When we transform our life narrative from one of outdated and limiting beliefs to one of unencumbered possibilities, not only do we avail ourselves of limitless growth, we become an agent of change. This is the message behind Rosamund Stone Zander’s new book, Pathways to Possibility: Transforming our Relationship With Ourselves, Each Other, and the World.
Zander, who also co-authored the bestselling book, The Art of Possibility, weaves together fascinating stories that highlight how, when we uncover our restrictive patterns, we can liberate ourselves in ways that offer previously unrealized possibility. She also provides exercises that are as expansive and eye-opening as they are practical.
Zander begins by offering the following encouragement: “I believe that when we become aware of patterns in our behavior, when we learn to identify and rewrite the stories that give us our identities, we will gain passage, at any age, into a new phase of adulthood. In this territory of maturity, where old fear-based pattern no longer hold us back, we will, I wager, do what we now think of as remarkable, even magical, things.”
However, for many of us, these patterns are already in play, and we simply improvise meaning from them. Zander offers the example of Alan, a man who felt torn between his two parents and who learned to love in secret as a safe way to navigate the world. As Alan matures, he begins to have affairs, often justifying his behavior as acceptable because he treated his wife and his mistresses well. However, when Alan’s wife of several years leaves him, followed by his mistress at the time, his world falls apart. It is only when Zander asks Alan to see himself as a field of awareness, full of his troublesome and respectable parts, that he begins to get in touch with the part of himself that is actually crying out for love, and see that the women in his life are merely amalgams of his father and mother.
The key to change for Alan, and for many us, Zander tells us, is to achieve the authorial distance necessary to see ourselves from infinite points of view. When we do, we will often identify many themes that are hallmark features of a child’s story, such as hanging on to a relationship that is going nowhere, living in fear of the future, feeling insecure in a group, trying to control everything, being unable to take criticism, and avoiding steps that are of obvious benefit. And what all of these themes have in common is what Zander calls “survival anxiety,” which is characteristic of a child’s narrative.
Yet through taking steps such as noticing times when we’ve said “Don’t try to change me,” identifying conditions that we believe are critical to our happiness, redefining words we use to describe a problem, examining our political and religious beliefs, and looking for elements within ourselves that feature the unmet needs of a child, we can upgrade our story from one that holds us hostage, to one that sets us free. The example Zander gives is overcoming a difficult writer’s block by recognizing that in order to write the material she wanted to write, she had to recognize that everything she did — from walking the dog to taking a shower — was part of the writing process.
Through bringing about this transformational shift in ourselves, Zander tells us, we also become an instrument of change through we which inspire the transformation of others. “…it is the quality of our being that transforms others. Another way of saying this is that it is our story about the person that locks him into appearing a certain way. If we want to change how we experience him, we can reliably do so only by changing our story about him,” Zander writes.
However, transformation can be instantaneous when we participate in a shared goal with another. Zander offers the example of Jessica, a blind musician who is told to give up living a “blind life” and is then led into a dance, where, for the first time, she is able to feel the physical expressions central to great music.
And when we resonate with others, we give them the freedom to change, and we affect change in the world around us. Zander offers many examples, from the Japanese Green Building Council to the El Sistema movement in Puebla, Mexico. What all of the stories share is a person who articulates what they want to see happen, clearly, and without equivocation, and speaks to the loving authentic self, engaging our innate cooperative nature.
By recognizing that we are part of a larger neural network, an ecosystem that arranges and rearranges as we move through it, we can learn to keep our minds open, stay in tune with nature and the world around us, and let go of the need to control the outcome. Most importantly, as co-evolvers in this shared experience, the greatest gift we can give to those around us — and the gift Zander offers her readers — is our stories of healing and renewal.
The Pathways to Possibility: Transforming Our Relationship With Ourselves, Each Other, and The World
Viking, June 2016
Hardcover, 272 Pages