The Enchanted Loom:
Self-Directed Neuroplasticity, or How To Be Happy In Hard Times

INTERVIEW WITH
Dr. Jeannette Sullivan

NOVEMBER 2020

Collage painting by Elise Chron from Juicy Creatives Studio

INTERVIEWER:
Teresa Oster M.S., M.S.W., CJSSF board member

CJSSF: I expect there are plenty in our community who, like me, feel drained and demoralized by this primal swamp of a pandemic. As a nation, it seems we are slogging ankle-deep through muck and coping tools have been left behind. So, thank you! You call this “a dumpster fire” with “uncontrollable anxiety’ and “surges of pessimism and fears” and you say the trauma is personal, national, and planetary. But you offer hope. There is hope in the word neuroplasticity, right? Can you explain the term plasticity in this usage?

DR. SULLIVAN: I use the word neuroplasticity as a means for “kindling a light in the darkness” as Jung says because it illuminates one of the greatest findings of the last century – that we can take control of our own brains, and deliberately change our outlook and in so doing, change our life outcomes.

We have been hit with a multiplicity of disasters in recent months and many feel overwhelming anxiety, grief, and victimization. Although we have no control over what happens “out there”, our wounding can be mitigated; our sense of agency redeemed when we understand that we can largely take control of our internal environments.

 

CJSSF: This presentation segues from your previous one on The Psychology of Human Flourishing and the father of Positive Psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman (read Dr. Sullivan’s interview “Human Flourishing: A Jungian Approach to the Psychology of Well-Being“). Can you say a few words about Positive Psychology and how it relates to neuroplasticity?

DR. SULLIVAN: What neuroscientists and psychologists are discovering is that one can deliberately rewire the brain for positivity which results in greater productivity, better relationships, optimism, emotional intelligence, resilience, and a host of beneficial outcomes. Positive Psychology beckoned us to turn our heads from all the things that go wrong in life, to what goes right in life. Using the scientific method, Psychologists and Social Scientists have identified key characteristics, such as explanatory style – how one explains life’s events – that can be purposefully cultivated. Once one has identified a preferred state of mind or a preferred outcome, then learning is possible. This is to say once an experience has been converted to neural networks, and made to endure, then you can witness positive neuroplasticity in action.

 

CJSSF: Why is your title “The Enchanted Loom” a favored metaphor for the brain in neuroscience?

DR. SULLIVAN: This term was coined by Charles Sherrington in his 1940 book Man on His Nature. Sherrington was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1932 for his work on neurons and coined the word synapse. Stephen Casper said Sherrington’s work “demonstrated the power of weaving together knowledge from such disparate fields as comparative zoology, pathology, histology, chemistry, and psychiatry”. And to this I would like to add Jungian psychology and the contemplative practices that are associated with spirituality, such as meditation, and mindfulness.

The strands of our lives are like a tapestry woven into a pattern by about 3 pounds of this tofu-like substance between our ears. We function largely unaware that the brain orchestrates an enormous amount of mental and physiological functions in a single second. Beyond the firing of synapses and neurons, however, there is an uncharted mystical quality that does appear to be enchanted. So the metaphor just fits!

 

CJSSF: What have you observed in your students, colleagues and yourself during the pandemic, and why should we look to self-directed neuroplasticity to help?

DR. SULLIVAN: I have witnessed a new era ushered in in which day drinking and dispensing with necessities of daily hygiene and decorum are the new normal. Or more accurately, acceptance of the abnormality of this moment in time. History may show that grace is to be found in this, but for now, we can use a sense that what we do matters by influencing our own mental processes in a positive direction.

Professional headshot of Jeannette Sullivan, Ph.D.

Jeannette Sullivan, Ph.D., is a professor with a Doctoral degree in Higher Educational Leadership and Research Methodology, an M.Ed. from Florida Atlantic University, and a Master’s in Transpersonal Psychology from Sofia University. She has coached, trained, and facilitated groups for over 20 years in Honolulu, Scottsdale, and southeast Florida. Dr. Sullivan’s research interests include human persistence, resilience, happiness, and well-being. She specializes in personality training using the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), and holds the Master Practitioner Credential. She has presented for the Association for Psychological Type International, the International Positive Psychology Association, First Year Experience, Teaching Academic Survival Skills, the International Positive Education Network, the Association of Florida Colleges, and The Center for Jungian Studies of South Florida. She is a facilitator of Exploring What Matters, an Action for Happiness class in the fall of 2018.

ABOUT CJSSF

As a Not-For-Profit organization we exist because of the generosity of our friends, volunteers and donors. None of the work that we do would be possible without you.

SEND MAIL TO

Center for Jungian Studies
c/o Richard Chappell
20533 Biscayne Blvd Ste 104
Aventura, FL 33180-1529

JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER

SEND MAIL TO:

Center for Jungian Studies
c/o Richard Chappell
20533 Biscayne Blvd Ste 104
Aventura, FL 33180-1529

Join Our Newsletter

ABOUT CJSSF

As a Not-For-Profit organization we exist because of the generosity of our friends, volunteers and donors. None of the work that we do would be possible without you.