What's the Matter with Memes? by Pam Stoddard

Last month I mentioned living someone else’s life.  If you were wondering what I meant, this month's blog's for you! 

Mythologist, writer, and lecturer Joseph Campbell died 30 years ago this month.  His well-known suggestion “follow your bliss” invites us to get on a track that’s been there all along, just waiting for us, and to live the life we’re supposed to be living.  In other words, if you allow yourself to gravitate toward and pursue what brings you great pleasure, you’ll be on your way to achieving personal satisfaction, true happiness and your ultimate calling in life.  In regards to destiny, there’s a dynamic interplay between what we want, what we need and the environments we choose.

All too often, we humans are living someone else’s life and we don’t even know it.  This has been my conclusion, for the most part, in reflecting on my first 37 years.  Living someone else’s life looks like adopting someone else’s values, beliefs, likes, dislikes, habits, etc. (also known as memes or mind viruses).   Wayne Dyer put it this way- “A mind virus is different in that there is no form to it; these are ideas placed in our heads when we are little. We get programmed by well-meaning people like our parents and their parents, our culture, religions and schools. We get conditioned to believe in our limitations and what's not possible.”  This programming is constant, especially via all the screen time many of us engage in. 

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who coined the term meme in his book The Selfish Gene, points out that “memes, just like viruses, are indifferent to the welfare or otherwise of their hosts and the only thing that counts, from their perspective, is that they persist.”  So, in other words, they’re not always easy to get rid of once they’ve been adopted.  We have to be very intentional in getting rid of and diligent about deflecting any that aren't for us.  Below is an internet meme about internet memes.  It does a decent job of explaining what memes are, in general.  Oh, and please, don't be persuaded to let this video make you angry-

Time to start minding your memes? 

Memes are essentially to the brain what genes are to the physical body.  Research conducted at Stanford’s School of Medicine revealed that genes are turned on and off, not by the genes themselves, but through external, environmental stimuli (experiences).  If I believe and justify my habits based on those of my parents, am I not (at least in part) creating my own reality?  Some genes may be excluded, such as those which are mutated.  We’re learning more about how even our diets can influence our genes.  If internal experiences (our stories) count too, our challenge becomes mind over matter.  I'm using Dan Siegel's definition of mind- “a self-organizing, emergent, embodied and relational process that arises from and regulates energy and information within the body we live in, between our self & other people, and with the planet.”  The Stanford findings differ from the long-held belief that we are genetically predisposed to _____ (fill in the blank).  I’ve yet to learn of evidence of an addiction gene. 

Epigenetics is a new model of gene expression. "Epi" meaning above, so the literal translation of epigenetic control reads, “controlled above the genes.”  It’s the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself.  In a nut shell, here’s an analogy of how the “selfish gene” replicates-

Generally speaking, we don’t have to let memes or genes control how we live life.  Wooo whooo!  Adding metaepimemetics to the “pamtionary”-

1.    changes in organisms caused by modification of interpretation rather than alteration of the organism itself
2.    our ability to rise above and beyond destructive memes
"metaepimemetics has transformed the way we think about our destiny"

The Search Goes On

Researchers continue to explore the ways life experiences may be passed on epigenetically through generations.  From womb to room we’re learning it’s possible through environmental manipulations to modify our genes, such as with improved conditions.  The same goes for memes if we choose to intentionally nurture our true self. 

A brain is essentially a transducer device.  It converts energy from one form to another.  Brains read environmental signals.  The mind interprets the signals.  The brain then regulates the body’s chemistry that controls the genetic expression of the cells.  A brain doesn’t really have an opinion as to what those images mean.  Interpretation is based on our learning experiences.  If I get bit by a dog when I’m little, and believe all dogs are dangerous, my belief that all dogs are dangerous will stimulate my brain to release neurochemicals that control cell behavior and gene activity to coordinate a protection response.  I’ll steer clear of dogs unless I change my belief.  The change will happen through positive experiences with dogs.  If I learn to read dog body language and keep myself safe, I’ll probably continue to have positive experiences with dogs.  Eventually, there’ll be a tipping point (moment of critical mass) in how I perceive dogs.  No more Cynophobia!  This qualifies as a hero’s journey in my book and an example of transforming trauma.

In honor of Campbell’s contributions to the evolution of people around the world, I’ve included this summary of The Heroes Journey based on the Christopher Vogler’s adaption of Joseph Campbell’s theory.  Yup, it’s a meme.  I consider it a positive one.

Learning to analyze and deflect memes that don’t serve me has been part of my own hero’s journey.  I invite you to question your behavior, challenge your beliefs, discern and pursue your own values (how you invest your time and energy is a good indicator of what your values currently are).  Be aware of when you're the happiest and most fully engaged.  This will allow your natural strengths and talents to emerge.  So, the theory is, stay on track ("follow your bliss"), and eventually you’ll become the person you were meant to be.