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  • Writer's pictureEthan Chia

Creating Survival (Part 2)

This post is the second entry in a series. The first post can be found here:

In the last post when we went over the Survival and Creation paradigms, we looked it them in these terms:

Survival exists in the known. It is the finite, the experienced.

Creation is the unknown, the infinite, and we can choose to experience one of any of those possibilities.

A Healthy Distance Between Mind and Body

The brain is forged by a series of connected neural pathways. These pathways transmit information through the brain resulting in specific thought patterns, emotions and behaviors. In the same way that a cityscape is a matrix of alleyways, paved roads and highways, certain neural pathways in the brain transmit information faster and more efficiently than others. Understandably, we cannot be micro-managing every single pathway in the brain as they fire in rapid succession. That would be taxing on the mind and body and also highly time-inefficient. Therefore, when neural pathways are strong enough, they become part of our unconscious programming. We call this "second nature".

The process of inducing this is what we call learning. As something gets learnt to greater levels of mastery, we can divert the energy we previously delegated towards consciously controlling those muscles to other parts of the brain in order to learn new things and form new pathways. i.e., A concert pianist does not need to look at their hands to form chords. It is through this process that the body becomes the unconscious mind.

When we move a pattern into our unconscious mind, what we have effectively done is hardwired the neural pathways in the brain to respond to certain stimuli in a particular way. Our endocrine system, which is in charge of the dispersal of hormones throughout the body is a physical response not unlike the blinking of an eye. The big difference being we do not have as much refined control over these chemical-producing organs as we do our limbs or our spine. However, we can influence them indirectly. Our diaphragms, for example, which hang from the bottom of our ribcages contract and relax in accordance with our breath. We cannot control its movement directly, but we can alter the breath to influence its movement. Similarly, we can alter our thoughts to influence the release of adrenaline from the adrenal glands sitting above our kidneys.

The conscious mind and the unconscious mind begin closely intertwined. The latter running a series of well-learnt programs while the former goes along for the ride. Now, in order to change the program, we must first see the program in its entirety. We do this by disentangling the conscious mind from the unconscious mind (body). By becoming aware of the habitual firing and wiring of the existing program, we create distance between these two entities. Through meditation and mindfulness, we can consciously observe our thought patterns, emotional reactions and resultant behaviors to gain a broader picture of the program which we have created to govern us.

By constantly living under the influence of stress hormones the entanglement between the conscious and unconscious minds become strengthened due to the nature of the survival paradigm being partial to a singular focus. We pay closer attention to the causes of stress than to the possibilities which relieve it. By definition, this hampers creativity due to its inability to forge new connections outside the immediate locus of the cause. And when we become addicted to the programming, we start looking for causes instead of possibilities. In other words, we create our own problems to buy the hormonal hit.

As mentioned earlier, the survival paradigm is built on the finite, known experience. Learning is predicated on the exposure to new experiences. New experiences cause the brain to form new neural pathways. By living solely in the survival paradigm, we are constantly depriving ourselves of the new experiences which would break us out of it. Thus, we form our own Catch-22 of survival.

Conversely, when we consciously imagine a desired outcome and allow an elevated emotional response, we are wiring the neural pathways to behave in those paradigms instead. We generate a new experience, by thought alone, that forges that new experience, new neural pathway, divergent from the habitual survival paradigm. As we repeat this process, those pathways get stronger and as they begin to override the old programming, we start to seek out the experiences in our immediate environment for that new hormonal hit. This is creation.

So how does this apply to performance?

Single vs. Double Consciousness

The act of disentangling the conscious mind from the unconscious is what we call the doubling of the consciousness. We start to create a pilot consciousness and a vehicle consciousness.

A single-consciousness refers to a direct experience of an event. A passer-by looks at me threateningly, so I quicken my pace.

The doubled-consciousness refers to the simultaneous experience and awareness of experience of an event.

A passer-by looks at me threateningly, I notice I feel fear, so I quicken my pace/engage him in conversation/break eye contact etc.

That tiny sliver of time is all the difference between an automated survival response and infinite creative possibility. It is the very mechanism of the brain that we use to say the line while moving to hit our light. This pilot consciousness allows us to maintain the structures, both mentally and physically to stimulate the vehicle consciousness's experience of the present moment.

The extent of this doubling of the consciousness is in performance is dependent on the style of performance. Some aim to immerse and would argue it removes the performer from the moment, while others might require it to create a sense of objectivity. In any case, the double-consciousness exists as a by-product of the performer's awareness that the performance is in and of itself an artifice. It is the same thing that allows us to be aware of our political situations and the impact our individual actions might have. It is the same voice that tells us to breathe when we feel anxious.

So let's recap. Within the context of performance; We have two States of being: Survival and Creation. And we have two levels of consciousness (For now. But more than two, i.e., transcendental consciousness, ego-death etc., is a topic for much later.): Pilot Consciousness and Vehicle Consciousness.

Most of the time throughout the artistic process, we want the Pilot Consciousness to be in a state of Creation. It allows us to explore possibilities, reflect on our choices and have distance from the experience to advance the creative process in a particular direction. It allows us to be our harshest constructive critics. Within the Creation state, the Pilot consciousness creates a sub-State of infinite possibility for the Vehicle consciousness. Contained within the performance time, Friday to Saturday, 8pm, doors open at 7:30 with free drinks and refreshments after the show. Donations welcome.

Through rehearsal, the boundaries of this sub-state become more clearly defined. (Boundaries in this sense refer less to the physical and chronological boundaries, but more to the intangible boundaries between the Pilot and Vehicle states of being.) By creating a sub-state of being from a Creation state, the performer is then able to fully surrender to the sub-State without compromising the state of being required to navigate through daily life. At the same time, the wealth of experience gained from the sub-State then feeds directly into the inner life of the performer, further broadening the range of possibilities accessible to the performer. The more the performer is able to exercise the awareness of the doubled-consciousness, transitioning between states of being and reflecting on the resultant experiences, the more those neural pathways get strengthened. This cements the mechanisms in the brain required for mindful living, thus moving the performer away from being a victim of their environment and towards consistently being a creator of their reality. I believe this skill is useful even for those outside the performance field to utilize and create a fulfilling life.

Now that we have understand this, in our next blog post, we will look at the nature of reality and the function of perception on our reality.

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