The Previous Glob
The Glob before this one, called Follow Your Bliss, had a sub-headline ‘Each of Us is a Completely Unique Creature…’ a quotation from the chapter entitled ‘The Hero’s Adventure’ in Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth. His fundamental belief is that we are all unique in the way that we are heroes—but some of us can’t accept it, nor do we realise what the ramifications are. That Glob proceeded to figure out what these might be. He said:-
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…
Each and every life—yours, mine, the next person’s —‘never was before on land or sea…’ Each and every life is unique, never been before, never again to be.
Jone Dae’s comment was that the word ‘unique’ does not take a qualifier: as I learned sixty years ago—I remember the moment—you can’t be ‘almost [or nearly] unique’ or ‘very unique’; either something is unique or it’s not unique… So why did I not for a single moment question the qualifier ‘completely’ in Campbell’s statement? I did not think about it at the time but I reckon that, going against my previous learning, it’s probably reasonable to argue that the concept ‘Completely Unique’ is justifiable at a meta-level as signifying something like ‘unique in every respect’—a complete portrait of uniqueness: as I said in the previous Glob, you might be unique as regards upbringing—unique in the entity you imagine yourself to be; unique by socialisation and the resulting presentation of self, say; unique as far as the books you’ve read and particularly in the order in which you have read them; unique by the road you’ve travelled, unique in time and space, the experiences you’ve had and the things you’ve seen along the way… and so on. Unique by reason of the beliefs and values all these things in massive combination have thrown up, the way you hold to them, the behaviour that ensues.
The systematic collecting of all this together would help to create a rich and unique picture of your single solitary Being.
In response, Henry Koehler suggested that people are, in general, more alike than they are different; and most of the differences are imaginary and I replied with Robert Dilts’ words, ‘We are all exactly the same in being so different…’
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 are imagined differences. A person doesn’t know anything at all for certain, either about self, or about others, but we imagine that we do. We guess, we speculate… People like Gurdjieff and Krishnamurti have made this point, and I invite you to see it for yourself. People are imagining all the time, and for sure they imagine the differences between themselves and others. And awakening can be 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 is that it was wrong, and that they were wrong. Most people aren’t big enough to admit when they’re wrong; they are small people.
This caused me to ponder. Was I doing a bit of self-justification in arguing for the acceptability of ‘Completely unique’? Maybe. I have no doubt that we do not really know very much about ourselves though we imagine that we do. We fumble about and over-trust the words we use imagining that they somehow represent, or even are, the things we think we think. There’s a useful little question, with very practical implications, variously attributed as to its source, which points this up: How do I know what I think till I see what I write? One could do variations on this: How do I know what I believe until I observe the results of the practice of what I take to be my belief-system? How do I know about the nature of my relationships till I notice another’s responses to what I say & do? It’s systemic.
We know even less about other people than we do about ourselves although, by projecting our own way of Being on to them, we imagine that we know all about them. We kid ourselves. We can only construct ‘reality’ with the meagre gift parcels that what we assume to be ‘The Real’ has donated to us in the past—from which we make but a limited selection anyway, whatever suits us.
Living in the Imagination
As far as living in our imagination is concerned, we are all in the same boat! This is how we survive in our different ways. A kind of antidote is to keep on asking question of ourselves, to challenge our assumptions constantly.
It can certainly be very traumatic to wake up to the realisation that we live mostly, if not always, in our imagination. The way we imagine the world to be is all inside us and does not necessarily bear much resemblance to what’s actually out there. As Gurdjieff points out we ought to quell Internal Considering and make a beeline for External Considering. In NLP terms we need to be very aware of when we’re doing ‘mind-reading’, imagining that we understand where another person is coming from…
The knowledge we imagine we possess is a liquid that fits the shape of our personal containers, as Jan Cox says. Even when you change the container it’s still a container!
It’s also very possible to construct imaginary differences between oneself and other people until one gets down to specifics.
And so I suggested to Henry that difference is surely inevitable. That he and I, for instance, will be different (and therefore unique) in that we will never ever occupy the same space and time. Further, that I will never ever be sitting here flogging the computer in exactly the same way as I am now ever again or even as I was two minutes ago: my thoughts have changed, the light outside is different from what it was before the cloud came down, my limbs are differently disposed. I asked Henry whether, for example, he was an anarcho-pacifist-vegetarian. I asked him if he was able to turn his head and look out of a window to see an apple tree incredibly full of blossom. Did he know an avant garde classical music composer by the name of Michael Finnissy? Had he met him? Was he going out shortly to Colchester, England, for an evening of improvised music? I imagined that the answers might be NO which would suggest that in very specific respects we were entirely different from one another, each being unique in our own particular way..
Henry replied that these were still rather small differences. He could look out of the window and see dogwood and olive trees in full bloom right now; he knew the works of an avant-garde classical composer named Philip Glass. He is a vegan-pacifist in real life; a christian-buddhist hybrid by religion. On Saturday night, he did some Sufi dancing, accompanied by live music.
For me, this highlighted what I take to be the difference between our perspectives. I replied:-
I can understand that you just are the same as me in that you can swivel your head and look out of a window, we both know the works of Philip Glass, your beliefs about war are maybe the same as mine, your eating habits are similar.
In other words, Our Centres operate in similar ways though if we looked at the combinations of Centre activity there would be extensive differences—similar rather than same, then. In Moving Centre we can both turn our heads to look out of a window; in Emotional/Intellectual Centre we listen to similar music though how we classify our reaction might prove to be different were we to go into it; our beliefs about war & eating (Emotional/Intellectual Centre?) are probably roughly similar.
So I’d agree we two have a human framework that is maybe more or less congruent and we have a bunch of neurons that work in more or less the same way but with massively different content. But if we were to explore the interrelationships of Centres eg we’d find huge existential differences. The small differences add up to more than the sum of their specificity. For instance we might debate the idea that Michael Finnissy is considerably more avant garde than Philip Glass who fortunately has moved on from what I find to be his rather tedious early minimalism into post-minimalism; Michael is a man on his own, doing his own thing, not conforming to any musical-isms on principle; whilst engaging in Sufi Dancing is no doubt great to do (my hips sadly now prevent dancing much) it’s not a bit the same as improvising music on the recorder with ten other people whose next move it’s not really possible to guess; the group I’m part of often comes up with something that I wish I’d composed—a couple of weeks ago there arose an out-of-this-world improvised piano duet with a guitar and myself on descant recorder that I wish I could have written down.
Though I would certainly find ways to qualify it, my provisional conclusion would be that we are all potentially the same in basic structure, molecules, neurons, skin & bone & muscle, but quite different in the minutiae of experience and understanding. For me, it’s the minutiae that matter. Scramble all the huge dish of minutiae together and you get a big difference. The minutiae are the differences that make the difference.
A Note on Centres
Early on in my growing familiarity with the Fourth Way, I was somewhat mystified by the references to Centres: the existence of the word itself suggested misleadingly that there were discrete physical containers in the human set-up with, in turn, Moving-physical, Emotional and Intellectual functions; this was rendered all the more obscure by talk of ‘the Emotional part of the Intellectual Centre’, ‘the Moving part of the Intellectual Centre’ or even the Intellectual part of the Emotional Centre’ and so on, endless minute combinations.
The Triune Brain
The mystification continued in my thinking apparatus until I related the concept of Centres to MacLean’s now out-moded, but still fairly practical in its implications, model of the Triune Brain (1960’s)—Reptile, Limbic & Neocortical. More recent sophisticated scan-explorations of the brain have demonstrated that bits of its Moving-physical, Emotional and Intellectual functions are variously distributed all around the squishy walnut. This is a more up-to-date way of looking at the Centre combinations which mystified me for a long time. I put the above chart together from various Fourth Way readings over the course of some years. There have been many more or less useful attempts to model human functioning but its complexity will probably always escape precise definition.
Difference Rules—or Does It?
When, as part of my so-called professional task, I used to encourage teachers to develop their grasp of the teaching-learning process, I presented this model as a jovial way into thinking about how a teacher should begin to contemplate devising a variety of ways of catering for different types of students. No doubt it would be entirely possible to relate these animal types on to Centre combinations!
Many and varied are the differences between human beings in practice; they make for complex workouts when it comes to forging relationships. On the other hand, I don’t think we are any more advanced than (or different from) dwellers in caves. And so I found myself moving towards Henry’s suggestion that human beings are all pretty much the same as they’ve always been. The long view suggests that.
Then I thought of a memorable something Thoreau says in Walden—that there’s no point in keeping on reading newspapers every day because once you’ve read one you’ve read them all; they all consistently report murders, political chicanery, earthquakes & devastation, upper class marriages and their breakdown—what more do you need to know?
And then Jung’s idea that things always turn back in on themselves—enantiodromia. Things constantly repeat themselves over time. Human beings are rigorous in they behave over time.
And then Hegel’s thesis-antithesis-synthesis , on and on forever.
Henry said that Jan Cox went even further than he did with the idea, that people are more similar than they are different. He seemed to be saying, that there are really no important differences between people, between any persons, unless they have been transformed; he further qualified this by saying that Transformation, if it is The Real Thing, changes the person right down to the cellular level. Henry found himself in agreement with that.
So the difference between Henry & me is maybe about what’s ‘important’ or it may be that there’s a moment when one becomes transformed in some profound way and finds oneself being able, with enlightenment, to step aside and notice the Big Difference, whatever that might be.
Henry doesn’t seem to think that the minutiae matter, that they are unimportant; they are simply the very things that distinguish us one from the other. He doesn’t think that we matter, most humans, and from Life’s perspective, we are all quite interchangeable.
For me, this takes us into another realm of discourse altogether where one might argue that human life is a pointless carry-on—existentially absurd in the technical sense of being totally without purpose or significance. At a different level, I would not argue with this!
Indeed, Gurdjieff asserts somewhere that it’s not until you realise fully that you are a No-thing going No-where that you can begin to make sense of things. All other points of departure are loaded with preconceptions deriving from First Education beliefs and values. In Second Education we start out from Essence. Start afresh. Transformed.
Before you can start afresh, it’s as well to be fully aware of what you acquired in First Education otherwise you won’t recognise it if it should appear again in Second Education. It may be useful there but it might well imprison you again.
For this purpose, Gregory Bateson’s concept of what are called ‘Logical Levels’ is useful. I’ve never found the Levels particularly ‘logical’, nor do I find them hierarchical but they work like this: we exist in an environment—we are affected by its nature and temperament (Level 1); we do things in that environment, we behave in different ways in different parts of it (Level 2); we are capable of doing so much more there (Level 3); whatever we have done in time & space, whatever we imagine we could do, gives rise to a personal system of beliefs & values according to which we run our lives (Level 4); this all gives rise to a feeling of who we are, a sense of personhood (Level 5); beyond that there might be a developing notion of Something Larger than Self, Spirit of the Universe or God, perhaps (Level 6). It may be the case that all human activity can be fitted into this scheme of things.
‘Logical Levels’ answer all the questions we need to ask about life which I have often often described as 5WH: where & when? (Environment), what? (Doing), how? (Capability), why? (Beliefs & values), who? (personhood, Am-ness). An additional question is the one that opens up what could be called the spiritual realm—and what else is there?
I have always seen ‘Logical Levels’ simply as a set of concentric circles or containers and have extended and adapted the so-called levels to fit in with Fourth Way concepts. So Essence might be the place where, in setting aside all worldly influences, one arrives at the fundamentally spiritual part of Self, guided by Master-I and Deputy Steward as powerful parts of one’s Being. Everything is contained by the past with its multiple (what Brian Lancaster called) I-tags that condition how we are today; these in turn will have come from all the things we’ve done in the past (all the Doing-I’s) as well as all the things we might have done (Capability-I’s + Hoping & Dreaming-I’s) had we turned our minds to them. And as a result of all this activity, there emerge Believing-I’s and Valuing-I’s.
What this does show up in practice is that different people emphasise different aspects of the whole realm of human potential for action: some are rooted in the environment; others are doers, quick fixers, practical people above all; others are thinkers and/or inclined towards the spiritual life. Add to this the way people vary as to whether they are visualisers, talkers and feelers at each ‘level’ and the variables of difference increase astronomically.
Meta-I can stand outside all this and notice what’s going on. Meta-I is my own contribution to the model!
Just to Be is to Be Unique
Yet another way in which people are ‘different’ comes out of a model such as that proposed by Anthony Gregorc. This is a measure of the way individuals have different thinking/learning styles. Though I can see the point of other approaches to doing things, and, on a good day, am able to adopt a different way of applying myself to the thinking/learning process, my own preference under Gregorc’s scheme, is for what is called the Concrete Random approach—I tend to throw ideas & theories & concepts up in the air in the expectation, born of long experience, that, after they land in random order, my hands-on fiddling will be able to marshall them into reasonable Concrete Sequential order which is where another person with a different thinking/learning preference, one which opts for linearity above all, might start. As a result of my random behaviour, conflict can arise when I have to work with somebody who craves a Big Picture to start with (an Abstract Random thinker/learner)—though I can appreciate the usefulness of them in certain circumstances, I don’t do Big Pictures, preferring, having a high degree of toleration of ambiguity, to fumble with uncertainty to start with. On the other hand, I am at the opposite extreme to a person with an Abstract Sequential proclivity who delights in abstract theory which, I note, they often have difficulty putting into practice; for me, practice is all.
The danger is that we generally act as though there were no differences, believing that everybody else works in the same way that we do; that our way is the right way; that other ways are aberrant and should be put right. Hence strife & dissent.
The fact is that every moment is unique—never another like it in the whole history of the universe. Every moment is looked at, thought about, acted on in a different way by different people. Never again will the Great Systemic Lurch conspire to present me with this particular collection of impressions, visual, auditory, kinesthetic in varying combinations.
(a sure sign that a linear order of events
that I can keep track of is breaking down)
I feel a poem coming on—
the first poem for a few weeks; and how does that happen—
the suddenness? the bits & pieces of what I think
can legitimately be called my ‘awareness’ conspire
to represent a kind of completion of the day:
the nearby bumblebee in the white dead-nettle flowers
loud chaffinch & distant blackbird;
the tractor that goes up the lane
and the dying sun (an answering chaffinch across the way)
it’s the feeling of a unique completion that makes the poem—
ephemeridae bouncing gold in late sunlight;
scent of Mexican orange-blossom in full bloom;
the shadow on the sundial;
the book I’ve just finished with; a small insect
that crawls over the page and then takes off
the completion and the way I feel—
that there’s a something-or-other that chooses
(as a result of long habit) to call itself an ‘I’
existing at the centre of it all—non-existent entity
held in place for the time being by a multitude—
all the myriad creatures; the ten thousand things
just as I’m thinking it’s all an illusion
a beautiful loosely flapping orange-tip releases
itself from the shrubbery gloom
and works itself my way to fall gigantically
of the pink flower of a geranium; the scent of evening
last of the fifth month dying
lilac in the dooryard intensely purple
and ‘I’—this thinking feeling scribbling cipher
whose only claim to being is the collecting
of this random congeries—its spontaneous unedited
fashioning into what you could call a poem
experience—an unnecessary one
in the sense that everything just happens—
would happen if it were not here—this entity
that simply registers
constant conceptual weaving & ducking
to avoid the ordinary conceptualising
of what & how we are in the world;
being in the world is all there is—things just happen
mighty sycamore; varied green of shrubs;
woodpigeons making their tree-settled noises;
the lengthening shadow of the house
across the lawn where I have sat all afternoon
a momentary thing & long series of aspects—
the shape of my life draws around me
I Shall Remember This Moment for the Rest of My Life…
I used to run a teacher-training exercise during which I asked people to come up with the very first thing they remembered in their lives. Sometimes I was very surprised to discover that some adults could go no further back in time than, say, the age of fifteen—before that everything was a blank. I was surprised because from a very young age, I developed the habit of saying to myself, “I shall remember this moment for the rest of my life…” Numerous very distinct images from the long ago past remain with me. I have a Rich Picture of my past.
In more recent years I have been in the habit of writing haiku which easily capture very specific moments in time.
Sketching the moment is an even more certain way of retaining an experience!
We Live as We Dream—Alone (Joseph Conrad)
Nobody else can have the same experience as we do; we are alone with the unique way we construct ‘reality’. This comes to a head when we relate to another person. We act as though the other will always get exactly what we mean when we address words to them; when they seem not to do so we might get exasperated, speak louder, thump the table. For the most part, we assume that our model of the world is the same that pther people entertain; we become scornful when they fail to see or construct or feel things the way we do.
But very occasionally we ‘click’ with another. Once every blue moon there seems to be a complete correspondence. It would be interesting to know why this is the case, how & when it can happen. What common factor is at work?
From another point of view… What stops the ‘click’? Lack of common interests, moving in a different circle, having a different agenda, clash of beliefs, irreconcilable points of view, different aims & objectives, markedly different angles on life, politico-religious variance and so on…
What if all these things could be set aside?
I wonder if it would be possible to ‘click’ with anybody if you recognised that they did not intend to convert you to their way of thinking? To their model of the world… An easy-going state of just being.
John Keats: We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us—and if we do not agree, seems to put its hand in its breeches pocket…
Equally, we don’t get on with people who have a palpable design on us and grab us by the scruff of the neck…
On the other hand we warm to those who are adept at embracing Keats’ notion of Negative Capability… when you’re ‘…capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason…’ with a humorous ‘annulling of self’.
I think that I get on especially with anybody who has what I recognise as the facility to do this kind of ‘self-noughting’. That seems to me to be an admirable quality.
The practice of self-noughting can get you, at least temporarily, to a place where you have no pretensions, no ambitions, no hidden agenda, no intention to convince anybody of anything—it’s a take it or leave it kind of state.
You don’t have to have the concept to be able to practise self-noughting; some people just do it naturally; it’s just a phrase that pins it down for me. I don’t know where it came from: if you Google the phrase you’ll find one or two references to Puritan prayers about making yourself as nothing before The Lord—that is very far from what I mean by the phrase. They do not seem to me to illustrate the concept very well nor do they suggest how you might achieve the state of self-noughting. And you’ll find a link to an earlier Glob of mine colinblundell.wordpress.com/2011/11/05/self-noughting.
Not being a Lording-it-over-people kind of person, I do not know where the phrase came from for me. But I do know where and when I first used it out of the blue.
There was a teacher for whom I had a very high regard. He was so good at what he was teaching that some members of the group I was in sometimes got very angry with him. As a project, I decided that I would attempt to figure out how he managed to remain so calm in the face of what I regarded as unwarranted ire. I put myself in his shoes and faced it. What I eventually discovered was that I could put any angry voice a long way outside of me—I could even move it further away as though it were coming from the other side of the universe; I could silently smile to myself about it; I didn’t feel superior to it in any way—on the contrary, I became as nothing to it.
I had self-noughted.
What then? Well, I could make a calm, cool and collected response, just as my teacher did, knowing that the way the angry person constructed reality, however it was for them, was quite different from my own way, whatever it was.
The question then arises of what to do with the substance of their ire, how to take it and deal with it. I would only ever bother to contemplate this if I thought it was important to do so or likely to oil the works of a valued relationship. There are some folk who stroll into my life with whom I could never be bothered to exercise self-noughting—the issue does not arise because I simply walk away from them intact.
What’s the difference that makes the difference? I think it’s that the people I don’t bother with could never even begin to understand the concept of self-noughting whereas anybody I ‘get on with’ is, whether they know it or not, a self-noughter—we meet in a self-noughting space; we have discarded aims & ambition, intention & purposes and meet as twin No-things, able to make the relationship and its focus come into being from scratch, as it were.
I can’t think of more than about twenty people with whom this has been possible in 76 years. They are people who are aware that ‘their life never was before on land or sea’.