My enduring memory from the first book on Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) I read is the tale of a man and wife whose ambition was to swim to Japan. The book was ‘NLP at Work’ by Sue Knight, chosen to coincide with my NLP Practitioner course.
The ambitious swimmers thought about their goal and one day set off. They encountered the difficulties of doing things they weren’t used to, but through “constant effort against strong currents” their swimming became “effortless and rhythmical”. They began to notice changes around them; the colours of the water the warmth of the sun and the “dark shadows that skimmed by them in the deep”
My toe-in-the-water flowed into Master Practitioner training, learning about the dark shadows of my own world, and like the swimmers “felt the subtle changes of the weather” and “learned to find food in the water”.
Diving into the Sea of Awareness
The swimmers “..learned how to nourish themselves and how to use their bodies effortlessly”.
Nourishing myself on my early path to awareness, related to the quality food consumed, making an “effortless body” more of a challenge.
The story’s path entailed “days and weeks of swimming with no sight of land, until one day they saw the dark profile of land on the horizon. As they approached they became quiet……”
Quiet hasn’t been one of my attributes! My quest for answers to evolving questions, mistrust and scepticism of the established doctrines of authority in later times, became informed insights for understanding myself. My days and weeks became two years of NLP training, culminating in certification as an INLPTA Trainer of NLP in 2002. A suitable time to stop maybe, but like the swimmers, who at the end of their tale looked at each other then “…turned back to the sea and swam on”, I continued in the sea of learning.
My story has a couple of loose ends: namely the felt sense of “nourishing myself” and “using my body effortlessly”
Following the INLPTA Training my wife and I took part in Shelle Rose Charvet’s inspiring Language and Behaviour (LAB) Profile Consultant and Trainer programme. LAB Profile is a development of meta-programs and has excellent applications in the business and coaching arena including sales, recruitment, marketing and just plain getting on with folks.
Inter-personal communication is more effective when we are fully present to the other person. LAB Profile develops an attuned in-the-moment acuity to the words and behaviours of other people. This kind of Presence is not a natural human condition, as it requires directed attention. In our habitual state our attention is easily distracted by anxiety, sex, hunger, day-dreams, criticism, comparisons, pride, fantasy, strategies and so on.
Feeding the Hungry Ghost
NLP satisfied the enquiring mind, but I felt something else required attention and nourishment. It came in the form of the first Enneagram teacher training by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson in the UK. My first encounter was of the nine basic personality types during INLPTA Trainer Training and I was somewhat resistant to the idea that my persona could be mapped in some way. I disliked the psychometric testing approach to job interviews. So I was surprised following the eight day intensive Enneagram training that I felt called to swim-on in the Enneagram Institute Teacher Training programme. Three years later, as a Riso-Hudson certified Teacher of the Enneagram I thought I had reached some land. But as I was learning, fate and opportunity come like waves to be surfed. An invitation to join Don and Russ in their faculty training programme started a whole new crest to ride.
The Three Centred Beings of Planet Earth
The Riso-Hudson approach to the Enneagram is rooted in the teachings of Mr G I Gurdjieff. Gurdjieff introduced the Enneagram symbol and Universal Sacred Laws in St Petersburg around 1912-13. As we know, Gurdjieff taught of blind-spots in our psyche that sabotage human development called Chief Feature, but this was un-related to the Enneagram. The nine Enneagram domains are the original 1960’s work of Oscar Ichazo.
An important Gurdjieff teaching is of the three Centres of Intelligences; the Thinking (Head), The Emotional (Heart) and the Instinctual Moving (Belly). NLP acknowledges a similar concept in the T.E.A. model representing the interconnectedness of our Thinking Processes, Emotional State and Behavioural Actions. The difference Mr Gurdjieff taught is that in our ordinary human condition, these three centres can be likened to a Manor House, where the cook is chauffeuring the car, the butler is cooking the dinner and the game keeper is serving the drinks. In other words, the centres are not functioning correctly. They are out of balance and require a certain kind of attention particular to their qualities. Another of Gurdjieff’s teachings was that ordinary (hu)man’s sense of self is not a single “I”. Once again NLP meta-programmes and LAB profile offer a similar idea of multiple attitudes and preferences that arise in different contexts. I suspect we all have experiences of saying one thing and doing another. The Manor House is without a Master in charge of our Being. Such ideas often meet with resistance, and Mr G asks not to believe anything unless we can prove it for ourselves. The practice of Objectively Observing Ourselves is the basis for this. It brings us face to face with our mechanical habits and emotional reactivity. Such inner-work requires directed attention and compassion rather than judgments and quick fixes.
Typologies tend to offer a Flatland view of human nature. We’re told we are this colour or that, possibly a blend. The Enneagram Levels Of Development as discovered by Don Richard Riso offers real insights to understanding human behaviour. Within each domain there are nine degrees to which we will be more or less identified with our ego/personality structures. Ken Wilber stated that only with this vertical dimension taken into account, does the Enneagram system move toward being a complete psychology. As we become less identified with the constricting nature of the ego-self, we can begin to experience the higher qualities and virtues of all nine domains. T
he Flatland approach to the Enneagram would have people employed in jobs by type. This is the mindset of square pegs for square holes that restricts real growth and human potential. However, what we find is that certain Enneagram types seem to orientate themselves into certain roles in life. They can become the representative model of excellence for a role. The problem arises when we model such excellence, as we will be eliciting the strategies of the ego-personality structure.
These are useful to somebody with any other Enneagram domain, but disaster for a person whose mad machine is already running such a programme. Hence, certain NLP techniques can be counter-productive for some people of an Enneagram type, as they can lead to greater ego-identification. What would be healthy is to employ and develop those absent domains.
Our Centre of Gravity on this continuum of Levels relates to our feelings of being more or less like ourselves. People close to us are used to the reactive tendencies associated with our stress and ego-identification. Self Observation helps us to see this in ourselves. However, the attitudes and behaviours experienced in the direction of our true nature, liberating us from the mad machine also feels not-like-me, and can be challenging to people close to us. Hence, we need a Sangha; a community of like minded people who can support our emerging True Nature. The Enneagram introduced me to The Work of Ridhwan, the Diamond Approach of A H Almaas and our teacher Sandra Maitri; a sea my wife and I expect to swim for many years.
Presence never becomes a Habit
Observing ourselves moment-to-moment requires an anchor. NLP acknowledges the value of a brief kinaesthetic touch to elicit a pre-determined state, in a specific context. This is evidence of what Mr Gurdjieff called our imbalance. In our heads, we can be thinking of yesterday’s regrets, or planning for tomorrow’s anxieties. We may be resisting what is here and wishing this moment to be something else. But our body is always Now! It can only ever be in this moment.
Hence, the work of Self Observation starts and continues with being truly present to ourselves from directed attention to our physical sensations. Enneagram and Ridhwan schools, emphasise the importance of bringing real presence and balance to the Instinctual Moving Centre. So important was this to Mr Gurdjieff that he developed special movements requiring particular attention, sensing and precision. It is when we make a transition from one thing to another that we tend to lose contact with the Instinctive Moving centre. The Gurdjieff movements are exclusive to the Gurdjieff Foundation Work. My own Self Observations revealed how much I was not present to my physical being. I was unable to “use my body effortlessly”.
“Make the impossible possible, the possible easy and the easy elegant”
Dr Moshe Feldenkrais
In 1980’s we lived in Hove on the south coast of England, and it was there my wife first experienced some of the early UK classes of the Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement (ATM). The Feldenkrais Method is widely respected in the dance, theatre and martial arts communities where physical flexibility, effortlessness and balance are highly regarded. At that time my wife was employed in the National Health Service, and a four year Feldenkrais training was not an option.
My first Feldenkrais experience was at the 2005 ANLP conference in London. I was suffering from a bad back and felt this was a message to attend to my own physical being. I was presenting the Enneagram and someone else was offering a Feldenkrais workshop. We attended each others workshops and we found ourselves singing from the same hymn sheet on many levels. A call to the Feldenkrais International Training Centre revealed a four year training had just begun in Southern England. And so the swimming continued.
Four years on my wife and I have graduated as Feldenkrais Practitioners, offering Awareness Through Movement Classes and Functional Integration, along with Coaching, NLP training, Enneagram Workshops and Voice Awareness. I still carry more weight than would be ideal, but I feel more present to my embodied being. This is the ground for openness in my heart, and a stillness of my mind. I feel able to “move my body effortlessly” and like any skill or art, will be continually practising.
The Triadic Approach
Inner work requires approaches relevant to each centre. Opening and presence to the unconditional love of our heart, requires the immediacy and aliveness of our physical being. Presence and balance in body and heart is the foundation for the spacious, still, limitless awareness of presence-of-mind. There are various disciplines useful for bringing our centres into balance, and Presence never becomes a habit of personality.
We call this; a triadic approach to well being; a process that has arisen from a ten year odyssey of spacious learning. It is not an end, but a “dark profile of land on the horizon”, for in the cloud of unknowing, the next moment has yet to unfold.
First published in Rapport March 2011SHARE