I like to think about neural pathways. My brilliant friend Nicole has an analogy about neural pathways being like horse-drawn carts. The more you think/do/believe something, the deeper the path becomes in your brain, the more ingrained the way becomes. You get rutted. Stuck. It becomes nearly impossible to go another way without seriously retraining your horse – I mean – brain.
Not only do pathways like this exist in our brains, but they exist literally in our built environment and in our cultural beliefs and habits. Its hard for me to decide which is more complex: transforming your own life, rearranging a city or reorganizing the behavior of a group of people, community, country, generation? How do you know when things are rutted? How do you know when you are knee deep in the mud?
At the same time, change is constant. Children and weeds grow whether we like it or not. The same is true of neighborhoods, eras, and epochs. All things just expand and contract. They might be stuck in the mud, but that might be the exactly the kind of frustration needed to ditch the cart and relearn to wander, to come up with some amazing new way of being.
I’m thinking a lot about these things right now because my brain and legs hurt from trying to find my way in a new city, with my husband and young kids, where we don’t speak the language but are trying to learn. Also because the city is Rome, where quite literally, some of the oldest roads are still in the same spot. Beautiful. Ancient. Ruts.
I used to love to wander and to intentionally get lost, but since becoming a parent I have gone to the same grocery store for 7 years. I could shop there blindfolded. Building new neural pathways feels like everything happens simultaneously too fast and too slow. The brain feels more like a muscle than an organ.
The only way towards easy, familiar movement, fluidity and grace is through confusion. Clumsy, frustrating, wonderful, awful, embarrassing, flailing, surprising, magical: wandering around.
You know the way.