Each of Us is a Completely Unique Creature…

Yeah, yeah, yeah…

A good old namby-pamby liberal belief.  But what exactly are the ramifications of such a belief?

Politicians of the Right get away with murder claiming to be supportive of the individual against what they call ‘The State’ while secretly operating to strengthen the insidious power of their friends in Big Business which goes no way towards doing things for the individual.

Politicians of what used to be called ‘The Left’ are dragged along by what they construct as the necessity of Market Forces and the Military Machine neither of which do anything for the individual and its sense of Being.

What else is there?  And exactly what are the ramifications of a real profound belief that ‘each of us is a completely unique creature…’

The quotation comes from the chapter called ‘The Hero’s Adventure’ in Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth. His fundamental belief is that we are all heroes—but some of us don’t realise it, nor do we realise what the ramifications are.

He continues: ‘…if we are ever to give any gift to the world it will have to come out of our own experience and fulfilment of our own potentialities, not somebody else’s…’

If this is to be taken seriously and not just tossed off in the manner of a political mantra, it raises serious issues for pedagogy: if we are each a completely unique individual it seems to follow that in catering for individuality there can be no one-size-fits-all educational process.

Education for what…?

Under the ordinarily unchallenged reign of globalisation and the insidious influence of e-technology, as Production and Profit become more and more the global driving forces, mainstream education seems to be made to keep pace by the pressure for it to become increasingly a matter of preparing young people for a world in which everybody has their noses to pretty much the same grindstone for the sake of ‘progress’ and ‘growth’ which signifies ‘Profit’.

Here is Campbell’s compelling statement about the implications for a teaching that feeds & nurtures human uniqueness rather than stamps on it:-

We have to give our students guidance in developing their own pictures of themselves. What each must seek in their life never was before on land or sea. It is to be something out of their own unique potentiality for experience, something that never has been and never could have been experienced by anybody else…

It’s worth pausing to think about the idea that each life—yours, mine, the next person’s —‘never was before on land or sea…’

How do we get well and truly into this idea, feel it in the muscle, use it to inform thinking, accept everything that follows from it? One way might be to consider for a moment what it is that makes you different from the person who lives across the road, from the person you work with, from your nearest & dearest and then linger on what comes up.

Upbringing—unique to your self; socialisation—unique to your self; the books you’ve read in the order you read them—unique to your self; the road you’ve travelled—unique to your self… and so on. Beliefs and values, the way you hold to them—unique to your self.

So we each have a totally unique picture of ourselves, or a long series of photos or movies. What is the nature of the picture? How are teachers to manage to offer the guidance Campbell deems important?

A Rich Picture

They could perhaps make a start with helping individuals to identify and depict a current self-picture. The result would not be one that simply relied on a single still image but, if it’s to be of any practical use, it would have to be what’s been called a Rich Picture, dynamic, flexible, shape-shifting, complex, multi-faceted, the richest one possible—one capable, in itself, of constantly considering all possibilities—that would be a test of its usefulness.

A picture that merely depicted an enthusiasm for the latest bandwagon, the News of the Day, for pop concerts and sports arenas (A Influences in general) is not a Rich Picture, is not one worthy of a unique human individual.

A teacher who can help in the development of a Rich Picture of self is one who can get kids to see things for themselves—contrives to offer endless possibilities for kids to make their own decisions; such a teacher will help learners (kids of any age) to sort out the rubbish from the really important things by putting on courses in ‘how to think’, never forcing conclusions about content but assisting the broadening of human scope. Learners will, for instance, get to the stage where they can appreciate for themselves the energy in some books, music, film and so on—an energy that is missing in others.

So when will young kids ‘get it’? What counts as ‘getting it’? Campbell says he doesn’t know the answer to that question. ‘I guess you must leave it up to the individual to know when they have got their power…’ He compares the process to how the newly born bird, with no experience of flying, copes first time: ‘…they stay on a branch till they just know how to fly, and then they fly. I think somehow, inside, a person knows this…’

How to define the moment when you go from ‘not-knowing’ to ‘knowing’, from incomprehension to understanding, from not-being-able-to-do to being-able-to-fly? There ought to be a word to express the idea of the-moment-when but until such a word is invented we’ll have to work with the-moment-when and tip everything into it when it comes to thinking about learning.

A little sparrow will not expect to jump and become an eagle; a cuckoo will not expect to be able to sing like a chaffinch; a wren will not hope to be able to loop the loop like a swift. At least they ought not to make those mistakes! It’s a matter of finding your balance, making sense of things in a thoroughgoing way in the-moment-when.

When and How Did You Learn to fly?

It might have been sooner or later. Mozart seemed to have got it very early on. I like to think (but it may be just my imagination) that it didn’t happen to me till one misty November afternoon in Yorkshire in 1964 when I was 27; full consolidation only came about when I found a copy of Ouspensky’s Fourth Way in Charing Cross Road;  I was 40—the age when Jung suggests you’ve either got it or you haven’t. But you can only tell about flying in the-moment-when by finding yourself whizzing through the air; one false move, one overweening moment of vanity or hubris and, like Icarus, you fall into the sea.

How did it happen to me? A brilliant teacher of English Literature suggested that the way to accomplish learning was to deal in ‘variables’; choose to allow them to inform the way you construct ‘reality’ for yourself, nothing black & white but everything ‘if & maybe’. He also believed profoundly that everything (except God, strangely—but that was his problem) was invented. We can invent whatever we like—the more variables we consider the richer our picture of ‘reality’ is likely to be. That misty afternoon my mind just switched around and I could fly. I think. Everything else I’d learned up to that point fell into order—even more so when I picked up the battered old copy of The Fourth Way.

Once you learn to fly, once you discover how to fly, you forget how to do it and just do it—there’s no vanity or self-importance involved. Pride in flying brings you down to earth with a great bump.

Campbell: ‘…you have to have a feeling for where you are. You’ve got only one life to live and you don’t have to live it for six people. Pay attention to it…’

A proper Rich Picture should include a notion of how to arrive at contentment; not self-calming which puts you to sleep and ensures that you remain a robot. Contentment entails real overwhelming delight or happiness. Something beyond Joy. Campbell says that

…the way to find out about your happiness is to keep your mind on those moments when you really are happy—not excited, not just thrilled, but deeply happy. This requires a bit of self-analysis. What is it makes you happy? Stay with it, no matter what people tell you. This is what I call following your bliss…

There’s something inside you that knows when you’re in the centre, that knows when you’re on or off beam. When you get off the beam to earn money, you’ve lost your life. When you stay in the centre and don’t get any money, you still have your bliss…

I think Campbell must mean that when you centre on money you’ve lost your life. To keep to your centre requires that the pursuit of riches take second or tenth place in your life; fortunately I’ve always chanced upon a sensible amount of money but it’s never been of any consequence to me. The degree to which you are attached to possessions is a good guide to whether you are in your centre or not.

How to Get to Your Centre?

In the mid-1990’s I developed a visual (Rich Picture) approach to attempting to answer this question. The example below began as a catalogue of random events that I considered to be of some significance to me; it includes a few negatives that came up in the spinning of my mind round the mandala. Events we might regard simplistically as negative in their effect on us are an inevitable and important part of ‘Bliss’—it simply could not be without some kind of fiery suffering. To do the exercise, the idea is to think of a line you want to pursue or ponder and just go with it. For this example, I started with the word ‘dance’, remembering specific occasions, and then went into whatever came up on the basis that ‘If one could awaken all the echoes of one’s memory simultaneously, they would make a music delightful or sad as the case might be but logical and without dissonances. No matter how incoherent the existence, human unity is not affected…’ Baudelaire, quoted by Paul Bowles in The hours after Noon.

The completion of a ‘Thinking Mandala’ requires speed and immersion—this one took no more than ten minutes to go round the outside. It was though all these memories and ideas flashed into ‘consciousness’ simultaneously; they all became the present moment.

And they all dangle outwards loosely in conformity with a great poem by DHLawrence:-

Whatever man makes and makes it live
lives because of the life put into it.
A yard of India muslin is alive with Hindu life.
And a Navajo woman, weaving her rug in the pattern of her dream
must run the pattern out in a little break at the end
so that her soul can come out, back to her.

But in the odd pattern, like snake marks on the sand
it leaves its trail.

So my soul exits the mandala via the ragged edges to live another day and brings out the pattern of its thinking with it.

This Found Poem I constructed from a page in Herbert Read’s Cult of Sincerity seems to me to sum up the process of constructing a ‘Thinking Mandala’ in a poetic kind of way:-


completely and in reality
into the act of self-reflection
to become aware of human wholeness
without any prepared
philosophical security

you do not attain to knowledge
by remaining on the shore
and watching the foaming waves—
you must make the venture
and cast yourself in—
you must swim alert
and with all your force
even if a moment comes
when you think you are losing

Once the outside circuit is complete, the mandala provides a profound thinking process: by reflecting on events on the outside and moving towards the centre one can derive generalities—philosophical, conceptual notions, patterns of being. Standing, as it were, at the Centre and looking outwards one can swivel round and contemplate all that’s come up so that it becomes a unity. The faster the swivel the more close-knit the unity, the better the gestalt.

The next step in the exercise is to systematically go in and out from outside events to the centre which one has now felt profoundly together with its links to temporal variables and then from outside events back to the centre thus :-

Following your Bliss becomes more exciting when you have, for instance, catalogued moments of happiness & joy in this way.

To assist the flow in time one would also need to learn the ability not to do things as others do (Gurdjieff’s dying grandmother’s advice). ‘…You can’t have creativity unless you leave behind the bounded, the fixed, all the rules…’ says Campbell. And ‘the adventure is its own reward…’

‘When you’re on a journey and the end keeps getting further and further away, then you realise that the real end is the journey…’ Karlfried Graf Dürckheim

While following your bliss, while pursuing your life adventure, you may find that you begin to develop a notion of where you might most wish to be. A place where you can be entirely yourself; a place where you may safely withdraw within your self to find your centre.

Campbell: ‘There’s a centre of quietness within which has to be known and held. If you lose that centre you are in tension and begin to fall apart… [The centre] is a state of mind or consciousness, not a place somewhere outside you, like heaven…’

‘Heaven’ is a human invention that simply gets in the way of even setting out on an inner quest—a diversion into a hopeless abstraction…

Your centre ‘…is right here, in the midst of the turmoil of life, It is the state you find when you are no longer driven to live by compelling desires, fears and social commitments, when you have found your centre of freedom and can act by choice…’ (Op cit)

How do we get to this still point of the turning world? Here is Campbell’s suggestion:-

You unlock it by getting somebody to help you unlock it. Do you have a dear friend or good teacher? It may come from a human being or from an experience like an automobile accident, or from an illuminating book. In my own life mostly it comes from books though I have had a long series of magnificent teachers…

I could say exactly that: mostly it comes from books though I have had a long series of magnificent teachers… including various cats whose life-style I have modelled on…

My teachers will mean nothing to the reader, of course, but this poem I wrote a couple of years ago may serve as a matrix for you to make your own catalogue!

this morning

for a celebration of teachers…
who they were and what they did for me:
at Junior School a series of misses—
Miss Bissell   Miss Williams   Miss Burridge
each of whom ran a tight ship    insisting
on precision & order during the chaos of War—
the metaphor of opposition they leave me with;
Mr Jones briefly emphasised the order
as opposed to the chaos from which I imagine
now that he (ex-army) had lately escaped—
the precision of the drill-ground lived on
in the hard slog of his mental arithmetic;
Mrs McBain—as coldly particular as her name

this was just the seed-time; I read little
and accomplished even less too busy being me
to wonder about the process of education;
my mother was told I didn’t read enough—
returning now to the moment she told me this
I feel in my bones a determination to make up
for this discrepancy in all the years to come
—to prove that I could do anything when
I put my mind to it & isn’t that my cussed pattern?

in Grammar School:   Crippo   Angus    Bunter
Gasbag    Techy—nicknames handed down
by the generations…
Crippo of the cut & bleeding
ill-shaven jowls    patched up with bits of
fag-papers  gave me good marks for arty essays—
which inspired me to start a search for models
I could emulate to keep up the standard—
Carlyle   Jefferies   Belloc   Chesterton   Elia   Lynd

Gasbag instructed me to spend half-an-hour a day
in silent meditation;  strange and bizarre suggestion
but I suddenly recognised my solo trips by bike
to Wimbledon Common as a version of this:
I was a meditator—he gave me the word!

school for me was the assimilation
of such random comments & intimations:
I see Bunter now reading CSLewis’ Surprised by Joy
and remember my determination to acquire it—
a seminal text!  Bunter seemed possessed of
Philosophy—perhaps I now seem possessed of it!

late on there was Mr Richardson      nicknameless
who could whistle bits of Brahms’ First Symphony
—how I wished I could do that!    but Angus
was the music teacher—he tested our meagre ears
and our singing voices—mine was ‘weak’—
and had us writing out interminable notes
about composers and musical terms and forms
from large sheets displayed upon a large board;
and then one summer afternoon—I remember
the dust motes floating in the slanting sunlight
through the high hall windows—he played
(intending to shock as I believe now)
a string quartet by Alois Haba—and this was
the moment I decided that I wanted to add
musical composition to my stock of possibilities

I celebrate the randomness of this grand mélange—
the accidental things that fell upon my soul
and took root there so that even now I feel the power
of them—the drive—the incessant drive—to write
to compose music    to make   to grind oh so small
to hold fast to this moment   and this    and this
constantly surprised by the magical joy in things

Techy who saw in me some creative spark
that took me twenty more years to realise—to grasp;
to make something of;   to make it my own…
desultory attempts at poems music sketching
before then but nothing in the way of grasp…

Techy I admired because in the Sunday papers
he achieved fame as the World’s Most Rejected Artist;
his neighbours in Tooting complained because
his back garden was full of discarded beer bottles
which encouraged huge populations of beetles

I suppose my passion for the rejects of the world
started here: Havergal Brian; Richard Jefferies;
James Hanley; Henry Williamson; Alan Rawsthorne—
people who persisted in spite of… as I do…

David McAndrew and then nothing till that little band
of masters Mc Dermott Hallbom Dilts & Hicks

David McAndrew came to a lecture with Ash
on his forehead on Ash Wednesday—he and I had
long communion on the way everything was invented
yet strangely he seemed to exempt the God-thing from
the category of ‘invented’—why this inconsistency?

we swapped poems and had a twin passion
(as I saw it) for the plays of Harold Pinter—absurdity
& menace and existentialism; some years later
I wrote to him care of some College into which
he’d been tossed (as I saw it) to do Business Studies
or some such invention—I got a brief note back
and that was that…
Mc Dermott Hallbom Dilts & Hicks
are current though remote and would not know me
from Adam—I’ve internalised them & their teaching
made it my own    possessed it and grasped it
and at last recognised my style in them

Michael Finnissy one delightful summer fitted
the pattern of all these teachers and I was ready
to receive his musical teaching just as it was as I am

what purpose have I defined for all these?  maybe
that they set out collectively to help me acquire
a philosophical habit of mind—to see life
steadily and see it whole      a consistent
& total point of view towards Nature & Destiny
as it were taking care not to let my ideas
harden into unexamined doctrines    my insights
into mere routines   my doubts coagulate
into neat expoundable pseudo-clarities

the modern belief is that you can order learning
into boxes that can be ticked off as you do them
in the mistaken belief that wisdom-things
are acquired systematically—no it’s not that—
they don’t believe anything about anything
they go mechanically into the presupposition
that the purpose of learning is to produce
factory & office fodder     gun-pointers & prayer-
makers—machines that acquire the ability
to perform efficiently some pointless task
for the benefit of capitalism

wisdom-things accrue
piecemeal like pebbles & shells found on a beach
that you add to your collection; there is however
an organising principle—Magnetic Centre
as it might be—that agglutinates…

the Real Issue in proper education is how to nurture
the Magnetic Centre how to get people sufficiently
still inside for them to stand a chance of just
letting things stick to them… after which

it may just be necessary to pay attention to eccentrics—
to marshal eccentrics—people who will occasionally
say & do outlandish things—make extraordinary events
& construct daft things out of ordinary ones—and persist
in saying & doing them faithfully year in year out…

31st March 2007

And the major books that unlocked the Centre for me very early on: Hilaire Belloc’s The Four Men, Richard Jefferies’ The Story of My Heart and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

Much later, to keep the Centre going, to feed it and enrich it were the works of Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, Nicoll & Bennett.

From Nicoll in particular I was entranced by the concept of Multiple-I’s.


…[The mistake is that] we take our Being as one and believe we have only one I. This is an illusion, and as long as this illusion lasts it is really impossible to change…  Being is characterized by multiplicity, by which is meant that we have not one I, but many, many ‘I’s. Some of them are very young and have persisted in us unchanged. We have, for example, many childish ‘I’s that often cause a great deal of trouble. Although our body is of one age we are all ages internally, in our inner environment—that is, in our psyche. Physically we are one age: psychologically we are many different ages. When a person is told to be his or her age, it probably means that the person acts too often from childish ‘I’s.

On the subject of separation from the different ‘I’s… Have you ever listened to your ‘I’s talking in you? Often ‘I’s carry on a long conversation, but you do not observe it. You think it is you talking to your self. Because of the illusion that you have only one ‘you’, you cannot do anything about this inner situation to separate from it. To think it is always ‘you’ talking to your self is to put the feeling of I into what is an ‘I’ in you, to identify with each of the ‘I’s that are talking in you in turn. When you believe that it is always ‘you’ talking in yourself and you cannot see that it is different ‘I’s in you, and that you are making the mistake of putting your feeling of I into each of these different ‘I’s, it is exactly like thinking that everyone talking in a room full of people is you talking… [The upshot is] that your Being remains exactly the same because you hold on to it—that is to say, you do not change year after year, but remain just the same, because, by saying I to each ‘I’, you prevent any change… you say: “I think”, “I feel”, when you should see that it is a different ‘I’ that thinks or feels, and that you can withdraw the feeling of I from it. In fact, by always putting the feeling of I into every ‘I’ in you, you hold yourself down to being what you always were, and that is the reason why you cannot change—or at least one very big reason.

When you discover that a great many of these ‘I’s are certainly not you, and especially when you realize that these ‘I’s are of all different ages, you cannot believe it at first. You are so accustomed to saying ‘I’ to everything that goes on in you—every voice that speaks in you you regard as I speaking… Now you cease identifying when you withdraw the feeling of ‘I’ from a thing. If you put the feeling of I into it—whatever it may be—you identify with it, which means that you think it is YOU… You make your ‘self’ the same as these different ‘I’s. It is necessary to withdraw the feeling of ‘I’ from them. Then after a time you can say: “This is not I, but an ‘I’ in me that has been a great nuisance over the years and which I now see is not me.” When this stage is reached, a great step can be taken forward as regards inner separation. This step can really begin to lead to change of Being.

…you might appear like a crowd of people walking along, of every age, and some exceedingly naughty people amongst you, and if you introduced yourself you would include everybody and call each person by your own name… Sometimes a crowd of people appear in dreams, often a very odd crowd—some dressed up, some in rags, and some deformed and some in better shape, and so on. This is how a dream, in certain cases—when you begin to  work—may represent you. This ill-assorted crowd of somewhat queer people represents the multiplicity of your Being, and I can assure you from personal experience on many occasions that it is a great shock when you realize what this representation of yourself means.  But once you have begun to realize that you are a multiplicity, and have begun to cease saying I so easily [in describing] this crowd, you very rarely have the dream. It comes to assist you in a general way to start. Then it stops. That is because you are beginning to distinguish yourself from the motley procession, this crowd, that you have taken as yourself—as I. In fact, this is one of the times when you may have a glimpse of Real I in the far distance—once you see these ‘I’s of your personal history are not you. But the vision passes…

Different ‘I’s in us of different ages… An ‘I’ may have formed itself early in our life when we were in unusually unhappy circumstances, due perhaps to the actions of a parent, brother, sister, when we felt and thought it was all very unfair. When our circumstances changed as we grew older, we had no reason to feel things were unfair. But this ‘I’ formed at an earlier time still persists in us. Because we do not separate from it, and therefore take it as I, it pops to the surface when any difficulty arises and eagerly controls us and makes us unhappy. In this way are we imprisoned by ‘I’s that are anachronisms… Distinct, calm observation of them as being early ‘I’s belonging to situations long ended and not valid any more and saying to them: “This is not I” or “I am not this ‘I'”, and seeing that even though they spoke some truth once upon a time they do not now do so—in short, separating from them by no longer identifying and so believing them can, after a determined struggle, cause them gradually to wane to shadows. You will feel a miraculous freedom. But if you go asleep to them and once more foolishly let the feeling of I into them again, it is like transfusing them with your blood and they soon revive and with the greatest delight reproduce in posture, expression, intonation, feeling and thought, all the old unhappiness…

Teach Yourself

Each of the entries round the Thinking Mandala represents somehow a different ‘I’ in my Being…

One of the practical applications of this concept is that, amongst all the other ‘I’s, there could be a humble Teacher-I, an ‘I’ that when you listen to it very carefully will be able to teach you how to develop a Rich Picture of your own. It can stop you from pursuing false prophets and cults and help you to make positive judgements about what is worthwhile and what savours of the world’s dross.

I take it that my own Being-a-teacher-I is a relatively lowly compound of all the excellent teachers I have been in the presence of down the years. Without at all comprehending the process I must have consistently modelled on their attitudes, demeanours, ways of tossing ideas out for inspection, leaving the main thing to me. To put a gloss on Walt Whitman, they were all people who sauntering along without fully stopping turned a casual look upon me and then averted their faces/Leaving it to [me] to prove and define it/Expecting the main things from [me]…

Nothing more blissful than thinking things through and re-fashioning them in a different form, whether it be musical notes, words, ideas, visual images, taking the ‘inert ideas’ and making them into your own possession, in Whitehead’s telling contrast.

17 thoughts on “FOLLOW YOUR BLISS (R5)

  1. Hi Colin,
    One consequence of each of us being unique to our own self and thus different from every other person on the planet is that each of us sees the world around us in our own completely unique, and usually self-justifying, way. I suspect that our collective failure to fully appreciate this phenomenon is a significant contributing factor in the increasing polarization of political and cultural views afflicting American society. Perhaps a society of more centered, balanced individuals could both “follow their bliss” and cultivate more tolerance for others following theirs. Sadly, it seems to me that we are heading in precisely the opposite direction.


      1. No, no, you have misunderstood. All humans are much, much, much more similar than they are different, and this is a very important point to see. And most of the differences between themselves and others, etc., are imagined differences. They, a person doesn’t know anything at all for certain, not about himself and not about others, but he images that he does. He guessed, he speculates about how others are, and about how he himself is. Seriously, Famous people like Gurdjieff and Krishnamurti have made this point, and I invite you to see it for yourself. Again, people are imaginging all the time, and for sure the imagine the differences between themselves and others. And awakening can very disturbing. You know, some adults and most babies grump and cry when they’re awakened, they don’t like it! And when people are awakened it is sudden and startling. That’s why they always defend and rationalize at first… identified with whatever their point was, still defending it. The awakening, was that it was wrong, and that they were wrong. Most men aren’t big enough to admit when they’re wrong; they are small men.


  2. Yes Tom, education is moving in the opposite direction. The first bit of Colin’s essay gives us many examples of why education in general is rushing headstrong into the Capitalist model of dog eat dog. Just today I witnessed students being assessed on giving the right answer. The right answer being the most correct one based on some think-tank consensus of so-called Harvard educators. I think I picked 10 out of the 20 answers correctly, so I got an F on the test. These multiple choice tests should’ve been eliminated 50yrs. ago but they remain the standard for giving the students the message: GET ON BOARD OR FAIL IN LIFE.

    I’ve been teaching for 20yrs. now, too long probably and I’ve yet to come across a student who didn’t enjoy reading the classic (or multicultural) myths. It’s always a wonder for them, the way their eyes light up when they discover their own personal connections with the hero’s journey. My own experience with these timeless stories wasn’t just the adventure but the relief that came when I got it that I wasn’t crazy, that all the things rolling around inside my head about sex,savages, war, lust, love, valor, and the rest of it were all a part of this thing we call life. Kids are thirsty for this stuff, they crave the rich landscape where the correct answers fall over the horizon and they are left to dream in a new world.

    Today’s classroom (not all of them) looks like a poster of pedantic quips, a short-handed game of NO GUESSING ALLOWED, while the kids desire a raft born from Huck Finn, full of questions and mystery. There are many good teachers out there, but the restrictions are piling up fast and testing has poisoned the teaching apple orchards. I found out today how off my answers were:-)

    Multiple I’s in the classroom gives me the nourishing space between all the reflections, yet who dares to begin a conversation with other teachers about such a crazy notion? In graduate school I took it upon myself to include Multiple I’s into the academic setting. I received mixed results, but I had a ball with it for the most part.


    1. While your lucid analysis of the current climate of our test-scores-obsessed educational system is a sad validation of my pessimistic observations about the political mess the U.S is currently mired in, I take heart in knowing that there are educators like yourself out there offering students a truly inspriational perspective on what it could mean to live an authentically centered life. And you’ve inspired me to go back and re-read some of the classic works of literature that I read long ago and perhaps have forgotten in the intervening years. Thanks, Patrick!


  3. Each of Us is a Completely Unique Creature…

    This piece by Colin brought about a profound response in me and brings to mind a quote from Martha Graham that I call “About the dance of life”

    “There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not yours to determine how good it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business, to keep the channel open”.

    Martha Graham – contemporary dance choreographer, teacher and dancer; who danced into her nineties.

    And yet what happens to us along the way that we lose sight of our uniqueness – it isn’t only teachers, politicians and educational policies who are responsible – it is all of us. Every single one of us.

    Most of us, it would appear from the state of our so called civilized society, either don’t think about this stuff, or else we somehow sort our own lives out too late in the day to allow us to have positive influence in the lives of our children – it seems we often simply repeat the patterns of our own childhood no matter how determined we may have been to do otherwise.

    And yet even so sometimes what others might view as awful experiences in childhood can provide the means for the discovery of what can relieve our suffering and can result in entirely positive outcomes in adulthood without the need for “therapy”. And so it would seem that the spirit (magnetic centre) of a person can never be entirely crushed from which I take it to mean that there is always hope –

    Picking through the quotations in your piece I alight on

    Once you learn to fly, once you discover how to fly, you forget how to do it and just do it—there’s no vanity or self-importance involved. Pride in flying brings you down to earth with a great bump.

    ….you have to have a feeling for where you are. You’ve got only one life to live and you don’t have to live it for six people. Pay attention to it…’

    My own belief is that we come into this world already knowing (somewhere deep inside) how to fly – and who we are – that innate knowledge seems to get eroded by other peoples idea of who we “should” be. Albeit parents, teachers or others of influence in our lives.

    It is here we lose that feeling of where and who we are

    I don’t mean that this negative influence is necessarily malevolent in intention; it usually is anything but – but it sometimes amounts to deliberately moulding a child into something other than they would naturally have become. It serves to attempt to close their mind instead of open it.

    In so doing that child’s innate tendencies are disallowed or quashed; they have no chance of knowing who they might be or how they might behave quite naturally well without resistance if their spirits had not already been squeezed so early on.

    This seems a very dark view as I write it, and yet I see it happening around me often. Instead of believing that in order to prepare our children for a bright future we could be

    “……….giving our (students) children guidance in developing their own pictures of themselves. What each must seek in their life never was before on land or sea. It is to be something out of their own unique potentiality for experience, something that never has been and never could have been experienced by anybody else”…
    ……..we seem to believe in order that children conform to social norms they have to be moulded into some socially acceptable ideal.

    And so what to do?

    And so back to Campbell

    “if we are ever to give any gift to the world it will have to come out of our own experience and fulfilment of our own potentialities, not somebody else’s…’

    Campbell again: ‘There’s a centre of quietness within which has to be known and held. If you lose that centre you are in tension and begin to fall apart…

    Your centre ‘…is right here, in the midst of the turmoil of life, It is the state you find when you are no longer driven to live by compelling desires, fears and social commitments, when you have found your centre of freedom and can act by choice…’ (Op cit)

    And Colin
    Gasbag instructed me to spend half-an-hour a day
    in silent meditation; a strange and bizarre suggestion
    but I suddenly recognised my solo trips by bike
    to Wimbledon Common as a version of this:
    I was a meditator—he gave me the word!

    This resonates with Stephen Gilligan’s approach to breaking the tyranny of any deeply unhappy state (warring “I”s perhaps) of the type that causes people to begin to fall apart – Through stillness and quiet centering and soft focusing, release the neuromuscular lock and replace it with the relaxation response; changing our physiological response to internal stress – defocus the visual and allow yourself at the same time to gently focus on the “problem” for a moment, (without any judgment applied to it – and without any fixedness (attachment) to outcome) whereby can come forth insight into how a person might heal for themselves the unhappy state and return to the centre of themselves to discover who they are and live at last a life that is self determined.

    In the words of Bruce Frantzis this would be the settling of the Red Dust of life in order to allow for clarity of vision and perhaps even having found the common values and aligning the ages of their various “I”s so they could all take advantage of lived experience and additional resources and so that they can proceed in peace together.

    I have met comparatively few people who have actually enjoyed the privilege or should I say right of being brought up and nurtured in the way you so eloquently describe – would that it were so for all of us – what type of world would it actually be? Perhaps even a peaceful and mutually beneficial one who knows.

    To return to Martha Graham

    “There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not yours to determine how good it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business, to keep the channel open”.

    It is surely the business of the rest of us to enable the child to experience their life force/sprit/magnetic centre and also to teach them how to keep the channel open in the face of sometimes very dynamic oppositon so that it may find expression in the world.

    And finally

    ‘When you’re on a journey and the end keeps getting further and further away, then you realise that the real end is the journey…’ Karlfried Graf Dürckheim

    Thank you for a very thought provoking piece Colin. – And Thank you Patrick for being one of the exceptions in education.

    I have no idea why Mutilple I’s is such a queer concept for people to grasp – especially when we all use language which confirms their existence.


  4. I was beginning to feel that this was a group session and I was pleased to be doing as I would do with a group – viz make myself redundant! Just nodding occasionally which longago research suggested was more than sufficient reinforcement!

    What would I have nodded at?

    * Tom’s pointing out the other side of the issue of ‘unique’ – self-justifying self-centred individualism resulting in political polarisation. It would be good if people could just follow their own ecologically sound Bliss.

    * Patrick’s reference to the increasing standardised mechanisation of teaching under pressure from people who imagine that education exists to turn out Workers & cannon fodder while prating on about ‘the needs of the individual’. Every class I ever taught 11-16 got a dose of The Little Prince, and the works of Alan Garner and bits from Robert Graves & George Frazer. But that was forty years ago! I often wonder how having that stuff read in class might have affected people…

    * ‘Questions & mystery’ is all!

    Wish I could go back & slant things towards Multiple-I’s for the kids I taught. I’ve flogged the concept with adults and they lap it up – understand the concept and its application within about ten minutes provided it doesn’t cause cognitive dissonance amongst the neurons for them.

    * Pat’s notion of the Dance of Life. A key metaphor for me. I like to dance with life!

    * So what happens, asks Pat?

    * Her belief that ‘we come into this world already knowing (somewhere deep inside) how to fly – and who we are – [but it] seems to get eroded by other people’s idea of who we “should” be…’ Yes, it’s not malevolent, I think, just the insane pressures – or rather an automatic acceptance of them perhaps.

    Just a very simple thing: a little child who has been taught to ‘like’ & ‘dislike’ different kinds of food… The parents unwittingly use the words so that an either/or pattern in the child’s mind gets so easily set up. Either/or thinking gets in the way of flying into life (or dancing with it). ‘Either I can fly or I can’t’ – just damn well do it.

    Either/or is one down-to-earth example of an unnecessary tension that disrupts the ‘centre of quietness within’… A blocking of possibilities, a war between ‘I’s.

    Thanks to all!



    1. Hi Colin,
      Well it seems like I’ve walked into a conversation already in progress, and it isn’t clear if my comments are welcome in this one. Yes? Let me know, won’t you? I don’t want to comment on a closed conversation.


  5. Re Colin’s last entry

    Ref Either/or – Hence Mr Gilligan’s preference for Both / And thinking.

    Or perhaps the taoist way of looking at the inter-related nature of things as neither yet both, they believe that we have yin aspects and yang aspects as well as the original neutral source of both these dualities. It is by seeking to return to the neutral that we can see clearly the qualities of the opposing energies and welcome the awareness this brings and eventually to embrace all.

    Chung Tzu, the Taoist philosopher, says:

    When there is life there is death, and when there is death there is life.
    When there is possibility, there is impossibility and when there is impossibility, there is possibility.
    Because of right, there is wrong, and because of wrong, there is right…
    The “this” is also the “that”. The “that” is also the “this”
    Is there really a distinction between “that” and “this”?
    When “this” and “that” have no opposites, there is the very axis of Tao.

    To the taoists – everything is in a state of flux as a vast harmony that embraces all things in the context of flux, interconnectedness and dynamism. The Tao comes to stand for something that does not deny reason, but always manages to remain just outside its grasp.

    We in the west seemingly insist upon duality and fixedness and yet embrace saying such as the only certain thing in life is change. And we seem to be obsessed with deciding what an outcome must be (in any particular context) before we have explored what the outcome could be – in other words when we have insufficient information. A complete reluctance to embrace not knowing to allow knowing to come forward.

    In traditional Chinese medicine Yin-Yang theory is based on the philosophical construct of two polar compliments. These are complementary opposites are neither forces nor material entities, nor are they mythical concepts that transcend rationality. Rather they are convenient labels used to describe how things function in relation to each other and to the universe.

    Yin & Yang also represent a way of thinking where all things are seen as part of a whole. No entity can ever be isolated from its relationship to other entities; no thing can exist in and of itself. Fixed essences are abstractions; there are no absolutes, Yin and Ynag must necessarily contain whithin themselves the possibility of opposition and change.

    In order to develop a relationship with our “self” we must first welcome and celebrate all aspects of ourself (multiple “I”s) as providing opportunities for expanded awareness.

    Oops I apparently digress from the originating subject, and yet the thoughts are of course related.

    Such fun!


    1. Such fun! As your eloquent syntax creates an inner smile, not knowing exactly what an inner smile is and yet, here it is. Thanks Pat, a welcoming read today. I walked in the door after work and there it was on my cyber machine.


  6. I should also have added, that “unique” doesn’t take any modifiers, such as adjectives or adverbs. Something is either unique, or it is not.


    1. You’re right again, Jone. But oh!, they used to hate you so much for that on WITW! Your helpfulness, your intelligence, and your accuracy at seeing problems and their solutions. I think it made them crazy that you are a teacher, owing to their jealousy: none of them are, and never will be. And you already pointed out their vanity and pride to them, just as Mr. G did.


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