The essential issue 2
Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into! 3
New To You – a whole person 6
Methods for Wholeness 12
The sculptor who sculpts herself 18
The Long and Winding Road 19
Learning Principles for Wholeness – The CAPRICE Model 21
Repair of the World 22
A Fairy Tale 26
The essential issue
About twenty years ago I was walking in Hervey Bay with a friend. I had bought her a book and prior to giving it to her I had thumbed through it. I know. It is not a good habit. Except I came across a story. I was so elated by it that rather than hide my indiscretion I read it to her. The story has stayed with me ever since.
A boy was playing up in the geography class. The teacher sent him to the back of the room with a map of the world torn into small pieces for him to reassemble – a disciplinary jigsaw. The teacher was astonished when only a few minutes later he came back with the whole map. ‘How did you do that?’ she asked. ‘Oh, I was playing with the pieces and I noticed some drawings on the back of the map. It was a picture of a man. So I put the man back together, which was easy, and when I had done that the world was back together too.’
Simple stories reveal deep truths, in this case the connection between individual growth and social outcomes. Putting a torn up person back together means kick-starting individual development. Torn apart people, torn apart world, whole people, whole world. When we embark on a journey to wholeness we make better decisions leading to better outcomes, simply because we call on more of our potential and we relate more consciously with others.
In this chapter I tease out the essential issue and summarise the book. All sections except the final one address three questions: who am I?, who can I be?, and how do I get there? The second part of this chapter and the book, Organising From The Inside Out, is about methods for ‘getting there’. The final part of the chapter and the book, To Know The Place For The First Time, shows how we can take our broadened identity and interact in the world in a more fulfilling way.
Much of this book is autobiographical in the sense that I learned various techniques because I needed to. Each one was introduced into my life in one way or another when I needed it and, I suppose, because I needed it. Two techniques came when I was in crisis and the third, the Feldenkrais Method, came with more grace and more fun, and turns out to be of immeasurable value as I age.
Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!
ADD The way in which the infant resolves the conflict is reflected in the adult’s personality including posture and movement.
The ‘mess’, Hardy’s expression to Laurel, is both our torn up nature and the impact torn upness has in our lives. We become torn up, unable to access our potential, very early in our lives.
In the future there might be societies, wisdom cultures, which could organise community, relationships, opportunities, challenges and education better. But that is not the world we live in, and this book is about how each of us can take responsibility for the development of our own consciousness. and contribute to the building of such a world. We are not put together by another person as in the story. We have to do it ourselves.
When it comes to the causes of disappointing outcomes extreme events, poor parenting, unfortunate accidents or reduced economic circumstances are the usual suspects. Yet development is arrested even without these external factors. I tell a story that is deliberately simple, a cameo, that abstracts from unfortunate environmental factors and omits many actual features of life, to bring out the key feature: we only access part of our potential even without the intrusion of unfortunate circumstances.
Our development is a story of unfulfilled potential. We start off moving towards our potential but we quickly lose the track and move along another one that peters out in arrested development. We get back on track only later in our lives, if at all.
Potential is a vital energy, a drive in us, demanding to be released. ‘It’, namely our uniqueness, is also accessible. It is, after all, no less than our purpose for being alive. When the time comes to express ourselves more completely the most important quality is a willingness to use our own experiences in our own laboratory – ourselves. We go from seeing through a glass darkly to seeing more clearly – the evolution of consciousness.
Only a subset of human features are given to us as babies; we create much of our personality through interactions with other individuals and between the baby and the environment. Even the world is not given to us. We enact it and we enact ourselves. That is, we simultaneously co-create a self and a perception of the world. By the time this process stops we see ourselves and the world as through a glass darkly.
This story of unfulfilled potential is easy to tell. Newborn babies start out with an unformed nervous system, without language, with an immense degree of vulnerability, without a fully-formed personality and with limited perceptual abilities, nurtured in a family and a culture with rules, expectations, a history and values. I split the story into two parts, two dimensions of one complex reality: a simple psychological story that focusses on thinking and feeling, then a neurophysical story that focusses on sensing and moving. Splitting the story into two parts is helpful for exposition but it is not accurate. Movement development in the field of gravity is so heavily influenced by family expectations and rules that even posture and movement start out as emotionally-based. And early movement experiences colour our views of ourselves. Biology and biography interconnect and interact. As the two stories are strands of a single story they proceed in the same way.
Story 1 – thinking and feeling
Do you remember the first time you held a baby, their utter dependence, their complete vulnerability?And the immensity of the task at hand, to ensure their survival, their safety and their development in the world? A major way of doing this is to introduce them to the family’s rules and expectations, which we ourselves believe promote survival, safety and development.
As babies learn and digest acceptable behaviours, they gain approval, love and safety, while opposite behaviours, which lessen approval, are repressed. Life-enhancing behaviours become habits, though we don’t see them in that way. We actually use another word. We call them ‘I’ the ego.
The ego, has two parts. The identity which forms around habitual behaviours, which elicits approval, love and safety is called the explicit ego. Actually, that’s what we call ‘I’. The other part, the implicit ego, contains the repressed opposite behaviours, and much more. The explicit ego, the sense of ‘I’, is only one of many possibilities, conditioned on the structure and functioning of the family of origin.
The ego has two functions: it is a centre which provides stability and coordinates actions, and it experiences a sense of separateness. We come back to the second characteristic later. The parts of the explicit ego, primary selves, are like computer apps. Some come pre-loaded on the bodymind. Others we download voluntarily. But many are spyware: they are downloaded without our permission, before we had the ability to give or withhold permission. They take control of our operating system, make decisions on our behalf, force us to take options we might not choose, and prevent us from accessing options that might be better for us.
The border between the explicit ego and the implicit ego is patrolled by an inner critic, which keeps unsafe elements at bay. This job starts out as an aid to survival by stopping us behaving in ways that would get us into trouble before we actually get into trouble. But soon it becomes like the message on your laptop that warns of terrible consequences if you delete the app. So we end up with some dominant behaviours and their repressed opposites: using the mind to think we tend not to use the heart to feel, pleasing others we can’t access boundary setting or straight talking. It’s the torn up ‘I’ and it works – for a while.
Story 2 – sensing and moving
Have you seen parents who do not hold up their babies and say ‘see, he’s nearly walking’. No, because they don’t exist. In early life, we are encouraged to achieve ends for which we do not as yet have the means. In the case of walking the muscles, joints and nervous system have not yet developed sufficiently to manage the task naturally and effortlessly. So at an early stage the baby’s emotional responsiveness to parents is interwoven with its neurophysical development. Actual movement comprises two components: a purely personal component that is enacted to ensure supportive relationship, and a species component that is given by human potential. The combination of these two sources of movement become ‘just how I move’, even though the pattern may involve discomfort.
Movement and relating co-evolve and this goes on for more than twenty years. Many personal additions to standing are about non-physical factors, such as what others may think of us, or how I am ‘supposed’ to stand. These are psychological rules that influence physical actions. It is no surprise that at least one significant part of the brain, the basal ganglia, adjacent to the cortex, is involved in control of voluntary movement, emotional regulation and response to reward.
At first a baby’s departure from natural movement is so tiny as to be invisible. Toddlers have such wonderful movement that it is difficult to spoil. But eventually misuses of our endowment become habitual. We don’t use our skeleton, our anti-gravity device, well. We overuse small muscles and underuse large muscles. Our actual movement patterns are supported by the firing of billions of neurons time and time again. The neurological rut we fall into is deep and gets deeper with repeated use. There are better options but they are not supported. The way I move becomes just the way I am and I no longer have access to my movement potential. After a while the whole convoluted movement pattern is carried out habitually, whether the child wants to or not.
An elegant depiction due to Maturana and Varela shows the connections between self, relationships and physical environment.
The distorted shapes (there are two distorted shapes in the diagram) symbolise explicit egos. The circles represent individuals operating according to their potential. If we subtract our explicit ego from the circle we get a shape that represents our implicit ego. And this shape approximates the explicit ego of the other person we are interacting with. It is this fit (neat but not necessarily easy), which makes relationship a teacher, even if or especially when it is experienced as limited and limiting. The wavy line is the physical environment. The two-way arrows represent two-way interactions. The interactions between people and the interactions with the environment are interdependent. This feature of our lives is what makes the influences of psychological and somatic approaches to change complementary.
I carried the picture of a circle and a smaller shape around in my head from an early age. It came from a realisation that my actual expression was a smaller and distorted view of my fuller (potential) expression and my frustration that I could do nothing about it.
New To You – a whole person
So much for torn apart. What about wholeness and potential? So far the only thing we have said about potential is that it is symbolised by a circle! Wholeness is a tricky word to use. While fragmentation implies being stuck, so it is static, wholeness is a dynamic process, a movement towards potential.
The phrase for the re-assembled whole is the Aware Ego or Aware Ego Process to emphasise its ongoing nature. The phrase comes from the Voice Dialogue Process, developed by Hal and Sidra Stone. I use the phrase to identify the emergence of wholeness regardless of the tools used to generate the outcome.
The essential steps in the formation of an aware ego are making conscious what we have been doing absent-mindedly, allowing the contents of the implicit ego to rise to the surface of consciousness (so they too become explicit) and intelligently integrating them into a broader, more functional ego – an aware ego. We become big enough to embrace old patterns and new possibilities, putting them together in novel ways that are fit for purpose, and living lives with more freedom and pleasure.
The expanded ‘I’ of the aware ego has some fascinating and unexpected qualities.
- Re-igniting our natural development process
Many limiting features of our lives arise because our natural development has been arrested. The aware ego process is the ongoing removal of habits, the ongoing emergence of abilities and the loss of apparent isolation.
- Embracing Opposites
It is very useful to classify options in terms of opposites. Some people are big picture thinkers while others do detail. Some people push and drive while others are more relaxed. Some people plan while others go with the flow. When movement is the focus, we even define the space around us in terms of opposites: up and down, backwards and forwards, left and right.
When we are stranded on the shores of conditioning we have such reluctance to use opposite abilities, or even to admit that they are part of us. Consequently, we have a limited number of ways of dealing with multifarious issues, psychologically and physically. As the aware ego emerges we gain the ability to embrace opposites. When we can embrace opposites we have options in how we respond to challenges and opportunities: working hard and resting, or accessing mind and heart. Novel possibilities also arise; for example, we become more intuitive.
A lovely analogy for this aspect of the aware ego is the hummingbird.
Hummingbirds can reorganise at will, moving in any direction: up and down, left and right, forward and back. Yes, they fly backwards. They can even fly upside down for a while! It helps if they want to put their claws between themselves and another bird above them. These options give them the ability to hover perfectly, their beaks in the flower, achieving their purpose with extraordinary elegance.
The agility of the hummingbird and the qualities of an aware ego dovetail with a powerful definition of intelligence: the range of challenges to which we make functional responses. This is also a profound definition of health for individuals, organisations and ecosystems.
Awareness allows us to witness behaviours we are enacting and others we are suppressing. It appears that we have developed a new tool, often called mindfulness. If we push beyond our limits, say at work, we notice it, possibly for the first time. Awareness used to be conflated with thinking but consciousness seems to have shifted and we can often distinguish between thinking and awareness. The great gift of this shift is that as we become aware of our thinking we also become aware that we are not the mind, even though we might use it a lot!
Awareness is the ability to observe without judgement, to be neutral in observation. The very idea that there can be attention without judgement might be novel to you. And surprisingly it promotes effective action rather than consigning us to the passive margins of life. Such witnessing opens up the possibility of new kinds of insight and action: reducing compulsive interfering and correction; letting the contents of experience be; and giving us more reliable perceptions about the world and ourselves.
Awareness develops continuously too. It may come to be experienced as the space in which experiences arise. Do you remember those at one time popular lava lamps? As the oil gets warm it rises up through the supporting liquid in the form of a blob. Every blob is unique and they are all contained in the colourless liquid. The blobs are our experiences; the colourless liquid is awareness. The liquid is not modified by the blobs yet without the liquid the blobs cannot appear.
Vulnerability needs a bit of explanation as it is often misunderstood and gets a bad rap. Vulnerability is a collective noun for openness, connection and sensitivity. The experience of vulnerability is like taking off a pair of thick gloves and touching the world with bare hands for the first time. The explicit ego, like a pair of thick gloves that prevent injury in the workplace, develops in order to protect vulnerability. This is a good thing. We cannot live through vulnerability. Or at least if we do it is too easy to become a victim of circumstances.
For this reason vulnerability is suppressed in most of us so very early on in our lives. My parents were brought up during the Great Depression and brought me up to survive in such circumstances. Vulnerability had no part to play in that, especially for a boy, especially in England. They feared that vulnerability would make me a victim.
In Othello Iago says:
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at. I am not what I am.
– Iago, Othello, Act 1, Scene 1, 56–65
We tend to believe that if you display vulnerability the jackdaws will peck at you. But this is a misunderstanding. It is actually identification (upon my sleeve) with vulnerability, not vulnerability itself, that makes us victims.
Even as we develop and age vulnerability is still the doorway to the soul but the door is often very difficult to find, and the primary selves of the explicit ego have an interest in keeping it locked. When vulnerability is combined with power through an aware ego other outcomes are available.
A samurai is walking through the woods on a moonless night. He senses the presence of another samurai and raises his sword. Suddenly he can no longer sense the other samurai and he knows he is about to die.
- We relate consciously
The possibility of conscious relationship may be the aware ego’s most important practical application. There is a linkage to another person that is palpable. We can also learn many things about ourselves that improve the quality of our lives through relationships that may not be available in any other way.
- Adaptive Capacity
Adaptive capacity is the ability to respond to an unexpected change without preparation or hesitation. And the ability to initiate without preparation or hesitation. It is the form action takes through an aware ego.
- Beachballs don’t get knocked over
As we embrace opposites more sinuous responses to sudden changes become available. We can blend rather than resist, move rather than get knocked over. This human possibility of living is a particular form of stability, neutral stability, balancing a stick on a finger. Nowhere is it out of balance and it does not fall down or get knocked over! It can move from place to place with no expenditure of energy and move in the most exquisite, complex patterns. Neutral stability is not only a movement skill, it is a life skill. When we need to turn on a sixpence, when we need to retrace our steps, to revise our opinions, to listen to tough feedback we need neutral stability.
When we operate through an explicit ego we can get destabilised very easily. We brace ourself if we find ourselves in difficult circumstances. We get ‘knocked over’ by unexpected news and ‘destabilised’ by criticism and rejection just as often as we trip up on the pavement. Or we avoid certain situations and certain topics.
Neutral stability is innate, needing only to be uncovered and improved. We take the first tottering steps towards it as babies and toddlers but progress dissipates far too early – one of the losses of arrested development. When an aware ego reconciles the opposites of control and surrender, of moving in any direction we become a little like a beachball! It prompts and supports a profound shift in consciousness.
- We find out who we are by finding out who we are not
Sometimes, when we embark on a transformational journey we develop an idea of where it will end, of how we will be once we transform. We are rarely accurate and cannot be. The outcome is unknown and unknowable. This tendency to imagine we know an end point is especially strong when we are on a spiritual journey.
Another approach to change is to find out who we are by finding out who we are not; that is, by separating from identification with the primary selves who run our life. Then we become the people who stands between opposites, pays attention, is open to unexpected developments and makes more conscious decisions.
The identity supplied by the explicit ego also experiences a sense of separateness. Up to now the argument has been that as the separate self has not developed to its potential it makes sense to improve its functioning. The assumption is so common that it hardly seems to need unpacking. Yet it does. The existence of the ego in the above amounts to no more than an assumption. It is common in spiritual literature to read that the ego is an illusion, that the ego itself is the problem that we are advised to go beyond. Here is an allegory that links the two views.
Imagine an infinite ocean without boundaries, waves or ripples; no movement at all. Then a ripple appears in the infinite ocean. The ripple is in the ocean. The ripple is none other than the ocean. Where or what else could it be? The previously formless ocean now has some features, some form. It is still infinite and there is no separation between the ripple and the ocean. The ripple becomes waves and the waves get bigger and more varied. There is still no separation between form and formlessness. Eventually the turbulence is so great that many drops of water coalesce as foam, each drop in its own bubble. The drop is still none other than the ocean but each drop now experiences itself as separate from the ocean because of the operation of the bubble. The drop has not left the ocean. It never can. But it experiences an illusory separation.
The drop represents a human being. The ocean represents the nature of reality – one, whole and indivisible. The drop experiences separation even though it is and has always been in the ocean. The story points to an apparent, experienced separation, which is not real. The drop is always in the ocean. Where else can it be? Indeed, if we were to zoom into a wave or a molecule of water all there is is ocean, so there is no separation anyway! But one more thing: the drop is water. It’s not an illusion of water. It is made of the same stuff as the rest of the ocean. The drop just senses itself as limited and that is the problem. We are already immersed but just don’t experience ourselves that way. This is a problem of perception. The title of the chapter, The Elusive Obvious, refers to the unity that lies behind the apparent diversity of life.
This expanded perspective provides a profound explanation of some of the difficulties humanity experiences and some of the possibilities inherent in human development. From the point of view of the isolated drop, the apparently separate self, the rest of the ocean, including other people, becomes the environment, limitations on the individual that he or she has to deal with as best they can. When we experience pleasure in some parts of the environment we want them and when we experience pain we don’t want them. When an individual ‘I’, seemingly separated from the whole, grabs some of the environment, that part which it succeeds in grabbing is called ‘mine’. This is the starting point of conflict as seemingly separate centres of consciousness enter into conflict with other seemingly separate centres of consciousness over ownership of apparently limited resources.
As the bubble around the drop thins out, as conditioning diminishes, individual expression takes on a new vitality and uniqueness; the individuality remains but the separation is reduced. Actions that ensue are more strongly informed by the unique individualised consciousness than hitherto. As the sense of isolation diminishes and the sense of connection increases more intuitive, graceful and fulfilling experiences manifest. It becomes possible to receive information that is not generated or conceived from within the separated bubble. Life becomes more intuitive. A lot of stuff is in the cloud that is not on my personal laptop.
Meher Baba has this to say about putting ourselves back together:
‘The intermediate steps of slimming down the ego and softening its nature are comparable to the trimming and pruning of the branches of a wild and mighty tree, while the final annihilation of the ego amounts to the complete uprooting of this tree.’ Discourses p 178
The ‘trimming and pruning’ stage is relaxing the grip of the explicit ego on the identity, allowing the contents of the implicit ego to rise to the surface of consciousness (so they too become explicit) so we can intelligently integrate explicit and implicit egos into a broader, more functional ego, an aware ego. The aware ego improves coordination with less sense of separateness. We are learning to embrace individuality and a sense of connection. Then we see through a glass less darkly than previously. The complete uprooting is consciousness without a subject or an object.
When we experience life through an aware ego life itself takes on a new hue. John O’Donoghue in his book of poetry, Conamara Blues, expresses it beautifully.
I would love to live
Like a river flows
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding
Methods for Wholeness
When the tension between a changing world and our unchanging habits increases the impulse to change arrives. The problems we experience are not purely accidental, and though painful they are not without purpose. The apps that have been set up to run areas of life stop working so well. We are being encouraged to move beyond our limitations.
The Course In Miracles provides a succinct statement:
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
The barriers are within us, and they are none other than our limited identity, the explicit ego, the sum total of our habitual behaviours, psychological and physical, the rules we live by. For much of our lives its habits underpinned achievement. But times change on the outside and on the inside and the explicit ego moves from promoter to inhibitor. In the process of disidentifying with the explicit ego, removing the barriers, we discover more abilities and more possibilities in our lives, more accomplishment, more joy, and more connection.
It doesn’t have to be love.
Your task is not to seek for fitness, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
Your task is not to seek for an improved relationship, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
Your task is not to seek for relaxation, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
Here are three approaches to moving beyond conditioning, from torn apart to whole, from an explicit ego to an aware ego:
a psychological method, Voice Dialogue, working with subjective consciousness and relationships, symbolised by a part of the Maturana-Varela diagram
a somatic method, the Feldenkrais Method, working with objective experience and subjective consciousness, symbolised by another part of the Maturana-Varela diagram
several psychosomatic methods, Aikido and combinations of Voice Dialogue and Feldenkrais Method. This means an explicit approach. All methods are psychosomatic because we are unified beings but they are often only unintentionally so.
Voice Dialogue – Getting Out Of Your Own Way
The use of the word ‘I’ disguises the obvious fact that there are many ‘I’s: ‘I’ am one person when I am teaching, another person when I am talking to my granddaughters, another one when I am pulled over by the police, and so on. Each of us is plural not singular.
The names are in the language: the pleaser, the pusher, the critic, the inner child, and on and on. These are the multiple forms our habits take when viewed from a psychological perspective.
Voice Dialogue develops an Aware Ego Process through psycho-spiritual means. Voice Dialogue allows us to separate our identity from these parts. or selves, allowing the identity to broaden. An approach that allows a respectful appreciation of inner diversity, recognises the importance of connection and sensitivity and has an overarching place for awareness is a boon in the modern age. It is a wonderful method for self-exploration and self-development whether you want to understand a compulsion to overwork that will just not go away, an addiction that seem crazy, a relationship breakdown, or a spiritual awakening that leaves you high and eventually dry.
My description of Voice Dialogue is a pale summary of what happens. There is no way of explaining in words the power and novelty of the actual experience. The approach involves a facilitator interviewing selves on behalf of the client. Over time the client begins to separate from, differentiate out or disidentify with the primary selves (the individual parts in the explicit ego, which enact our habits). Nothing is lost in this process, except limitation. All the strengths we have leaned on are still available but consciously rather than habitually. The either/ors of our lives that we might have agonised over, despairing of ever finding a reconciliation, find their places comfortably as choice replaces compulsion. For example, if you are a extremely driven (identify with a strong pusher) you will eventually have the ability to work hard when you wish to and relax when you wish to. This is an Aware Ego Process relative to the opposites of pushing and relaxing. Over time we learn to channel the mind and the heart, thinking and linking, doing and being, world selves and relating selves, power and vulnerability, form and formlessness.
Notice the second term in each of these polarities – heart, linking, being, relating, vulnerability and formlessness, all calls to experience another dimension of life beyond apparent separation of the ego. Embracing the opposites of power and vulnerability is especially revealing. Power is what allows us to succeed in the world. Used alone it allows us to get things done but it alienates and isolates us from contact – human and non-human. The ‘addition’ of vulnerability gives the missing quality, a shift from power to empowerment.
Voice Dialogue makes major contributions to every area of life – work, finance, health, fitness, spiritual development and relating. There is no more exciting application of Voice Dialogue than to relating, an area of life shrouded in mystery and sometimes misery.
Shifts in consciousness show themselves in physical changes: movement becomes pleasant and reversible (we can change direction if circumstances change). Perceptions of the objective world and of other people’s motivations and actions also change. All in all the world becomes a more pleasant, comfortable and more interesting place to live in.
Movement practices are important in personal change also because they use our capacity to invoke neurophysical change. Conditioning remains in the nervous system even after it has been recognised psychologically. The nervous system is so heavily involved in movement and sensing that changing the patterns of neurological engagement is essential in sustaining change.
The aware ego process separates the task of protecting vulnerability from the task of moving. Then paths open up to both easy movement and protection of vulnerability.
The shift is made, whether psychologically or somatically, by a combination of characteristics: awareness, a learning environment in which goal achievement is of no importance, support for innovation, and following rules of efficient movement from the word go in the usually small range in which this is possible. The willingness to explore soft, slow, gentle, pleasurable, cooperative movement is itself a shift towards the use of more of our potential individually and in relationship. This shift in movement patterns invites an acceleration of neuroplasticity, a virtuous circle, allowing us to improve movement rather quickly and effortlessly. The two shifts, staying with comfort and quality in movement, however small, and improving movement, stand or fall together. They are both by-products of the gift of unfoldment!
Following the precepts of conscious movement can be difficult. Guidelines such as move only the small amount that is comfortable or stay in the range of high quality movement, are often ignored or induce strong psychological reactions. That is one reason why a combination of psychospiritual and neurophysical approaches is needed.
More Gain Less Pain – The Feldenkrais Method
The Feldenkrais Method develops an Aware Ego Process through sensing and moving. The contributions of Moshe Feldenkrais synthesise many disciplines, intellectual and experiential. The contributions themselves are brilliant, quirky and, even now, after 75 years, counter-cultural.
The development of an aware ego process starts with recognising its opposite, conditioning. You find the impact of conditioning on movement in injury, pain, limitation, excess effort, interrupted breathing and resistance, resulting in movement that is inelegant, less pleasurable than it can be and often painful.
Inefficient movement patterns are backed up by psychological rules – try hard, no pain, no gain, succeed at all costs and so on. These psychological rules are the flip side of movement limitations. During our early development we are subject to two competing pulls. We are pushed forward by the force of human evolution and held back by the uniquely personal pulls in the opposite direction. We feel the tension between these opposing forces in all dimensions of our being, mind and body, thinking and feeling, sensing and moving. When we try to obey two contradictory impulses we use ourselves poorly, experiencing excess effort and resistance. When we conform to a simple rule such as sit up straight, we distort how we use ourselves. What we can achieve with ease and joy is achieved instead by effort and willpower. Experiencing limitation when we want to look over our shoulders while driving or secure the bottom bolt on a door or do long division or write a poem and cannot, we tend not to recognise their origins in early childhood.
There is good news though. Restrictions we experience in adult life are not based on the full potential of the nervous system, which is capable of generation and regeneration. The Feldenkrais Method, acting from the somatic side of an integrated psychosomatic approach, re-ignites development, allowing us to access more of our human potential in all areas of life.
Learning to move as nature intends requires a special environment devoid of external goals, repetition and striving – all rules that support limitation. In such an environment we learn to move with comfort, with innovation and curiosity, slowly and gently, the way babies learn. Attending to how we use ourselves rather than what we achieve turns out to invoke major improvements. Ease and change are not opposites; ease is essential for successful change.
The learning though is mostly unlearning. The rules of life we digested long ago are mirrored in overly complex movement habits. Many components of a movement are parasitic; that is, serve no useful purpose in completing a task. The conditioning underlying the unnecessary movements is the same conditioning that makes life in general difficult.
With improved organisation we let go of conditioning as it becomes inessential. The parasitic movements go. We use ourselves in a different way. We realign ourselves organically and efficiently. This is the emergence of the aware ego process. Life is movement and movement is life, said Feldenkrais. Change the quality of the movement and you change the quality of the life.
The significance of a scientific contribution is judged by the difficulty of the question asked and the novelty of the answer. Feldenkrais’s contribution gives a highly original answer to an extraordinarily difficult question and provides two practical methods for addressing the issues he raises.
Turning The Fear Of Falling Into The Fun of Flying – Aikido
When I first saw Aikido the most remarkable thing for me was that the participants, who were not athletes or dancers, moved in ways I had never witnessed – harmoniously and fluidly. The martial aspect did not immediately interest me. Instead, I had an insight that has never left me. If I could move through life the way these people were moving through space it would be a very different life.
After World War II it was impossible for Aikido to maintain a focus on fighting. Once we had the capacity to destroy ourselves as a species at the push of a button what was the point? And what can it mean, fighting for peace? Shouting for silence in a library! Hence, Aikido is a martial art that embodies the principle of harmonious and effective action and relationship. It is best translated as harmony with nature and is often called the martial art of peace. Through its practice we ourselves begin to embody the principle of harmonious and effective action and relationship.
Aikido is the creation of Ueshiba Morihei, O Sensei (great teacher), whose awakening experiences showed him the real purpose of martial arts is to avoid fighting, to generate love and to help create world peace. In Aikido we train to become better people. We practice with partners rather than against opponents, and awaken ways of moving and relating, which are already built deeply into the fabric of natural human movement and into the fabric of nature. We move cooperatively in ways that utterly change our views on what cooperation can mean; offering and receiving challenges that allow us to tap into our potential for creative response rather than push us more deeply into habitual reaction.
Psycho-physical fitness is very important for combatting the diseases of modern life and Aikido is rejuvenating and purifying. Health has another dimension too: the ability to harmonise with a wide range of people and situations, and Aikido assists this process directly.
Aikido builds the Aware Ego by relating through movement. It is a very ambitious project. The rules of engagement, of practice, make the exploration safe and in this sand pit we explore conscious relating. We find improved methods of resolving conflict and harmonising with others. Movement becomes more intuitive and natural, the quality of the movement reflecting the process of inner change. This creates opportunities for creative action while improving health and relationships.
The martial arts played a broad role in these methods for developing human potential. Feldenkrais was one of the first European exponents and teachers of Judo, and Hal Stone took up Aikido because he saw in it an effective method for developing an Aware Ego Process.
Many of us are no longer in a state of physical readiness to perform even simple movements without preparation. Conditioning held in the body is strong and unconscious. For this reason I teach and practice Aikido along with the Feldenkrais Method.
The sculptor who sculpts herself
\What is it about these methods that promote change? We are both a sculptor, the author of our actions and a sculpture, the product of our own actions.A bad sculptor will sculpt a bad sculpture. The inadequate sculpture of herself will be in the image of a bad sculptor who can only produce poor sculptures. This is a very stable configuration of below potential self-reproduction.
In the opposite case a good sculptor sculpts a good sculpture of herself . The sculpture will be in the image of a superior sculptor, who can produce good sculptures. This too is a very stable state of self-reproduction, closer to potential. This allegory represents a system with more than one possibility, more than one attractor. Whichever one you are in persists.
There is something about these methods that provides the preconditions for a bad sculptor to become a good one, going from producing bad sculptures to good sculptures, making improvement accessible. Once we have moved from the low road to the high road the same approach can take us further along. We experience increased ease and increased ability together and an opening-up of life possibilities.
The left-hand picture is Escher’s Drawing Hands, a perfect hand reproducing itself, and the right-hand picture is a distortion of the picture in which a distorted hand reproduces itself.
The Long and Winding Road
Habits are very stable
Habits have two properties. They are survival-oriented; that is they help us achieve safety, security, approval and love. Second, they don’t change. They continue even after their use as survival mechanisms has reached its use-by date. Attempts to change them often fail. Another way of expressing this invariance is to say habits are highly stable. It is useful to illustrate this first through the medium of movement, where it shows its nature very clearly, then to move to its psychological expression.
Stability can be introduced by the idealised landscape below. There are two valleys and one peak. If you put a ball into the left-hand valley it will eventually settle at the bottom. If you put a ball in the right-hand valley it will settle at the bottom of that valley. There are two equilibria. Both of these positions are stable (if you give a ball a little push it will head back towards the valley floor). The peak is a little different. If a ball is placed carefully at the peak it will stay there so that is an equilibrium too. But if you give it the tiniest of pushes it will fall down into one of the valleys, never to return to the peak. It is an unstable position.
Human potential is very similar to potential energy. Potential is any ‘possibility’ that a person has, psychospiritually and in movement, whether they express it or not. Habit is a position at the bottom of a valley, a very stable position, whether you like it or not. Potential is the peak. The peak though is not only very difficult to achieve, it is unstable! The challenge of change is to get from a valley to the peak, and simultaneously to make the peak stable so we don’t fall down as soon as we try to move? All this is doable! It is, after all, our natural state.
Making the peak stable
Think of balancing a stick on your finger. A stick on your finger is is an unstable position – if you don’t move your finger! Once it starts to fall it keeps on falling. If you move your finger and indeed your whole body sensitively you can keep the base directly under the centre of gravity and the stick will not fall. This is neutral stability, the experience of stability we are looking for.
This stick model is quite a good representation of the human body; tall and straight with a very small base, and what keeps us upright is our ability to move so that our base of support, usually our feet, is under our centre of gravity. So the task of making a peak stable is achieved by recovering our ability to move readily in response to unexpected changes. These superior stability properties are natural in humans but arrested development stops them emerging. Moving readily in various directions is embracing opposites, the essential quality of an aware ego.
There is reference to this aperspective in the bIble. When an aspirant asks to become a disciple Jesus he replies that such a life is difficult because ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’ It is not because Jesus is itinerant. It is an expression of a neutral equilibrium where no one position is better than any other and there is continual adjustment.
A historical event
There is a famous story of the early days of Australian settlement by white people that includes all these ideas. Soon after white colonisation the town of Sydney was facing food shortages through a lack of arable land. To the west of Sydney lay the Blue Mountains. Beyond them it was rumoured there was plenty of farming land but the Blue Mountains were turning out to be impassable. The colonisers were using a European approach to exploration by following the valleys, which ended in sheer cliffs. Climbing up the sides was also impossible. Success came when Blaxland, Wentworrth and Lawson kept to the ridges!
The plain which becomes accessible at the top of the crown ridge is an analogy for potential and its neutral stability. You an move in any direction at any time without effort and without falling down. It’s the responsiveness to life we are looking for.
These concepts can be captured within an expanded landscape.
LANDSCAPE NOT DRAWN YET
Having seen what is required – turning an unstable position into a stable one – the question is how to do it. Once again engineers have solved this problem in a way that has direct application to personal growth! The Rocky Mountaineer train starts in Vancouver and has to go over the Rockies. The ridge is too steep to ascend directly. When it was attempted there were fatal accidents. As gradient is rise over run the solution is to increase the run and reduce the gradient, in this case by half. The task was achieved by building spiral tunnels through the mountain, performing two spirals and exiting at the top of the Rockies.
When it comes to human improvement the impasse is in ourselves rather than in the environment. Nevertheless, innovation and gradualness are still essential and the spiral an insight into the nature of progress.
This gradual spiral path is a learning environment. During the slow, gentle traverse through this environment we gain three things: release of the inhibitions we have experienced all our lives (these inhibitions are our habits), emergence of new options that have been hidden, and an aware ego process that is a connected centre for living and conscious choosing, standing between opposites, and responding to surprise events without preparation or hesitation.
Learning Principles for Wholeness – The CAPRICE Model
The shift from habit to potential, from valley to peak comes about in a learning environment which allows us to spot the limitations of the actions we take and behaviours we employ, shift from their being habits over which we have no control to patterns over which we do. The set of learning principles that support the transformation are CAPRICE, an acronym for comfort, awareness, pleasure, relationship, innovation, curiosity and experience. These characteristics separate into two overlapping groups.
The first group – comfort, pleasure and relationship – ensures the satisfaction of our basic need for safety and for supportive, nurturing relationship. When I think back to learning experiences that have been positive, especially when I had no idea about vulnerability, I always come up with interactions with teachers who have offered support and have themselves combined mind and heart; safe exploration and a lack of judgement. By the way, it is at this point that many people say but that’s not life. No, it is not life as we know it. It is a special environment set up to support the possibility of soothing childhood wounds and protecting vulnerability. It is precisely the absence of this possibility in our development that sees conditioning become so strong and learning so difficult.
The second set of attributes – awareness, pleasure (again), innovation, curiosity and experience – builds on the first set to provide a springboard for the emergence of previously unsuspected natural abilities. This is the birth of a consciousness that combines power and vulnerability. Taking it into life is the next step.
Repair of the World
The the repair of the world (from the Judaic concept tikkun ha-olam) starts with improving oneself and then extends this capacity by joining with others to tackle society’s problems, requiring cooperative behaviour for mutual benefit. A necessary condition for this endeavour is to separate from habits.
A couple became jaded in their business. They had been very successful but increasingly found business and life devoid of purpose. Wishing to continue to use their business skills in a humane way they purchased a piggery. One of their primary goals was to improve the care of the pigs. The couple set about improving the operation of the pig sty. They installed a self-cleaning sty, running water; comfortable sleeping quarters and a balanced, nutritious diet. All was wonderful – for a while. But gradually, then dramatically, the pigsty returned to normal. After a couple of weeks it was indistinguishable from the old sty. Very despondent, they sought the advice of their neighbour, a lifelong farmer. He listened to their story sympathetically. ‘Ah’, he responded, ‘if you want lasting change you have to change the pigs, not the pigsty.’
It is advice we might listen to. We change this and change that, anything but change ourselves! Yet individual change is a pre-requisite for social change. I like to operate in the region where individual development and organisational development intersect. This chapter looks at a number of such areas. The approach is the same for all areas: develop an aware ego with respect to a specific life challenge.
Health and Well-Being
My phone has 56 health indicators I should monitor!! But conventional approaches tend not to work We start to treat ourselves like robots, trying to follow fixed rules of behaviour and failing. We can’t keep to the dietary plan. And when we fail our inner critic gives us such a hard time that we eat some chocolate and vow to start again tomorrow. And there are lots of tomorrows. Or we can’t keep to an exercise plan. We ‘know’ we should park the car a kilometre from work and walk a bit. Then we don’t do it, criticise ourselves for having no willpower, feel bad and still don’t walk, losing fitness and self-worth at the same time.
Following wise health advice is actually one step in a successful programme. But it is the second step. The first step is to separate from habitual behaviours. Health promotion starts with wondering why we adopt the habits we do.
The issue is not lack of willpower. It’s misunderstanding. Improvement means using ourselves better not more. It’s not how much we do it’s how much attention we pay to what we do. Why not investigate who (on the inside) gets us to eat emotionally and why? Why not investigate who (on the inside) is keen that we walk and also investigate who (on the inside) is happier driving? And while we’re at it, why not admit that walking may not be pleasant the way we are doing it, and improve movement so it is pleasant? Otherwise we are always fighting ourselves – the eater versus the dieter, the runner versus the internet, touching your toes versus avoidance of pain in the hamstrings – and when we fight ourself we always lose!
It is good to exercise. It is not good to be compulsive about exercise as compulsion inhibits beneficial change. When we get to the bottom of these inner struggles improvements are more readily available.
We misunderstand health as being a prerequisite for living a fulfilling life. Health is a life well-lived, an ability to deal with life’s challenges and the advantage of life’s opportunities, not a prerequisite for them. We cannot determine the challenges and opportunities that come our way, only our responses to them. This requires us to get closer to our potential, identifying habits, separating from them and gaining access to a more extensive set of options. Then health means responding to changes in our lives with less preparation or hesitation. That’s what an aware ego is for.
There is no one size fits all approach to health. As we develop the authority to sense whether an action is good for us we can make appropriate choices.
As the Andrews Sisters sang in 1945 ‘Money is the root of all evil’. It is a misquote from the Bible. The quote is actually ‘the love of money is the root of all evil’, and the full sentence is more revealing still: ‘For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows’.
So we get to the point: when we over-emphasise material gain and under-emphasise spiritual development we suffer, ‘are pierced with many sorrows’. We can certainly empathise with this view. In this age when affluence is within the reach of many, where material success is held to offer so much and so often fails to deliver, we need an aware ego when it comes to material and financial decisions and actions. To be uncaring about money is to be infantilised in much of life, to make foolish decisions, and to attract people who will help you spend money in ways that suit them. To be too money-focussed is to lose much of the joy of life.
This chapter summarises a series of issues that arise when it comes to money and to the resolution of these issues. As relationships often suffer when partners differ in their views on and their competence in financial affairs several of the examples are about money in relationship, while others are monetary issues faced by individuals.
There is little discussion of financial instruments or of the economy. In this day and age financial competence is important and neglect has serious consequences. But my emphasis here is on the role of the aware ego in dealing with the financial side of life.
When it comes to relating better we can agree with that ad that read ‘It’s easy to make the finest cognac. All you need is a father who made the finest cognac, a grandfather who made the finest cognac and a great-grandfather who made the finest cognac.’ Just replace the word cognac with relationship and the word father with parents.
The lopsided nature of human development sets up the preconditions for lopsided relationships and vice versa. We grow up, yet our relationship style does not. When we relate through habitual patterns we are unaware of our vulnerability, don’t take care of it and unconsciously place it in the hands of others. This is why much of our relating behaviour is not amenable to direct, deliberate change. We perpetuate behaviours until we investigate them and learn from them. When a couple fights regularly over an external issue the issue is rarely the issue, the relationship is the issue. We judge the other person – the trouble with me is you.
There is a great and painful irony in all this. The behaviour we are judging is a disowned self, the behaviour we most need to integrate for our own benefit. It is actually the discomfort of relationships in trouble that propels us into the next stage of growth and shows us the nature of this growth.
The principles of relating apply to marriage, families, friendships, professional relationships, gay, straight and gender-fluid relationships. They hold between organisations and teams, between individuals and animal companions, and even between us and the objects for which we yearn.
How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives.
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
This chapter explores the impact of habitual behaviour on work outcomes and job satisfaction, explains how to use work experiences to move beyond our habits, and demonstrates the beneficial consequences of conscious behaviour.
The workplace example I focus on is management. It is not necessarily imposed top-down management. The analysis fits just as easily into a cooperative or not-for-profit system, in which workplace democracy is valued and the function of management as coordination is appreciated.
There are a few topics that managers focus on regularly – communication, leadership, team development, performance management and time management. They are often used poorly and fail to deliver expected outcomes when they are used habitually. Habits are one-sided while the tools call for two-sided managers; managers who have task and people skills. It is a rare person who has both. Effective approaches to these areas require us first to embrace opposite behaviours deftly and dextrously, that is, to develop an aware ego, a nucleus for integration of experience that allows us to embrace the opposites of task and relating skills. Then using management/leadership tools delivers a more effective coordination of many people in pursuit of the same goal. Progress is made with a two-step approach and, once again, the tools and techniques presented in management/leadership manuals are the second step not the first one.
I include climate change in this chapter precisely because the binding constraint to effective action on climate change is not technology but consciousness. We can stumble into climate crisis for all kinds of reasons – bad luck, scientific ignorance, technological limitations, poor incentives – but even without these factors unconsciousness will do it. Individual ‘I’s, seemingly separate centres of consciousness, satisfying their wants by grabbing some of the environment, eventually enter into conflict with other seemingly separate centres of consciousness as they too seek ownership and exploitation of apparently limited resources.
When the global population of humans is small, global resources are large and technology is primitive the consequences of conflict remain muted As population increases so do the problems as the underlying immutable law of unconscious individuals – more is better – remains the same.
To simplify, use of fossil fuels and land clearing are the major factors in climate change. The odd thing is that we humans do both of them but fail to relate well enough to control them.
Relationships suffer when groups become polarised, for example, commercial groups and green activists. But polarisation between people who promote commercial interests and people who promote green values need not be so sharp. From an aware ego it is less difficult to acknowledge that we need an income and we want to leave a safe environment for our grandchildren, and to negotiate with openness and trust. As soon as we embrace both sides we can interact sensitively, and solutions open up. We can work harmoniously with others to make conscious choices about how we want our world to be. Our ability to manage climate change sensibly is supported by the ability and willingness to act in cooperative, trustworthy ways, to focus on unity rather than division. These options are not available when identification with specific interests is dominant and relating is habitual.
Conscious self-management and conscious management of the environment are more similar than might be thought. Or in the words of da Vinci, man is a model of the world. The planet is a sensitive system which becomes destabilised at boundaries we cannot know precisely. Such systems require sensitive management and sensitive management requires sensitive managers, who can adapt without preparation or hesitation. This is aware ego work.
A Fairy Tale
Once upon a time there was a village in a valley. It was neither a paradise nor a dystopia. It was isolated and the people who lived there had the characteristics of mountain folk we have come to expect and even respect: they were hard-working, reliable, responsible, a bit taciturn, a bit uncommunicative. Children certainly played, yet by a certain age they became more like their parents.
The geography of the village supported their life and culture. The village was positioned high in the mountains in a dead-end valley. The mountains on either side of the village improved the climate sufficiently to grow food and keep animals. It also separated the village from the rest of the world. This gave a certain uniformity, a lack of tension and conflict to life. The sun came up late and went down early and you could say life too was lived in a shadow.
Our story concerns children and the stories the children were told, and one story in particular, part creation myth and part salvation myth. A long time ago or once upon a time as the parents would start their story, life had been different. The village was but one of many villages all linked together. There was much coming and going, fairs, celebrations, trade and diversity. The village people too had been different – lighter, more colourful, more cheerful, on occasion joyous even and more open.
Then came a catastrophe, a separation of the village from the rest of the world. Some versions of the story pointed to a huge avalanche. At any rate there had been a major change in the topography, the climate, the ecosystem and the people.
The story though was not only an account of the fall but a prediction about when it would rise again, ‘when the mountain bows low to the valley and the valley reaches up to the mountain good times will return’ suggested the story, enigmatically enough.
We take a closer look at a group of kids during a part of their day on one day in particular. It’s summer and it’s the holidays, days of idleness, excitement and sometimes boredom. In our group there are boys and girls. For some of the day they play together, then at other times they split up habitually and go their own ways.
The boys tended to drift away from the village, through the fields and into the foothills. Quickly the slopes became too steep and too loose in scree.
A couple of boys, slightly older and more athletic led the way. The rest of the boys straggled out behind them. Then there was that little fat boy. He was last as usual, short of puff and endurance. He certainly tried hard. But it was all too rough and tumble for him. Yet being part of the group was better than loneliness. He was picked on and bullied to a small extent but the other boys were mostly kind and tolerant. So don’t worry, his story is not the Lord Of The Flies and a terrible fate does not await our Piggy character. But a strange fate does.
On the particular day that interests us the little fat boy was, as ever, bringing up the rear on a fairly shallow slope. The other boys had raced on ahead. He stopped for a breather and sat down then lay down. When he was younger our little boy had been very dreamy. Possibly it was this aspect of his personality that allowed him, at that time, to be quiet enough that the hare stopped only a few metres away and looked at him closely. After a while the little boy also saw the hare. On cue the hare bounced off at a leisurely pace around a bush and disappeared.
That intrigued our boy who, after waiting until the hare could not still be around – the boy was timid after all – he sidled up to the bush and sneaked a peak behind it. A hole, a large hole. A hobbit hole? Maybe. except he didn’t know about hobbits. Fear and curiosity: what tension! He managed to enter the tunnel maybe five or ten metres until the dark beat the light. When he came out it was too late to catch up with the rest so he set off down the hill to home. He was used to going home alone but this time it was without a sense of inadequacy and with questions: what to do? who to ask?
In the end he didn’t tell or ask anybody, at least not just then. His trips became less group-oriented, more solitary, and more devious. It was his tunnel and his journey. It was only after he came across a roof fall that he turned to his friends for help. The boys were thrilled, at least for a while. Mostly they were thrilled to have a gang meeting place and to find out what was behind the rubble and rocks. But pretty soon the project became a bit too large for a gang of kids.
One day he got home quite late – time keeping was not his strong point.
Over tea his dad asked him about the hideout; it was common knowledge by then.
‘I think it’s a tunnel’ said the little boy.
‘Where do you think it goes?’
‘Don’t know, it seems to curve around, but somewhere really good.’
’What makes you think so?’
‘Well’, the boy paused. This idea had been at the forefront of his mind for a while now but you had to be careful with fanciful ideas in the village.
‘It’s the story of the Parting and the Coming Together. “When the mountain bows low to the valley and the valley reaches up to the mountain then good times will return”. A tunnel does that. The mountain comes down and the valley goes up. Just like the story.’
There was silence. His parents at least had the habit of not putting him down.
So began the great tunnelling project. Well, it was more a clearing project as it turned out that the way was much clearer than you might expect. The tunnel did curve. It also rose at a gentle angle. Before they knew it the group came out at a high point on the valley side, looking down at an unfamiliar angle on their village.
A disappointing end to the journey no doubt.
Not far away there was another entry to another tunnel. The second tunnel went much the same as the first one. When it came out though the villagers were near the high point of the ridge itself.The end was very low key. The tunnel became easier to clear and it soon became apparent it was already a tunnel from the other end. It became a stroll in fact. The light at the end of the tunnel was faint, then clearer and all too quickly clear and wide and blue.
The tunnellers came out on a broad sunlight hillside and looked out over a valley so wide to their eyes that it seemed like an expansive plain. Far in the distance was another mountain range. And through the bottom of the valley, a broad, impressive river. Agricultural land on both sides, a road network, and on the far side, half-way up the slope, a town. All was peaceful. Rather than return as a group five villagers continued across the plain while the other four went back to report.
A small group came out from the village to greet them. ’Welcome. We are so pleased you have come. We have been waiting for you. Indeed, from time to time we visited you. It was clear that you had your own path but we have always hoped you would seek us out. We widened and maintained the tunnel from our end just in case one day you would take the journey. What led you to us?’
‘It was our myth – the story of the Parting and the Coming Together. “When the mountain bows low to the valley and the valley reaches up to the mountain then good times will return”’.
‘Yes, that’s our story too. But we never conceived of it as a physical thing. We’ve always interpreted it as reflecting a life path. Whenever we find ourselves facing an insurmountable barrier we wonder about how we are did that to ourselves, and find an easier way to move forward. Whenever we felt we had to climb a steep mountain we asked how to make the transition more easily.’
Let’s leave the villagers here. Consciousness proceeds by contagion and the consciousness virus spreads in ways it is difficult to predict.