Thursday, October 13, 2016

Tips for Simplifying Life

"Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.”
Lin Yutang

In these acceleratingly complex times, it's important to bring some calmness and simplicity to your world. One way to do this is, (as much as possible), to simplify your life.

Based on values, here’s some tips for simplifying your life:

1.    Remove clutter from your life
It takes time and energy to keep possessions in working order, dusted and looked after, so get rid of stuff you don’t really need or doesn’t align with your key values.

2.    Evaluate your commitments
Learn to say “no”. Don't overload your schedule. Use your values to decide what’s important to do and what you can say no to.

3.    Use entertainment media wisely
Turn off your TV and limit the amount of wasted time aimlessly listening to radio, mobile phone texting or surfing the web. Before indulging in mind-numbing media, check your values and see if there’s something of higher value that you may not have done. For example, are your kids or family more important? Is your health of higher value than entertainment? If so, go share some valued time doing an outdoor activity with the people you love.

4.    Make time for yourself
Commit to yourself. Make time to relax, exercise, meditate and re-vitalise yourself. To cope with the stressful pace of life and change, you need some quiet space. So make time to read books that uplift you and make sure you give yourself regular peace and solitude.

5.    Automate repetitive tasks
Automate the ongoing repetitive tasks of life. For example, setup automatic bill payments so you don’t have to waste time on these boring mechanical tasks. Simplify as many tasks as you can. There are a lot of amazing tools and devices that make jobs quicker and easier. Make use of them.

6.    Live a low-footprint life
Live within and beneath your means. Studies show that the majority of self-made millionaires are frugal. Choose lower cost options as often as possible and save as much as you can. That way you won’t waste a huge amount of your life working to pay for things you can’t afford.

7.    Listen to your heart and gut
Your heart-mind and gut-intelligence have wisdom. Talk to them, ask them for guidance and listen to what they tell you. When you are clear about your values, the whole of your mind/body will work to help you live up to them. Simplify and value your life and you’ll find that ‘too much, too soon’ will become a thing of the past.

Want to learn more? Want a happier life? Want more purpose and meaning? Then you might want to read:

 And if you'd like to learn more about the heart and gut brains that Neuroscience has uncovered in us all:
life enhancing smiles and wishes

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Generative Learning - The CIA Strategy

gen·er·a·tive   adjective \ˈjen-(ə-)rət-iv
:  having the power or function of generating, originating, producing, or reproducing

“Through learning we re-perceive the world and our relationship to it... 'Survival learning' or what is more often called 'adaptive learning'
is important - indeed it is necessary. But…
'adaptive learning' must be joined by 'generative learning',
learning that enhances our capacity to create.”

Peter Senge

Generative Learning (GL) is life enhancing. It is a process that can be profound and transformative. The term Generative Learning was first proposed as a learning methodology by learning theorist Merlin Wittrock back in 1974 in a paper published in the journal ‘Educational Psychologist’ and entitled ‘Learning as a generative process’. As expressed by Wittrock (1992), “In the model of generative learning, the brain is a model builder. It does not transform input into output. Instead, it actively controls the processes of generating meaning and plans of action that make sense of experience... the focus in [Generative] learning is on generating relations, (both among concepts and between experience or prior learning and new information), rather than on storing information... [Generative learning] deals with the effects of generation of meaningful relations--among concepts and between knowledge and experience... Within this framework, teaching becomes the process of leading learners to use their generative processes to construct meanings and plans of action.” There is now a strong body of neuroscience based and empirical research support for the model showing its utility for creating deep and powerful learning experiences.

The term Generative Learning has also been used to describe what the philosopher and system theorist, Gregory Bateson, has called Level III Learning. Bateson proposed in his book ‘Steps to an Ecology of Mind’ (1972) that there are five levels of learning, starting with Level 0 which he said was characterised by “specificity of response” that is not subject to correction, up to Level IV which he suggested probably does not occur in any adult living organism on the planet. Learning III (or Level III) was defined in Bateson’s framework as a corrective change in the system of the “sets of alternatives” from which choice is made. Learning 0 can be considered to be stimulus-response learning; Learning I is often called ‘Applied Learning’; Learning II is ‘learning to learn’ and is often connected with Accelerated Learning processes. As learning scholar, Paul Tosey (2006) points out “LII is essentially about learning the pattern of the context in which activity takes place.” And Learning III is a higher-order learning process in which “one not only learns, but simultaneously learns how to learn, and simultaneously learns how to learn how to learn” (Bateson, 1972). Learning III involves enacted and embodied change in relation to contexts and is profoundly reorganizational in character. It produces deep ontological change.

I was first introduced to the term Generative Learning by my colleague, NLP Master Trainer, Marvin Oka back in the mid to late 80’s. Marvin had been studying Bateson’s work and using behavioural modelling to explore Generative Learning strategies. Other scholars and system theorists have followed a separate but similar route. For example the Organizational Learning expert, Peter Senge and his colleagues (Senge, 1990; Senge et al., 2005) have proposed that Generative Learning strategies are important for organizational and personal success and that they relate to Bateson’s Level II and Level III learning processes (Chiva & Habib, 2015). In exploring Generative Learning strategies they claim that Generative Learning encourages experimentation, risk-taking, openness, and system-wide thinking.

While the work of Wittrock and Bateson (et al.) on Generative Learning is not identical, nevertheless it is complementary and has many overlaps. I personally have found in my own work, that a conceptualization of Generative Learning based on an amalgam of both Wittrock’s and Bateson’s ideas is pragmatically useful and powerful for producing generative change in both the training and coaching contexts and in my own life.

Developing the CIA Strategy

I developed the CIA GL Strategy by a process of behavioural modelling of my own learning behaviours. Throughout my life I have always been incredibly creative, generative and inventive, developing many, many generative models, techniques and even whole new fields, a number of which have been profoundly transformative for myself and others. And so I wondered what were the unconscious processes that lead me to be able to do that. As a behavioural modeller I was curious. What I discovered were a number of strategies, foremost amongst which was a process I ultimately called the CIA Strategy. This is a generative intelligencing process that I apply to all new learnings and that leads to new insights, new applications and new techniques. It’s a process that causes re-organisational shifts in how I understand the world and how I operate in the world. It is deeply and re-entrantly ontological (producing deep shifts in my ways of being in the world that generalize across the contexts of my life.)

For example, the CIA strategy is one of the key strategies I used to co-develop the new field of mBIT (multiple Brain Integration Techniques – see As another example of the power of its use, one of the mBIT Trainers who I explicitly taught the CIA technique to shared with me that it had profoundly changed how he experienced mBIT and what he was able to do with it. He said that the CIA Strategy had been an incredibly transformational learning for him.

So I wanted to share this generative learning strategy with you. It’s deceptively simple. It’s what in NLP we would call a BFO – a blinding flash of the obvious. And yet as we know, profoundly simple patterns are often the most impactful, aren’t they…

So what is the CIA GL Strategy?

What I found that I do in life is that whenever I come across a new concept, a new idea, a new piece of information or learning is that I immediately begin to explore it from a CIA perspective. What is that? Well, it’s:

Concept >> Implication(s) >> Application(s)

As soon as I learn a new idea, I immediately encapsulate it or summarize it ‘conceptually’ that is, I treat it as a concept, (and/or chunk up to the concept that underlies it, connects with it or informs it.) I then begin to explore the implications of this concept, in my own life and in the larger world and its various contexts (business, social, behavioural, etc.) For each of the implications, I then determine possible applications, or ways of using the concept and its implications in real life. I also apply the SWT – the ‘So What Test’, to these applications, looking for pragmatically usable, impactful and meaningful tools, techniques and strategies. Once I’ve developed those I immediately put them into action. I action research them. I try them out and fine-tune them. Through practice they become an ongoing part of my behavioural skill repertoire. And I teach them to others and share them. It’s a key part of learning and making use of the process of teaching to learn (Lieberman, 2014).

What makes the CIA Strategy so generative, transformational and re-organisational is that it takes any new learning and immediately begins to connect it at many levels across many contexts. And in doing that it encourages my multiple brains, the neural networks of my heart, head and gut to connect the new learning into existing knowledge schemas and to allow those to start being used in new applications. It’s a way of deeply digesting the learning. Often I find that in using the CIA Strategy I start to see things in new ways, in a new light. My existing database of concepts, implications and applications get refreshed and restructured in the light of the new models and frameworks that emerge in my thinking. Suddenly an emergence of understanding and knowing occurs.

As the great system theorist, Humberto Maturana (1992) suggests, “All true knowing is doing.” And I think this is one of the keys to the CIA Strategy. True intelligencing requires the ‘doing’. It needs the application into the real world for the concept and knowledge to come alive, for you to work out the boundaries, the nuances, to build your deep expertise, to gain mastery with the learning. And once you’ve moved from novice to expert, you find that your understandings deepen. You make new connections. Your ways of being and doing in the world change. This is what Generative Learning is all about.

So I’ve found the CIA Strategy to be very simple yet powerful. It makes learning fun. It keeps my life fresh and alive. It encourages my creativity, my curiosity, my passion and capacity for exploration. It helps build my neural circuits of learning, knowing and creating.

I encourage you to take it onboard in your own life. Start right now. Whenever you learn a new concept, immediately apply the CIA Strategy to it. I’ve just shared with you a great new Concept – that there is a simple three step process for enacting generative learning in your life. So what are the implications of that? And what are the applications? How specifically could you apply it and in what contexts? At a deep identity (as well as a values) level, how will you do yourself differently in the application of this concept in your life? What changes in your life as a result of knowing and doing this?

Doing Deep Inquiry

CIA is a form of deep inquiry. It invokes Creativity, Connection, Critical Thinking and Generative Change. From an mBIT (multiple Brain Integration Techniques) perspective, the CIA Strategy is directionalized through the Highest Expressions (Compassion in the Heart, Creativity in the Head, and Courage in the Gut) of the human spirit. It is through this emergent filter of aligned wisdom’ing that you explore the implications and applications of your learnings. As you learn and embody a new concept, you do so through an orientation that asks, “What is the most compassionate, creative and courageous use I can make of this learning in the world?

Generative Learning also requires ‘active learning’ – the learner must be active in making meaning, in connecting the new knowledge into existing schemas and to directionalize the learning into new ways of being and doing. And the CIA Strategy provides a scaffold and guide for all of this.

The CIA Strategy provides a process for enacting deeper levels of learning as it moves from the conceptual thinking levels back and forth iteratively to the application and doing levels. This is nicely summarized in the following diagram from the work of Senge, Scharmer and colleagues (2005):

“Through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we never were able to do. Through learning we re-perceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life.”

  • Scope
  • Assumptions
  • Contexts
  • Values/Importance
Implications also involve and link to Intention, since it is through intention that we contextualize the implications of a concept and how we construct what the concept means in relation to the outcomes it is potentially being linked with. Intention is the bridge or scaffold between Implications and Application.

  • Attention
  • Selection Criteria (for using the application; when & when not, where & where not, how & how not, with whom etc.)
  • Consequences/Outcomes of the application
Applications are where the rubber meets the road; they are where you get to utilize the learnings and concepts in real life and to evoke change in the world. Applications directionalize attention and engagement. They also evoke the environmental triggers and criteria that allow you to know when and where to apply the learning. It is through gutsy application and the dance between conscious awareness and the unconscious competencies that are built through real-world practice that true mastery is created.

CIA Questions:

Questions to ask yourself when deeply learning a new concept or idea:
  • How does this new concept link to other concepts I know?
  • What is implied by this new concept? What are its impacts?
  • How can I apply this? What is the most Compassionate, Creative and Courageous use I can make of this learning in the world?
  • What else is implied and how else can I apply this?
  • Where can I apply this?
  • When can I apply this?
  • With whom can I apply this?
  • When and where and with whom NOT to apply this?
  • How will I do my ‘self’ differently in the application of this concept in my life? What changes in my life as a result of knowing and doing this?


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Life Enhancing Magic!

“Every word, every act of our art is said and is done either for good or for evil. Before you speak or do you must know the price that is to pay!”

“To light a candle is to cast a shadow.”
Ursula Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea

In the wiccan magic tradition, there is a wonderful book that is often considered to be a deeply significant ‘Grimoire’ or text book for learning magic. Now in case you don’t know, magic (and not the kind performed by stage magicians, but the kind performed by mages throughout history) is defined as "the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will". In other words, it is a primitive but powerful and pragmatic form of early psychology aimed at the skills of unconscious change and personal transformation. And it is largely concerned with understanding and use of the ‘true names’ or deeper nature of things, processes, identity and the world.
“Magic consists in manipulating the natural world through knowledge of true names.”

The gift of wisdom

Many years ago, I was introduced to wiccan magic and ceremoniously gifted a copy of this book I am referring to above. I found it to be a powerful book and a beautiful story. You see, it is actually written as an adult-children’s story by a very skillful and popular award winning author named Ursula Le Guin. Ursula is well-versed in psychology, both modern and ancient, as well as Taoist philosophy and Norse mythology amongst others…

Her book, which is part of a trilogy (that eventually grew to many more books in the series), was first published in 1968 and is titled, ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’. The book tells the story of a young mage named Ged, who follows a journey of self-discovery, and who learns to embrace his own power, will, and ability in the world of magic.

"Ged was the greatest sorcerer in Earthsea, but in his youth he was the reckless Sparrowhawk. In his hunger for power and knowledge, he tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tumultuous tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death's threshold to restore the balance."

I’ve now read the story many, many times, and on each reading I gain greater and deeper insights from it. The book is largely an exploration of the process of ‘individuation’ and the power of our personal magic to cause change in our own phenomenological world through the use of our will and the marriage and embracing of our conscious and unconscious processes. Individuation of course is the process by which a person becomes identified as being distinguished from other people and things, the process by which they become their own unique self’ing. The great psychologist Carl Jung said that individuation is the process of integrating the conscious with the unconscious for the purpose of self-actualization, and is the goal of our psychological and metaphysical development. So you can begin to understand why a story that guides and informs this process, in a deeply metaphorical way, might be important and useful as a tool for personal evolution.

[BTW, I also introduced the book into the field of NLP many many years ago, where it has gained traction amongst numerous NLP Trainers and Master Trainers, morphing into entrancing learning stories about the deep power and magic of language to influence the unconscious mind and thereby life.]

Exploring meaning

Approximately thirty years ago I spent 10 days living in a tent, on an ancient isthmus that sits at the southern-most point of mainland Australia. In itself, it’s a magical environment where the mountains meet the sea. During that time, I read and re-read ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’, performing what I called a ‘psycho-magical analysis’ of it. That summary and analysis has lived on in the hard-drives of my various computers over all those years, revisited by myself regularly, but of little life enhancing benefit to others (except where I have specifically shared it with a friend or colleague). While on a trek last week, on the South Island of ‘middle-earth’, magical New Zealand, I was telling some of my fellow hikers about how life enhancing the story of ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’ is and how deeply insightful it can be from both a neuro-linguistic and a psychological perspective. And I promised them that once I returned to my own piece of paradise, I would write a blog post about this and more widely share my analysis and summary with them and the world.

So sitting on a plane, on the way back home, flying at 20,000 feet, I’ve created this post, revisiting and updating the analysis to include the insights of mBIT (multiple Brain Integration Techniques). And here it is, for all those who may enjoy or benefit in some small way from it.

By Grant Soosalu

Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life:
bright the hawk’s flight
on the empty sky.
 Ursula Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea

Individuation: understanding and knowledge of the process of self’ing

Ged unwittingly begins upon the path of individuation by copying his ‘aunt’ in the control of animals (goats), but becomes frightened by the results of his natural talent. This leads his aunt to teach him all that she knows:
“When he found that the wild falcons stooped down to him from the wind when he summoned them by name, ..... then he hungered to know more such names ...... To earn the words of power he did all the witch asked of him and learned of her all she taught, though not all of it was pleasant to do or know.”
The path of individuation is often first begun by blind emulation of another (someone who is significant in your life and whom you unconsciously model) who has skill and understanding and is already a long way up the path of individuation. With knowledge of self comes the understanding of why people (the goats in the story) act and think the way they do, and thus a person gains power to control the thoughts and actions of others. However, if this power comes from emulation rather than true understanding, then the results of personal power, of personal actions/interactions may be frightening.

Ged saves the town from marauders but in doing so overspends himself and falls ill.

Along the path of individuation, there comes a time when the individual has built sufficient understanding of the surface nature of human life that he is separated from most others, he has the power to save and help others with this understanding, but only at great cost to himself, with the ultimate result being depression of his soul, unless he can find the way forward into deeper understandings and thereby a more generative healing and expressing of self in the world. This often and classically involves the use of a mentor, a healer, or a guide – someone who can provide reference structure experiences and models of wisdom for the seeker.

The great mage, Ogion the silent, finds and heals Ged and asks to name him:
“For to keep dark the mind of the mageborn, that is a dangerous thing.”
After the naming:
“... the mage spoke in his quiet voice: ‘Come lad. Bid your people farewell and leave them feasting.”
It is at this time that the silent mage within must be brought forth to heal the personality, to leave the people feasting (following and giving in to their hungers and evolved tendencies), and to really begin to learn.
Ogion: “Manhood is patience, Mastery is 9 times patience. To hear one must be silent.

Ged hungers to learn, to have power.

The gut (or core identity) provides the motility at this stage of the path, but usually it is heart-felt pride and hubris which leads and drives this next stage.

Craving knowledge and power, Ged soon becomes frustrated with Ogion, who wishes to teach him patience and respect for order in nature, referred to by wizards as the Balance. Through trying to impress and prove himself to a girl (to the powerful call and expression of our sexual and animal nature), Ged, not fully understanding the use of power, summons a shadow from the darkness, that calls to him in a whisper he doesn’t understand, but fortunately is banished by Ogion who arrives just in time to avert danger.
Ogion: “Danger surrounds power as shadow does light. ... every word, every act of our art is said and is done either for good or for evil. Before you speak or do you must know the price that is to pay!”

For those who know NLP: compare this with anchoring of the 5 - tuple of experience i.e. people experience what is communicated (named), and every word has a semantic response that echoes through your life and the lives of those around you. Words, thoughts, ideas and metaphors have power.

On the advice of Ogion, Ged travels to the Island of Roke. In order to enter the ‘wizards school’ on Roke, he must say his ‘true’ name:
“Then Ged stood still a while, for a man never speaks his own name aloud, until more than his life’s safety is at stake.”
A wizard’s name expresses his ‘true’ (aligned) and deeper nature. Names have power and ‘true’ namings must be used wisely and carefully and guarded since they have incredible power.

As he enters, a shadow follows him in at his heels.
It is dangerous to speak of your true name - your true or deeper nature - to any but those who truly follow the ‘school’ of magery, i.e. the same path of individuation. Talking about your personal evolution to those not on that path can be dangerous and harmful.

At the school he meets Vetch, who had a greater, unlearned skill, the art of kindness (also known as the highest expression of compassion).

Through pride and his strong will, Ged masters the arts of illusion, myth, weather, herbal (nature) and the lesser arts of changing.

Illusion: surface behaviours, appearances, self-image
Myth: personal history, programming, upbringing, the patterns of unconsciousness
Weather: emotions
Herbal: animal nature, life force
Changing: behaviour modification – the art of deep personal transformation and evolution

“By the illusion change you can make a rock seem like a diamond, but that is mere seeming. Illusion fools the beholders senses, it makes him see and hear and feel that the thing is changed. But it does not change the thing. To change this rock into a jewel you must change its true name. And to do that, my son, ..... is to change the world. It can be done, it is the art of the Master Changer, and you will learn it, when you are ready to learn it.
“But you must not change one thing until you know what good and evil will follow on the act. The world is in balance, equilibrium. A wizard’s power of changing and summoning can shake the balance of the world. It is dangerous that power, it is most perilous. It must follow knowledge, and serve need. To light a candle is to cast a shadow.”
Your personal world is in balance i.e. the world of the psyche, ego, consciousness and the unconscious. As you gain new skills and powers of understanding and influence, as you light the candle of knowledge and skill via conscious application and learning, you don’t just brighten your candle, you also create a deeper shadow. Every skill you learn, creates an unconscious competency that the ‘whole’ of you, the whole of your multi-mind, including your shadow, has access to. The greater your candle, the darker your shadow!

Summoning: the planting of personal seeds – the installation of new patterns, ways of being and doing, and that through neural plasticity, ultimately alter the summoner

“Magic consists in this, the true naming of a thing.”

Through pride and arrogance (in a competition against his rival Jasper), Ged releases his shadow onto the world and is almost killed by it, the old wise Archmage dies by using all his power to mend the rend in the fabric of the world through which the shadow came.

As personal power grows, so the shadow of this power is released onto the world, onto the people who make up the seekers/journeyer’s world and onto the journeyer’s own life itself. The shadow of power and understanding can scar the person on the journey of individuation.

The new Archmage: “The power you had to call it, gives it power over you: you are connected.”

The power and understanding that allows the shadow out onto the world, also gives the shadow power over the unconscious and the ego self (not just over other people, but also over parts of yourself – your multi-mind)

Even though he has released the shadow, Ged finds Vetch still trusts him (a heart-based competency).

Trust and love of another is an important and powerful force in the process of individuation. Compassion and love are the highest expressions of the heart intelligence, and as highlighted in the new field of mBIT (multiple Brain Integration Techniques), ‘the heart leads’.

The Summoner: “The truth is that as a man’s real power grows and his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what he must do .....”

In order to leave Roke - the Master Doorkeeper says: “Ged, you won entrance to Roke by saying your name. Now you may win your freedom of it by saying mine. ‘Master’, said Ged, ‘I cannot take your name from you, not being strong enough, and I cannot trick your name from you, not being wise enough. So I am content to stay here, and learn or serve, unless you will answer a question I have.’ ‘Ask it.’ ‘What is your name?’ The doorkeeper smiled and said his name.”

There are those you meet on the path, who are further along than you. They can often be the gatekeepers to your progress (as can developing parts of your own unconscious mind). Unless you can transcend this stage of your personal evolution, you may end up stuck at the stage of the learning they can offer you. However, you do not have power over them. Yet, by humbly asking them for real connection and support, for them to reveal their true name, their deeper nature, they will give to you this gift. It is the gift of new insights and deeper understandings, and the chance to go forth to higher levels of new learnings and understandings.

Ged leaves and lives life, helping others, at his own peril, fighting dragons. Yevaud the great dragon offers to tell Ged how he can master his shadow: “‘I will tell you its name.’ Geds heart leaped in him, and he clutched his staff, standing as still as the dragon stood. He fought a moment with sudden, startling hope. It was not his own life that he bargained for. One mastery, and only one, could he hold over the dragon. He set hope aside and did what he must do.”

In many cultures dragons are viewed as representing the primal forces in nature and the universe. Here, the temptation for the seeker to use the primal forces of nature to gain success in life is a major temptation. As you become individuated, your wisdom and skills can tempt you to take the easier path of using natural primal forces to gain ascendency in life. However, this is a dangerous path and one that must be set aside. True wisdom comes from embracing your own name, not gaining it falsely from the use of power.

Ged begins to travel and meets a strange grey wizard who tells him to go to the court of the Terrenon:
“A wizardly man soon learns that few indeed of his meetings are chance ones, be they for good or evil.”
As you grow in your ability to align your self’ing, to align with the ‘true’ nature of the universe, you tap into synchronicities, entrainment and resonances that you are creating by your very ways of doing and being. You create self-fulfilling prophecies in the patterning of your life. And you soon learn there are no coincidences.

Heading for the court of the Terrenon, Ged is lead and then chased and attacked by his shadow, which has taken over human form as a gebbeth:
“... before Ged could speak spell or summon power, the gebbeth spoke, saying in its hoarse voice, ‘Ged!’ Then the young man could work no transformation, but was locked in his true being, and must face the gebbeth thus defenseless. ..... He ran, and the gebbeth followed a pace behind him, unable to outrun him yet never dropping behind.”
Ged is saved by the Terrenon.

The shadow once released cannot be ignored or run away from. With time it takes on human (ego/personality) form and follows on your actions - a pace behind. You attract those around you that are reflections of you own shadow, and these create gut-based fear that can destroy you.

Ged wakes to find himself in luxury with a beautiful woman for company. In the court of the Terrenon he is tempted and cajoled to commune with ‘that terrible rock’:
“‘But I will not speak with that spirit’ Ged replied, and looking full at her spoke ‘My lady, that spirit is sealed in a stone, and the stone is locked by binding spell and blinding spell and charm of lock and ward and triple fortress walls in a barren land, not because it is precious, but because it can work great evil. .... the Old powers of earth are not for men to use. They were never given into our hands, and in our hands they work only ruin. Ill means, ill end.’"
Escaping from the shadow can lead to life styles of luxury, sensuality, the games of sex and love (drugs, etc.) - the old dark earth power of ‘glamour’. These must be faced and overcome with honesty and the power of aligned will.

Ged flees and returns to Ogion as a hawk. Ogion helps him to return to his true form:
“...... as a wizard he had learned the price ..., which is the peril of losing one’s self, playing away the truth. The longer a man stays in a form not his own, the greater this peril.”
With knowledge and power comes the ability to assume different images, to play away the truth, to escape from difficult circumstances. This is a dangerous stage which can lead to the journeyer being locked in an ‘image’ (a way of being and doing) that is not the ‘true’ aligned and congruent self’ing.

Ogions advice to Ged:
“You must turn around. If you go ahead, if you keep running, wherever you run you will meet danger and evil for it drives you, it chooses the way you go. You must choose. You must seek what seeks you. You must hunt the hunter.”
Ged begins chasing his shadow:
“Following his falcon flight across the days and winds .... , the shadow might wander or might come straight, there was no telling. But unless it had withdrawn again wholly into the dream realm, it should not miss Ged coming openly, over open sea, to meet it.
On the sea he wished to meet it, if meet it he must. He was not sure why this was, yet he had a terror of meeting the thing again on dry land. Out of the sea there rise storms and monsters, but no evil powers: evil is of the earth.”
The shadow must be met on the sea of life, not some special place or time of life, not unusual circumstance, but in the normal ebb and flow of life. The sea represents the fluid and deep nature of the unconscious mind.

Ged calls to his shadow:
“‘I am here, I Ged the sparrowhawk and I summon my shadow!’ Far off, in the rain he saw the shadow coming. It had a shape now, even in the daylight. In its pursuit of Ged and its struggle with him ... it had drawn power from him sucking it into himself: ... his summoning of it, aloud in the light of day had given to it or forced upon it some form or semblance.”
Ged tries to catch it and it turns and flees. Ged follows.
“He hunted, he followed and fear ran before him.” But the shadow tricks him into crashing into a reef where he almost drowns.

On the reef he meets two old people who give him food and water and the old lady gives him a gift which is half of the ring of eternal harmony, but which Ged does not yet know of.

Ged continues after the shadow and comes to land:
“At the sight of it, fear had come into him again, the sinking dread that urged him to turn away, to run away. And he followed that fear as a hunter follows the signs ..... It was fear that lay ahead of him, that lurked hiding from him or waiting for him among the slopes and forests of the island, and straight for it he steered.” 
To find the shadow, the dark side of your own nature, you must use your gut-based fear as a compass. What creates fear and tension in your life, must be met and undertaken, and transcended. You must learn to embrace courage in the face of fear. To lead your gut by an integrated alignment of head, heart and gut intelligences.

Once again Ged is drawn into a trap set by the shadow, but at the last second turns to find the shadow behind him and he lunges to seize the shadow, but again after a struggle it flees.
“All terror was gone, all joy was gone. It was a chase no longer, he was neither hunted, nor hunter, now. ..... neither could escape, when they had come to the time and place for their last meeting, they would meet.

Ged follows on, until at Ismay he meets up with Vetch, his trusted friend. Vetch convinces Ged that he should continue on with him in his final search for the shadow. Speaking of the shadow Ged says: 
 “When I ceased to flee from it and turned against it, that turning of my will upon it gave it shape and form even though the same act prevented it from taking my strength from me. All my acts have their echo in it; it is my creature.”
Speaking to Vetch’s sister, Ged says:
“All power is one in source and end, ... years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man’s hand and the wisdom in a tree’s root: they all arise together. My name and yours, and the true name of the sun or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the Great Word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name.”

Together with Vetch, Ged sets off for his final meeting with his shadow:
“They went now on a way in which all events were perilous and no acts were meaningless. On the course on which they had embarked the saying of the least spell might change chance and move the balance of power and of doom: for they went now towards the very centre of that balance, towards the place where light and darkness meet. Those who travel thus, say no word carelessly. ..... Vetch asked no question about their course, knowing that Ged did not choose it but went as he must go.”

Then at the dark of the moon that follows first after sunreturn (the contrary pole of the days of the moon. The dark axis of the year.) Ged meets his shadow. He does this in the open sea, where the sea becomes land:
“.. the sea had turned to sand, shadowy, unstirred. Nothing moved in the dark sky or on the dry, unreal ground that went on and on into the gathering darkness all around the boat, as far as the eye could see.”
The dark of the moon - at the height of the unconscious power. The shadow must be met at the unconscious level. The conscious must meet the unconscious that generates it. You must acknowledge and honour your self’ing, that both exists and does not exist, since it is no ‘thing’, but a process that is called into being and is your ‘human becoming’.

As the shadow comes towards him it assumes numerous forms:

1. an old man grey and grim - his father the smith;
2. a young man - Jasper his early rival;
3. Pechvarry - the man whose child he could not save - Pechvarry’s face was all bloated and pallid like the face of a drowned man;
4. the gebbeth;
5. a black animal like shadow crawling on its short taloned legs.

All of these are aspects of your self’ing, aspects of that which made you, your personal history, your growth, your relationships, those processes that have defined you on your journey to individuation.

As they meet, both Ged and his shadow say each others names:
“Ged reached out his hands, and took hold of his shadow, of the black self that reached out to him. Light and darkness met, and joined, and were one.”
Vetch watching all this perceives wrongly and is caught up by the illusion. He springs out onto the sand to help his friend, but as he runs the sand sinks under his feet, turning into sea again, and he is almost drowned. But struggling back into the boat, he rows to where Ged is laying and hauls him back into the boat.
“‘Estarriol’ he said ‘look, it is done. It is over.’ He laughed. ‘The wound is healed’ he said, ‘I am whole, I am free.’ Ged had neither lost nor won, but, naming the shadow of his death with his own name, had made himself whole, a man: who, knowing his whole true self, cannot be used or possessed by any power other than himself, and whose life therefore is lived for life’s sake and never in the service of ruin, or pain, or hatred, or the dark.”

The final summary

The process of individuation is the process of understanding, embracing and honouring both life and death, of life’ing and death’ing. It is the process of yin and yang, of light and darkness. It involves the grasping and letting go of self, and the journey from human being to human becoming and onwards through the cycle of life’ing through to deathing. Individuation is the creating of a life of meaning, that transcends our limited life-times, and our fear of our mortality, the unknown and the process of knowing and un-knowing. Ultimately, the Wizard of Earthsea is a guide to the journey of your own soul, the process of living as a fractal of godding in the universe, and creating your own unfolding of your unique highest expressing of wisdom in your life’ing.

And I hope that you have enjoyed in some small way my simple analysis and summary of Ursula Le Guin’s transformational and incredible story. The way to use this summary best, is to grab a copy of Ursula’s wonderful book and read it first for the pure enjoyment of its story. Then read it again, in the light of the summary above. Then reflect deeply on your own journey to individuation and where on the mage’s path you are right now, and what you need to do so that you may embrace your own shadow.

Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life:
bright the hawk’s flight
on the empty sky.

Life enhancing thoughts and wishes

Monday, January 20, 2014

Enhancing your life with Exquisite Superlatives

Superlative – an adjective or adverb expressing the highest order, quality, or degree”

[Please note, this was originally an article I wrote, entitled 'Exquisite Superlatives', that was published in Anchor Point: The International Journal of NLP, September 1994]

As you are aware, the words you use and your semantic response to those words – the meaning you make from the words – inherently determines the quality of your life and your experiences. And the most exquisite thing about being human is that you get to choose! You get to choose the qualities with which you relive and represent your memories to yourself and others, and how you future-pace your ongoing actions and immediate experience.

For example, at some stage you could choose to enjoy some pleasure, or you can ferociously decide to be completely enveloped with intense and exquisite pleasure NOW!! Which would you prefer? It’s your choice! Like playing a musical instrument though, the secret to mastery is both in practice and in having a superb repertoire to choose from. Having only a few notes or chords won’t allow you to play full and melodious songs  – Won’t allow you to play those beautiful songs and music that magically lift you up and take you to the most incredible places.

Developing a magnificent repertoire

So the key is in developing a working repertoire of fantastically descriptive words – evolving and refining a list of distinctions about life and living – a set of exquisite superlatives. By producing this list of exquisite words – words that have a deep, intense, visceral and profound meaning to you, words that are juicy, ferocious and unsurpassable – you get to alert your conscious and other-than-conscious attention to these qualities of ‘being’. You get to practice them and to elegantly facilitate the submodalities of superb, ongoing experiencing.

And you know, Richard Bandler is an excellent example of someone who uses words superbly to add juice to his life and to those around him. Richard doesn’t have “curiosity” in his life, he does “wanton curiosity,” he doesn’t expect his seminar participants to have “resolve” about their learnings, he demands that they have “ferocious resolve.” And words are intensely powerful.

Create a List NOW!

I know that much of this is obvious, and yet how often is it that consistently putting the simple and obvious into practice gets over-looked? As Moshe Feldenkrais might call it: ‘The elusive obvious’.

So create a list of superlatives to enhance your languaging. Through the action of creating and using your list, you will have developed an immense repertoire of descriptive qualities you are using to directionalize your living. And to gracefully assist you in this fantastic process, I share with you the following list. Use it to form the basis of your own ultimate transformational dictionary.

The Super-duper Hyperflockulated Exquisite Word List

elegant              glorious             priceless          magnificent
keen                  amazing            tremendous     scrumptious
intense              fragrant              prime              pure
brilliant             splendiferous      sensational      fabulous
ferocious           magic                superfine         absolute
profound           exquisite            fantastic           immense
succulent           total                  utter                 gorgeous
unsurpassable    keen                 fierce               extreme
ultimate             ultra                  spectacular      captivating
consummate      wanton             delicious          thrilling
awesome           immense           transcendent    radical
tatalizing           luxuriant            sublime           wondrous
voluptuous        outrageous         splendorous    entrancing
vivacious           delightful            beautiful          stupendous

Own this list, flesh it out, add to it and enhance it. Play with categorizing it into V,A,K,O,G,Ad (Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic, Olfactory, Gustatory, Auditory Digital – Language) sections to gain even more distinctions. And tomorrow, don’t just get out of bed and have a shower, instead, ferociously launch yourself up and have a delicious and delight-filled shower; don’t just have breakfast, do a fabulous and incredible breakfasting; and don’t just have a nice day, do a sensational and unsurpassable day! The choice is yours.

Using your Superlatives

Let’s play with this a little to gain a deeper understanding of its usefulness. Think of something you like and notice the submodalities of the experience. Now, think if something you are absolutely ecstatic about – what are the submodality differences?

Ok, now think of some part of your day that was just average, just alright, nothing special, and as you picture it in your mind, repeat the words: “spectacular, superb, exquisite” out loud, 3 or 4 times. And say them with meaning. Notice the changes that occur in the submodalities of the experience. Powerful, wasn’t it now?

This is an example of the entrancing effect that exquisite superlatives can have on your neurology. And by the way, you also get to choose the submodality effects that the words produce. For example, you might anchor sparkle and glitter to the word “awesome,” an intense surround-sound lion’s roar to the word “ferocious,” or even a full-body, lustful flush to the word “outrageous”. Then when someone asks you how you’re feeling, tell them “outrageously, ferociously awesome” and then STAND BACK!

Just imagine what you can do with this. What amazing submodality effects would be sublime to link to the word “immense”? What about “profound”? It’s a difference that truly can make a total difference.

Congruence - Becoming a Master of the Non-verbal Superlative

As you probably realize, the way you say the words is as important as the words themselves. And as a friend of mine, who is outrageously successful in getting what he wants from life said, “You know, it’s not only the exquisite words you say, it’s also the exquisite way you say them. When you express them with all of your body, all your mind, with total glorious abandon – when all your non-verbals completely and congruently match your words – then things really start happening.”

So now practice putting “oooowwwssshhhh” into the expression of your life. Explore the quality and intensity of both your repertoire of non-verbal superlatives and the non-verbal expression of your verbal superlatives. Get that orchestra hopping, turn up the volume, and make congruence a totally happening thing!

Using your NLP Skills

Some of the other ways you may want to use your powerful NLP skills to ensure that you get more and more vivacious delight from your life are:
  • New Behavior Generator

Create a powerful part to use exquisite superlatives with unconscious competence.

  • Timeline Installation

Create a compelling future by placing captivating reference experiences of using superlatives to make an intense difference along your timeline.

  • Submodality Facilitation

Don’t just design the submodality experiences of each superlative, go further than that and amplify and intensify the submodalities of how you are valuing these ideas. Map across to the submodalities of utter fascination or magnificent obsession.

Other Ideas

You may also wish to place your list in a position where you will read it again and again – especially in a place that is unconsciously linked to important values in your life or living. For example, eating is an important and deeply salient (to the gut and heart brains) life function, so paste your list brightly and boldly next to the kitchen table, and peruse it as you eat breakfast each day. Preparing your mind for the delicious day that lies ahead.

Try watching some Bandler videos to note how Richard uses words exquisitely and to such great effect. Or gather some friends and have a superlative word party.

Use your words to profoundly enhance the music of your life.

And finally, play with these words, explore them, make them your magnificent obsession. They truly are superlatively exquisite.

life enhancing thoughts,

Friday, January 10, 2014

Meaning and Meaningfulness

Meaning and Meaningfulness - the Structure of Human Understanding

[Note: this post was originally written as an article I had published in 'Anchor Point: The International Journal of NLP', August 2004]

In NLP we know that wisdom is supported by multiple distinctions. One useful technique for generating new distinctions is to distill our knowledge and understanding back to the simplest underlying processes possible. This can provide powerful abstractions we can use as tools to explore, filter and understand our world and our selves.

 "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."
Albert Einstein
There are two fundamental processes that we as humans do to make sense of the world, indeed there are two fundamental processes that any neural network utilises in order to build a semantic network that models the world:

The mind/brain is involved in mapping and tracking:
  • Meaning
  • Meaningfulness


Meaning is created through metaphor. According to the Cognitive Linguist, George Lakoff, the essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another. Metaphor constructs meaning by linking experiences and objects together. All new experience is made sense of by linking it to something else that is already understood. X is like Y. Thus to make sense of the world, we as patterning systems, build a semantic network where cognitive concepts and deep structure experiences are linked together in a web of interconnected meaning. Metaphor is primary (and as we have found in the new field of mBIT, it is also largely embodied). It is the fundamental tool by which we construct our maps of the world. And language, one of our key mapping tools, is primarily metaphorical in nature.

According to Piaget, a famous developmental psychologist who explicated a powerful theory of cognitive epistemology, our cognitive structures change through the two processes of adaptation: assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation involves the interpretation of events in terms of existing cognitive structure whereas accommodation refers to changing the cognitive structure to make sense of the environment. Cognitive development consists of a constant effort to adapt to the environment in terms of assimilation and accommodation. Another term for accommodation is metaphorical extension. We build new metaphorical links that relate new experiences to existing understanding. Assimilation involves interpretation and understanding within the existing cognitive/semantic network.

A great example of these processes at work in life is when a child first learns about 'dogs' and then goes for a drive in the country with his or her parents. "Look mummy," says the small child spying a cow in a field, "a big doggy!" "No," says the parent, "that's not a doggy, it's like a doggy only bigger and instead of saying woof, it says moo." A short while later, the child spys a horse, "Oh mummy, there's a funny shaped cow!" "No darling, that's a horse, it's like a cow only you don't get milk from it and it is used for riding. It says neigh." The child thus learns by assimilating and then extending and accomodating the new experiences and meaning and by linking them metaphorically. X is like Y only different. This is how we construct meaning in our maps of the world.

To summarise: Metaphor is Meaning.


The neural network of the brain is a values driven patterning system. It tracks for and maps what is important, salient and of value. As new experience occurs, the strength of the synaptic connections that are firing during that experience, get strengthened in proportion to the biological (and eventually semantic) salience of the experience.

Gerald Edelman, in his research on the mind and brain has shown in his theory of Neuronal Group Selection, that values are at the heart of how we construct our maps of the world. Meaningfulness drives and determines what gets stored in the neural network of the brain. Metaphors are built through shared links of shared salience. Values sort and prioritise which metaphors, which cognitive structures, will eventually come to live in our maps of the world. Meaning and meaningfulness interconnect to determine how we make sense of the world, how we make decisions and ultimately how we come to live our lives. Lives of meaning and meaningfulness.

Values also are at the heart of what information comes through our nervous systems to impinge on our frontal lobe processes and higher brain functions. The Reticular Activating System (RAS), a core component of our central nervous system, acts as a filter or way-station to information coming from almost all our sensory processes. And the key to the RAS is salience or values. The RAS only allows information through that it deems to be meaningful.

The RAS for example, is responsible for the 'cocktail party effect', this is where you are at a party or restaurant, surrounded by a sea of noise, of music, of people talking loudly and yet you can choose to ignore or switch off the surrounding noise and totally concentrate on the sound coming from the person you are talking with. Yet when someone three tables or groups away mentions your name, or even something that you are keenly interested in, you suddenly hear their voices. Its like your name leaps out of the blur of noise to grab your attention. And yet, up until then you were totally oblivious (consciously) to their conversation. Your RAS has been unconsciously tracking all of the information impinging on your sensory channels and deleting that which is not salient and amplifying that which is of value to you.

Values filter and prioritise the information your nervous system attends to and therefore learns from and builds new maps and metaphors from. Values filter and directionalise learning. The map becomes the territory. Meaningfulness guides the construction of meaning.

To summarise: Unless meaning is meaningful it will be meaningless.

Submodalities - The Structure of Meaningfulness

As we have seen above, metaphor codes meaning. But what codes meaningfulness? When you picture a belief in your mind's eye, the content of the picture carries and codes the meaning. What is 'in' the picture forms the meaning. And the submodalities (brightness, size, position, colour etc.) code the meaningfulness. Meaningfulness is structured through submodalities.

Submodalities are a discovery from the field of NLP. They’re the building blocks of the senses and as such they structure the meaningfulness of our experiences. For each of our sensory modalities (sights, sounds, feelings, tastes and smells) the sub-components of each modality are its ‘submodalities’. So for sight for example, the pictures in your mind have submodalities like size, focus, distance, position, color/black-and-white etc. 

For example, picture something in your mind's eye that you strongly believe, something you feel very strongly about and that is very important to you. Something you value highly. Now notice how bright and close the picture is to you. Push the picture way, way off into the distance and dim it right down. Notice that subjectively it no longer seems so important, so salient, so meaningful. Now zoom it back in to where it was originally and brighten it up. Your subjective experience of the belief is intrinsically linked to the submodalities you code the image with.

Notice also that those things that are important to you, that you value highly, tend to have pictures that are physically located high in the visual field. They are 'highly valued'. And notice also that this extends into other patterns of how we value our world. Where are the most valued and expensive 'top shelf' drinks stored? - On the highest shelf. Where do we physically place the most important people in an organisation? - The office of the CEO is usually on the top floor, and similarly on an Organisation chart, the most highly valued (in importance and in remuneration terms) people are placed on the top of the chart. Have you ever seen a short Super Model? - Research indicates that tall people are more highly valued, they get better jobs, more opportunities and their median income is higher. Society is replete with examples of the vertical sorting of values.

So the submodality of vertical dimension codes for move towards and move away from values. Up is move towards, down is move away. The higher or lower, the more the towards or away salience.
Distance and brightness combine together, as a means of increasing or decreasing the flux density of photons impinging on the retina, to code for intensity of salience. By brightening an image or moving it closer, you increase the intensity of the meaningfulness. You make it much more meaning-full.
Central and Peripheral physical location also code for meaningfulness. We value those things that are central to us much more than those that are peripheral. (Note however that change in the peripheral view has high salience from the perspective of danger and fear.) Left and right also code for meaningfulness.

These are just some of the many ways we use submodalities to code how meaningful things and experiences are to us. There are numerous others related to time coding, colour coding, patterns of change etc.

To Summarise: Submodalities code meaningfulness and values.

Putting it all together

As we have seen, we make sense of our world, our lives and our selves through an interplay of meaning and meaningfulness. Meaning is coded through metaphor and meaningfulness is coded through values and submodalities. This means that if you want to live a life designed for success, you need to become aware of and a master of the metaphors you are using to make meaning of your life.

You need to become a Metasmyth - a Meta-phor Smyth, a designer and creator of the metaphors of identity and meaning that organise your reality. You need to become an expert on the process of metaphor’ing and how each word is both a metaphor and a literal descriptor of the deep-structure experience it is encoding. (You need to become 'meta' to your own sense of self-ing and how you construct your reality through metaphor.)

You also need to become a Values master. Tracking, designing and flexibly operating from very clear and well-defined and well-formed values. Become a master of how you are value-ing your life. Values aren't something you have, they're processes that you do. How are you valuing your life? Are your values well-formed and clearly focussed? Prioritised in hierarchies that support your life purpose?

By deeply and clearly understanding the importance of these two processes - metaphor and values - and developing skills in tracking and utilising them, you can amplify the excellence of your results, the excellence of your relatings and the meaning you make of your time on this planet.

Meaning and meaningfulness are the keys to the patterns you unfold in your life.

life enhancing wishes

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Stories can change your life!

"The cool thing about reading is that when you read a short story or you read something that takes your mind and expands where your thoughts can go, that's powerful."
Taylor Swift
I’ve written before about the power of words and the importance of learning and reading for enhancing your life (Words are life enhancing, Loving your mind, Think about this, We are what we know). And now new research shows that even reading a fiction story changes the neural structures of the brain and leaves traces that last for days…

The following was reported in today’s Science News:
Many people can recall reading at least one cherished story that they say changed their life. Now researchers at Emory University have detected what may be biological traces related to this feeling: Actual changes in the brain that linger, at least for a few days, after reading a novel. Their findings, that reading a novel may cause changes in resting-state connectivity of the brain that persist, were published by the journal Brain Connectivity.
"Stories shape our lives and in some cases help define a person," says neuroscientist Gregory Berns, lead author of the study and the director of Emory's Center for Neuropolicy. "We want to understand how stories get into your brain, and what they do to it."

The Emory study focused on the lingering neural effects of reading a narrative. Twenty-one Emory undergraduates participated in the experiment, which was conducted over 19 consecutive days.

The results showed heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language, on the mornings following the reading assignments. "Even though the participants were not actually reading the novel while they were in the scanner, they retained this heightened connectivity," Berns says. "We call that a 'shadow activity,' almost like a muscle memory."

Heightened connectivity was also seen in the central sulcus of the brain, the primary sensory motor region of the brain. Neurons of this region have been associated with making representations of sensation for the body, a phenomenon known as grounded cognition. Just thinking about running, for instance, can activate the neurons associated with the physical act of running.

"The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist," Berns says. "We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else's shoes in a figurative sense. Now we're seeing that something may also be happening biologically."

The neural changes were not just immediate reactions, Berns says, since they persisted the morning after the readings, and for the five days after the participants completed the novel.
Given that research (for e.g. see here, here, here and images here) shows that new dendritic growth and neuronal connections can occur with less than a day in the brain(s) (yes, importantly neural plasticity has also been found in both the heart and gut brains as well as the head brain), this means that when you read a book that viscerally moves you, that grips your heart and stirs your mind, that you are literally growing new neural connections and changing the structure of your multiple brains (head, heart and gut).

So books and stories are powerful! They have the ability to alter your mind and your life. Question is…
What books and stories are you reading? 
 And what books have been life changing for you? 
Many people from around the world have told me that mBraining has been profoundly life changing for them. Now we know in part why, reading it will have altered the neural structures of their multiple brains in wise and generative ways.

Great wishes,

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Vanilla Essence’ing

“What do we mean by saying that existence precedes essence? We mean that man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world-and defines himself afterward.”
Jean-Paul Sartre

There is no ‘essence’

When we first built our house, we came to our empty block of land and there was a pile of lumber, cladding, roofing iron and stumps sitting on the ground. Over the next couple of weeks this pile of material turned into a house. The same material was now sitting on the block, in the same location, but now it’s ‘essence’ had been transformed from a pile to a house. When we look at a pile of timber, it is the same timber molecules that exist in a tree, and it can be the same timber molecules in a house. The material is the same but the arrangement is different. And the affordance and experience of that material varies profoundly and markedly. A pile of timber on the ground won’t keep you dry, warm and protected on a winter’s night. A tree won’t do that particularly well either, especially on a wild and stormy night. But arrange that timber into a house and you are kept warm, dry and safe. The ‘essence’ of house is not imbued in the timber molecules. You could take the same piece of timber and turn it into a house, a rocking chair, a kitchen spatula or even, if you were skilled enough, into a rose.

Let’s take the example of a rose. What is a rose? It’s a flower of the Rosaceae family. But this includes strawberries, pears, almonds and cherries. So what is a rose? We now have genetically engineered roses that are black! There’s even a rose that is rainbow colored.

With a bit of genetic tinkering magic we could create a black rose that smells of lavender. Would it still be a rose? If I took a nano-fabricator, a device that builds objects one atom at a time, and I took the atoms from a piece of lumber… atoms of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen etc. and built a rose one atom at a time, so that before you was a manufactured rose. But it was identical atom by atom to a ‘real’ rose, it looked identical, smelled identical and felt identical. I’d argue that if you didn’t know I’d ‘manufactured’ it, that you’d think it was a ‘real’ rose. That it had the ‘essence’ of a rose. And isn’t this just what the rose bush does, it manufactures (so to speak) the rose, atom by atom, molecule by molecule in the growth process, so that it can seed and propagate itself. In essence, it is ‘rose-ing’.

Looking deeper – arrangements of energy

So let’s look a little deeper into this idea of ‘essence’. We spoke above of atoms and molecules. So let’s use those to explore this notion. Elements like carbon, oxygen, copper and zinc etc. are made of atoms. Atoms themselves are made of arrangements of protons, neutrons and electrons. These in turn are made of sub-particles, all the way down to what physicists suspect are tiny multi-dimensional wiggling string like energy quanta. Indeed, the field of quantum physics has shown that at the smallest levels, particles are really just probability distributions of energy. And this is backed up by Einstein’s discovery that energy and matter are one and the same,

E is energy and M is mass. You can convert matter to energy and vice versa. So atoms are arrangements of energy!

Now with this insight under your belt, let’s take a look at ‘essence’. If you took a piece of carbon, a black lump of soot or graphite for example. It is relatively hard (indeed, diamond, which is a form of carbon is one of the hardest elements known to man), it tastes like carbon, it is black etc. And it is made up of 6 protons, 6 neutrons and 6 electrons. These components arranged together create a substance that appears to have a particular ‘essence’. But if we add another proton, neutron and electron to this arrangement, we get a very different result. We now have Nitrogen, the clear, odourless, invisible gas that makes up 80% of the Earth’s atmosphere and consists of 7 protons, 7 neutrons and 7 electrons. And underlying all this it’s just energy. So with the same component processes, rearranged in different amounts, we end up with a completely different apparent ‘essence’. It’s as if I was building a house and I added some extra timber and ended up with a very different result. The material is the same, it’s just arranged in a very different way and produces a very different result. And this is what we mistakenly call ‘essence’.

So I hope I’m convincing you that there is no ‘essence’. There is just arrangings of energy and process. And these arrangings, lead to propensities for action, interaction and the production of phenomena and affordance. And this is an incredibly powerful and profound insight that opens up new possibilities that you don’t get if you think things have fixed ‘essences’.

Ancient Wisdom

Now these insights have been known about for thousands of years. This knowledge actually predates the erroneous Greek philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. Buddhism for example is closest to the scientific understanding of the nature of reality, in that it makes a strong and accurate assertion that all phenomena are empty of any essence,

“What is the reality of things just as it is? It is the absence of essence. Unskilled persons whose eye of intelligence is obscured by the darkness of delusion conceive of an essence of things and then generate attachment and hostility with regard to them.”
But along the way, we got derailed in the West by the assertions of what Edward de Bono calls the ‘gang of three’ (Socrates, Plato and Aristotle). Plato in his Dialogues propounded that the universe is made up of fixed ‘Forms’ which are eternal, unchanging and complete and that real concrete bodies are the imperfect copies or instantiations of these underlying essence forms. Aristotle moved the Forms of Plato to the nucleus of the individual thing and said that they made up its essence. But as we have seen, at the quantum level and above, there is no fixed essence, no platonic ideal Forms. There is just arrangings of energy and process and the arrangings lead to the behaviours and propensities. And this we naively and mistakenly generalize as the form of the physical entities. But the Buddhists had it right. Science has unequivocally shown that there is no fixed essence or substance, it’s all inherently empty of essence.

There is no ‘essence’ of You!

So there is no inherent essence. There’s no vanilla essence of ‘you’ deep within you, hiding like a platonic ideal. You do not have an ‘essence’. What you do ‘have’, (and this is powerful), is a current arranging of a huge myriad of complex processing that leads to certain propensities for action and responding. ‘You’ are an emergence from the processes that currently constitute your ‘being’. You are a human becoming. There is no ‘essence’ for you to find or discover. And this is the point of my book mBraining and the associated ‘mBraining Evolve your World‘ personal evolution workshop! It’s not about doing a re-birth to find your ‘true’ self. There is no fixed platonic essence you need to connect with and discover. It’s ‘Evolve your World’. It’s about evolving. About changing and creating.

As we teach in mBraining and Evolve, you are inherently creative! You are the author of your self’ing. The self is not fixed but is an emergent phenomena that comes out of your multiple braining. The intelligencing of your body/mind, of your distributed neural intelligences and other underlying processes, gives rise to your ‘self’. And this self-ing and the very neurons that generate it are adaptive, plastic and able to evolve and change. You can do conscious evolution. You can direct your ongoing creation, your evolving and your becoming.

So it’s not about essence. There’s no vanilla essence of you. In reality, there’s just the arranging of you’ing. And the insight of mBraining Evolve is that you are able to evolve yourself wisely to create a more generative way of doing you’ing!

Nothing is fixed, all is flowing

As the great somatic therapist Moshe Feldenkrais pointed out many years ago, “There is nothing permanent or compulsive in your system except what you believe to be so”. So throw away any notions of fixed essences. There is no vanilla essence of the human soul. That road leads to a dead end. You as a human are amazingly adaptive, creative and flexible.

"Every brain evolves in its ability to operate as a processor, as a receiver, as a user of information."
Dr. Michael Merzenich

We have yet to find the limits to what humans can aspire to. We can evolve new neural structurings. We can evolve our minds and bodies. With greater scientific understandings we are learning about the power of epigenetics and how it is influenced by thought and belief. We are learning to tap into the intelligence that exists throughout our bodies. We are gaining a power to become the highest expressing of the human spirit. Evolving your world opens up totally new possibilities in your life and your world. This is its gift and its power.

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