To the amazement of all my friends, I am flying off to Florence again, this time alone. I am a woman with a mission (actually several): 1.) change my faulty cognitions about myself, 2.) Do the same for the characters in my book: Crazy Ladies of Oakwood: Escapade in Tuscany, 3.) Research a new mystery.
So what does changing cognitions mean? In my most recent book, Pieces of Paris, (see AML review ), both my hero and heroine have faulty ideas about themselves, each other, and the universe in general. When they react to one another and the community they live in, they are acting from these faulty ideas. Eventually, chaos ensues, and neither of them knows what to expect from one another. Another couple would have divorced, but they, instead, learn to alter their ideas so they become in line with reality. This is difficult, but yields great and unexpected rewards.
These ideas are called cognitions, and they govern our general mental state, our reactions to one another and to events. Over time, they actually “carve” automatic thought patterns in the brain. Faulty cognitions can lead to such extremes as suicide, wars, and marital discord. As an example, when I feel manipulated, I have a faulty cognition, caused by eighteen years of living with two manipulators from whom I had absolutely no way of escaping. The cognition I have is that I feel trapped, imprisoned. This is wholly irrational. My reaction is extreme: I run. It is only recently that I have become aware of this. It is not good to feel manipulated, but I am 63 years old now and have a choice whether to be manipulated or not. I no longer need to run. The alternative of standing up for myself is painful to learn, because during my childhood such behavior resulted in abuse. So I am deathly afraid of taking a stand. This, of course, leads to all kinds of misunderstandings. Throughout my dating years, I would run from relationships continually, rather than facing problems, because I didn’t know how to assert myself (another faulty cognition). I tried to run from David, before he was my husband, on many occasions, but he always followed and disarmed me. I learned enough trust in him to marry him.
During my long illness, David had to take care of me and shield me from many things. This became a cognitive rut in his brain, and so he continues to do it, even though I am well. It is very pleasant to be waited upon, to have someone always smoothing your way, but how can I grow and learn to depend on the Lord, if I am constantly treated as one who is too sick to make decisions or overcome problems?
I have chosen to break this cognitive pattern in the only way I know how: I am running, yes, but I am running with a purpose. That purpose is to prove to myself over a period of three weeks that I can take care of myself (with God’s help, of course), and generally do things that have become hard for me. David is wonderfully patient and is curbing all his customary concerns which has been very hard for him. So we are both breaking our cognitive patterns.
Why Florence? Why not St. George? Because Florence has become a huge symbol in my life. It is a miraculous place where, five hundred years ago, artists and scientists broke the bonds of the “Dark Ages” which had governed the world for a thousand years, since the fall of Rome. Geniuses emerged in this one place: Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello, Botticelli, changing cognitions radically, so that the world would never be the same. What did all of these geniuses have in common? A new perspective, literally. It is most obvious in Galileo, who asserted that the sun was the center of the universe, Columbus, who didn’t think the world was flat (he was Italian, but not Florentine), and the artists, all of whom used three dimensional perspective in their art. They were all deemed heretics by the existing church. Eventually the artists became triumphant, as the Pope was concerned with the greater outcome of this breakthrough: the Reformation.
As the Renaissance had spread throughout Europe, the German Gutenberg Press had been invented. (1440). This eventually gave the common people access to the Bible, spawning Luther to break with the Catholic Church (1517). Once the Reformation had begun, more and more cognitions began to change, in spite of horrors like the Spanish Inquisition (1478-1834). Eventually we arrived at the Age of Enlightenment, from which we garnered such thinkers as Burke and Locke who were dear to the heart of another group of inspired thinkers, gathered all in one place in the eighteenth century: Philadelphia. These thinkers produced an entirely new form of government embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America.
Because of the freedom of religion guaranteed under this constitution, there was no longer “state religion.” In this environment, the Lord was finally able to restore his church, so we come at last to the Restoration. Much of the persecution that accompanied other huge cognitive leaps in the past, was heaped upon the believers of this new religion. But, like the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Age of Enlightenment, the Restoration has prevailed.
It all started in Florence. That is where the bonds of a thousand years of ignorance were burst. Can you think of a better place to go to burst the bonds of years of cognitive errors in my brain? I can’t. As my heroine, MacKenzie, says, “Florence has an energy that makes you believe your dreams can come true.”
I hope to bring home the manuscript about these four ladies who have gone to Tuscany to break their self-defeating cognitions. But most of all, I hope to come home brimming with ideas and plans that have burst through the “dark ages” of my mind.
G.G. Vandagriff is the author of ten books, including the Whitney Award Winning, The Last Waltz, and her most recent novel, Pieces of Paris. In connection with the latter novel, she has built a new website: http://ptsdweb.com, in addition to her author website: http://ggvandagriff.com and her blog: ggvandagriffblog.com. She loves to hear from her readers.