Advocating the complete abandonment of nouns like ‘peak’ & ‘experience’
and looking very carefully at how we use other nouns of all kinds…
I qualified as a Master Practitioner of NLP way back in 1993 (Yippee!). Anybody reading this essay may well ask – so what? Little ’twill matter to anybody but me really but the whole experience of my NLP education is an anchor for profound insights both for my ‘real life’ and sometimes in dreams. It provides me with so many different ways of operating, not that I am always mentally agile enough to get the benefit. But one thing persists and won’t go away: it’s the word ANCHOR; thirty years ago the word itself served to nail down a set of experiences that I’d had since probably the age of around five or six – the going back in time to something that was outstanding in some strange way (to me alone), dredging it for all it was worth (VHFST) and bringing good feelings back into the NOW with a WOW!
What larks! What a lark it is to climb back into the amalgam (or mental jumble) that resulted from the general concept ‘NLP 1993’ and subsequent courses with Ian McDermott and International Teaching Seminars. The exclamation ‘What larks!’ is a verbal anchor I have acquired as a left over from reading & teaching Dickens’ Great Expectations sometime in the Seventies. Life is an absurd lark, an improvisation which can go any way it likes, random and prolific, a huge very serious joke. What larks! is a way of demolishing the initial sober-sided exposition of an idea so it becomes just that – a lark! You can go on talking about, say, ‘Peak Experiences’ and ‘the nature of consciousness’ for just so long until the moment when the whole event becomes a serious kind of larking around – anchoring it in ‘What larks!’ can stop you getting too serious with yourself while it nevertheless remains something very important.
There are negative anchors, of course, and some people are addicted to them; they seem to take some delight in moments of deep failure which continue to blight their lives. I can choose to revel in negative anchors from time to time but right now I’m thinking about positive anchors.
Positive anchors are good for you. They can put in an appearance in a variety of ways. I know I drop anchor in all kinds of things and I can pull them back on board when I choose.
Anchors can be verbal, as already indicated. Another example. The words The Housatonic at Stockbridge send shivers up my spine – not having had my experience, they may well leave the brave reader cold; but they anchor me to a mood mostly to do with the extraordinary sound of Charles Ives’ musical ‘sketch’ which takes me back to my teens and a budding enthusiasm for so-called ‘contemporary’ music. Just to think of that anchor gives me huge excitement. Listening to the piece itself is mesmerising.
One can stack anchors up or chain them together so that one anchor can fire several others – the more the merrier. A verbal anchor becomes a musical one becomes a kinaesthetic one – you can bring whatever the feeling might be hurtling forward into the NOW.
Music is a powerful anchor in itself. I was reminded strikingly of this by accident not so long ago. One evening at home I chose to organise a CD concert to consist of what in the Good Old Days used to make up the first part of a Friday evening Beethoven Promenade Concert: Leonora 3, the 4th Piano Concerto and the 4th Symphony all of which I know inside out, having lived inside them for seventy years or more – they are anchored in my very being; I hum & sing every instrument till I go hoarse – used to be able to whistle very complicated bits till essential front teeth fell out. I was back in the Albert Hall (architectural anchor for the mind!) I suddenly realised that being the music from start to finish obliterated the usual ‘me’; I felt totally exalted and everything I have ever been met there inside my frame during that hour & a half. And I continued to read a novel…
I just have to think ‘Beethoven’s 4th Symphony’ with its slowly poised introduction bursting into almost intolerable effervescence to recall the joy of many listenings in the past and anchor in music which beautifully slays me, obliterating the absurdity of me – ‘I’ become the entire universe. To be rejuvenated I just have to STOP whatever I’m doing and hum the part when the introduction moves on. As now!
It’s holding on to experiences like that that serves as an anchor for all time. Just writing about it does the trick as it does at this moment. I suppose Maslow would call this a ‘peak experience’ – it fits his criteria (see end of Glob). Though Maslow apparently said it couldn’t happen, I agree with Colin Wilson that such experiences can be prepared for. With his habitual surface awareness of wacky ideas, Colin Wilson had obviously heard of NLP but had no way of indicating how a peak experience could be prepared for . My answer is that living with anchors is the way to do it, pace (pronounced parchay) Maslow – I’m suddenly anchored back by a single word into the early 1950’s – a Latin lesson with Bunter Brown! Such an accumulation of learning highlights during that time. You just have to think ‘anchors’ of some kind to make one happen.
To shift to another one it came into my mind that, ten years before the Latin lesson, there’s a visual anchor: myself as a laughing boy (What larks!) – the story of my life (mostly) with his little sister in his father’s garden. The words ‘father’s garden’ come down the ages as an anchor for the perfect place to be – all the gardens I’ve ever made from scratch – each a celebration of, or anchor in, my father’s Being.
There’s an ‘I’ of mine that’s there long before Wordsworth’s prison gates had clanged shut, now. Just contemplating the photo has the profound effect of opening them wide again. The photo is an anchor for that.
Coleridge’s Kubla Khan serves as an anchor for multiple archetypes of my own – for mystery, enclosure, holiness & enchantment, measurelessness, a lunatic delight in all experience and in building endless domed structures out of music & poetry and the likelihood of doom beyond the river… The last two lines wrap me round and take me back to ‘real life’. The very thought of the poem becomes a peak experience.
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And ’mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw;
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
There have been many important relationships – peak experiences in themselves; as anchors they persist beyond the grave: Ken, Martin, David, Mick, Maggie, Ed…
I well remember the impact that film-anchors have had on me. The word Casablanca works its magic still; the effect is that of a lasting sensation of integrity, certainty, dismay, darkness, hope, disidentification, laid-backness. I know that every time I watch the film I will be affected in the same way as before. I suppose that we can experience some previous occasion either with the mental pattern ‘seen it all before’ or by slipping into Beginner’s Mind, the same thing new every time so it’s not at all the ‘same thing’. It’s registered by a different ‘I’ for a start.
A Beethoven symphony is never the same thing as I’ve heard countless times before; it enters a Listening-I quite different from all the previous ‘I’s that had the good fortune to register its effect in the past. The new ‘I’ listens with Beginner’s Mind.
Then there are all those novel-anchors! Moby Dick and specifically its chapter 102: The Bower in the Arsacides. I have long been anchored in chapter 102 as a splendid metaphor for all worldly ‘ceaseless toilings’. It’s a ‘peak experience’!
…When the vast body [of a dead & stranded Sperm Whale] had at last been stripped of its fathom deep enfoldings, and the bones become dust dry in the sun, then the skeleton was carefully transported up the… glen, where a grand temple of lordly palms now sheltered it…
It was a wondrous sight. The wood was green as mosses of the Icy Glen; the trees stood high and haughty, feeling their living sap; the industrious earth beneath was as a weaver’s loom, with a gorgeous carpet on it, whereof the ground-vine tendrils formed the warp and woof, and the living flowers the figures. All the trees, with all their laden branches; all the shrubs, and ferns, and grasses; the message-carrying air; all these unceasingly were active. Through the lacings of the leaves, the great sun seemed a flying shuttle weaving the unwearied verdure. Oh, busy weaver! unseen weaver! – pause! – one word! – whither flows the fabric? what palace may it deck? wherefore all these ceaseless toilings? Speak, weaver!– stay thy hand! – but one single word with thee! Nay – the shuttle flies – the figures float from forth the loom; the fresher-rushing carpet for ever slides away. The weaver-god, he weaves; and by that weaving is he deafened, that he hears no mortal voice; and by that humming, we, too, who look on the loom are deafened; and only when we escape it shall we hear the thousand voices that speak through it. For even so it is in all material factories. The spoken words that are inaudible among the flying spindles; those same words are plainly heard without the walls, bursting from the opened casements. Thereby have villainies been detected. Ah, mortal! then, be heedful; for so, in all this din of the great world’s loom, thy subtlest thinkings may be overheard afar.
Now, amid the green, life-restless loom of that Arsacidean wood, the great, white, worshipped skeleton lay lounging – a gigantic idler! Yet, as the ever-woven verdant warp and woof intermixed and hummed around him, the mighty idler seemed the sunning weaver; himself all woven over with the vines; every month assuming greener, fresher verdure; but himself a skeleton. Life folded Death; Death trellised Life; the grim god wived with youthful Life, and begat him curly-headed glories.
Now, when with royal Tranquo I visited this wondrous whale, and saw the skull an altar, and the artificial smoke ascending from where the real jet had issued, I marvelled that the king should regard a chapel as an object of vertu. He laughed. But more I marvelled that the priests should swear that smoky jet of his was genuine. To and fro I paced before this skeleton- brushed the vine aside – broke through the ribs – and with a ball of Arsacidean twine, wandered, eddied long amid its many winding, shaded colonnades and arbors. But soon my line was out; and following back, I emerged from the opening where I entered. I saw no living thing within; naught was there but bones.
That was a way of putting it – not very satisfactory.
A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,
Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle
With words and meanings.
(Eliot: Four Quartets)
I woke up this morning (16th October 2021) wondering what all the fuss was about – anchors & Peak Experiences and all that, just invented words. Then on the radio at 7am I heard the ex-Bishop of Rochester who is converting from CofE to RC talking about his reasons and I wondered how a grown person’s mind could be loaded with such unmitigated piffle managed with a spew of words, words, words. Words are the problem although it is suggested in the classroom that they are the constant solution: communication, tying things down, making yourself clear, transparency and all that.
Because there’s a word we imagine that there’s a certain something-or-other that it must refer to. ’Taint necessarily so…
In which case, do we need all these words? Somewhere Gurdjieff said, “Things happen!” which is all one needs to know. Stuff just keeps on happening; you can’t get away from it. Stuff keeps on happening, just like that; but, without the curse of words, it’s all an endless flow of pristine events of one kind and another – Pure Impressions. But we will insist, perhaps for the best of positive intentions, on plastering experience with words in order to make what we imagine will be a coherency. The word-spinning of philosophy, religion, politics is responsible for dumping on us the ideas that everything can make articulate sense eventually. We are encouraged in this when we hear the interviewer saying to the ex-Bishop of Rochester, “I see. Thank you for your explanation…” which was something I could not see at all – twaddle, sinkrpoosarams.
Having wrapped things up in words, we bundle things-that-happen into abstract concepts: being an RC as opposed to being CofE, the ‘unique quality of Jesus Christ’, a whole novel, a complete symphony, a poem, an old photo, peak experiences, anchors, memory, experience, consciousness. Take the concept ‘London’ – it stands for buildings, thoroughfares, people, festivals & parades, a river and Underground railway jostling with tubes of sewage, living spaces, parks & offices and so on, yet, for convenience, as a shorthand, we think of it as a single entity. Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner…
Nouns are a real problem. They are abstract bundles, representing so many events which we lose sight of under cover of a single word. Events are things that happen and should be expressed, if at all, by verbs: ‘memory’ becomes the action of remembering, ‘consciousness’ is not an entity but the result of a long series of things that impinge on the senses, experience becomes things that happen to one, a so-called ‘peak’ experience is a experiencing that happens to one, while the first noun masquerades as an adjective and attempts to make us think of the happening as somehow superior in quality to other happenings.
Things happen but
…one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion.
We have experienced many different things which have affected us in different ways, tying their effects down with nouns deadens further thought: ‘getting our freedom back’ – what freedom? ‘Going down to London’ – no such thing to go down to!
For fifty years, I have identified strongly with Tennyson in his poem Ulysses:-
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
Nouns make an end to thinking; verbs have to be worked with to unravel the action; they become part of us as we work on them. It can be said that we are anchored in them, ‘shining’ in their use…
How to proceed then? The concept of ‘peak experience’ (the double noun) is unnecessary, and since ‘one must never do anything unnecessary’ let’s stop using it. On the other hand, Maslow’s 16 characteristics (see later) are action-packed; we just have to bear them in mind, arduous though that might seem to be, without a good deal of practice. ‘Consciousness’ (the supposed thing) is unnecessary; though it will be quite challenging to do so, we have to stop using it and simply hold to the idea, after Gurdjieff, of an undefinable ‘something-or-other’ that results from stuff impinging on our sense apparatus. We must keep confirming that ‘experience’ simply consists of things that happen to us. ‘Memory’ is not an inert receptacle but a process of remembering, a reconstruction of past events in the present; I think I shall still give myself permission to throw an anchor back into the past to retrieve good stuff – it’s an anchoring process! I anchor in Tennyson’s poem; I recognise it as an expression of what & who ‘I’ am.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
The self is made up of everything it has experienced; it is never completed because there’s so much yet to come to terms with; the borders keep moving as it moves; endless accumulation. This idea suggests an exercise that will serve as a visual expression of the way the ‘self’ is made up of multiple things that happen to us: we anchor in events; the events feed back into us over time – a two way process. The reader may find more things that impinge but here’s a starting point:-
And here’s how I might make a start on thinking out the manifold connections. Click on the visual for a clearer version!
The MANIFOLD SELF, by no means complete – add ANWhitehead as thinker, add The Four Men under books, shift Hilaire Belloc from thinker to author, list the people, identify the ‘fondnesses’, expand JOG to LE to ‘John o’Groats to Lands End by bicycle three years running’, add mantras! It’s work in progress.
Maslow’s 16 aspects of ‘Peak Experiences’ apply for me to all these ordinary events or things that happened upon me. The use of the term ‘Peak Experience’ is unnecessary; it’s a free-roaming linguistic distraction; when we operate adroitly with these 16 non-exclusive variables the use of an umbrella term is not necessary, Just squash all this into your Impression Receiving Apparatus and weave it all together.
• Sense of Unity of Self – a feeling of unity of the self, wholeness, apparent single-mindedness
• Oneness with the Environment – the musician becomes the music; the artist becomes the drawing.
• Experience of Peak Power – able to use all capacities to the best…
• Non-Forcing – effortlessness and ease of functioning. Things just happen…
• Self Determination – self-assured & confident
• Free of Inhibition – absence of fear, doubt or worry.
• Spontaneity – innocence, naivety and unguardedness. Flow state.
• Purposeless Creativity – lack of self-consciousness, improvisation and self-expression
• Timelessness – free of past and future.
• Pinnacle of Individuality – uniqueness, individuality, idiosyncrasy. Egoless.
• Merging of I and Other – pure psyche and less an object in the world. Bonding.
• Unmotivated by Needs – non-striving, non-needing, self-validation
• Artistic Expression – poetic, mythical, and rhapsodic as if expressing a natural language of being.
• Sense of Completion – total discharge, catharsis, or climax.
• A Higher Level of Playfulness – delight in both the smallness and the largeness of the human being…
• Surprise Happenings – authentic letting things just happen.