Hero’s Journey at Cheltenham in May 2015 (R13+)


Being an entirely personal account of a weekend spent on a course
run by Robert & Deborah Dilts and
in the company of splendid people…
Everything is relative.

Motorbiked 170 miles in pouring rain & poor visibility… I was so wet & cold when I got to the posh hotel in Cheltenham on Thursday on the evening before the course started that I could hardly hold the pen to sign in, what with a shivering interior and dripping sleeves so that the bit of official paper was sopping wet by the time I’d got all my details down. Heroic Journey…

Promising myself a very early night I went to the restaurant at 7pm and sat facing the windows.

through the window
a large choice of old trees
the waiter brings a menu

Half way through my meal Robert & Deborah Dilts came and sat at the next table. I suddenly remembered the moment in 1956 when I passed Ralph Vaughan Williams in the interval of a concert of his music standing nonchalantly at the turn of some stairs in the Royal Festival Hall and I failed to say, “Thanks for making my life what it is!” I’ve regretted that ever since though I’ve partly made up for it by saying the same thing to a composer who will be performed at the Proms this year, Michael Finnissy – he & I do a big hug every time we meet. So I touched Robert on the shoulder and said, “Hi, Robert, I’ve come for my periodic Dilts-fix… It’s been over ten years now but it started back in 1992 in the company of Ian McDermott & John Hicks…” He shook me by the hand and said, “How nice to see you…” The years fell away. “I’m really looking forward to the Dilts-fix!” “An injection…” said Deborah.

And that was why I commented publicly at the end of the final exercise on Sunday that, during the course of it, I’d incorporated something Robert had inspired in me over 20 years ago – to make a neat & tidy circular ending for myself. Completion.

So what am I really here for, I wondered. Ah, the old question. Gurdjieff’s WHAT AM I DOING HERE? What was I doing there in Hammersmith 23 years ago? What was I doing in the previous 53 years?

What Did I Want of a Dilts-fix?

Firstly I wanted to check in with how I imagine that I’ve modelled on him in all of my so-called teaching ever since, the gestures, the tone of voice, the cadences. What Varela calls a ‘portable laboratory’ – my ‘portable laboratory’ – has been built, at least since 1992, upon his abidingly youthful state of being. I needed to check in, to make confirmation, since he is what’s called ‘one of my personal heroes’.

What is a hero? A person you would not mind being; a person whose behaviour & grasp of being you admire. There is of course the danger that this becomes ‘hero-worship’. The heroes require bracketing off in order to prevent a slavishness, an over-identification, a loss of self in something other than your self. What is the way out of this risk? A thorough application of the modelling process: asking the simple question – how do they, all these heroes of mine, do what they do?

owl & blackbird
this May morning
a contemplation of feet

What journeys do they make & Why? How do they do what they do? When exactly do they deem it appropriate to do what they do? Who do they think they are? Where does their journey take them – between what ports of call?

5WH – I used to use this mnemonic as a way of getting people on a problem-solving course to ‘consider all factors’ as de Bono says. The modelling process…

Have many heroes so that you don’t ever become fixated – that’s the idea: the Dilts-fix becomes the Whitman-fix becomes the Socrates-fix and the Flecker-fix and the Bevan-fix and so on – all in my terms, of course. You could go round the Enneagram and find a hero for each ‘fixation’ – then a hero for every single one of your multiple-I’s – millions of heroic characters; the more heroes there are the larger the repertoire of your heroic possibilities, the more flexible your approach to life. The Dilts-&-Dilts-fix was the focus of the Cheltenham weekend. But Dilts is not Whitman or Sartre or Iris Murdoch or Henry Green or Gurdjieff or any other of the heroes whose characteristics I imagine I have assimilated over the years; visionaries, benefactors, neatly skilled operatives, inventive geniuses, the thinkers, the dutiful ones, the awestruck, the leaders from the rear, the contemplatives… Round and round the Enneagram. The Work is to make a judiciously eloquent synthesis of them all.

Conversely a person who has no heroes or never acknowledges to be so those that they do not know they define as heroes has a limited repertoire of possible ways of being – they make the choice to limit themselves.

deep wooded dell
a young deer skirts
the edge of it

The Space Between

On the first day we played an elaborate simple game of moving round the room into the place where we could see a space; this went on for hours in slightly different ways and became a factor common to all the movement exercises we did.

the juggler – twelve balls
seeming to follow grooves
in violet air

I happened to be reading Henry Green’s brilliant novel Doting in the gaps and, as is my wont, discovering images that made themselves into haiku like this juggler one which was entirely appropriate to what we were doing.

My Ryman’s eccentric 9″ x 7″ hard-back notebook went on a table at one side of the room we danced in as a physical representation of my Present State; a black ink cartridge on a table at the other side of the room stood for a physical representation of my Desired State: the notebook is where my intellectual life is captured and the ink cartridge represents ‘more of the same’. And in the Inbetween was the Journey.

The very idea of ‘Desired State’ presupposes that it’s going to be different from, or something other than, one’s ‘Present State’. My Desired State is to carry on with my intellectual life in the way it’s always been, making connections, expanding, constantly developing, becoming more rich. The words, the poems, the music, the qualifications, the sketches will just keep flowing out of the pen’s cartridge. My Desired State is a fluid state.

dawn sunlight
on horse chestnut blossom
– precision of sycamore leaves

One thing leads to another; I find the spaces in between all the moving elements just by swerving, ducking & weaving.

crow insistently
answered by another
out of the blue

Sunrise and Other People

I became still inside; I didn’t have to do anything; I didn’t even have to shout STOP! at myself. There was a great clarification that came with the sunrise on the second day. Looking out of the restaurant windows I observed a woman strolling across the greensward; she sat herself down cross-legged.

sunrise – I become
the distant woman while she
meditates palms up

However, it gradually dawned on me that I was thinking as usual about a Desired State for myself without regard for others. In relation to them all I want equilibrium & order & openness which I don’t have. ‘Be the change!’ Who said that? Gandhi or Thoreau or somebody. It can be an empty mechanical slogan doing the rounds in ‘social media’, or it can stand for a real settling down of things. Be in equilibrium and pace others to be the same.

a game of moving
through the forest & into
the glade’s new space

I wrote this for my dear friend Gabrielle after she described her image, a glade, for what she wanted to achieve. A clearing in the middle of the forest was my own representation of her image, the carefully mown lawn in Harold Pinter’s Slight Ache.

The space between us; the garden, the rooms, all the common interests taken for granted for far too long. The spaces in between – each a different opportunity for freeing us from the past. Each space represents an opportunity for coming together again. A neutral meeting place.

Making Connections

Shortly before I went to Cheltenham, in an idle moment, I had plucked from my shelves a book I hadn’t opened in quite a lot more than thirty years, Archibald MacLeish’s Poetry and Experience. Bearing in mind that all human-beings are poets, as Keats points out, he quotes a certain Chinese poet, Lu Chi, who said that ‘each time he studies the works of great writers… he flatters himself that he knows how their minds work… He is hewing his axe-handle, as he deftly puts it, with the axe-handle in hand. This is how a poem gets itself written, he says…’ [in my own version]:-

taking his position at the hub of things
the poet contemplates the mystery of the universe;
feeds emotions and mind on the great works of the past;
moving along with the four seasons sighs
at the passing of time; gazing at the myriad objects
thinks of the complexity of the world; sorrows over
the falling leaves in virile autumn; takes joy
in the delicate bud of fragrant spring; with awe at heart
experiences chill; with spirit solemn
turns a gaze to the clouds; declaims the superb works
of the tribe; croons the clean fragrance of past worthies;
roams in the forest of literature and praises
the symmetry of great art; moved
the poet pushes all those books away
and takes up the appropriate writing brush…

MacLeish Continues…

The usual notion of the way in which a poem gets itself written… [in the West] is the one on which we were all brought up. The person about to be poet is lost in self, not capable of outward but only of inward vision – an ‘eye in a fine frenzy rolling’ doesn’t see anything much, solipsist, a candle flame consuming its own fat, a pearl diver emerging blind and breathless from the ocean of himself… Herbert Read has spoken of modern poets as awaiting ‘some symbol rising unaided from the depths of the unconscious’… which makes a poem a secret and isolated event, a rhapsodic cry, something heard at dark far off like that the nightingale in the famous ode… To Lu Chi the begetting of a poem involves not a single electric pole thrust deep into the acids of the self but a pair of poles – self and world opposite. A poem begins not in isolation but in relationship. There’s the writer here and, over there, ‘the mystery of the universe’ – the ‘four seasons’ – ‘the myriad objects’ – ‘the complexity of the world’. Instead of the symbol arising like Venus of her own motion from the sea there is a poem achieved in the space between – the space we all look out on – the space between ourselves on the one side and the world on the other. And finally, instead of the attentive watcher and waiter brooding above the silence of himself, there is a poet taking a position at the hub of things. A teasing phrase. There is a sense in which we are all always at the hub of things for we seem to ourselves to exist at the unturning centre of our turning experience. But Lu Chi obviously means something more and something different. A position at the hub of things is a position a poet takes explicitly and for a purpose: to face the mystery of the universe, to face the world, to see the world. It is from this hub of things that the myriad objects are visible – those myriad objects that most of us stare at all our lives and never see. It is from this hub that the complexity of the world, that complexity which most of us succeed so easily in ignoring, can be observed. It is at this hub that the irresistible sweep of time, that tide which most of us take for granted and so never feel until it has all but carried us away, is felt as movement. Lu Chi’s hub, in brief, is not a spatial centre, such as the one illusion tells us we occupy, but a centre of awareness, a centre of receptivity. It is a position much like the position Keats describes in that famous sentence of his about what he calls ‘negative capability’, the capability to live in ‘uncertainty, mystery and doubt’ without any irritable reaching after fact and reason: without, that is to say, struggling to scramble ashore out of swirling, buffeting awareness of world, to those dry sandpits of ‘fact’ and ‘reason’ which keep the ocean off and so make seeming refuges for our minds.

In our dancing explorations we were all weekend seeking the empty space at the hub of things, becoming more and more aware of the potency of the neutral meeting place, the space between, the silent area of uncommitted energy which can always veer off in the direction of choice, a fruitful standing back from the melée, a meta-position.

Hodologies

Once for about four years I worked under a bit of a tyrant who had a passionate objection to my enthusiasm for the plays of Harold Pinter; without having seen it or wanting to know anything about it, he scorned my description of what I called a ‘hodology’. Googling the word, which, at the time, I thought I’d invented, forty years afterwards, I am very surprised to find that this visual image appears under my name in the collection of hodological maps:-

Scan0064

The tyrant had a huge ill-thought out philosophical opposition to pursuing what he called the activity of ‘hunt the image’ in relation to literary studies preferring to adopt a Marxist sociological angle to avoid the Wolfgang Clemen or Caroline Spurgeon approach in favour of what I might now call the ‘hunt the Class War’ ideas. But then I couldn’t find the space in which to clarify our profound & negative opposition and we didn’t talk about it – or anything else much!

My hodological study of all the plays that Pinter had crafted before 1967 consisted of a systematic (‘exhaustive and exhausting’, said the examiner) glimpse of his image system in the manner of a Clemen or a Spurgeon.

The tyrant and I couldn’t find an empty space in which to investigate what either of us meant: I to agree with his Marxist approach and he at least to acknowledge the power of metaphor. I did once write a poem about how we might meet in the middle of a bridge, he from his side and me from mine, shedding all our pre-suppositions – there to talk about things in what I suppose I imagined to be a ‘neutral space’ – the poem still exists somewhere but I never gave it to him.

Things happen to you and it’s only years later you begin understanding them…
(Borges: Rosenda’s Tale)

In her brilliant book Shakespeare’s Imagery, Caroline Spurgeon quotes John Middleton Murry: ‘…the investigation of metaphor is curiously like the investigation of any of the primary data of consciousness: it cannot be pursued very far without our being led to the borderline of sanity…’ To deal in these things can pose a threat to one’s previous pattern of existence. Caroline Spurgeon continues: ‘…He [Middleton Murray] points out that metaphor seems in part to arise out of the poet’s strong and constant impulse to create life, or to transfer life from his own spirit, as Coleridge says, to things apparently lifeless…’

two blackbirds
swoop consecutively
into the old copse

And now, 43 years on, I’m still playing with images without in the least hunting them down; they just happen; and they happen to express what one feels about existence initially in an other-than-conscious kind of way, at the bottom of the Figure of Eight.

beyond the fence
green-ambling weekend golfers
stretching the eyes

And so for me now ‘the glade’, the open space in the middle of the forest is a powerful image of arrival and departure, a place of temporary clarity. The house called ‘Longholm’ is exactly that. House and garden. The garden is an archetypal image akin to the glade.

The glade is always subject to ‘voices prophesying war’, the beasts in the bushes; the pleasure dome of Kubla Khan dissolves in the clouds. This kind of pattern is not available to everybody – the way you define the world in words creates the way your world is (the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis).

Sometimes people tell you about places and you know you won’t ever go there and so you don’t listen. That’s why I could never learn geography. But sometimes you know you will. Then it becomes important…
Virginia Woolf: The Voyage

And so to stave off possible attacks, often imagined, we make barriers, build high walls: for example, against those who appear ‘to have designs upon us’; they may seem to get up our nose. Maybe they actually do have ‘requirements’: there are people who speak and act as though they require us to speak and act in definite ways – being like them, congruent with their own view of how things should be. They force us into a position where we feel we must justify our selves; or, more belligerently, strike a balance in the joint account. Observing the activities of self-justifying and the making of accounts is a good way to spot two items of what in The Fourth Way is often called ‘False Personality’ in action. Perhaps, like the Ancient Mariner, they just want us to listen to them.

They hammer at us more or less relentlessy. Even offering well-intentioned ‘advice’ can be constructed as ‘hammering’… When you’re quick enough you can reframe everything as a ‘Gift’.

woodpecker
pecking some tree
out there in the boscage

Other people are a mirror of the self; we would not recognise their intentions unless we had the exact same ones as they have. Good advice from Gurdjieff: ‘listen to what you say about other people and notice how accurate a portrayal it is of yourself…’

What you cannot control belongs to False Personality – what you can control belongs to you… PDOuspensky

Their hammer is my hammer; my hammer is my Demon. Polly, the current cat, is one of my Guardians.

Scan0062

All My Heroes are My Guardians

After a time, by synthesis, by systematically accumulating the Top Form characteristics of all your heroes, you can become your own Guardian. Many moons ago, at the end of a ‘Self-development’ course, we were asked to invent a bit of gear that we could wear as a virtual defence against attack in any situation. My own design was a wizard’s outfit; a dear friend later presented me with this splendid 3-D china plaque which hangs on the wall of my office.

Scan0063

On any Heroic Journey I may possibly undertake in the ever-shortening future, this is how I will appear (in my own mind!)… Magic & Mystery.

unfathomable
the dull engine of the world
– grey dawn

And so, in that garb which makes me impregnable, I go forth into the world to face the risks, the Folded Arms [a pub… of course], the hammers & sickles that strive to cut me down to size – swords into ploughshares, facing the demons, dancing with them.

welcome now
to the guest house
smell of old carpets

By commenting on my energetic dancing mode in the Guest House, Margaret brought to mind a poem I’d written two or three weeks before; there seemed to be a perfect fit. I was completely staggered when she said that she’d been watching me dancing and wondering how I could do it in such an apparently unselfconscious manner; after fifty years I had once again been ‘commended for my rhythmic prowess…’ The final nine lines of the poem were added in Cheltenham as a result of our exchange! Margaret wondered what would have been missed forever if she hadn’t At the Moment When… said what she said that turned her into a well-formed hologram of the woman who was already there in the middle of my poem.

one year

a woman I imagined I loved derided me
when her efforts to teach me to waltz –
one foot here and the other there
one after another in the appropriate order
all the while with a proper regard
for the other’s feet – failed

seven years afterwards when she was
a thing of the more than dubious past
I was commended by a college woman
I hardly knew for my rhythmic prowess
in a mad dancing melée – total absence
of concern for where any feet were

why should one have been concerned
for the dancing-manual position of feet
when the whole body knew what to do?

fifty years on after many dreams of running
with legs wrapped in virtual sheets –
so long content to gyrate in words alone –
now I meet another woman I hardly know
who – having spent a day wondering how
I managed (by ripping the sheets apart)
to engage in an unselfconscious fling –
suddenly herself decided to leap over
all those years and find all my content

(1957-1965-2015)

To my silent joy, I noticed that, next day, Margaret was jigging about deep in an unselfconscious somatic processing of various elements of our Hero’s Journey. I told her I’d noticed! I saw her!

In a half-waking state just after dawn on the final day in Cheltenham, I had a little dream. I was still dancing with hands touching and passing. Very touching. Suddenly at the other end of the room where we had done our artistic depictions of our ‘calling’, that which drove us to action, the impulse forward, there appeared a lot of little kids aged about 7 or 8, drawing or writing at the tables where we had been the previous day. Priya said I was ‘the man who taught me to have hands…’

That afternoon we had to instruct three others on how to be Guardians to us, how to convey their solicitude. One of mine had to say, “Don’t be such a sucker…” in Bogartian American; another, “Everything’s turned out for the best…” addressed, though she did not know it, to my Even-now-existing-fifteen-year-old-I and a third was to say, “Just like that…” Tommy Cooper style. I walked across the greensward by the stream with the Guardians dancing around me, expressing themselves thus for five minutes or so.

acquiring the words
of others delicately
& with respect

And in the morning it began to rain so the journey back was the same as the journey out.

TSEliot Has It All

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance…

So I awoke to a very heavy grey sky.

cow far off
small clicking of rain
on sycamore leaves

with an overwhelming awareness that

the creeping worm
is on its journey –
implacable too

And during my solo breakfast, all the other journey-makers having either left or not such early risers as myself I sat where I’d sat on the first evening and contemplated trees.

the moorhen chases
a grey squirrel through
the white gazebo

When I got home, soaked through, dazed from the 170-mile journey in the pouring rain, I found that somebody had sent me this little quotation:-

Gurdjieff had given us a pledge to say each time before beginning a new exercise – that we would not use this for the self, but for all humanity. This ‘good-wishing-for-all’ vow, so deeply moving in intent, had a tremendous effect upon me. For the first time in my life, I felt that I was truly doing something for humanity as I strove to make my own molecule of it more perfect. The meaning of this Work, which at first had seemed quite egotistical and self-centered, suddenly blossomed out like a tree of life encompassing in its myriad branchings the entire human family. The implications of it were staggering. By my single efforts toward Being, I could help sleeping humanity [to make a move towards Something Much Bigger than Themselves] … Every time I said the pledge before beginning an exercise, I believed that if I made something for my own inner world, I would be making it for ‘all humanity’.

Kathryn Hulme: Undiscovered Country

Sounds like the ‘Coach State’ we’d talked about…


NOTE: I wrote all the haiku during the course of the weekend.

10 thoughts on “Hero’s Journey at Cheltenham in May 2015 (R13+)

  1. Being at the hub of things, keeping the dragons away as Robert Moore might say, that creative power or place of power where grandiosity turns to gold, instead of robbing energy from Project Earth. What a dance it is when we stick to it! What will come next?

    loafing on the bridge
    the young couple in the grass
    our eyes meet each other

    it’s better to dream
    you high up on my shoulders
    the view blurred now

    below the river
    blackbirds scatter and fly off
    bridge over the falls

    Three haiku poems inspired from this glob. Onward!

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  2. Two comments, Colin. First, it’s difficult for me to imagine that there is any gap at all between your Present State and your Desired State of “making connections, expanding, constantly developing, becoming more rich” – exactly what you accomplish in each of your blog posts! And second, I was really moved by your description of the moment of awareness that occurred for you on the second day, when you realized that you were thinking about your own desired state and not giving very much consideration to the others attending the workshop with you. Such a moment would be described by my meditation teacher as “a moment of mindfulness”, and the resolve you made as a result of that moment – “Be in equilibrium and pace others to be the same” – is a beautiful expression of what the personal practice of living mindfully is all about.

    Onward!!

    Tom

    Like

  3. Thanks Tom. There is a certain movement to these posts, as things are picked up and dropped in those gaps, then the energy is picked up again, building connections as they go. As a reader, for me anyway, there are surprises around each turn. Sometimes I stop along the way to gather my own momentum. I remember meeting Archibald MacLeish as a young man in 1979. What a thrill to walk through one of my professor’s newly planted garden with a man deep into his own momentum, trying to soak it all in. These short pauses give rise to jot down something in my notebook for later reflection, maybe a found poem will surface, or an enjoyable view from a Meta position. I think that’s worth sticking with it, to be side-by-side with Colin’s steps. Musicality of bone and muscle.

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    1. I often feel that I’m “looking over Colin’s shoulder” as I read his posts, filled as they are with excerpts from his own readings, as well as with the photos and paintings he often includes. I appreciate your feeling of being “side-by-side with Colin’s steps”, and will keep it in mind when I read his next post. With Colin, it’s always an intriguing journey!

      Thanks, Patrick – always good to hear from you!

      Tom

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  4. Ars Poetica
    BY ARCHIBALD MACLEISH
    A poem should be palpable and mute
    As a globed fruit,

    Dumb
    As old medallions to the thumb,

    Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
    Of casement ledges where the moss has grown—

    A poem should be wordless
    As the flight of birds.

    *

    A poem should be motionless in time
    As the moon climbs,

    Leaving, as the moon releases
    Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

    Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
    Memory by memory the mind—

    A poem should be motionless in time
    As the moon climbs.

    *

    A poem should be equal to:
    Not true.

    For all the history of grief
    An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

    For love
    The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—

    A poem should not mean
    But be.

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  5. Tom – When I wrote However, it gradually dawned on me that I was thinking as usual about a Desired State for myself without regard for others… I was actually thinking of people closest to me in my own family but you’re right: apart from those with whom I made close contact on the course I wasn’t concerned enough about the others and I only realise that now you mention it! There were people with whom I never did converse – there were thirty of us. Miraculous group of people. Thanks for prompting this, Tom.

    Patrick – I read Poetry & Experience in 1968 when I first started school-teaching – it seems that it was yet something else that I chose to let penetrate my being! Fancy you meeting him! Great poem! Formidable images specially Silent as the sleeve-worn stone/
    Of casement ledges where the moss has grown..
    . Hmmm The cat is sitting on the keyboard now…

    Colin

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  6. How impossible to begin a poem with, “A poem should be…” yet he pulls it off.”For all the history of grief/An empty doorway and a maple leaf.” He usurps man’s folly with one stroke of the brush. These lines are like sister lines to, “Silent as the sleeve-worn stone/Of casement ledges where the moss has grown.” There is a stillness to this poem, more like a painting I suppose.

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