Self-noughting (R6)

How do we deal with criticism?

Particularly what we regard as unjust or negative criticism? From other people—and from one part of ourselves to another? (Saying to yourself, “Oh God, you’re such an idiot!” —that kind of thing, talking at yourself…)

I used to tear myself apart when I looked at feedback forms from groups I had taught. Now I shrug my shoulders, take note and move on. The concept of ‘Moving on’ I learned from a dear friend of mine who paints, invents, constructs; when he gets a cool reception he just shrugs, takes note and moves on to the next thing, seemingly proof against all that comes to him from outside. Not wishing things had been different, no self-recrimination—a simple ‘Ho-hum’…

Sometime during the months twenty years ago when I was attending Ian McDermott’s International Teaching Seminars (ITS)  NLP training, we had to do a modelling project. When you notice that somebody is expert at something you’d like to be able to do you find out how they do it. Simple. I decided to figure out how Ian remained unmoved in the face of mud-slinging criticism by incensed members of the group (thank goodness they were there!). It was NOT that he simply ignored, or was indifferent to, what was going on; he was just seemingly unmoved by any situation, yet taking it all in and processing whatever came up in order to make a positive and helpful response. I wondered what he did internally to maintain his composure.

I was somewhat annoyed when, at last after many previous attempts, I caught up with him expecting to be able to pin him down with my neatly organised set of questions—to find out exactly how he did it : I was annoyed because he seemed singularly unhelpful. It was in a coffee interval and he suddenly got up to get a chocolate doughnut and left me to an associate. He did not re-appear. I failed to pin him down yet again and never did. Then it became unnecessary…

In the nick of time

I had remembered what happened when Ouspensky had arranged to meet the master Gurdjieff to discuss something that was bothering him. Gurdjieff deliberately arranged the meeting in a very noisy café in Paris and it was impossible for Ouspensky to hear what he was saying.

With this in mind, within a couple of days, having calmed myself, I decided to chose to construct Ian’s behaviour as saying to me, “You know damn well how I do it…!” So after that I just got on with my own figuring out… I do not know if that was his intention but that’s how it looked to me and my response bore fruit; so, since all our consciousness is simply a more or less temporary reconstruction of what might be called ‘reality’,  it’s ‘what works’ that matters

I was so grateful for what, at the time for about a day, I called the ‘Great Rebuff’…  My question became: How in the end did I remain unmoved by it? I had internalised my central question and was effectively asking another part of my self who was sure to know an answer. That part was the ‘I’ that had remained unmoved in the end!

The conclusion I came to on my own was the world-shattering thought that  to be unmoved you had to be unmoving. Never to shift from your intention. The concept I developed was that to be unmoving it might work if I turned myself into a Nothing.

Nothing can ever touch Nothing

A perspicacious friend recently pointed out that a chocolate doughnut comes in the shape of a nought!

Next time I found my self in front of a hostile class (thank goodness they exist!), I tested ‘becoming-as-nothing’ out and it worked! Then I found that I could pace the group into being a lot less hostile by simply taking things on the chin but remaining strongly in charge of my own Being.

For some time previously I had managed uncertainty in the face of criticism or general flak by taking my self off mentally to Bournemouth Beach in 1947—wet feet on newly-washed sand, seagulls crying, wind in my hair—in that state nothing can ever touch me—good or bad. It is the absolute certainty of my self.

Now I learned to call this state, transferable to any spiritual haven you care to think of for yourself now, a state of Nothingness. Thus came into being for me the idea of Self-noughting. Whenever I get a sensation of knottedness in the solar plexus the part of me that manages self-noughting comes to the rescue.

This is the Process

  • Use the feeling of being criticised as a positive cue to take yourself off to a ‘spiritual haven’—a place where you feel totally at home with yourself, sense it fully, associate into its sights, sounds and sensations.
  • Divide your attention so you stay in the present to notice what’s going on around you and inhabit your spiritual haven.
  • Notice how in this spiritual haven nothing can touch you…
  • Become the nothing itself and notice how that changes your behaviour…
  • And how the other person’s behaviour changes to suit…

I have long since ceased asking for written feedback, thinking that if I was sufficently calibrated with a group I’d just know when things had gone OK. I observed when teaching Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, for instance, that when group members were asked to score me it was usually the case that they were scoring themselves. People who were very self-critical would give me a low score; people who were very much at home with themselves would score me as they scored themselves—highly. I now recognise this as a factor in what Gurdjieff says: pay attention to what you say about other people and then figure out how it applies to yourself.

It was at least a useful provisional hypothesis that if somebody scored me 6/10 that’s probably how they scored themselves in life—checking back over my experience of their performance on a course I could usually see how they marked themselves down. I came to this conclusion when somebody made the written comment, ‘Colin should be a bit more enthusiastic about Seven Habits…’ I thought back over the amount of enthusiasm they’d demonstrated during the three days and guess what…

We should never get too excited about either praise or adverse criticism; about either success or failure. It’s always ‘On to the Next Thing’… paying due attention to an increased repertoire of possibilities.

This could be applied to any situation where one gets into a stew, as one does…

2 thoughts on “Self-noughting (R6)

  1. Much to ponder here, Colin! It seems to me that the process you’ve outlined for achieving the state of Nothingness that you’ve termed “self-noughting” actually involves a mental inhabiting of an imperturbable self that, ensconced in its unique “safe haven” space, is so rooted in its own self-hood that it can’t be disturbed by any extraneous phenomenon, such as the negative comments of a hostile student. If I have this right – and I’m not sure I do – I susect that this is not what Buddhism means by “no-self”, but perhaps it is a useful step on the path to achieving “no-self”.



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