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Oumuamua

24 July 2018 - Dr Jan Orman

In November 2017 the astronomical world was bubbling with excitement when the first interstellar object ever seen from Earth entered our solar system. Finally, after 8 months deliberation, the scientific jury decided that, despite lacking some of the usual characteristics especially the tail that we usually associate with them, this object could indeed be classified as a comet. To the great disappointment of many it turned that it wasn’t an alien spacecraft after all.

What caught my eye about this heavenly body was the name that scientists chose to give it – “Oumuamua”. It probably won’t surprise you that it was first spotted from Hawaii – that preponderance of vowels in the name is a bit of a giveaway. From (Karen J. Meech’s TED talk about Oumuamua) I learned that the word means “scout or messenger from the distant past reaching out to us”

Is it the poet in me that responds to that concept, or is it the therapist?

Looking at life with other eyes

It’s such a nice flick of the brain to realise that this object has not just come from far away but also from the distant past. It is a feeling not unlike the moment when you see the “other” image in those 3D Magic Eye picture puzzles.

There’s something else though too. It’s the thought that history, our personal history and that of the world, can still reach out to us and influence us in the present, if we allow it to do so.

I know a woman who believes she has been here before – many times. She tells me her past life identities reach out to her regularly to give her wise advice on how to live her life. She is not “crazy” but she firmly believes in her past lives. Perhaps it is a metaphor but that’s not what she thinks.

Most of us don’t believe in past lives but we would probably not deny the influence of the past. Certainly not the therapists amongst us that’s for sure! The trouble with all that is that we usually only tell the story of our lives one way, from a single perspective.

Many therapeutic modalities have techniques to help people generate different perspectives and shift their views of themselves and the world. Narrative therapy, for example, uses a technique it calls remembering which focusses on a minor character from the past, to generate a different perspective, a more helpful narrative. It can be a very powerful technique.

It is always so sad to see how some people are so stuck in their views and interpretations, stuck in stories that contribute significantly to their unhappiness.

Maybe we could all use a messenger from the past reaching out to us to help us rewrite the story of our lives to help us feel better about ourselves.

Dr Jan Orman
Dr Jan Orman

Jan is Sydney GP, private psychological medicine practitioner in Sydney’s inner west and a GP educator for Black Dog Institute.

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