Posted by Grahame Morgan-Watson, Saturday 16th December, 2017
The Traditional Christmas
Our Christmas festivities and family events tend to be traditional by nature, and often less open to the possibilities of change. The ostrich steak of the mid 1980s, like the bird itself, never exactly flew off the supermarket shelves, and few people barbecue their turkeys these days. (Good on you if you still do…!)
Wisdom teachings invite us to embrace change and go with the flow. While we may not be able to change the external conditions, we can change our perspectives and even ourselves.
Self-development, Mindfulness and NLP, all invite exploration for the ways we can change. Modifying behaviour is influenced by our attitudes, motivations, our world view, experiences, environmental factors, and can challenge our very sense of identity. Who we take ourselves to be can be a key component in changing our reactivity to external factors.
Fourth Way teacher, George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, (1866-1949) philosopher, mystic and spiritual master, refers to our tendencies to become reactive, defensive and even neurotic when ‘someone treads on our corns’. It might be a remark or behaviour that feels wounding – thus leading us to a possible reactive defence against the perceived or real attack.
Family gatherings at Christmas are fraught with such opportunities for treading on each other’s corns; as we cram into a space that worked fine for Mum, Dad and the 2.5 kids, but now has to cater for aunts, uncles, boyfriends, girlfriends, new babies and…well, you know the score!
Old family rivalries lurk under the mistletoe. Resentments, like the ghosts of Christmas past, return for an encore of back-biting and caustic remarks. Who we are now as adults, is subsumed by our younger selves yearning for the Perfect Present from Santa.
In whatever ways we have ventured to shift our behaviours, attitudes and world views, there will be those who wish to pull us back to the old ways – It can often feel safer that way. Any change in the relational field can be more challenging for us or our family than the pending, familiar arguments.
The importance of having a group of people who are able to support you in your process of becoming, is a widely recognised essential component in our quest to break from the habitual self. The unfolding of our True Nature requires compassionate nurturing.
However, the external considerations of others, is not the only way our evolvement can be sabotaged.
Living with Charades
The roles my career has manifested over the past 40 years evolved from salesman, musician, to coach, teacher and presently as an ‘Artist’.
Becoming an artist, began for me when I purchased a set of oil paints and palette knives in 2007, and began to play with paints on the canvas. I was considered as having potential when I was 9 years old, when one of my paintings was hung in the school foyer. However, my father’s career as an airline pilot necessitated a family move overseas, which meant that my two brothers and I attended English speaking schools in Aden and North Borneo.
My discomfort with the schooling and heat, didn’t foster further artistic tendencies. This was especially the case in Borneo, where an art project required us to ‘acquire a log of wood to carve’. My fellow students, mostly native of Borneo, came in with trunks of mahogany and other exotic woods extracted from the forest. Without such local knowledge, I called on a fellow student to help me out. He kindly sourced a small trunk of something akin to balsa wood.
The following weeks of Art class were spent sitting outside in the hot sun, whittling away at our respective lumps of wood. I was in awe of the skill of traditional and complex designs being carved by my fellow students on to some of the hardest woods I have come across. All I could come up with was a rather limp looking fish.
I suspect you can gather, I was not proud of my fish, and admired the skill and artistry of my friends. Those comparisons were the start of what I have come to see as the biggest obstacle to artistic, creative expressions and here I suggest this inhibits aspects of personal change.
Will they Like it?
Comparing ourselves to others engages that master saboteur – the Inner Critic, often referred to as the Super Ego. We all have one, and depending on our predominant Enneagram personality type, the manifestation takes a particular form and way of keeping us small and limiting any creative change, through maintaining a link to our identity. We might perceive it as The Voice of Reason, Ultimate Authority, even “God” and thus must be heeded.
Such a strong identification with our inner critic makes it difficult for us be more objective about it, and obtain some separation from it.
Contemporary artist Grayson Perry, in his 2013 Reith Lecture, spoke of the ‘poignant moment’ of introducing oneself as an artist. Grayson expresses this as having ‘crossed that boundary’ (between student and artist) and then ‘starting out on that hazardous path’.
Questioning fixed ideas of who we are can throw us off balance. Whilst the roles we engage in are not really who we are, there is a tendency for all of us at some time to introduce ourselves as ‘an engineer’, ‘a teacher’, ‘a scientist’ or ‘an artist’.
In my experience, the process of becoming our True Nature, is a journey back to True Self and has many hazards along the way. Our quest to be accepted for who we are or who we might be, can churn in our minds. We might find ourselves caught up in an internal dialogue. Recollecting conversations and opinions expressed by our families and friends, we start extrapolating all kinds of scenarios of what others might think of us. The reliving of past experiences, where our ideas and opinions were rejected, become the obstacles to embodying a different sense of self.
Santa’s Naughty List
Our decisions become tainted by the negative emotions that accompany the idea of making a ‘bad’ choice. The inner critic/super ego pretends to be the voice of Wisdom. True inner Wisdom, though, does not make us feel bad; and that is the difference. Considering the outcomes of our actions can be a useful exploration. But, when accompanied by harsh judgements that leave us feeling bad, then creativity and openness to change and possibility get closed down.
That is the telltale sign of a super ego attack: the way it leaves us feeling diminished. We need to learn to distinguish between a discerning Wisdom that appraises and supports us in our ventures with compassion, versus the belittling inner critic that keeps us small, restricted and unable to break out of our habitual self.
From modelling the creative process as part of my NLP Master Practitioner certification, I discovered that some artists and creative writers will ‘negotiate’ with the inner critic to only become engaged when the work is done. Others might engage in a dialogue that considers what others would think during the creation. What I have witnessed though, is that the latter tends to undermine the artistic/creative process.
When we get caught up in thinking about what our teacher would think or a fellow artist’s opinion, I have witnessed and experienced the closing down of creativity.
Losing the Stabilisers
Every act of creativity is an opportunity to learn. Mistakes often turn out as the best bits. In fact, without them, we are not learning anything. Paintings I am less happy with, become part of the learning and development process. Every one of my paintings is a practice for improving my knowledge and skills as an artist.
In my opinion, it is the same with making changes in our life that challenge old attitudes and behaviours. At some point we have to remove the stabilisers to practise balancing on two wheels.
We might decide that certain subjects are no longer funny, or have changed our political views. Friends and family can find this challenging. Unless we get a kick from courting controversy, we could decide it best to keep quiet about our views. This can be a tough call for anyone trying out a new worldview or an identity that is different from those being expressed, so we make a tentative foray into expressing a first approximation of our newly formed selves.
Wisdom teaching and NLP advanced communication skills invite us to be gentle. A little ‘I wonder if..’ or ‘I am curious as to how you come to that idea…’ approach can be more inviting an opportunity for mature debate than an all out ‘that’s a load of codswallop you’re saying there….’ attack.
It takes a certain courage to speak out, and another courage and Wisdom to know when it is not worth engaging with someone who is vehemently expressing a challenging world-view to your own, especially if done under the influence of a few sherries and festive ale!
Staying Awake for the Big Event
Mr Gurdjieff had an expression for occasions when we might court and utilise difficult encounters with others. He names it ‘Intentional Suffering’.
The definition of intentional suffering is ‘to consciously bear the unpleasant manifestations of others.
When we are in the midst of our reactivity to whatever is manifesting in our consciousness, and become curious about ‘who we are taking ourselves to be’ in that reaction, there is something we can learn in support of our personal inner growth and development.
In this way, we become grateful for the experience of someone treading on our corns. They reveal insights and wounds that we have forgotten about, but are still sabotaging our ability to grow and change.
Being in the presence of disagreeable views does not mean we are subscribing to them, or sanctioning them. We might find ourselves judging others, and/or ourselves for listening and not speaking out. Equally, speaking our truth can invite the wrath of an internal critique that attempts to belittle us for having the audacity to speak up.
A solid grounding in the ‘Practice of Presence and Mindfulness’ is required, to be able to stay awake and be objective in the moment of reactivity. It is at precisely those times that a great deal of compassionate presence, curiosity and kindness to ourselves and others is needed. Even the inner critic needs compassion, for it is also locked into a habitual pattern.
The dialogues we encounter, real or imagined, are not an expression of who we are, unless we want them to be. The process of evolving, changing, enlightenment and personal growth is a creative one. When we become more curious and open to the possibilities of who we might be, without preconceptions or prejudging, we may find it easier to experiment and play with the ideas.
Maybe this is what is meant by Matthew 18:3 ‘Truly I tell you, unless you turn, and become as little children, you will in no way enter into the Kingdom of Heaven’. Pablo Picasso certainly thought so…’Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he (or she) grows up’.
© 2017 Grahame Morgan-Watson
Photo credit: Grahame@Triguity.com