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How Does the Mind Organize What It Learns?

Exploring the Mind of a Baby

Emergence Character Type Babies - All-1-AI

How does the mind organize what it stores? I believe the mind's basic unit of storage is "metaphor." Further, I believe we can access these metaphors only after connecting them to other similar metaphors in a process I call, creating "threads of similarity." Thus, I see "metaphor" and "threads of similarity" as the basic structure of our minds.

What Determines What We Remember?

Even wonder why some things, we remember forever, while others, we forget almost immediately?

Many people believe this happens because we choose to remember some things, and that if we feel something is important, we will remember it; otherwise not.

Actually nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we owe a great debt to the therapists of the past two centuries for showing us that important things often lay hidden amidst the wreckage of painful, early-childhood scenes.

What about the rest of what's stored in our minds though? Can there be anything important buried in the ordinary scenes as well?

The two stories I'm about to tell you may provide clues as to the answer to this question. In fact, I would guess most people will be surprised by what these stories imply, at least with regard to where most talk therapies focus; on peoples' painful life memories.

So what could be so surprising about what am I about to tell you? Basically just this. That while we obviously have much to gain from exploring painful past memories, we probably have as much or more to gain from exploring the seemingly ordinary, everyday stuff. In fact, while the first story I tell you will be an obviously painful one, the second is so ordinary I doubt any therapist, including me, would ever have seen it as even worth investigating let alone that it could have been the source of my worst childhood injury. Even so, I see this second story as my most personally significant healing story.

What also makes both these stories significant is the fact that they both occurred at a time in my life wherein most people have no access to memories. They occurred before I had words.

Can this be? Can we even remember things this far back?

My answer may surprise you.

I'm not sure it matters. In fact, in the case of the second story, I'm not even sure it ever even happened. True or not though, this second story held the keys to healing my worst childhood injury, and to me, this healing is what matters the most.

And the first story?

The first story may hold the secret to how our minds organize experience, certainly how this happens during the first two years of our lives. Clearly, it implies we learn through a process I call, "associative picturing," a sort of experiential file system based almost entirely on personal metaphors and on how our minds connect these metaphors with "threads of similarity."

Here then are the points I will make during the course of contrasting these two stories: [1] that exploring our ordinary life experiences may hold as much or more healing potential as exploring our painful life memories, [2] that focusing on the literal truth of our life stories may be more waste than benefit, especially with regard to the suffering we experience doing it, and [3] that these two stories together imply how our minds organize our memories; as visually connected, experiential metaphors; as "life movies" which we sort and organize by creating "threads of similarity."

the Two Stories: One Painful, One Ordinary

As I've just mentioned, the two stories I'm about to tell you are really quite dissimilar. By the end of these two stories though, I hope to also show you how similar they really are.

How do they differ?

The first story is about my having suffered from what will be an obviously painful event; I fell from a moving car. The second will at first seem to have been quite an ordinary event; I was simply put to sleep in a crib.

Specifically, what are these two stories about?

In the first story, I was thirteen months old, and as my father pulled the family car out onto a country road, the right rear car door opened and I fell onto a gravel curb. In the second, I was about three weeks old, and my mother simply put me into a crib, turned, and walked out of the room into a lit hallway.

Which story affected my character more? The second, seemingly ordinary story. To see how though, you'll have to read both stories and then, contrast them to find what I call the "threads of similarity."

What did I learn from exploring these two stories?

From the first story, wherein I fell from a moving car, I learned why I had felt terrified of needles and doctors for most of my life. From the second story, I discovered the source of my life long panic attacks. More over, I saw how these panic attacks were connected to my having been unable to leave unhealthy relationships: I could ask someone to leave a relationship but then minutes later, I would panic and beg them to stay.

As you might guess, this second injury very much crippled my chances to have healthy relationships.

Fear of needles and doctors. Panic attacks about someone leaving me. Two pretty different "issues." How are these stories similar then?

In both cases, I used Emergence to consciously explore my inner life and in doing so, healed major injuries in me.

What else?

Both stories clearly show how our minds use metaphor to store our life experiences. Also, both stories show how our minds then organize these metaphors into visual patterns I call, "threads of similarity." Most important though, both stories reveal how, with determination and courage, we can heal even our deepest, darkest wounds, given we have the tools and knowledge to guide us.

Both stories, then, offer insights into how we can heal the major injuries in our lives. And both stories personally changed my life for the better so much so that even years later, I'm still discovering how they apply.

Now for the first story; "Falling from a Moving Car."

the First Baby Story: "Falling From a Moving Car"

As I've told you, this first story happened when I was thirteen months old. Please remember, I'm obviously relating the details of this story after years of hard work and exploration. I, in fact, have been exploring this story for much of my life.

What I'm saying is, although I have always remembered the basic details of the story I'm about to tell you, it took me most of my life to see the significance of this story and how much it had affected my character.

The story?

There are two scenes.

In the first scene, my family was out for a Sunday drive and had stopped on a country road with tall cornfields on both sides. My father was driving. My mother was sitting in the front on the right.

My uncle was sitting in the back behind my father. And I was sitting in the back behind my mother.

Imagine that? I was thirteen months old and sitting in the back seat with no seat belt nor anyone holding me.

That's the way it was then.

As I picture the scene, I can still see myself sitting there, in the rear seat of that parked car, somewhat leaning against my door.

Now, before going on, what is important to know is that the doors on our family car were different than most cars, now or then. You see, this was a long time ago, 1948 to be exact, and the rear doors on this car opened from the middle of the car, not from the rear of the car.

What I'm saying is, the doors on our car opened differently than most. Thus, although there were many four door cars then, most of those rear doors hinged front and opened rear. However, the rear doors on our car hinged rear and opened from the middle of the car.

Thus, the two front doors were like normal cars. They hinged front and opened at the rear. But the two rear doors were hinged backwards. They were hinged rear and opened from the front.

Is this still hard to picture? If so, I understand, and so I've drawn the basic idea of the story line below, including how the car's rear doors opened from the middle of the car.

baby story drawing 1

Now, as I've said, as the scene begins, I am sitting in the right rear seat. In fact, that's me, the little red circle in the back seat.

What you can't see, though, is where my hand, or more accurately, my arm was resting. It was resting on the door handle, a long chrome metal job. Why is this important?

Because as the car pulled out, my body weight shifted and pushed this handle down, unlatching the door. Then, as the car pulled out, this door swung open, throwing me out and onto the side of the road.

This is the first scene, the being thrown from the car scene.

There is also a second, related scene wherein I am on what I have always imagined to be a hospital emergency room table.

In this scene, they have taken me to a local emergency room. There, I am laying on a table on my back, while my parents and a doctor and nurse stand around me looking down.

Even now, I can sense the room is hospital green and that the table is very dark brown, almost black. I can also see a detail that I have been able to see all my life, something I could never quite make sense out of. In the middle of the table, I see a large rectangular brass plate with a hole in the middle of it.

What was this brass plate? For most of my life, I had no idea and simply wrote it off as a strange detail.

In hindsight, this strange detail turned out to be my best clue as to how we organize our inner lives, at least this early in life.

So what was that dark wood table with the brass plate in the middle?

baby story drawing 2

Exploring the Mystery of the Brass Plate: the First Scene

First, let me tell you how I came to even be exploring this scene.

At the time, my therapist and I had been trying to see where my fear of being left came from. Back then, I had no sense of how injuries occurred let alone what an " emergence" was. Thus we both were using what most therapists still use to help people heal; we were using logical exploration.

What had logic told me about my fear of being left?

It had told me my fear was somehow connected to this "being left" scene, and as it was my earliest "being left" memory and in fact, my earliest memory overall, we both figured this scene must have something to do with my fear of being left.

Did it?

Not really, although I did get injured in this scene.

What emerged?

A lot. In fact, I can still picture the details which emerged from that work, including the details of the inside of that car.

I can see the tan, felt fabric seats, the metal framed widows all around me, the tan floppy fabric of the front seat backs in front of me, and the long, ribbed chrome door handle to my right.

I can also see the vague outline of my uncle Constantine sitting to my left. My uncle was a catatonic schizophrenic and had been this way all my life. Thus, he probably had little to no awareness I was even in the seat next to him that day, let alone that I had fallen out of the car. All I see is him staring out the window.

As for me, I had a similarly vague awareness of him as well. Even now, I have no sense of connection to him and see him only as a meaningless detail.

More meaningful to me were the corn fields I can picture on both sides of the road, tall corn waving lazily in the late summer afternoon air. I also see the cloudless blue sky. And I feel the warm sunny breeze.

Then there is the event itself. One minute, I'm sitting there, seeing all I've just described, and the next moment, I feel myself being thrown forward and to the right, as the car pulls out and the door swings open.

Significant is what I felt as I was thrown out of the car. I can, in fact, vividly see the door open and surprisingly, I feel no fear at all as I'm thrown from the car. No alarm what so ever.

Then I feel a moment of nothingness.

Then I feel wordless terror as I see the car pull away, leaving me alone and laying face down in the roadside gravel.

My father later told me, the impact of my fall took the shoes right off my feet. Of this, I have no memory. In fact, I have no memory of much of anything until the next part of the story, wherein I'm laying face up on the hospital table.

Solving the Mystery of the Brass Plate: the Second Scene

The details of the second scene have always been much more sketchy.

I can see myself laying in the middle of that dark wood table and can see that brass plate with a hole in the middle. I can also sense how the adults are standing around me deciding what to do for me.

Moments later, I sense someone telling my father to hold my head down. I, of course, understand no words but even so, sense this is what was said from the way the event unfolded.

Next, I feel my head being pressed very hard against the table top, a very cold and hard table top.

Next, I stifle a complaint. Then the scene ends.

So how accurate are these two scenes?

Actually, pretty accurate, I think.

So what was the brass plate?

Before telling you, I need to give you one more small detail, what was being done to me on that table. You see, I was getting stitches in my forehead. How do I know? Because I still have a small scar where I got those stitches.

More over, I have been told that back then, they didn't give babies anesthesia for stitches, and so, I must have gotten those stitches with no anesthesia.

As you can imagine, I had a hell of a needle phobia for the rest of my life, and even relived this incident once at age eight, wherein I refused a needle with anesthesia and so, had to be held down while I got stitches in my knee.

And the brass plate?


I still remember my mother's sewing machine. It was dark wood, almost black in fact, and had a brass plate with a hole in the middle, right where the needle went through.

My crib had been only a few feet from that sewing machine at that time. And my wordless mind had literally created a "thread of similarity" between what I had seen my mother do on that sewing machine and what the doctor had done to me.

the Second Baby Story: Being Put in a Crib

Unlike the first story, this second story is so ordinary, I am still amazed by it, even after many years. Even so, I see this story as probably my worst wounding scene. Certainly, it reshaped my whole character from then on.

What happened?

To begin with, I had no idea this story even even existed in me. Until it emerged, I had never even thought of it nor even anything like it.

Of course, in hindsight, I doubt there is a baby alive who has not experienced some variation of this story; albeit most times with less painful results.

So what brought this story up?

At the time it emerged, I had been dating someone who, like many of my romantic relationships, had repeatedly loved me, then left me, then returned again and so on; all this for reasons which were never made clear to me.

Of course, being a "two," I somehow always made it my fault, this despite my knowing people in normal relationships do not usually leave so easily nor return so often. Even so, at least this focus on myself pointed me in the right direction and I never gave up trying to heal this injury.

Then, in 1996, I began to grasp what emergence was, a year into my work in and around my first discoveries. At the time, I had only found one way to use Emergence, what I call, doing "cycles of three."

As what this entails, I've documented this process extensively elsewhere on the site. But for the sake of this story, let me just say that in the pain of being left yet one more time, I sat and desperately closed my eyes. Then I pictured the woman who had just left and said to her, "I know it's not you who is causing this pain."

This is the first part of self emergence, the effort to get past blame.

Next came the mental part, wherein I asked my self how old I felt.

What came back was "before words."

Then came the third part wherein I looked for the words to describe my emotional state.

"Terrified and alone."

A scene came to me. In this scene I was about seven or eight and was walking out of my house into the back yard. To my right is another back yard, and from the house toward the woods behind the house were a rabbit and a dachshund.

I stopped and froze as I realized the rabbit was going to get caught. Then a moment later, the dog caught the rabbit and literally tore it's body to bits.

What stuck in my mind was the sound I heard as the rabbit died. Rabbits do not have vocal cords. Thus, rabbit do not make sounds. Yet this rabbit did. The most horrible sound I ever heard. Almost like a silent yet clearly audible scream.

I realized this was me, that I made the sound the dying rabbit made each time I felt someone leave.

Then in rapid succession, I flashed on a scene and felt the worst pain I have ever felt, before or since.

What did I see?

I saw my mother lowering me into a crib. Then as she turned and walked toward the doorway and into the lit hall, I silently and desperately screamed the wordless scream of the dying rabbit.

Then the scene stopped.

Minutes later, I began to come out of the terror I felt as I witnessed this scene. Then, as I began to process what had just emerged, I realized how on so many occasions, I had, with firm convictions and clear self worth, told someone who was mistreating me to just leave. Then, in the next instant, as soon as I would see them turn and walk towards the door, I would panic inside, then fall apart.

So what was the wounding script?

Seeing a woman leave by walking towards a door. More so at night. And more so if these were no words.

My Worst Injury?

So can this be the source of my worst injury?

All I can say is this. Since that emergence, I have not once felt panic nor the fear someone will leave me. Further, all my relationships, including with my family and friends, have been affected by this healing too, in that freed from my fear that they would leave me, I've grown, and keep growing, more able to talk openly.

Had my fear of being left injury affected those relationships as well?

Absolutely. In fact, I wish I had noticed this early on, as it would have given me a clue as to how young I must have been when I got injured. Young enough to have been injured before romantic feelings.

How young was I?

My best guess? From what I pictured and what I sense, about three or four weeks old.

And what actually happened that night?

My guess is, my mother, for the first time, was putting me into my crib before I had fallen asleep. Thus, in this scene, I witnessed, for the first time, what it felt like to have someone walk out on me; literally.

How about now? Am I still better?

Romantically, I have never felt better and in fact, I am often amazed at how important I used to think being in a romantic relationship was. And like parents who wonder when their children get older how they ever chose to do it, I wonder how I ever thought it was worth all the hell I went through just to be in a relationship.

On the other hand, I see romantic relationships and the people who struggle to have them as some of the most courageous and wonderful people I know.

As for me personally, I have come to realize that Emergence is my relationship, and that whomever would want to be my romantic partner would have to be equally in love with helping the world.

Perhaps this day will come. For now, I'm happier than I've ever been in my life, and I credit much of this to this one brief scene, the scene in which I connected to that dying rabbit.

Contrasting the Two Stories

Now, let's contrast these two stories, beginning with the logical contradiction these stories create.

Logic would say that if I was looking for the source of a "being left" injury, that it would come from a scene like the first one, an obviously injurious scene wherein at thirteen months old, I was thrown from a moving car and left, totally alone, on the side of a road.

OK. So this would make sense. Logically, anyway. Even so, repeatedly exploring this scene had healed none of my fear of being left. It healed only my fears in and around doctors and getting needles, especially around getting stitches.

Related to this too were those times wherein I felt terrified of the dentist giving me a needle. No surprise that at age twelve, I once had a tooth pulled with no Novocain. I had refused it.

Here again, I had been more afraid of the needle than of having my tooth pulled with no pain killer.

It hurt too. In fact, I screamed so loud, I emptied that dentist's waiting room.

And the same thing happened to me at eight, in the scene in which I got stitches in my knee. I screamed so loud, I emptied the doctors waiting room.

And now?

As weird as it sounds, I look forward to getting blood tests and do so several times a year. And my dentist has remarked on how still I sit when he gives me Novocain, that I don't flinch.

All this aside though, given the nature of my "being left' symptoms, wouldn't you have assumed that my "being left" injury had to have come from a terrible early childhood incident, one in which I had been left?

None of this injury had healed though, until I had that second scene emerge. Here, the scene seems so ordinary, I doubt many babies go through babyhood without getting at least some version of this injury.

Is this logical? No, it is not. Illogical as it may sound though, the fact is, my symptoms ended and have not once come back, all this while not in any way detracting from my seeing the beauty in romantic relationships. In fact, I routinely tell couples as we begin our work that my bias is toward saving relationships.

As for the inferences about how the mind stores and organizes our experiences, I think the two things I've theorized clearly are present in these two stories. One, that the mind stores our experiences in metaphors, and two, that our minds connect these metaphors with threads of similarity.

In the first story, my mind had obviously connected two metaphors: what I had seen my mother do at her sewing machine to what the doctor did to me in the hospital.

Why call them "metaphors?" Because at the time, neither had a meaning, in and of itself. At the time, I had neither words nor a sense of what these two things meant. I had only my visual sense of what they looked like.

In the second story, then, I connected the image of my mother leaving me and walking through a door to what I saw girlfriends do when I asked them to leave. More over, despite obvious evidence to the contrary, each time I pictured this scene, I felt desperately needy, as if I would die without them. Literally. Further, this would happen even when I simply imagined them, or anyone else, leaving me. I would scream the scream my mind had connected to my early childhood scene. I would scream the silent scream of the dying rabbit.

Still too little evidence? Try this. Try picturing anything important to you. For instance, picture the word "wound."

If you are like most people, this word will immediately manifest as some variation of a medical injury, a cut arm or scrapes knee.

Now, have you ever considered how often we use this word to mean other things such as a wound to our psyches.

Metaphor. And the picture will usually be the first picture you associated with the word.

We all do this, all day long. Somehow though, we rarely if ever notice.

One final thing. Some might now ask if what I've presented here is me implying we all have an abandonment injury stemming from some similar, otherwise ordinary scene.

From what I've seen, I wouldn't be surprised. More important though, if this is true for even a small number of people, think of how far away we focus from the true source of these peoples' suffering. And from the true scenes which could heal them.

Emergence Character Type Babies - AI-3

Interested in seeing some great visual diagrams of how the mind is organized?
The Emergence of the Mind
How about how a way in which to use these threads to heal injury?
Using P Curves
Finally, here's a four part story Wherein I used "P" Curves to heal a man's infidelity
Healing Infidelity

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