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Puppetry and Multiple Truths

A kingpin of liberation is being able to hold more than one truth at a time. Survival physiology triggers an intense orientation toward threat in order to keep us safe, which causes a cascade of changes in our systems, including tunnel vision and a kind of "tunnel thinking." It's when the threat passes that the full picture can open up again. Being able to stay in a mindset that allows a situation, relationship, or person to exist in its complexity, to be more than one thing, can be an indication that one has moved out of survival physiology or a kindled nervous system state. This approach can work both directions, both as evidence of healing and contribution toward it.

Dr. Huberman offers a hack of intentional engagement with peripheral vision. Many trauma recovery specialists use dual awareness practices to train the system out of retreat/bypass binaries. CBT includes work on overcoming black and white thinking. Some methods are more accessible or more effective than others.

One of the most playful, most gentle, and most human ways to practice holding multiple truths is through the animation of an object. (Puppetry also allows people to approach difficult or taboo topics, express parts of self that are not easily expressed, channel emotion in a safe environment, integrate memory, access a framework of symbolism that helps create a cohesive narrative, develop empathy, and find hope via imagination.) We unconsciously and quite naturally enter into a space in which this object is alive and not alive. We see it moving and breathing while knowing it is being moved and being breathed. Whether as observer or as puppeteer, this cross-state consciousness is happening. More than one thing is true. We suspend rationality and assign life to this block of wood or bag of fabric, making a kind of internal agreement to blend what we can see and what we can believe.

Steve Tillis argues that we see the puppet in what he calls a "double-vision" of perceived object and imagined life. A puppet does not ask us to choose but invites us to straddle both. And we do! I believe we possess this innate ability due to the deep cultural and evolutionary history (ancient rites and ceremonies) and personal experience (dolls and other toys) humans have with the animation of objects.

This process works with an action as simple as holding a handkerchief and employing principles of breathing and focus. The more time we spend in any practice that creates a space in which we can hold multiple truths at once, the wider our capacity for it becomes. We learn that safety is not only found in the narrow focus of protection but also in the inclusivity of connection, trust, and possibility.

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