Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How the Body Clues You In to Living Stories

There's points Chris Vogler made in his "Writer's Journey" Appendices which give a different view of this universe and how it affects us.

The first, and very interesting idea is that stories themselves are alive. This is a logical extension that our creations are from us (Self) and so are alive to the same degree our bodies and everything else which is part of this creation are alive.

One could make the same point for various belief-systems, such as religions and Locke's ideals (which were written into the Constitution) and also the Magna Carta - a person's rights to his own property being above any rights of a King or other sovereign. But read Vogler:

"In the course of my adult wanderings through what is normally considered children's literature, I came to a few firm conclusions about stories, these powerful and mysterious creations of the human mind. For instance, I came to believe that stories have healing power, that they can help us deal with difficult emotional situations by giving us examples of human behavior, perhaps similar in some way to the struggles we are going through at some stage of life, and which might inspire us to try a different strategy for living. I believe stories have survival value for the human species and that they were a big step in human evolution, allowing us to think metaphorically and to pass down the accumulated wisdom of the race in story form. I believe stories are metaphors by which people measure and adjust their own lives by comparing them to those of the characters. I believe the basic metaphor of most stories is that of the journey, and that good stories show at least two journeys, outer and inner, an outer journey in which the hero tries to do something difficult or get something, and an inner journey in which the hero faces some crisis of the spirit or test of character that leads to transformation. I believe stories are orientation devices, functioning like compasses and maps to allow us to feel oriented, centered, connected, more conscious, more aware of our identities and responsibilities and our relationship to the rest of the world. 
"But of all my beliefs about stories, one that has been particularly useful in the business of developing commercial stories for the movies is the idea that stories are somehow alive, conscious, and responsive to human emotions and wishes. 
"I have always suspected that stories are alive. They seem to be conscious and purposeful. Like living beings, stories have an agenda, something on their minds. They want something from you. They want to wake you up, to make you more conscious and more alive. They want to teach you a lesson disguised as entertainment. 
"Under the guise of amusement, stories want to edify you, build up your character just a little by showing a moral situation, a struggle, and an outcome. They seek to change you in some small way, to make you just a bit more human by comparing your behavior to that of the characters."
Vogler and I agree on one point, which I concluded years ago - that people use other's lives and the entertainment they see on the movie and video screens to evaluate their own life against.

Taking this to the next step, we are seeing that stories themselves are trying to influence our lives. It just depends on how intuitive a person is, how much they are in tune with the Universe around them.

The more separated, the more individual, the less likely they are going to see these inputs as lessons they should apply in their own lives. And the more desperate the stories will become to affect them at some level.

Vogler's next point was in defining what a "catharsis" was and why it's important to any and every story:
"Several times in this book we have used the word catharsis, referring to a concept found in the works of Aristotle, one of his terms that has survived to become part of the general theory of drama and narrative. It is a critical concept, the point of drama according to Aristotle, and its roots go back to the beginnings of language, art, and ritual.
 .... 
"Nowadays we may use the term catharsis more broadly to mean any kind of emotional release or breakthrough. Catharsis was adopted by the psychological community to describe a therapeutic process in which repressed thoughts, fears, emotions, or memories are deliberately brought to consciousness, triggering an emotional release or breakthrough that is supposed to relieve anxiety and relax tension. Movies and stories as well as art and music can have a role to play in triggering a psychologically healthy cathartic reaction."
Taken together, these may say that the story, as well as any particular person you know, is working to help you with your life (and vice-versa). Every person in your life (as well as objects and elementals) are wearing masks for your review. They are each there to help you resolve your lacks.

The ideal is to surround yourself with stories which bring you to that catharsis. Of course, the top-level catharsis would be an epiphany. Which would just confirm or set you firmly on your own shaman path.

Third point I'd tell you from Vogler is that he's worked up a theory that the story actually affects the body itself. Indicators of pulse and endrocrine secretions tell you how the story is affecting you:
"THE BODY AS A GUIDE TO CRITIQUING 
"It's not easy to critique your own writing work or that of others. It can be hard to articulate what's wrong, how the story made you feel, what was lacking. Sometimes the best way to measure a story's effect and diagnose its problems is to ask 'How did it make me feel - in the organs of my body? Did I feel anything physical at all, or was I just having mental processes that didn't much involve anything but the brain? Did it make my blood run cold? Did it make my toes curl with horror or delight? Did it make my nervous system alert as if the dangers the hero faces were actually threatening me?' If not, there may be something missing, an appeal to the body, a physical threat, an emotional tension. 
"As a professional evaluator of stories I became keenly attuned to the emotional and physical effects a manuscript could have on me. I came to depend on the wisdom of the body to determine the quality of the story. If it was bad and boring, my body would grow leaden and the pages would weigh a thousand pounds apiece. I knew it was bad if, as my eyes scanned down the page, my head kept drooping and I nodded off to sleep. The good ones, I noticed, the ones that ultimately made good movies, had the opposite effect on my body. They woke me up. The organs of my body came to life one by one. The body became alert, light, and happy, squirting fluids into the pleasure centers of the brain, 'the proper pleasure' as Aristotle called it, of experiencing emotional and physical release through a well-told, cathartic tale. 
"As we watch a good movie or are engrossed in a good novel, we actually go into an altered state of consciousness, with a measurable change in brain waves detectable by the tools of science. Perhaps changes in the rhythm of the breath, combined with focusing the attention on the imaginary world of the story, bring about this almost hypnotic effect."
This then brings a very personal reality home - if you take all these three points together.

Stories represent the symbolical level of our existence. It's not particularly a stretch to say that they take on a life of their own. And the purpose of those stories are to make a change in our own lives - to help us achieve our own goal of regaining Self.

What's interesting in this is that point of affecting us through the body. This is the last refuge of the "hideaway" soul. The person who has given up almost everything in order to just let the subconscious run their lives. Cubicle, factory workers - wage-slaves.

Yet the story now has most effect even at this level. As a person climbs up and takes more responsibility, healing of dis-ease becomes easier, illness harder to succumb to. The person less and less able to be the effect of their body in general. The body becomes easier to live around and more responsive.

If you follow this right on out, you may get a clue that the Universe itself is alive and working its hardest to get everyone - even the lowest on the pole - to wake up and start living again. And it sends stories out into the world (authored and created by the most intuitive among us) to wake everyone else up.

This points to the fact that there is no such thing as "harmless distraction" in entertainment. You are going to get a lesson in spite of yourself.

You aren't separate from the world and universe around you. It's all alive, in every part, and just up to you to learn what you can from all you experience.

So the next time you are in a bookstore - be mindful of books and stories which seem to "leap out at you."  It may be a lesson you should be listening to.