A Portable Laboratory (R13+)

I was in the course of writing this Glob when I heard of the death of my mate Ed Percival (of Shirlaws); it would have appealed to him: we were such different kettles of fish – there must have been some special something-or-other that ensured our great success as a team of two running NLP courses. Reflecting on things as I have for a week now, I think the secret was that we actually walked our talk: without discussing it (we never discussed anything – we just did it), we systematically put a Gap between our manifest differences (Covey: Habit One, the subject of this Glob) and accepted them as part of the fruit cocktail (ah, Mauritius! Covey: Habit Six) then we let it be in order to Sharpen the Saw (basketball and poetry – Covey: Habit Seven).

Each of us is a Portable Laboratory, a topographical life-space in which we can carry out ‘procedures and gestures’ ( = experiments) to arrive at a new discipline of knowledge. We become aware of the nature of our Portable Laboratoriness by making the continual gesture of presence and being fully embedded in Beingness, observing (with a light touch) whatever comes into our experience, keeping track of all the data that emerges and, after reflection, acting on it.

Thus spake Francisco Varela… (Google: colinblundell.wordpress.com/2015/04/17)

The concept of Portable Laboratory is a persuasive one: the laboratory is constantly with us; we carry it about with us just as we carry our hands and feet, eyes and ears; we cannot separate from it.

What experiments can we usefully carry out in our Portable Laboratory? Dozens daily… And once started it becomes second nature, no sweat – you don’t have to put on a white coat or wear protective gear like rubber gloves or hob-nailed boots or kneel down to anything or kow-tow to the bosses.

‘Freedom, to be plain, is nothing but THE INSIDE OF THE OUTSIDE… whereas Old Bill [William Blake] didn’t understand anything else but freedom and so all his nonsense is full of truth… he may be a bit of an outsider – HIS OUTSIDE IS ON THE INSIDE…’

Thus spake Gulley Jimson in The Horse’s Mouth (Joyce Cary)

Of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the first describes the way they are able successfully to put ‘a gap between stimulus and response’, between something that comes at them from outside, impinging on any number of sense receptors – to gain the space to consider what you make of it & how you could respond best.

Feelings don’t enter into the equation: the general principle is that you never ever have to feel anything at all (+ or –) about anything unless you choose. The GAP offers you a choice.

The simplest of examples will perhaps do for an illustration. A chaffinch chaffinching away somewhere up in that tree hits my awareness; it is just that – chaffinch chaffinching all its varied cadences – having noted it, I am free to make the choice to feel overwhelming joy at the sound – or not, as the case may be. In fact, I always do make the choice to be joyful; it’s in the conceptual GAP that I have the space to make the choice; if I had not installed a GAP I would have been simply identified with bird & song & self which entails a loss of self in the experience.

Simply listening to a chaffinch chaffinching away is the reception of what Gurdjieff calls Pure Impressions. Adding Joy to them makes them impure. I think the distinction is important. Feelings are separate from events. Mixing the two is identification. One must disidentify at all costs.

And since, as Kurt Lewin determined many years ago, everything possesses positive/negative valence for us, disidentification is a constant need.

In human relationships, adding feelings of any kind distorts what’s there in front of you. Adding ‘loathing’ to the experience of being in the presence of somebody who does not fill you with joy is unnecessary; the feeling is quite separate from their presence.

Paradoxically, this does not turn you into a cold fish (unless you choose to become one). On the contrary it makes it possible for you to be regarded as warm & cuddly because you do not have requirements of other people – they feel ‘safe’ with you because you are not forcing them to identify with your positive or negative feelings for them.

You can study your own ability to put a GAP between stimulus and response (Covey: Habit One) when you work within your Portable Laboratory. It’s quite crudely a way of preserving the peace.

One ‘click’ will make this legible…

There is a variety of ways of making the GAP.

  • There’s the simple NLP mantra: SEPARATION PRECEDES INTEGRATION… Pick an issue apart and ‘consider all factors’ as De Bono advised; then notice what happens to your thinking when you find that, making sense of the whole, everything is connected after all.
  • If you’re familiar with travelling on the London Underground you can imagine getting on or off the train obeying the loudspeaker command to ‘Mind the Gap’; either the train or the platform represents yourself or the object of contemplation, whichever way you’re going. This is the more effective when you practise the exercise in situ, of course.
  • You can take your Meta-I off away from the issue and look at things from a good distance; this offers a new perspective.
  • Gurdjieff’s STOP exercise can be internalised: when you’re quick enough you can shout “STOP!” at yourself whenever you feel yourself to be on the point of doing or saying something that is unlikely to have useful consequences.


  • You can always ask yourself whether what you’re about to do or say is going to be of benefit to the universe as a whole either in the short or long term.


  • Edmund Husserl advocates the performing of a phenomenological epoché, suspension of both denying and affirming by bracketing off the all too human proclivity to commit to a particular point of view rather than awarding yourself time to consider; when you do this whatever is being contemplated may be seen for its own inherent system of meaning.
    (For more on this Google colinblundell.wordpress.com/2015/04/17)

Whenever you perform a phenomenological epoché you give yourself the opportunity to simply observe events and pass on without adopting what they call ‘attitude’.

What could be usefully bracketed off so that you need never be affected by anything whatsoever unless you choose to be?

Go on, give it a go!

For My Mate Ed

6 thoughts on “A Portable Laboratory (R13+)

  1. Buddha! And like Pat said “Beautiful.”

    Emotions are not feelings. When it feels something, it’s a sensory perception of 2 centres working together When it’s an emotional reaction or pull, it’s cloudy and from the past. When grief comes to me “I” make a choice to let it take me. “I” wish to fall and keep falling. There is a hole in my solar plexus where Sam once lived.


      1. Thanks Tom, things are beginning to change for the better, for Sam, my family, and me. Onward!!!!


  2. I read Covey’s “7 Habits” (for the first of about three times) in the early 1990’s, and of all the many wise things I’ve learned from those multiple readings, what has stayed with me the longest and helped me the most is his advice to pause between the arising of an automatic emotional reaction and the rendering of an effective thoughtful response, The one complaint I’ve always had was that Covey didn’t offer much in the way of suggestions for how to create such a pause in the instant that your emotions are about to boil over. The four techniques you’ve offered above more than adequately address that “gap” in Covey’s advice. Thanks as always for a superb post, Colin!


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