I discovered the dark glamour of drugs, death, and sex in an Ontario grade 5 classroom. The heroin addicted, HIV positive prostitute was only 7 years older than the little blonde girl white knuckling Reader’s Digest during afternoon reading time. Every sentence was a step deeper into a darkness I knew only through other people’s nightmares. Suddenly this story gave names (albeit changed) and an unyielding plot to the shapeless archetypal fears haunting my developing, as yet innocent, brain.
One scene has stayed fixed in my mind, a moment of poignant, practical creativity that brought what still feels like a magical glamour to the story. It’s 2am on a miserable rainy night… our heroine, in between johns, is satisfying a voyeuristic interviewer in a Hopper-esque mid-America diner… she opens a condom wrapper and rips off the rolled rim, holding the makeshift elastic between her teeth as she pulls the damp straw strands of her hair into a messy ponytail…
In that moment her story became my story, and I was as fascinated as I was terrified. The impossible glamour of that bit of genius in the face of all hell, a ritual she’d performed a thousand times, glowed for me. Still does. Obviously, for her heroin was the infinitely more important ritual, but to me, that condom was the tip-toe of a ten year old into the path of thinking… “If I can just do this, then I can survive that.” And isn’t that one of the most dangerous concepts in the human experience! The endgame of this thinking is expressed as OCD and addiction, both treatable, but merciless agony for those going through either.
What glamours are trapping you in your own rituals? Are you writing your story from a place of cognitive security and strength or is your limbic brain scripting you a Scarface blaze-a-glory shitshow? Hmmm funny how the latter lights up my brain lol. Because what we see as glamour is simply one of your brain’s sneakier ways of negotiating your continued participation in – let’s be honest here – an often unbearable world. Go ahead and ask yourself which of your rituals are rooted in that nameless child fear. How have you storied (cough rationalized cough) your habits to give the little neurotransmitter thrill they give you purpose and meaning?
A new year is an opportunity for real change and as the way you story your world begins to shift, old rituals will inevitably lose their glamour as linkages fade. With prolonged meditative brain training ritual can (and does!) become a conscious act, a celebration of our humanity rather than an escape. But don’t forget that these old escapes (“good” and “bad”) saved you a thousand times. They kept the hair out of your eyes and gave you something to look forward to whenever the world tried to take everything else away. But what if we focus now on bringing in new rituals that better support our holistic system state and anchor us in hope and gratitude? Why not use brain priming to its best advantage?
But while these new habits are developing, there’s no shame in revelling in the last heady days of ritual. Mmmmm drunken pho paired with youtube historical farm docs – gawd I’m such a nerd. But be warned! Repeating old behaviours will unconsciously integrate them into your new story if you get sloppy about the following critical instruction… PAY ATTENTION to all parts of your holistic system state as you go through your old motions: your anticipation, body sensations, social feedback, emotional reactions, etc. Challenge the story at every stage and dare to strip away the glamour. The slow gift of this dedicated mindful observance is watching the hills you’ve been dying on begin to erode and lose their power as your overall story evolves. What once felt like the be-all-end-all becomes… mechanical. And it’s in that moment, you win.