"I'm writing an unauthorized autobiography." --Steven Wright, Comedian
Among all the noias, meta is my favorite. I so prefer it to para. The word, noia, of course, is from the Greek nous, meaning "mind." Paranoia is to be outside or beside one's mind. Meta means "change"; we see it in such words as metamorphosis which is to change form. Metanoia means to change one's mind.
Many of our attitudes, perceptions and incumbent behaviors are imprinted in our brain patterns early in life and thus determine many of our attitudes toward life, ourselves, and our place within the world. Authority may be the largest influence on how these attitudes and behaviors are set.
Of all the spiritual and psychological tasks toward individuation or wholeness, changing one's mind may be the most difficult. I once read a statistical estimate that one acquires over half of what he or she ever learns in the first five years of life. Think about how many misconceptions, falsehoods, and misrepresentations are sealed in our minds during those years of earliest development.
What we observe in word and deed from parental figures such as parents, clergy, teachers, neighbors and parental institutions like church, school, and government becomes the source for the way we view the world and our place within it.
Life is an evolution of the question of authority. The ego, when it leaves the birth canal, asks the question, "Who's in charge here and what are the rules for making it?" Therefore, most of our ego attitudes are adaptive to external authority.
It seems as though, at some point in life, irrespective of age, one arrives at a midpoint and life changes from biography to autobiography. The first chapters are written by external authority. Then, at this midpoint, life hands us the pen and we become the author of our own story and the sole authority. A man came into my office one day and began, "I feel as though I am a character in a novel written by someone else." He was ready to pick up the pen and write a life!
So what causes us to change our mind? That is to say, what is it that causes us to adopt inner authority, find our own values, change our attitudes and behaviors? Unfortunately, it usually comes in the form of a crisis. Old ways don't work anymore. The rules for the first phase of life simply won't serve the demands of the second phase of life.
Some accident, illness, trauma, tragedy or loss will create a conscious crisis that will demand change. This change is metanoia. Such change creates a new and expanded consciousness. Chekov wrote, "A conscious life without a definite philosophy is no life, rather a burden and a nightmare." By philosophy, I believe he would include a theology, a spirituality, a psychology - in other words, a framework or worldview through which to become conscious of, and to interpret, life's vicissitudes.
Christians associate metanoia with repentance and conversion. From the viewpoint of this tradition, changing one's mind is a religious discipline and even a religious experience. From the viewpoint of depth psychology, metanoia is a requirement for new consciousness and maturity. Religions, psychology, spirituality, are all possible frameworks for mind change and growth.
Jung's psychology defined metanoia as a spontaneous attempt of the psyche to heal itself of unbearable conflict by melting down and then being reborn in a more adaptive form.
Metanoia is a substantial concept to both psychology and religion. Rebirth and change are necessary to our lives. The clinical definition of death is cessation of change. If one is not changing, one is dying. Any practice or framework that is not curious and novel stands with its feet in concrete, which may be the definition of any form of fundamentalism.
No matter what time it appears in our life, the challenge and opportunity to write our own autobiography can be embraced as a spiritual practice. It is through this process of authoring our autobiography that we will experience the deepest journey and fullest awareness of our being.