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
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 :-
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!
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
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 CROWD OF ‘I’S IN YOUR BEING
…[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…
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.