Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A New Groove

Even if you don’t have children or grandchildren, even if you’ve already seen it, see it again: “The Emperor’s New Groove.” In this movie, Emperor Kuzco wants to maintain his groove, his groove being all about him. This is akin to your Enneagram personality patterns wanting what they want (Kuzco represents all of us at our most entranced). He’s decided to give himself the birthday present of a water park on a beautiful mountain top, which happens to be occupied by one of the villages in his kingdom. No matter. Let the villagers find another home!

There’s a slight wrinkle in Kuzco’s plan, however. His recently fired administrator, Yzma in a botched assassination attempt by her man Kronk turns the Emperor into a llama. As you watch the movie, let your right brain associate with the primal (llama) nature of change and notice how Kuzco gradually develops a new groove, one that returns him to his previous self but in a more fully human form. In Kuzco’s association with the village chief and llama herder, Pacha, you’ll see the evidence for what ancient yogis knew:

Insight is relatively ineffective in deconstructing habitual behavior… The very way we breathe holds our patterns in place, “a kind of habitual, automatic, mechanized process… these ruts in the road… can only be effectively disrupted by… direct physiological retraining. First, simply call attention to the process – without judgment of any kind… second, engage in activities that intentionally disrupt the pattern….” (Stephen Cope, The Wisdom of Yoga)

Habitual behavior changes when you experience old patterns in new ways – not by ignoring or trying to overcome the ways you don’t want to be, but by embracing, moving with, learning from, and thus releasing the patterns that have held you captive.

“The genius of the yogic strategy is the understanding that resistance and reactivity to patterns just create more problems: the Tar Baby Effect,” writes Stephen Cope. Remember the Uncle Remus stories? The more Bre’r Rabbit tried to get free of the doll made of tar and turpentine, the more stuck he got. Emperor Kuzco runs into the same problem – the more imperiously and selfishly he acts (even as a llama!) – the more he's stuck.

In Chapter 7 of James Zull’s The Art of Changing the Brain, Zull offers a revealing story about the power of right-brain learning:

“Science hadn’t been Mary’s thing up to then. My course was a venture in a new direction, and even though she was bright, she soon hit a roadblock. The topic was protein folding. Esoteric as it sounds, it is almost impossible to understand biochemistry without a grasp of this subject, and Mary really struggled. Then one day she came into class more agitated than usual. ‘I figured it out,’ she said, ‘I finally found the right connection!’ 

"I laughed out loud when she explained, ‘Yesterday I saw a duck in the pond by my dorm. All at once, I remembered when I was a kid on our farm. My brothers would put a duck in a tub of water that had a cup of detergent dissolved in it. The duck would begin to swim around, and then it would sink to the bottom, quacking in terror! It was gross!’ ‘Don’t you see, Dr. Zull?’ she exclaimed. ‘The duck sank because the detergent dissolved away the oil on its feathers. That’s how a duck floats. The oil on its feathers keeps it on top of the water! That is exactly what happens with protein folding. The oily parts float away from the water!’

"She was right. Exactly right! And from that time on, Mary began to excel in biochemistry. In fact it became her career. That connection between a duck and biochemistry changed her life!”

I hasten to add, no ducks were sacrificed for this story. So, fire up your neurons. Go watch a movie. Groove!

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