Process: The Roads Not Taken
As an experiment, you can write down the story of your own fork in the road, that place where you had to make a choice that changed the course of your life. Another way of doing this exercise is to draw three plausible roads from some point in your life: the road you are currently taking and the two roads you did not take. Also, draw in a picture of where you want to arrive. In good comic-strip fashion, draw or write down how you would get to your goal from where you are now, given your chosen road. Imagine the life you would have, the events that would occur. Now do the same for the other two. Voila! All three arrive at the desired destination, and you have had fun playing with parallel lives.

Observing his confusing directions, Dorothy asks the Scarecrow whether he can't make up his mind. Alas, the fellow replies, he truly can't "make up his mind" because he has no brain; his head is stuffed with nothing but straw. The girl finds this quite strange and points out the fact that he can talk and therefore must have a brain. To which the Scarecrow wittily reminds her that, "Sometimes people without brains do an awful lot of talking."

The Scarecrow worries that he's not very good at his job; the crows fly into his field only to laugh at him while they steal his corn. He feels truly stuck. But he recognizes his stuckness. And from that awareness comes the first of his brilliant inspirations: he can ask for help! He suggests to Dorothy that she turn the wooden peg that holds him upright on the pole. Maybe that action will release him. The idea works, and the fellow drops to the ground. He rises on wobbly legs and in the song lyrics by E. Y. Harburg, sings wistfully about all of the things he would do if he "only had a brain."1

How often do we echo that sentiment, thinking that we are not smart enough, bright enough, or even quick enough to deal with the ordeals of everyday life? It is the desire to learn, as the Scarecrow suggests, that is the key to filling up our brain maps. Otherwise we languish and lament what we see as our inadequate equipment.

Inadequate? How can we believe our brains inadequate? Within this "three-pound universe," this biomass extravaganza, is encoded the wisdom of the millennia and the dream of tomorrow, the capacity to decode even the most multifaceted symbols, and the desire for communion and community. Language, memory, and the great achievements of civilization emerge from the delicate, complex interaction of perhaps 100 billion neurons in trillions of connections Ah, "if I only had a brain."

What the Scarecrow requires, and what is accomplished as the story unfolds, is something more, a transformation of awareness about the brain and about life.

1. "only had a brain." Harold Arlen, "If I Only Had a Brain (If I Only Had a Heart) (If I Only Had the Nerve)," The Wizard of Oz, lyrics by E. Y. Harburg (Van Nuys, CA: Alfred Publishing Co., 1939), 1.

Reprinted with permission from Atria Books/Beyond Words Publishing © 2012