SHAPE-SHIFTING - WILLING CHANGE IN THE MIND AND WORLD
The players first thought of Anieth as a fantasy role playing world. It was a magical world, so it could not be true. The large and visible magic was the ability that the Clans had to shape-shift. This was an ability to actually change shape. The message that some of us got and others did not was that we are full of shapes. Many can be changed. People on Earth want things to be set so that they don't have to deal with constant change. But change is part of who we are. Embracing change is a way to cope, but also a way to keep hope and love alive. I'm not talking of stagnation and entertainment when one is bored, but a way of knowing what can be changed.
Humans are possessed of flexible minds. They create social situations. They create the world in which they live, from growing plants to building habitats to agreeing on ways to communicate and live together. All of this can be changed. We are even learning to change bodies and physical reality. So why do people act as if all of this is real and a law that exists like the night exists or the sun in the morning or gravity? There seems to be some drive to security, to KNOW that the sun will rise and that your house will be there and your mate's hair will be the same color. We accept some change, but with a reluctance. Superficial changes can be fun, and relieve boredom. Some changes result in a realization that there is an underlying flexibility to humans. In Romania, where most people have dark hair, dyeing your hair blond is a way to be instantly visible and often desirable. People also discover disconcerting flexibility when they travel. Some like it, some hate it.
Often suicide is a cry for change. People get stuck. Songs are made about people getting stuck and "waking" up to find that the world has changed and they have not changed with it. People discover that they are mismatched with the world. They want the world to change or to go back to the way it was. People feel disenfranchised or not in the right time. They feel too much a minority or too much like everyone else. Again, they hate it or they like it.
Start with this exercise. Relax and think on these questions.
- Do I long for change? Do I dread more of it?
- Did I live in a situation to which I want to return?
- Is my body, MY body? Does my inside match my outside?
- Do I think that somewhere else, my world will exist in which I can be comfortable?
- If I could change anything, what would I change?
- If I could be any shape, what would I be?
- Is there a world in a book (or movie) that is MY world?
- What is identity? What is me? What is not me?
Some are so uncomfortable with these questions that they cannot look at them. Others long so much for something different that they would leap at it in desperation. Others seem to be floundering, thinking that change (or going back) will "fix" them. This article is about shape-shifting, not the body so much as the mind and the environment around you. So many people are hung up on what is convention, that they will hide their thoughts that seem unlike the "right" thoughts of others. They will dress in the appropriate ways, buy the right house, fill it with the right stuff, and try to live the correct life. They fear to be shunned if they do not do this, for part of human social glue is loyalty. Loyalty to the created world, to a consensual reality. This a reality comprised of food, talk, appearance, home, work, environment that seems to work for everyone that you care about. Only it doesn't. So one takes refuge in fantasy, by book, movie, vicarious sports or events, various distractions that assuage the desire for the creation of self.
In the magic of Anieth, people of the Clans are born to shape two: a person and a tree or animal. Yet some have learned to shape more than one other shape. There are barriers in Anieth as there are barriers on Earth. The Predator Barrier is one, where a person finds it impossible to shape both animals, predator and prey. The Water Barrier is another and the Sky Barrier is the third. On Earth, we also have physical barriers overcome by travel, but we have psychological and social barriers not easily overcome. Some play with these barriers. One of the classic elements of a fairy tale is the threshold, or the place where worlds meet. Often in movies it is a bar scene. In tales it is more often a forest or a frontier. In European minds, the woods are such a barrier that often the guardians of that barrier are ferocious and wild themselves. In other tales the barrier can be mountains, or a river. What barriers do you face? Are they real? Are they peopled with real guardians or nightmares? Most people cross a threshold at puberty, often violent, always filled with trauma and emotional stress. Another threshold is leaving one's family, either for marriage or college or leaving for a job or another life. Thresholds for parents exist with the birth of the first child, and starting a career or moving towns or divorce are their own thresholds. Another threshold is at middle age, called the "mid-life" crisis, another at old age and, finally, death.
Yet what of voluntary barriers? Travel for many is leaving one world for another. Sometimes a barrier can be as simple as a change of clothing. The rich used to have certain kinds of dress during the day to show how often they could change worlds. Having multiple worlds was a sign of wealth when the poor were confined to a house, to the street, or to the fields. Actors change worlds, and have always been looked upon with a certain respect and superstition. Artists often change worlds in their minds, and the use of drugs for this reason is notorious in their fields. Creating a garden is creating a mini-world, and often a home. What is important is to start gaining control over barriers and thresholds in a physical way and then start trying to see what might be social or psychological.
Try this exercise. If you do not want to do it with your house, try changing clothes or even behaviors (see below.)
1. If you have separate rooms in your house, try changing the color of each room. If
you are in a rental, you can do this with fabric or hangings.
2. Make the color changes very strong, create a red room or a blue room, etc.
3. Another way to do this is to create strong activity rooms like a workout room or a library.
4. Sit in each room, even in the bath. You can even create a mini-nest room in a closet. Try to pay attention to how you feel. Close your eyes and then open them and try to see if the color affects your mood or mind.
5. Try to create a tent in the bedroom. Cover the ceiling. Put the bed on the floor on carpets or blankets. See how this makes you sleep.
6. Try different things in separate rooms. Put plants in one room. Hang up pots and pans in the kitchen or put up bright posters. Do what you can and what you can afford to make distinctions in each room.
7. Create doorways. Make the halls into doorways. Put up hangings or cover the doors, try to make an obvious threshold.
1. Try to segregate your clothes. Sports clothes, work clothes, fun clothes.
2. Go further. Try to create costumes or uniforms for different sport days. For instance, a "gray" day running outfit or an Italian dinner costume (which can just be a certain tie or hat.
3. Try to create a cooking outfit, or get an apron. And then an eating outfit. This can be simple like one piece of clothing. Some just get hats or make them.
4. Start wearing each costume for each event or in each room of your house. Make a deal about this, like a kid would. Kids love costumes and changing clothes. We have forgotten this joy.
5. Start trying to notice if your behavior or mood changes when you change clothes. Try a reading hat and see if when you put on the hat you feel like reading or when you want to read, you want the hat.
6. Try to spend time to make or create your own costumes like a kid would. Or if you are poor, just try changing behaviors, or creating an accent for each room or activity.
The idea behind the exercises is to try to start understanding that most of our lives are habit based or directed by other people. We see others wearing a certain hat, we want to blend in and be like others. Or we stop wearing the hat to fight for difference. We speak like other people, dress like other people, do the same things in the same rooms, eat the same things at the same meals. Kids don't do this; they learn it. The undoing of habit and "being in a rut" is very difficult. We don't have time. We can't be bothered. And, we will wake up ten years from now wondering where life went.
The damning thing about Anieth, was that the little bit of magical change made people of the Clans even more opposed to change. The Deer people would only do deer things, the Salmon people only fish things, etc., etc., until all you had to look was look at someone and know that they were a Deer or a Fish or an Oak or a Holly. I sought out multi-shapers and people who were half-breeds. I wanted to test Anieth, to explore different shapes and mind sets, not be bound to one. The multi-shapers had a saying, "I am the feather and so the wing." This means that by taking up part of the costume of the shape, you can cross the threshold into the mind set (or in Anieth, the physical manifestation as well.) Some of the Clans were violently opposed to this kind of behavior and became inbred to an extreme that we rarely see on Earth in the West, which has been a mix of people since 2000BCE. They opposed any change even the smallest violation of their mindsets. This was a lesson that very few of the Players realized. Some, like my brother, were so stuck in their own persons that they did not even change shape in Anieth! Imagine, being able to take any shape at all and not being willing to give up one's physical identity!
Physical and Mental Constraints
People who are physically different from others run slam into a wall of prejudice and fear that often drives many of them to anger, dispair, even suicide. The 1960s was a time of loosening these fears, but they still exist. Often, the more "free" a culture, the more violent the prejudice in many. Without being able to be openly prejudice against people, some become more intolerant of mindsets or political views or strange things like accents. Groups become intolerant of those not conforming to their group identity. Blacks got some rights and had to then be like other blacks. Gays got some rights and then had to conform to a gay standard of behavior. Religious groups are notorious for being "clubby." They remind me of the Clans, once they make that one big change, all other changes are tabu.
When women broke the slacks barrier and it became acceptable for them to dress like men, the men reacted more violently against any other man trying to wear robes or a skirt. Women turned on other women who "betrayed" the sisterhood by acting in ways which didn't advocate the women's movement. It has become even more difficult to be different unless you "go" different in a group way with others in a group.
- Do I have a group?
- Does my group have a standard of dress, speech or behavior?
- How does my group view other groups? The normals? The world?
- Do I go along with my group to try to show my loyalty and my friendship?
- How far would I go?
- Have I ever jumped groups? (i.e. gone to another temple, or career)
- What if my group found out I wasn't like them? Would they pressure me to conform?
- How is my group different? What do they tolerate? What do they condemn?
For many, group identity is vital as much as association with a family or village was vital to the survival of an individual in ancien times. Try to get more comfortable with what you are gaining and what you are sacrificing to stay with your group. Realize that every group will have different contraints and prejudices. Try to see your role in the group and why it is important to you.
Shaping Your Own Mind
Loneliness and isolation are hard to almost everyone. Few have the strength to make their own groups or defy their group to change. Many experiment with groups when young only to fall into what works as they get older. Icons that many admire had one thing in common: they were insatiably curious about everything. David Bowie says that he enjoyed John Lennon because they were both willing to go out and explore new cultures and ideas. Having this mindset allows a person to age in the opposite way that most people age, you grow less prejudice, more curious, more interested in the world and change in the world, more wise, and less concerned with the opinions of others.
I have known people in their nineties who were engaged and as fun to be around as children. And they all were curious. Opinionated, with wry and often cynical humor, they were still interested in learning new things and trying out different things. They never suffered from the "being stuck in rut" problem that eats away at the minds of people from middle age onward. In Anieth, we players lived eight years for every three or four months we lived on Earth. By the time I was 17, I have lived (and remembered) eighty years! I found that the players changed as if they had aged. Some grew more tolerant and wise, others even more prejudiced and stuck in their mindsets. I grew to believe that survival into age was vitally dependent on retaining curiosity and an "open mind." Questioning is the right mindset to go into the future of your life with the flexibility and stamina of a child.