Forced together forced apart. Force as a characteristic principle doesn’t generally agree with living systems. What is the relationship between biopsychosocial systems and change. How do we influence living human systems to promote well being? Do the psychological and social aspects of who we are share any similarities with our biology when it comes to change?
If you have ever seen the classic Mel Brooks film “Young Frankenstein” (1974) you may recall Gene Wilder’s unforgettable facial expression when he succeeds in animating the previously separated pieces of flesh he brings together as one. Gene screams, “It’s Alive!” and looks absolutely terrified. At one glance it appears to be a “What have I done?” look. Then again maybe its, “I’d better run for my life!” or “I actually did it and I think I’m going to pee my pants!”. The look is unquestionably terror. But why so scared Gene? Why not a happy face?
Well if Mel had any insight into the complexities of our biopsychosocial existence in “Young Frankenstein”, it might have been revealed by his satirical look into a science that seeks to make a name for the scientists rather than seek to inform life enhancing clinical practice. Frederick Frankenstein, the grandson of the infamous Dr. Frankenstein seems more preoccupied with the pronunciation of his name (FRONK-en-STEEN) than the complexities of the science he is dealing with. The frustrated Frankenstein attempts to reclaim the infamy of his grandfather to impress, make his way with the famous and win love. While his values, love and abundance, don’t seem far from reasonable, his approach is a fiction known only too well to both Hollywood and the real world.
Love and abundance take time, patience, and a gardener’s approach more than a frustrated mechanic’s approach! Believe me, mechanical solutions have their place. I think that place is in the mind of a gardener or chef. A little Miracle Grow or salt in the water might not hurt anything. But let’s not get carried away, living systems know how to grow, they don’t need to be forced. All the way up from each and every cell in our body, to organs and tissues, and yes even when it comes to mind and culture. To start I think it helps to be aware of what enduring resources support a loving and abundant life experience. While Gene helps me laugh and not get so frustrated with the roadblocks to living life well, there is a real life scientist that inspires me to keep going. Let’s listen to Antonio Damasio’s perspective on what seems to be going on at various levels of experience that promotes well being…
“As I see it, the most essential possession of any living being, at any time, is the balanced range (homeostasis) of body chemistries compatible with healthy life. The notion of biological value is ubiquitous in modern thinking about brain and mind” – Antonio Damasio
From single celled organisms to hypercomplex biopsychosocial humans, life seems to know how to make its way by seeking out innate harmonies. There are indeed better or worse states of the body, mind, and social world around us to be aware of. When within optimal biopsychosocial states life progresses forward with intention, purpose, and certain goals that promote well being. Sometimes those do not. Despite the wave of relativism in our post-postmodern world trees still grow roots, branches, and leaves and babies still thrive when paid attention to and supported to navigate the world from the inner wisdom. Finding our unique way to use our experience of ourselves and the world still persists as an important value. There are enduring chemistries that we are required to be aware of and learn to balance. Not unlike the difficult to express feeling we get when experiencing the chemistry of a sweet jazz band or raucous rock band we can see that the balancing of states happens at the biological, psychological, social level of experience.
“I am not downgrading consciousness but I am most certainly upgrading non-conscious life management and suggesting that it constitutes the blueprint for attitudes and intentions of conscious minds.” – Antonio Damasio
We can see how Dr. Fronk-en-steen attempted to get the chemistries of life to synchronize! Even at the biological level, the cobbling together of disparate parts combined with energizing them with a powerful energy is not likely to to get us anywhere. Things are no different when it comes to getting ourselves together make change in our lives let alone a group of us. So what is the alternative? How do we approach making change to support life and get the inside and outside worlds in a harmony that makes life worth living? And what about when there are patterns of disconnection and things falling apart that need to come together?
Under stress it’s not surprising that we turn to forceful approaches to making things right. Our emotions run high and when we don’t reach out to others our past can color the present and dim the lights on the possibility to regain our balance. We often turn to ultimatums, quick solutions that leave our values behind, legal and illegal drugs, and escapism of all sorts when we can’t see the way forward. In environments that preclude the sharing of information that allows for creativity these options become necessary to survive the day to day, but are certainly sure to shut down biopsychosocial resources for thriving. How do we make change when conditions call for adaptations that take us away from the values that keep us balanced in our optimum biopsychosocial medium?
“Changing the state of other cells is the very source of the activity that constitutes and regulates behavior, to begin with, and that eventually also contributes to making a mind.” – Antonio Damasio
There is a way other than just applying more force that can promote the kind of change that cultivates more connection, love, and innovation that leads to establishing more abundant life resources. Relationships that take the lead from our the tiny cells of our nervous system and allow for the communication about the state of the body as we interact in our biopsychosocial contexts have a way of promoting just the right change. But how does communicating about the state of things allow for change? This is a fascinating question that some simple life forms have figured out.
What we know about human bonding can give us some clues. The way two attuned parents provide the necessary environment for biological value to prosper is my favorite place to look. However, looking at ourselves can bring up many complicated feelings and thoughts that divert our attention. So, let’s go deeper into the history of life. Really deep. Before humans, mammals, reptiles, and invertebrates there were plants! Yes, Dr. Fronk-en-steen, your basic herbology class may have been a more parsimonious way to inspire your life plan. Since 1977 when the good doctor was made, there have been new generations of scientists who have become captivated with the symbiotic relationships of plants which have allowed each other to change while staying within an optimal window of activity. These relationships can show illustrate how the focused pursuit of what is of biological value itself promotes life enhancing change.
One ubiquitous biological value that endures from plants to humans is that connectivity in the pursuit of life goals. Investigators at the Boyce Thompson Institute of Cornell University know this about plant and human life. Inspiration from plant science is passed on through generations of young scientists through efforts like the New Visions program in Ithaca, NY USA. In 2016 one of this year’s students, Sophia Cotraccia, presented a scientific poster to New York State legislators on Arbuscular Mycorrhiza Symbiosis.
Under the direction of Maria Harrison, her BTI lab is observing how fungi and plants have evolved to participate in an exchange of nutrients that allow both plant and fungi to thrive. The BTI lab is one of several throughout the world that are exploring how mutuality promotes life at the simplest levels.
Not only do the fungi and plants feed each other, but this relationship may very well have allowed aqueous plants the possibility to move on to land! Yes, that’s right, the mobility that we humans hold dear. We can see how it may have it origins in what started as a mutually beneficial plight to secure food. Two diverse life forms with their own unique characteristics shared a common imperative to acquire food and look what they made happen! Change for both but not by forcing anything to happen. Just by continuing to work together in a focused way. How did they achieve this? Well, follow the links above for more about that. However, we can see that relationships full of patience that are focused on goals that promote everyone’s well being allow change to happen that requires no force. Within such a relational context a new resource like moving to a new habitat emerged. Something no one expected. In fact, plants and fungi have no self to help them know that they were being so successful! We humans do know however. We can sense and feel what life is like in our bodies and discuss how to achieve biopsychosocial synchrony with our environment. That is, if we choose to.
“…neurons are about the body, and this “aboutness,” this relentless pointing to the body, is the defining trait of neurons, neuron circuits, and brains. I believe this aboutness is the reason why the covert will to live of the cells in our body could ever have been translated into a minded, conscious will.” – Antonio Damasio
In our mind’s eye we can simulate what is going with ourselves and those around us. Regardless of the type or classification of life form, there may be reason to continue to seek the harmonies and synchrony in sharing our lives with others. When it comes to promoting change along the course of normal development or when seeking to get things back on track, well placed forceful action that respects that life “just happens” and doesn’t need our creation, may move us forward quicker. Relationships create the change we are looking for by invitation, cultivation, and creation. We invite one another to nurture, nudge, and constrain things in alignment with inborn creativity. It’s a lot more work than just forcing things the way you want them to go. However, there is a long history of life making it’s way. Our consciousness reveals this to us. It doesn’t make it happen. On the other hand our very unique human form of self consciousness can be part of the tradition! Frederick may have merely taken a moment to look inside and sense and feel just how alive he was and shout with joy, fear, and excitement…”I’m alive!”