcing us to stop, drawing our attention to the beat of discontent that we have been trying to drown out through distractions, busy-ness and transient pleasures. Given that we have to divert our patterns of thought from their established riverbeds we need to take new actions consistently in order to build new pathways that can lead to a possibility of transformation over time.