Inleiding

Deze column gaat over het fenomeen ‘polarisatie’, de dynamiek van ‘wij-zij’ denken, en is voornamelijk gebaseerd op het boek met die naam van Bart Brandsma[i].

Daar waar de auteur het in z’n boek vooral heeft over Polarisatie op ‘macro’ niveau, behandel ik in deze column voornamelijk het fenomeen Polarisatie op ‘micro’ en ‘organisatorisch’ niveau. De drie niveaus kunnen als volgt beschreven worden:

  • Micro Polarisatie is Polarisatie tussen u en uw levensgezel(lin), uw familie, uw naaste vrienden en uw directe zakenpartner(s);
  • Organisatorische Polarisatie kan niet alleen voorkomen op uw werk maar ook in elke organisatie die van belang is in uw leven, zoals een vereniging of team waar u lid van bent;
  • Macro Polarisatie komt voor in een nog groter geheel, zoals de moslim versus niet moslim (de zogenaamde ‘ongelovigen’), vluchteling versus niet vluchteling en de minder ernstige Polarisatie, die vooral in Nederland woedt, rond Zwarte Piet.

Paradoxaal is dat Macro Polarisatie van bovenvermelde drie soorten, hoewel het begrip een grote weerklank heeft, doorgaans het minste effect heeft op het dagelijks gedrag van de betrokkenen. Dit komt omdat Macro Polarisatie – zoals het Westen versus Daesh – voor de meesten onder ons zo ver van ons bed lijkt en ons vooral meestal niet echt raakt (tenzij je een familielid hebt dat slachtoffer was van een van de Daesh aanslagen).

Ook op het aan Polarisatie verwant fenomeen van het Conflict ga ik in deze column niet in, daarvoor verwijs ik graag naar het boek van Bart Brandsma. Toch lijkt het mij nuttig om de distinctie, die Brandsma tussen de twee fenomenen ziet, mee te geven:

  • Een Conflict kent direct betrokkenen, probleem eigenaren en heeft dus conflictspelers die een opstelling hebben gekozen. Het kost daarbij geen moeite om de betrokkenen, met name de probleem eigenaren, te herkennen.
  • Bij Polarisatie is er een keuze om je al dan niet als probleemeigenaar op te stellen. Met andere woorden je hebt de keuze om je een deel te voelen van de Polarisatie of er juist buiten te gaan staan.

We gaan het dus in wat volgt uitsluitend over Polarisatie hebben en we beginnen met de drie wetmatigheden die Polarisatie kent.

 

Wetmatigheden van Polarisatie

De eerste wetmatigheid is dat de hoofdrol bij een Polarisatie wordt opgeëist door een gedachten constructie. Polarisatie op micro niveau is het ‘een of het ander’ denken en de gedachtenconstructie bestaat uit alles wat bedacht kan worden over dat ene of dat andere.

Deze gedachtenconstructies stoelen op woorden, opvattingen en ideeën. In m’n boek ‘Cruciale dialogen’[ii]komt dit op twee mindsets die diametraal tegenover elkaar staan. Dus twee tegenpolen, vandaar ook de naam Polarisatie. Bij Polarisatie gaat het altijd over twee identiteiten die tegenover elkaar worden geplaatst. Voorbeelden zijn legio:

  • Man – Vrouw
  • Blank – Zwart
  • Jood – Niet Jood
  • Orde – Chaos
  • Flexibel – Star
  • ….

Op de keper beschouwd zijn dit op zich – bekeken vanuit en met het naakte bewustzijn – feiten. En feiten hebben geen ‘lading’. De omslag naar Polarisatie wordt pas gemaakt door deze ‘onderscheiden’ te laden met betekenissen die deze zouden hebben. Door het toekennen van die betekenissen – vanuit het gekleurd bewustzijn – wordt de Polarisatie een feit. Deze wordt versterkt wanneer hoe langer hoe meer de ene identiteit (bv. de man) tegenover de andere (bv. de vrouw) in schril contrast als tegenpool wordt neergezet. Dit gebeurt door het toekennen van steeds maar weer op zich contrasterende ‘labels’ aan die identiteiten; die daardoor hoe langer hoe meer elkaars tegenpool worden.

Belangrijk is in te zien dat Polarisatie niet zo zeer door feitelijke verschillen wordt aangezwengeld, maar door het toekennen van gekleurde labels. Polarisatie wordt inderdaad versterkt door het toekennen van labels; zeker wanneer men de twee identiteiten met hun labels vereenzelvigt, schrijft Anthony de Mello SJ[iii].

We bouwen gedurende Polarisatie aan beelden van de tegenpolen (met behulp van het denkkader) en met het toekennen van eigenschappen aan de ‘ander’ (i.e. labeling) zetten we ook neer wie we zelf zijn. Stephen Covey zei het ooit op een prachtige manier: “We zien de werkelijkheid niet zoals die is, maar zoals we zelf zijn.”

Polarisatie hangt dus nauw samen met het verwerven en bevestigen van een eigen identiteit, een eigen mindset. Polarisatie is een identiteitsverschaffer die we blijvend nodig hebben. We verdedigen onze identiteit en hoe wij de werkelijkheid zien, want we denken dat we die blijvend nodig hebben teneinde te overleven. Met andere woorden we blijven polariseren, onophoudelijk. We blijven onze identiteit bevestigen zolang we niet inzien dat we onze labels niet zijn én dat onze mindset de werkelijkheid blijvend vervormt. Bij Polarisatie gaat het dus om denkkaders (de zogenaamde Frames of Reference) waarin onze gedachtenconstructies vorm krijgen. Waar we niet altijd bij stil staan, is dat denkkaders tot op een zekere hoogte maakbaar zijn en dus min of meer kunnen getransformeerd worden. Denkkaders vormen de basis van onze mindsets die vorm geven van hoe wij de werkelijkheid zien. Ze zijn onder meer cultureel bepaald en worden aangescherpt door onze ervaringen.

 

Figuur 1: Polarisatie en het Cruciale Dialoog Model

Het goede nieuws is dus dat Polarisatie een gedachtenconstructie is die steunt op een denkkader dat kan getransformeerd worden. We staan niet machteloos indien we inzien dat we niet de gevangen zijn van onze mindset. Een voorwaarde is wel dat we die transformatie echt willen.

De tweede wetmatigheid is dat Polarisatie brandstof nodig heeft. De werkelijkheid ivm het ‘een’ en het ‘ander’ wordt vanuit de verschillende denkkaders als ‘waar’ gezien. Niettegenstaande we door onze denkkaders enkel kunnen ‘zien’ wat die toelaten te zien, nemen we wat we zien aan voor ‘waar’. Onze interpretatie van de werkelijkheid is de brandstof voor het in standhouden, bestendigen en zelfs versterken van onze mindset en daardoor de Polarisatie.


Figuur 2: De Brandstof creëert een spanningsveld

Uitspraken over de identiteit van de ander, goed bedoeld of niet, zijn brandstof voor de Polarisatie. Met die brandstofuitspraken (i.e. de ‘labels’) wordt gemakkelijk de suggestie gewekt dat we feiten met elkaar uitwisselen; daar waar het, op de keper beschouwd, gaat over aannames, waardeoordelen of zelfs vooronderstellingen.

De derde wetmatigheid betreft de gevoelsdynamiek. Bij toenemende Polarisatie neemt de hoeveelheid uitspraken (i.e. de ‘labels’) toe, waardoor het debat en de discussie aangezwengeld worden. Daardoor neemt de redelijkheid hand over hand af. Polarisatie is door en door een gevoelsdynamiek die hoe langer hoe meer naar een monoloog, debat en discussie leidt en dus helemaal niet naar dialoog.

Polarisatie is alles behalve redelijk want gevoed door vooroordelen opborrelend uit het gekleurd denkkader dat dus zorgt voor gekleurde veronderstellingen en aannames die zelfs door echte naakte feiten moeilijk te transformeren zijn. Men blijft vaak mordicus zien wat het denkkader opdringt te zien. Bovendien zijn er dan nog de complottheorieën. Die zijn op de keper beschouwd ‘uitvluchten’ om het ‘eigen gelijk’ vast te kunnen houden; zelfs op het ogenblik dat verifieerbare feiten het tegendeel aanduiden.

 

De vijf rollen bij Polarisatie

De dynamiek of mechanisme van Polarisatie kan beschreven worden aan de hand van vijf rollen. Elk van deze vijf rollen is goed én slecht; ook hebben we ze alle vijf wel ‘ns gespeeld. De hiernavolgende beschrijvingen hebben als doel de werking van de rollen te leren onderkennen. Door deze kennis kunnen we bewust voor een rol kiezen en verhinderen we dat we onwetend in één of andere rol belanden.

Rol 1 – De Pusher



Figuur 3: De opstelling van de Pushers

De pusher bevindt zich op één van de twee tegenpolen van de Polariteit. De pusher levert continu brandstof voor ‘het één of het ander’ denken. Voorbeelden op macro niveau: Donald Trump, Geert Wilders en de terrorist Khalid El Bakraoui, de postuum pusher en zelfmoordterrorist van de aanslag van 22 maart 2016 in het Brusselse metro station Maalbeek, die het in z’n testament had over de Polarisatie: het Westen versus Daesh. Die brandstof bestaat uit simpele uitspraken en oneliners die als volgt geformuleerd worden: “De ander {moslim(s), vluchteling(en),jo(o)d(en), westerling, …} is/zijn …” De pusher houdt van zwart/wit denken en heeft duidelijk voor één pool gekozen.

Kenmerken zijn:

  1. De pusher op de ene pool doet markante uitspraken over de andere pool; de pusher op de tegenpool doet exact het zelfde;
  2. De pusher heeft een hoofdrol;
  3. De pusher heeft per definitie gelijk en zelfs als door feiten aangetoond wordt dat dit niet klopt, geldt de definitie; met andere woorden hij behoudt hij z’n morele gelijk;
  4. De pusher is zeker van zijn zaak, want (zie voorgaande punt) hij – en hij alleen – beschikt voor de volle 100% over de waarheid;
  5. Het ongelijk zit volgens de pusher aan de overkant;
  6. De pusher heeft geen oren naar een dialoog, meer nog: de pusher mengt zich zelden in een discussie en met tegenzin in een debat. Hij wentelt zich vooral in een monoloog[iv]. In die monoloog geeft hij ‘bij herhaling’ zijn ‘eigen gelijk’ weer; als het even kan door nieuwe brandstof te formuleren;
  7. En tenslotte, afgeleid van vorig punt, de pusher luistert heel zelden.

De prijs die de pusher daarbij betaalt: hij heeft maar één enkele route: naar buiten toe, naar nog extremer. Dit vormt het meest kenmerkende van de pusher: “The only way is more extreme.” Hierdoor trekken de twee protagonisten een spanningsveld tussen de twee polen. We spreken daardoor over extreem rechts (fascisme), extreem links (communisme), extremistische moslim (islamisme), extreem christendom (zoals de KKK), en zo voort.

Rol 2 – De Joiner

In het door de pushers gecreëerde spanningsveld wordt een keuze mogelijk. De primaire keuze betreft ‘meedoen of niet’. De zogenaamde joiner kiest om mee te doen en, met zijn secundaire keuze, om aan te leunen bij één van de twee pushers. Daardoor verbindt de joiner zich aan één van de twee kampen in het spanningsveld.

Figuur 4: De pushers en hun joiners

De joiner is niet zo extreem als de pusher. De pusher benoemt en de joiner onderschrijft die visie ten dele. De joiner bekent kleur en vereenzelvigd zich min of meer met zijn pusher. De joiner geeft daarbij toe aan een biologische reflex die we allemaal hebben: bij dreigend gevaar, al dan niet denkbeeldig, hebben we graag zekerheid en staan we liever omringd door medestanders dan alleen tussen twee vuren. Zo zien de militanten en kiezers van extreem rechts – per definitie joiners – de vreemdelingen en de vluchtelingen als een dreigend gevaar.

Men kan verschillende soorten joiners onderscheiden:

  1. De aspirant pusher, met de volgende kenmerken:
    1. Sterk doende met het onderbouwen van het eigen gelijk;
    2. Verwelkomt elke informatie die het eigen gelijk ondersteunt;
    3. Selecteert enkel de negatieve informatie met betrekking tot de tegenpool;
    4. Luisteren zeer selectief en dan nog bij voorkeur naar hun pusher;
    5. Fungeren als echokamer voor hunpusher;
    6. Zijn sterk geïnteresseerd in het afsteken van een monoloog.
  2. De joiner, met de volgende kenmerken:
    1. Staat open voor een debat en zelfs een stevige discussie;
    2. Blijft gedurende deze discussie z’n eigengelijk prevaleren; er worden wel gedachten uitgewisseld;
    3. Er wordt enkelgeluisterd teneinde het eigen gelijk te dienen en dus om de standpunten van de tegenpool onderuit te halen.
  3. De gematigde joiner, met de volgende kenmerken:
    1. Staat open voor een gesprek;
    2. Daarbij wordt de mogelijkheid open gelaten om het eigen standpunt enigszins bij te schaven.

Figuur 5: Gespreksvormen van pushers en joiner

Rol 3 – de stille middenmoters

In het gebied tussen de joiners van de tegenpolen bevinden zich de stille middenmoters. Dit is een groep mensen die geen van beide kanten kiest; ze kiezen met andere woorden om nietmee te doen

Onder die stille middenmoters kunnen zich zowel ‘onverschilligen’ en ‘neutralen’ bevinden als juist mensen met een grote betrokkenheid. Deze betrokkenen kiezen voor het midden vanuit hun genuanceerd denkkader. De standpunten van de pushers vinden ze te extreem om zich er mee te kunnen vereenzelvigen. Men bevindt zich niet toevallig in het midden, maar willens en wetens.

Figuur 6: Pushers, Joiners en de stille middenmoters

De mogelijke drijfveren voor de keuze voor het midden zijn:

  1. Onverschilligheid: “Het zal mij worst wezen!”;
  2. Neutraliteit: “Ik kies om niet te kiezen en heb zelfs geen genuanceerd standpunt.”
  3. Een genuanceerd denkkader: “Het is noch zwart, noch wit; het is kleur!”.

De groep middenmoters kiest er dus voor om niet mee te doen aan de Polarisatie. Daardoor wordt die groep de targetvan de pushers. Voor elke pusher is de tegenpool het onderwerp van gesprek, maar de pusher gaat onder geen beding in conversatie met z’n tegenpool. De pushers hebben heel wat te zeggen overelkaar en nietsaanelkaar. De doelgroep van elke pusher, die al z’n joiners aan z’n zijde weet, ligt daadwerkelijk in het midden.

Het hoofdkenmerk van de middenmoters is hun onzichtbaarheid en zwijgzaamheid. Men spreekt daardoor wel eens over de zwijgzame, onzichtbare of stille meerderheid. Het paradoxale is dat in dit midden de gespreksvorm bij uitstek de dialoog is; edoch enkel de echt betrokkenen gaan in dialoog met elkaar en met hun omgeving; weze het dan nog met mondjesmaat. Hierna volgt het volledige beeld van de mogelijke gespreksvormen bij Polarisatie:

Figuur 7: de gespreksvormen bij Polarisatie

Rol 4: De bruggenbouwer

Bij elke Polarisatie staat er op een gegeven ogenblik een vierde figuur op: de bruggenbouwer. Het is de speler die zich vanuit het midden boven de partijen opstelt. Het is de geëngageerde middenmoter die opstaat en die effectief een brug wil slaan tussen de twee polen.

De bruggenbouweris van mening dat er iets moet gedaan worden aan de Polarisatie. Hij analyseert de standpunten van beide tegenpolen en onderscheidt daarbij zowel de tekortkomingen als de pluspunten van elke pool of wereldbeeld. Dus helemaal anders dan de pushers; die zien enkel de positieve punten van hun mindset en de negatieve punten van de mindset van hun tegenpool. De bruggenbouwer geeft niet toe aan ‘het één of het ander’ denken en streeft in eerste instantie naar een ‘het één en het ander’ denken. De bruggenbouwer ziet als het ware de ‘plus achter de min’ en dat binnen de mindsets van de twee tegenpolen.

Figuur 8: de pushers, de joiners, het stille midden en de bruggenbouwer

Zijn bedoeling is dus een dialoog te organiseren. Hij gaat daarbij soms wel wat naïef te werk. De tegenpolen zijn heel geïnteresseerdin elkaar, edoch helemaal niet in een onderlinge dialoog; zelfs niet in een dialoog geleidt door een moderator. De bruggenbouwer daarentegen gelooft in de creatie van ‘tegenverhalen’ en zoekt zo een balans in de hoop de extreme standpunten van de tegenpolen ‘synergetisch’ te verzachten. De bruggenbouwer is er zich echter niet steeds van bewust dat hij daardoor met de beste bedoeling brandstof levert aan de Polarisatie. Dit voornamelijk omdat de intenties van de pushers haaks staan tegenover de intenties van de bruggenbouwer. De woorden van de bruggenbouwer worden bovendien niet zelden uit hun context gelicht.

Nogmaals, de intentie van de pusher is alles behalve het aangaan van een – al dan niet ‘cruciale’ – dialoog met hun tegenpool.

Rol 5 : De Zondebok

De laatste rol is ook de rol die het laatst op het toneel verschijnt. De rol van de zondebok wordt gezocht in het midden. Inderdaad, de zondebok wordt doorgaans niet gevonden bij de tegenpool: daar bevindt zich de vijand en die hebben we blijvend nodig. De zondebok wordt niet bij de joiners en wel in het midden gezocht. Gezien diegene die boven het maaiveld uitstijgt goed zichtbaar is, krijgt de bruggenbouwer meestal de rol van zondebok toebedeeld. Als de spanning op haar hoogtepunt komt, is het meestal de bruggenbouwer die als eerste sneuvelt als zondebok.

Figuur 9: de pushers, de joiners, het stille midden, de bruggenbouwer en de zondebok

De zondebok verschaft een uitlaatklep voor de opgestapeld schuld en woede. De boodschapper – brenger van het ‘slechte’ nieuws; met name dat de pushers helemaal niet het gelijk aan hun kant hebben – wordt vereenzelvigd met het slechte nieuws en wordt afgeknald. ‘Schiet niet op de pianist’ is echt geen element van de gedragscode van de pushers; integendeel!

Elke pusher verwacht dat de bruggenbouwer als boodschapper zijn standpunten als ‘de waarheid’ naar voor brengt. Dit is totaal onmogelijk omdat die twee standpunten, en de mindsets waar ze uit ontspruiten, diametraal tegenover elkaar staan. Indien de bruggenbouwer integer zijn werk doet en in authentieke interactie gaat, schopt hij onvermijdelijk tegen de schenen (het ego, het eigen gelijk) van de twee pushers. Niet zelden richten beide pushers dan hun pijlen naar de bruggenbouwer – ze hebben een gemeenschappelijke vijand gevonden: de zondebok.

Samenvatting

De dynamiek van de Polarisatie – het wij-zij denken (macro Polarisatie) of het ‘het één of het ander’ denken (micro en organisatorische Polarisatie) – wordt gekenmerkt door de onmacht en onwil om het ‘gelijk’ van de ander te zien. Uiteindelijk lijkt het er op dat het Polarisatie monster doet wat het wil, alsof het een eigen leven leidt.

Polarisatie heeft te maken met jarenlang ingesleten denkpatronen gestoeld op aannames, vooronderstelingen, beelden, herinneringen, zekerheden die een schijnbaar onwrikbaar mindset creëerden, wat leidt tot een terugkerende zekerheid: “Ik heb gelijk, want ik zie het zo!”

 

Polarisatie op micro en organisatorisch niveau

Een heel specifieke Polarisatie speelt zich af op het micro niveau (het gezin, de hechte familie en vrienden) en organisatorisch niveau (het team). De bewuste Polarisatie waar ik het hier verder over zal hebben, is de Polarisatie rond meningen en ideeën, binnen het gezin, de familie, de vriendenkring en het team;dus ‘het één of het ander’ denken.

De Polarisatie uit zich in het niet waarderen van de mening of het idee van de ander. En nog meer door het direct catalogeren van die mening of idee in de categorie ‘nonsens’. In mijn jarenlange ervaring bleek een nieuw idee vaak geen lang leven beschoren. Binnen het gezin, de vriendenkring en zeker een team haalde vaak iemand de vernieuwende idee binnen de kortste tijd onderuit. De geijkte openingszin daarbij begon steevast met ‘ja, maar’. Dat ‘ja’ was in feite meestal geen echte ‘ja’, maar eerder een omfloerste, edoch regelrechte, ‘neen’. Het beleefde ‘ja’ wordt enkel gebruikt om de ander af te stoppen en met het ‘maar’ wordt de idee ‘netjes’ afgeknald.

In de Engelstalige literatuur wordt die uiting van Polarisatie ‘Idea Voodoo’ genoemd. In mijn boek ‘Cruciale dialogen’ heb ik een tiental bladzijden aan die wijdverbreide praktijk, die ik het gebruik van ‘afknalzinnen’ noem, gewijd.[v]

Meningen worden vooral geuit in de eerste fase van m’n Cruciale Dialoogmodel: de Communicatie. Diegene die z’n mening authentiek uit, krijgt – in geval van Polarisatie – vaak onbegrip en tegenkanting als reactie. Want ‘de ander’ catalogeert die mening direct als ‘nonsens’. De mening valt als het ware in het gebied dat ‘de ander’ labelt als de zone van de verwerpelijke ideeën en kan daardoor de ander alles behalve bekoren. De mening wordt bovendien alles behalve begrepen! De mindset van ‘de ander’ verwerpt de geuite mening volledig. In de tweede fase van m’n Cruciale dialoogmodel, toegepast op een micro Polarisatie, bevinden zich als het ware twee tegenpolen, die de mindsets zijn van de twee protagonisten. En zoals in het lied van de twee koningskinderen is het water tussen de twee mindsets te diep. De dialoog stopt vooraleer hij goed en wel op gang is gekomen want het waarderend begrijpen van de geopperde opinie ontbreekt volledig.

Ideeën behoren tot de derde fase van m’n Cruciale Dialoogmodel: de Imaginatie. Deze ideeën vallen in het geval van micro Polarisatie in dovemansoren of, anders gesteld, ze worden op dezelfde manier behandeld als de meningen, zoals in vorige paragraaf is beschreven. De geopperde idee sterft een zekere dood, want wordt verre van waarderend begrepen.

In beide gevallen komen de twee ‘pushers’ heel zelden tot een ‘gedeelde mening’. Meestal komen ze tot het besluit dat ze akkoord gaan dat ze niet akkoord zijn. Wil je de micro Polarisatie depolariseren dan dien je de pusher rol in te ruilen voor die van de bruggenbouwer; voorwaar een nogal drastische transformatie!

 

Depolarisatie van micro polarisatie door dialoog

Mijn persoonlijke ambitie – voor de korte en (hopelijk nog) lange termijn – is nog steeds het depolariseren van micro Polarisaties door het succesvol voeren van een Cruciale dialoog.  Daarbij dient er eerst een genuanceerde gedeelde mening gevormd te worden en die leidt vaak onweerstaanbaar tot het onderkennen van een ‘delta’ tussen de huidige werkelijkheid en een gewenste toekomst. In het geval van een micro Polarisatie is het doel de tegenpolen te ontzenuwen door het imagineren van een ‘gulden’ middenweg en het daardoor creëren van een gedeelde mindset. Dit doel is onbetwist en dat geldt voor elke Polarisatie binnen elk team, zowel in de werksfeer als in de privé sfeer (gezin, vriendenkring, buurt, …).

Bij Polarisatie – een groeiend ‘het één of het ander’ denken – is het middel dat dient ingezet te worden – de dialoog – ook onbetwist.

“Wat is dan het probleem?”, hoor ik u vragen. Mijn aanvoelen is dat het begrip dialoog, ook in het kader van Polarisatie, te pas en te onpas wordt gebruikt. Het echte probleem is misschien wel dat er onvoldoende inzicht, onvoldoende kennis en onvoldoende kunde is met betrekking tot het voeren van succesvolle dialogen. Hoewel elke bruggenbouwer er de mond van vol heeft, is de ‘Cruciale dialoog’ voor menig bruggenbouwer een blinde vlek.

Aan termen en dialoogmethodieken is er, paradoxaal genoeg, geen gebrek. Zelf heb ik aan die lijst m’n eigenste Cruciale dialoog methodiek, gebaseerd op het Creatief wisselwerkingsproces, toegevoegd.

Dat bij micro Polarisatie de te voeren dialoog als het ware ‘per definitie’ een ‘cruciale’ is volgt uit de kenmerken van de Cruciale dialoog[vi]:

  • Er is een probleem (i.e; een belangrijk verschil tussen de huidige ‘werkelijke’ situatie en de toekomstige ‘gewenste’ situatie);
  • De inzichten verschillen merkelijk;
  • De uitkomst van het gesprek heeft wel degelijk belang;
  • De emoties ‘laaien op’.

Kenmerkend met betrekking tot Creatieve wisselwerking (Creative Interchange) is dat dit ‘het één of het ander’ denken omzet in ‘het een en het ander & verschillend van’ denken. Vandaar ook dat een Crucial dialoog, gezien gebaseerd op Creatieve wisselwerking, m.i. het middel bij uitstek is om micro en organisatorische Polarisatie te depolariseren.

Bij een effectieve dialoog in het kader van een micro Polarisatie weten de deelnemers dat ze probleemeigenaars zijn en zijn ook bereid die verantwoordelijkheid op zich te nemen. Het is uiterst belangrijk die probleemeigenaars uit te nodigen om uitspraken te doen over zichzelf.  Met name over hun eigen mening en ideeën en dus niet over de mening of idee van de ander. Vooraleer een open dialoog aan te vatten is het voor elke protagonist raadzaam een ‘cruciale’ dialoog met zichzelf aan te gaan.

In de daaropvolgende open dialoog zijn de volgende vier fasen van belang:

  1. Transparant spreken en onbevooroordeeld luisteren (Communicatie – Authentieke Interactie). Daarbij blijft men luisteren met als doel ten volle te begrijpen;
  2. De mening (idee) van de ander waarderend begrijpen en dat wederkerig (Appreciatie – Waarderend Begrijpen). Daarbij het oordeel opschorten en de ‘plus achter de min’ blijven zoeken;
  3. Het creëren van een visie door met name het vermogen om met verbeeldingskracht een nieuwe werkelijkheid te scheppen (Imaginatie – Creatieve Integratie). Daarbij geeft die visie een horizon en wordt ruimte en tijd geschapen om de transformatie mogelijk te maken;
  4. De nieuwe mindset wordt ten slotte effectief, met vallen en opstaan, gecreëerd (Transformatie – Continue Verbeteren).

Misschien ten overvloede, daar waar Bart Brandsma het in z’n boek het vooral heeft over politieke, religieuze en sociale Polarisatie (links-rechts, Moslim-‘ongelovige’, gaswinning in Noord Groningen: Bevolking-NAM, …), heb ik het in deze column vooral over polarisatie bij individuen en meer bepaald de Polarisatie met betrekking tot opinies en ideeën.

William Isaacs stelt dat wanneer in een team een opinie wordt geuit, waarmee men het oneens is, men denkt dat men al dan niet z’n eigen pool dient te verdedigen.[vii]Hij stelt dat in zulke situatie de meesten onder ons slechts twee opties zien met betrekking tot onze manier van denken en dus ofwel onze tegengestelde opinies verdedigen of zwijgen. We kiezen voor tegenpool als pusher of vervoegen de zwijgende middenmoot, in termen van Bart Brandsma. Isaacs stelt dat er een derde optie is, met name het opschorten van z’n eigen mening. Daarbij wordt zo neutraal mogelijk de eigen mening voorgesteld én ook de manier waarop men tot die visie is gekomen. Men verdedigt dus niet z’n eigen opinie en vraagt daarentegen hoe de ander tot diens ‘afwijkende’ mening is gekomen. De vorm van de vraag is van minder belang dan de eerlijkheid waarmee ze gesteld wordt. Die vraag wordt dan in het midden van het Cruciale dialogenmodel geplaatst.

De uitdagingen met het opschorten van z’n eigen mindset en het bevragen van de mindset van de ander, dus de mindset van de tegenpool, vinden hun oorsprong in het gebrek aan kwaliteit met betrekking tot de basiscondities van de fasen één en twee van het Cruciale dialogenmodel: Openheid, Vertrouwen, Nieuwsgierigheid en Tolerantie voor Onzekerheid.

Om überhaupt de eigen mindset te kunnen opschorten dienen we, misschien wel eerst en vooral, bekwamer te worden in het ons bewust zijn (in de zin van ‘awareness’ i.e. naakt-ongekleurd bewustzijn) van onze gedachten in het kader van de Polarisatie. Dus gedachten met betrekking tot “Ik bevind mij hier en jij bevindt je daar.”

Ons meer bewust worden van onze gedachtestromen en die vervolgens kunnen loslaten, komt eigenlijk neer op het inzetten van mediatieve of contemplatieve methodieken. In welke ‘mindfulness’ methodiek we ons bekwamen, is niet eens zo belangrijk; wel dat we de wil hebben, de tijd nemen en doorzetten om van meditatie een gewoonte te maken.

Wat mij persoonlijk nog steeds énorm helpt om micro Polarisatie te de-polariseren is mij niet alleen bewust te blijven van een paar meta-overtuigingen, maar voornamelijk er naar te leven. De eerste twee meta-overtuigingen vind je in m’n boek Cruciale dialogen: “Ik ben zelf de belangrijkste persoon die ik kan helpen z’n mindset te transformeren” en “De situatie waar ik mij op dit moment bevind is ideaal voor mijn groei en ontwikkeling.”[viii]De volgende heb ik mij gaandeweg de laatste tien jaar eigen gemaakt:

  1. Ik heb de waarheid niet in pacht. In de loop der jaren ben ik er achter gekomen dat ik alles behalve de waarheid in pacht heb. Wat ik wel heb zijn overtuigingen en meningen, die in mijn perceptie, met een aan zekerheid grenzende waarschijnlijkheid, de beste zijn die men kan vinden. Die ‘zekerheid’ staat niet in de weg om open te staan voor overtuigingen en meningen van anderen. We hebben namelijk onze eigen waarheid, en wat we kunnen doen is elkanders waarheid appreciëren en van daaruit een nieuwe waarheid creëren: de zogenaamde reservoir van gedeelde mening. Deze meta-overtuiging behoedt mij er meestal voor om niet in een Polarisatie kramp te schieten.
  2. Er is een duidelijk verschil tussen het transparante bewustzijn (‘awareness’, naakte bewustzijn, non duaal bewustzijn, …) en het gekleurd bewustzijn (‘consciousness’, gekleurd bewustzijn, duaal bewustzijn, …). Steeds dien ik er mij aan te herinneren dat er een gekleurde bril op m’n neus staat. Wanneer m’n mindfulnessme diets maakt dat ik in een Polarisatiekramp dreig te schieten: stel ik mij de vraag: “Wie zit er nu aan het stuur, je transparante of je gekleurd bewustzijn?” Meestal is die vraag gemakkelijk te beantwoorden, want het gekleurd bewustzijn interpreteert (werkt met ‘labels’) en het transparant bewustzijn observeert (het is wat het is! – het begrip ‘transparant’ kan men dus echt letterlijk nemen). Wat men met z’n gekleurd bewustzijn ziet is niet de werkelijkheid, niet de waarheid… je ziet enkel wat jouw gekleurd bewustzijn je toelaat te zien.
  3. Het antwoord op de terugkerende vraag van de Boer uit de Zen fabel Is dit goed of is dit slecht?, met name ‘JA!’ is slijtvast in m’n brein geëtst. Er zijn geen goede of slechte meningen of ideeën. Het is mijn meta-overtuiging dat elke mening goede en minder goede componenten inhoudt.
  4. Mindsets zijn transformeerbaar. En wat kan een mindset transformeren gezien de mind dit zelf niet kan? Juist: Creative Interchange.

Naast deze meta-overtuigingen gebruik ik m’n cruciale dialogenmethodiek teneinde micro Polarisaties te depolariseren en zet ik dus onder meer de basiscondities  en vaardigheden van de tweede fase van het Creatieve Dialoog model in, waaronder:

  1. Wanneer iemand uit m’n directe omgeving een opinie oppert die mijlenver van m’n gedachtegoed staat, zorg ik er voor dat ik niet in een Polarisatie kramp schiet. Daartoe stel ik mij de nieuwsgierige vraag: “Hoe zou het toch komen dat een intelligente persoon, waarvan ik bovendien hou, de werkelijkheid totaal anders ziet dan ik?”
  2. Tolerantie voor ambiguïteit. Een andere manier om niet in een Polarisatie kramp te schieten is ‘loslaten’. Ik laat onzekerheid – die, wanneer iemand waarvan je houdt een totaal andere mening dan de jouwe poneert, steevast ontstaat – toe! De Polarisatie kramp komt neer op het grijpen naar zekerheid en ik weet onderhand dat zekerheid een van de illusies van de vorige eeuw is, toch?!?
  3. Het stellen van nederige vragen(met dank aan Ed Schein[ix]). Mijn nieuwsgierigheid tracht ik te bevredigen door het stellen van open en nederige vragen om te leren hoe de ander de werkelijkheid ziet. “Waar steun je je op om te zeggen wat je daarnet opperde?”. Niet bedreigend, maar nederig; met het al dan niet uitgesproken: “Ik wens van jou te leren!”
  4. Het zoeken en het vinden van plussen achter de min. Je raakt niet uit de vicieuze cirkel van het oordelen zonder volledig waarderend te begrijpen. Daartoe schort je niet alleen jouw oordeel als het ware op; je gaat bovendien actief op zoek naar de plussen achter de min. Je gaat uit van het a priori dat elke mening, elk idee iets positiefs herbergt én zelfs indien op het eerste gezicht wat de ander poneert er voor jou totaal negatief uitziet er toch positieve elementen – voor jou nu nog verborgen – zitten. Appreciërend begrijpend betekent dus dat je jouw denkkader even aan de kant zet en bewust en actief op zoek gaat naar die verborgen plussen achter de min.
  5. Integreren van de verschillen. Een karakteristiek van de dialoog is dat deze zich ver houdt van de discussie, waarbij de gesprekspartners verschillende opinies hebben en hun eigen standpunt met slagkracht verdedigen (en daarbij dingen stukslaan). Bij een dialoog streven we naar een gedeelde mening. Het is geen ‘het een of het ander’ verhaal, zoals binnen een polarisatie. Het is zelfs meer dan een ‘het één en het ander’ verhaal; het is een ‘het één en het ander & verschillend van’ verhaal. Daarbij wordt de ‘gedeelde mening’ op ‘synergetische wijze’ gecreëerd uit beide standpunten. Bij micro polariteiten kan, bijvoorbeeld, de gedeelde mening met betrekking tot de polen ‘flexibel’ en ‘star’ bij de cruciale vraag “Hoe dien je als vader te zijn?” er als volgt uitzien: iemand met een denkpatroon dat gekenmerkt is door een flexibele starheid gekruidt met een goede dosis humor. In zo’n nieuw denkpatroon versmelten de polariteiten ‘flexibel’ en ‘star tot het complementair geheel ‘starre wendbaarheid’ met een verassende nieuwe toets, met name ‘een vleugje humor’; voorwaar ‘het één en het ander & verschillend van’.
  6. Het in vraag stellen van m’n eigen mentaal model. Mentale modellen kunnen metaforisch beschouwd worden als brillen waardoorheen we kijken en die, vanwege de gekleurde glazen, de werkelijkheid kleuren. Door de focus op specifieke aspecten van de werkelijkheid en door subjectieve interpretatie is de ‘wereld in m’n hoofd’ verre van een objectieve afspiegeling van de werkelijkheid. Ik weet dat mijn mentale modellen gebaseerd en ontwikkeld zijn op basis van m’n opvoeding en ervaringen. Ik weet ook dat hoe vaker ik m’n modellen bevestig zie in de werkelijkheid – nota bene door m’n subjectieve waarneming – hoe dieper ze ingeworteld raken en hoe minder ik open sta voor inzichten die strijdig zijn met mijn mentale modellen. De vaardigheid heeft dus te maken met het durven in vraag stellen van m’n door cultuur, opvoeding, leren en ervaring opgebouwde denkpatronen. Ik weet bovendien uit ervaring dat mentale modellen door crisis situaties kunnen opengebroken worden. Van daaruit heb ik geleerd dat het zinvoller is niet de crisis af te wachten maar m’n denkpatronen proactief in vraag te stellen. Dus telkens ik het grondig oneens ben met een ander – en een micro Polarisatie zich aandient – onderzoek ik hoe langer hoe meer m’n eigen mentaal model, onder meer door het te toetsen aan het mentaal model van de betekenisvolle ander.

De aandachtige lezer heeft ondertussen reeds lang gemerkt dat ik nu net m’n eigen boek parafraseerde. Dus laat ik het hierbij. Voor wat het depolariseren van Polarisatie rond ideeën betreft verwijs ik graag naar hoofdstuk 6 van m’n boek ‘Cruciale dialogen’[x].

Kortom, ik heb ‘Cruciale dialogen’ niet alleen geschreven; ik beleef naslagwerk het ook ten volle! Uiteraard met vallen en opstaan. Ik ben ook maar een mens die soms verstrikt zit in z’n eigen Vicieuze Cirkel. Edoch, ik maak vooruitgang (weliswaar héél langzaam volgens ‘ons’ Rita).

 

Slotbedenking

Wat mij de laatste jaren steeds maar weer sterk opvalt is dat Vlaamse professoren – althans diegenen die ik contacteerde met betrekking tot ‘Cruciale dialogen’ en, voornamelijk, Creative Interchange – weinig oren hebben naar mijn argumenten. Ik troost mij met de gedachte dat Thomas Kuhn jaren geleden in het kader van zijn studies van wetenschappelijke revoluties vond dat je de beschermers van het oude paradigma eenvoudig weg niet kunt overtuigen met sterke argumenten. De realiteit blijkt, althans volgens Peter Senge et.al.[xi], dat ik zal moeten wachten totdat die universiteitsgeleerden zullen vervangen zijn door een jongere en opener generatie van wetenschappers. Mijn probleem daarbij is dat de geleerde professoren, die momenteel mordicus weigeren Creative Interchange in ogenschouw te nemen, pakweg zo’n kwart eeuw jonger zijn dan ik ben.  Is het dan verwonderlijk dat ik m’n hoop stel op m’n kleinkinderen? Ter herinnering: vooral voor hen breng ik nog de moeite op om columns zoals deze te schrijven. Helemaal niet om alsnog gelijk te krijgen, want weet je … ik heb de waarheid heus niet in pacht!

Creatively,

Johan

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

[i]Brandsma, Bart. Polarisatie. Inzicht in de dynamiek van wij-zij denken. Schoonrewoerd: BB in Media, 2016.

[ii]Roels, Johan. Cruciale dialogen. Het dagelijks beleven van Creatieve wisselwerking.Antwerpen-Apeldoorn: Garant, 2012.

[iii]De Mello, Anthony. Awareness: a de Mello spirituality conference in his own words.Edited by J. Francis Straud. New York, NY: Image Book, published by Doubleday. 1992.

[iv]Voor de definities van de hier gehanteerde begrippen (monoloog, debat, discussie, gesprek en dialoog) zie ‘Cruciale dialogen’op.cit. p. 18.

[v]‘Cruciale dialogen’op.cit. pp. 161-170.

[vi]‘Cruciale dialogen’op.cit. pp. 20-28.

[vii]Isaacs, William. Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together, New York NY: Doubleday/Currency, 1999. p. 41

[viii]‘Cruciale dialogen’op.cit. pp. 16-17.

[ix]Schein, Edgard H.  Humble Inquiry. The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling.Oakland CA: Berret-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 2013.

[x]‘Cruciale dialogen’op.cit. pp. 191-217.

[xi]Senge, Peter, Scharmer, C. Otto, Jaworski, Joseph and Flowers, Betty Sue. Presence. Exploring Profound Change in People, Organizations and Society. New York NY: Crown Business, 2004. p. 39

 

 

Part I: Meditation and the brain

Charlie Palmgren brought this book[i] to my attention. As he pointed out it one of the best descriptions of the working of the Creative Interchange process I’ve read thus far. The book itself contains, as the subtitle points out, conversations between Buddhism and Neuroscience; conversations between the two authors: Matthieu Ricard a French Buddhist and Wolf Singer a German neuroscientist.

In this series of columns I’ll paraphrase a lot of paragraphs of this book and add the links I see with the Creative Interchange process. To me, Creative Interchange, is a process of inner transformation – and after reading this book I add – through meditation. I’ve put my comments between vertical brackets and in italic. These series will give you a good insight of the content of the book and I recommend the reader to read and comment this brilliant book oneself.

 

CHAPTER 1 Meditation and the Brain

 

A SCIENCE OF MIND

Most of our innate capacities remain dormant unless we do something, through training, for instance, to bring them to an optimal, functional point.

If we transform our way of perceiving things, then we transform the quality of our lives. The form of mind training, known as meditation, brings about this kind of transformation. [This mind training and thus meditation is in my point of view another application of Creative Interchange. A sort of inner crucial dialogue so to speak.]

Nature gave us the possibility to understand our potential for change, no matter how we are now and what we have done. This notion is a powerful source of inspiration for engaging in a process of inner transformation. You may not succeed easily, but at least be encouraged by such an idea; you can put all our energy into such a transformation, which is already in itself a healing process.

The most fundamental aspect of the mind is luminous awareness.

In the freshness of the present moment, the past is gone, the future is not yet born, and if one remains in pure mindfulness and freedom [i.e. inner dialogue the Creative Interchange way], potentially disturbing thoughts arise and go without leaving a trace.

A piece of gold that remains deeply buried in its ore, in a rock or in the mud. The gold does not lose its intrinsic purity, but its value is not actualized. Likewise, to be fully expressed, our human potential needs to meet suitable conditions [That human potential is what Charlie Palmgren calls the intrinsic Worth i.e the intrinsic individual capacity for Creative Interchange].

AWARENESS AND MENTAL CONSTRUCTS

The basic quality of consciousness is called in Buddhism the fundamental luminous nature of mind. It is luminous in the sense that it throws light on the outer world our perceptions and on our inner world through our feelings, thoughts, memories of the past, anticipation of the future, and awareness of the present moment. It is luminous in contrast to an inanimate object, which is completely dark in terms of cognition.

The basic awareness is a quality that can be called basic cognition, pure awareness or the most fundamental nature of mind. There are not two streams of consciousness. It has more to do with various aspects of consciousness: a fundamental aspect, pure awareness, which is always there; and adventitious aspects, the mental constructs, which are always changing. [I call the first sometimes the ‘naked’, uncolored, transparant and non-dual consciousness and the second the ‘clothed’, colored, opaque and dual consciousness]

The mind can be aware of itself without requiring a second mind to do so. One aspect of the mind, the most fundamental aspect of it, pure awareness, can also be awareness of itself without requiring a second observer. [This capacity of the mind is fully used in the so-called Process Awareness Creative Interchange skill]

The point is not to fragment the self but to use the capacity of the mind to observe and to know itself to free oneself from suffering. We actually speak of nondual self-illuminating awareness, which emphasizes this point. There is no need for a dissociation of personality because the mind has the inherent faculty to observe itself, just as a flame does not need a second flame to light itself up. Its own luminosity suffices.

The practical point of all this is that you can look at your thoughts, including strong emotions, from the perspective given by pure mindfulness. Thoughts are manifestations of pure awareness, just like waves that surge from and dissolve back in the ocean. The ocean and waves are not two intrinsically separate things. Usually, we are so taken by the content of thoughts that we fully identify ourselves with our thoughts and are unaware of the fundamental nature of consciousness, pure awareness. Because of that we are easily deluded, and we suffer.

Example of a strong emotion is anger. Anger fills out whole landscape and project its distortion of reality on people and events. If we are able to dissociate from anger and look at it dispassionately with bare mindfulness, then we can see that it is just a bunch of thoughts and not something fearsome. Anger does not carry weapons, it does not burn like a fire or crush someone like a rock, and it is nothing more than a product of our mind.

Instead of ‘being’ the anger and fully identifying with it, we must simply look at anger and keep our bare attention on it. When we do so, what happens? Just as when we cease to add wood on fire, the fire soon dies out: anger cannot sustain itself for long under the gaze of mindfulness. It simply fades away.

WORKING WITH EMOTIONS

Your object of inquiry appears to be the mental apparatus and your analytical tool, introspection. This is an interesting self-referential approach that differs from the Western science of mind because it emphasizes the first-person perspective and collapses, in a sense, the instrument of investigation with its object. The Western approach, while using the first-person perspective for the definition of mental phenomena, clearly favors the third-person perspective for its investigation. I am curious to find out whether the results of analytical introspection match those obtained by cognitive neuroscience.

GRADUAL AND LASTING CHANGES

What really matters is the way the person gradually changes. If, over months and years, someone becomes less impatient, less prone to anger, and less torn apart by hopes and fears, then the method he or she has been using is a valid one. If the person has gradually developed the inner resources to successfully deal with the ups and downs of life, then real progress has occurred.

When you are confronted with someone who criticizes or insults you, if you don’t blow a fuse but know how to deal skillfully with the person while maintaining your inner peace, you will have achieved some genuine emotional balance and inner freedom. You will have become less vulnerable to outer circumstances and your own deluded thoughts.

Practitioners of meditation retain the capacity of being fully aware of something and they succeed in not being carried away by their emotional responses. People who do not practice meditation either do not perceive the stimuli so do not react to it or perceive it and react strongly.

The positive or negative nature of an emotion should be assessed according to its motivation – altruistic or selfish – and its consequences in terms of well-being or suffering.

OUTER AND INNER ENRICHMENT

The mind obviously has the capacity to know and train itself.[if it uses Creative Interchange] People do that all the time without calling it meditation. Meditation [i.e. using willfully – intention and attention – Creative Interchange on one’s own mind ] is simply a more systematic way of doing this with wisdom – that is, with an understanding of the mechanisms of happiness and suffering.

The process requires perseverance. You need to train again and again. With meditation, the effort is aimed at developing not a physical skill but an inner enrichment. I understand that the development of brain functions comes from exposure to the outer world. However, most of the time, our engagement with the world is semi-passive. We are exposed to something and react to it, thus increasing our experience. One could describe this process as an outer enrichment.

In the case of meditation and mind training, the outer environment might change only minimally. In extreme cases, you could be in a simple hermitage in which nothing changes or sitting alone always facing the same scene day after day. So the outer enrichment is almost nil, but the inner enrichment is maximal. You are training your mind all day long with little outer stimulation. Furthermore, such enrichment is not passive, but voluntary, and methodically directed.

When you engage for eight or more hours a day in cultivation certain mental states that you have decided to cultivate and that you have learned to cultivate, you reprogram the brain.

In a sense, you make your brain the object of a sophisticated cognitive process that is turned inward rather than outward the world around you. You apply the cognitive abilities of the brain to studying its own organization and functioning, and you do so in an intentional and focused way [cf. intention and attention], similar to when you attend to events in the outer world and when you organize sensory signals into coherent percepts. You assign value to certain states and you try to increase their prevalence, which probably goes along with a change in synaptic connectivity in much the same way as it occurs with learning processes resulting from interactions with the outer world.

The brain developmental reorganization continues until the age of about 20. The early stages serve the adjustment of sensory and motor functions, and the later phases primarily involves brain systems responsible for social abilities. Once these developmental processes come to an end, the connectivity of the brain becomes fixed, and [according to actual western brain science] and large-scale modifications are no longer possible. The existing synaptic connections remain modifiable, but you can’t grow new long-range connections.

A study of people who have practiced meditation for a long time demonstrates that structural connectivity among different areas of the brain is higher in meditators than in a control group. Hence, there must be another kind of change allowed in the brain.

PROCESSES OF NEURONAL CHANGES

Neuroscience has no difficulty in accepting that a learning process can change behavioral dispositions, even in adults. There is ample evidence of this from reeducation programs, where practice leads to small but incremental behavior modifications. There is also evidence for quite dramatic and sudden changes in cognition, emotional states, and coping strategies. In this case, the same mechanism that support learning – distributed changes in the efficiency of synaptic connections – lead to drastic alterations of global brain states. The reason is that in highly nonlinear, complex systems such as the brain, relatively small changes in the coupling of neurons can lead to phase transitions that can entrain radical alterations of system properties. This can occur in association with traumatic or cathartic experiences. [cf. my personal traumatic and cathartic experience which I call my personal paradigm shifts in my life – see my four Professional lives story on this website)

The training phase in meditation is probably capitalizing on the slow learning related modifications of synaptic efficiency, whereas the fast engagement in a particular meditative state of which experts seem to be capable relies on more dynamic routing strategies.

So far, the results of the studies conducted with trained meditators indicate that they have the faculty to generate clean, powerful, well-defined states of mind, and this faculty is associated with some specific brain patterns. Mental training enables  one to generate those states at will and to modulate their intensity, even when confronted with disturbing circumstances, such as strong positive or negative emotional stimuli. Thus, one acquires the faculty to maintain an overall emotional balance that favors inner strength and peace.

The taxonomy of mental states should become more differentiated. If this is the case, then cultures exploiting mental training as a source of knowledge should have a richer vocabulary for mental states than cultures that are more interested in investigating phenomena of the outer world.

Buddhist taxonomy describes 58 main mental events and various subdivisions thereof …

EMOTIONAL NUANCES

If you look careful at anger, you will see that it contains aspects of clarity, focus en effectiveness that are not harmful in and of themselves. Likewise, desire has an element of bliss that is distinct from attachment; pride has an element of self-confidence that does not lapse into arrogance, and envy entails a drive to act that, in itself, is not yet deluded, as it will later become when the afflictive state of mind of jealousy sets in.

EFFORTLESS SKILLS

When you are able to preserve a clear state of awareness, you see thoughts arise; you let them pass through your mind, without trying to block or encourage them, and they vanish without creating many waves.

One study with meditators showed that they could maintain their attention at an optimal level for extended periods of time. When I (Matthieu) did this task myself, I noticed that the first few minutes were challenging and required some effort, but once I entered a state of “attentional flow”, it became easier.

This resembles a general strategy that the brain applies when acquiring new skills. In the naïve state, one uses conscious control to perform a task. The task is broken down into a series of subtask that are sequentially executed. This requires attention, takes time and is effortful. Later, after practice, the performance becomes automatized. Usually, the execution of the skilled behavior is then accomplished by different brain structures than those involved in the initial learning and execution of the task. Once this shift has occurred, performance becomes automatic, fast and effortless and no longer requires cognitive control. This type of learning is called procedural learning and requires practice. Such automized skills often safe you in difficult situations because you can access them quickly. They can also of the cope with more variables simultaneously due to parallel processing. Conscious processing is more serialized and therefor takes more time.

Highly advanced meditators appear to acquire a level of skill that enables them to achieve a focused state with less effort; they are so to speak ‘in the flow’. This observation accord with other studies demonstrating that when someone has mastered a task, the cerebral structures put into play during the execution of this task is generally less active than they were when the brain was still in the learning phase.

RELATING TO THE WORLD

Mind training leads to refined understanding of whether a thought or an emotion is afflictive, attuned to reality or based on a completely distorted perception of reality.

Afflictive mental stages begin with self-centeredness, with increasing the gap between self and others, between oneself and the world. They are associated with an exaggerated feeling of self-importance, an inflated self-cherishing, a lack of genuine concern for others, unreasonable hopes and fears, and compulsive grasping toward desirable objects and people. Such states come with a high level of reality distortion. One solidifies outer reality and believes that the good or bad, desirable or undesirable qualities of other things intrinsically belong to them instead of understanding that they are mostly projections of our mind.

The strength of the ego or self-centeredness is the troublemaker. A deep sense of confidence that comes from having gained some knowledge about the inner mechanisms of happiness and suffering, from knowing how to deal with emotions, and thus from having gathered the inner sources to deal with whatever comes your way.[ii] [This makes me think of the concept ‘Inner Security’ of my fourth father Paul de Sauvigny de Blot SJ.[iii]]

HOW YOUNG CAN YOU START TO MEDITATE?

In a traditional Buddhist setting, young children are mostly taught through example. They see their parents and educators behave on the basis of principles of nonviolence towards humans, animals and the environment. One cannot underestimate the strength of emotional contagion, as well as the way of being’s contagion. One’s inner qualities are immensely important on those who share one’s life. One of the most important things is to help children become skilled in identifying their emotions and those of others, and to show them basic ways of dealing with emotional outbursts.

MENTAL DISTORTIONS

The ties that binds – Bruce Springsteen

In Dutch there is a saying, “Kom tot jezelf,” which means “cut the strings” – the ties that attach you to something, that makes you do what others want, that make you believe what others believe, that makes you be kind because somebody else makes you to be kind. If you get caught in this net of dependencies, than we say that you “lose yourself.” This is why a protective environment that generously grants self-determination is indispensable, as long as the cognitive control mechanisms of children are strong enough to protect them from losing themselves in the face of imposed intrusions and expectations.

[All this makes me of course think of Charlie Palmgren’s concept the Vicious Circle.[iv]]

If you let an emotion, even a strong one, pass through your mind without fueling it, without letting the spiral of thoughts spin out of control, the emotion will not last and will vanish by itself.

ATTENTION AND COGNITIVE CONTROL

It is conceivable that mental practice can do the same thing to the cognitive abilities of the brain and sharpens awareness of one’s own cognitive processes. This does require a substantial amount of cognitive control because the attention has to be directed towards processes originating within the brain. [cf. the duo ‘intention & attention’!]

Because it involves an internal process to decide which of the available sensory signals should have access to consciousness, intraocular suppression is frequently used as a paradigm to investigate the signatures of neuronal activity that are required for any neuronal activity to reach the level of conscious perception. In this context, it is noteworthy that practitioner of meditation can deliberately slow down the alternation rate of binocular rivalry.[v]

You can intentionally activate internal representations, focus your attention on them, and then work on them in much the same way as you process external information. You apply your cognitive abilities to internal events.

For example, you keep a meta-awareness of a particular state that you are trying to develop, such as compassion, and maintain this meditation state moment after moment … keeping your attention focused on particular internal states, which can be emotions or contents of imagination. In essence, it is the same strategy as one applies with the perception of the outer world – except that most of us are far less familiar with focusing attention on inner states.

This fits with the definition of meditation, which is to cultivate a particular state of mind without distraction. Two Asian words are usually translated in English as ‘meditation’: in Sanskrit, bhavana means to cultivate, and in Tibetan, gom means to become familiar with something that has new qualities and insights as well as a new way of being. So meditation cannot be reduced to the usual clichés of emptying the mind and relaxing.[vi]

To fully integrate altruism and compassion in our mind stream, we need to cultivate them over a longer period of time. We need to bring them to our minds and then nurture them, repeat them, preserve them, and enhance them, so that they can gradually fill our mental landscape in a more durable way.

Elements of repetition and perseverance are common to all forms of training. However, the particularity here is that the skills you are developing are fundamental qualities such as compassion, attention, and emotional balance.

Meditation, then, is a highly active, attentive process. By focusing attention on those internal states, you familiarize yourself with them, you get to know them, and this facilitates recall if you want to activate them again.

This must go along with lasting changes at the neuronal level. Any activity in the brain that is occurring under the control of attention is memorized. There are modifications in synaptic transmission, synapses will strengthen or weaken. This in turn will lead to changes in the dynamical state of neuronal assemblies. Thus, through mental training, you create novel states of your mind, and you learn to retrieve them at will.

ATTENTIONAL BLINK

The inability to process the subsequent images – presented in a rapid succession – is called attentional blink. The idea is that attention, while it is engaged in processing one consciously perceived image, is not available for the processing of the next one. Heleen Slagter and Antoine Lutz have shown that after three months of intensive training in meditation on full awareness, attentional blink was considerably reduced.

Robust and convincing data show that meditation is associated with a special brain state and does have lasting effects on brain functions.

Regarding attentional blink, from an introspective perspective, it would seem that usually the object captures someone’s attention because it goes to the object, sticks to the object, and then disengage from object. There is a moment of thinking, “Oh, I have seen a tiger” or “I have seen that word.” Then it takes some time to let it go. But, if you simply remain in the state of open presence, which is the state that works best to reduce additional blink, you simply witness the image without attaching to it and therefor without having to disengage from it. When the next image flashes, a 20th of a second later, you are still there, ready to perceive it.

So the process of meditation has two effects: You learn to work on your own attentional mechanisms, and then you become an expert in engaging and disengaging attention at will.

Buddhism says that if we don’t engage constantly in the process of attraction and repulsion, this is liberating. From a contemplative perspective, fine tuning one’s introspection toward perspective and mental processes, rather than being powerless against and blindly caught in their automatisms, corresponds to enhancing the quality and power of the mind’s telescope. This allows one to see those processes happening in real time and not be carried away and fooled by them.

People who do better at recognizing very subtle emotions (i.e. micro expressions) are more interested, curious, and open to new experiences. They are also known to be conscientious, reliable, and efficient.

ATTENTION, RUMINATION AND OPEN PRESENCE

One of the great Tibetan masters used to face the palm of his hand outward. Then he would turn his palm inward, commenting: “Now we should look within and pay attention to what is going on in our mind and to the very nature of awareness itself.” This is one of the key points of meditation.[vii]

Rumination is letting your inner chatter go on and on [i.e. the Monkey mind], letting thoughts about the past invade your mind, becoming upset again about past events, endlessly guessing the future, fueling hopes and fears, and being constantly distracted from the present. By doing so, you become increasingly disturbed, self-centered, busy, and preoccupied with your own mental fabrications and eventually depressed. You are not truly paying attention to the present moment and are simply engrossed in your thoughts, going on and on in a vicious circle, feeding your ego and self-centeredness. You are completely lost in inner distraction, in the same way that you can be constantly distracted by ever-changing outer events. This is the opposite of bare attention. Turning your attention inward means to look at pure awareness and dwell without distraction, yet effortlessly, in the freshness of the present moment, without entertaining mental fabrications.

It’s not focused attention on any content – but it’s never distracted either. You open your window of attention – yes, and without any effort. There is neither a mental chatter nor particular focus of attention except resting in pure awareness, rather than focusing on it. I cannot find any better word; it is something that is luminous, clear, and stable, without grasping [It’s pure consciousness i.e. awareness or non colored, crystal clear,’transparant’ consciousness].

MINDFULNESS AND DISTRACTION

As we cultivate attention, we should understand that it is a powerful tool, so it should be applied to something that contributes to freedom from suffering. We can also use effortless attention to simply rest in the natural state of mind, in clear awareness that is imbued with inner peace and makes us less vulnerable to the ups and downs of life. Whatever happens, we will not suffer much emotional disturbance and can enjoy greater stability. Obtaining this pure mindfulness of the present moment has many advantages. We may also use attention to cultivate compassion. If the mind is constantly distracted, even though it looks as if one is meditation, then the mind is powerlessly carried away all over the world like a balloon in the wind. So the increased resolution of your inner telescope, combined with sustained attention, is an indispensable tool to cultivate those human qualities that can be developed through meditation. In the end freedom from suffering becomes a skill.

This process is somehow different from a motor skill such as riding a bike, swimming a certain style or sailing – you have to practice over and over again until you become an expert and the skill comes becomes automatic. This is procedural learning and thus engages procedural memory. You have to practice, and you have to do it in a precise practical way. In the beginning of skill acquisition, practice is very much under control of attention and consciousness, you have to dissect the process into steps, and you need a teacher who tells (and show) you how to do it, or you do it by trial and error, which is less efficient. Having a skilled teacher is very important, especially when engaging in meditation.
Teachers help, they speed up the process, but you have to practice yourself. The neuronal substrate that supports these skills cannot shift instantly into a new state. You have to tune your neural circuits little by little over a long period of time, finally, when the skill is acquired; it becomes less and less dependent on attention and becomes more and more automatized. Imaging driving your car; you don’t invest any attention any more in driving your car through a region in your city that you know well, although you should. You can engage in an attention demanding conversation while you drive and execute a complex sequence of cognitive and executive acts without conscious control.

This can be said about meditation: In the beginning, meditation is contrived and artificial, and gradually becomes natural and effortless [this is exactly the same with the Creative Interchange skills].

CONSOLIDATING LEARNING THROUGH SLEEP

Before falling asleep, if you clearly generate a positive state of mind, filled with compassion or altruism, it is said that this will give a different quality to the whole night. Oppositely, if you go to sleep while harboring anger or jealousy, then you will carry it through the night and poison your sleep.

The cultivation of skills and their consolidation is actually the main work of meditation. A study carried in Madison, Wisconsin, in Giulio Tomoni’s laboratory, in collaboraton with Antoine Lutz and Richard Davidson, showed that, among meditators who had completed between 2000 and 10000 hours of practice, the increase of gamma waves was maintained during the deepest phase of sleep, with an intensity proportional to the number of hours previously devoted to meditation.[viii] The fact that these changes persist in these people at rest and during sleep indicates a stable transformation of their habitual mental state, even in the absence of any specific effort, such as a meditation session.[ix]

The brain’s memory is associative; it’s not like computer memory, where you have distinct addresses for distinct contents. In the brain different memories are stored within the same network by different changes in the coupling of neurons. The equivalent of a particular engram is a specific dynamic state of the network, a state characterized by the specific spatiotemporal distribution of active and inactive neurons of the network.

COMPASSION AND ACTION

If you are not caught inside the bubble of self-centeredness and are less involved in relating everything to yourself, then the ego ceases to feel threatened. You become less defensive, feel less fear, and are less obsessed with self-concern. As the deep feeling of insecurity goes away, the barriers that the ego created fall apart. You become more available to others and ready to engage in any action that could be benefit them. In a way, compassion has popped the ego bubble. That’s our interpretation. That’s why those states of compassion and open presence give the strongest gamma waves of all meditation states, more than focused on attention, for instance.

The technical term in Tibetan for the latter meditation translates to “one-pointed focused attention.” Another term to use for this is “open presence”. Of course, these words are approximate. It is quite difficult to put such experiences into words. But it turns out that unconditional compassion produces even higher gamma activation than open presence.

Compassion and altruistic love have a warm, loving, and positive aspect that ‘stand-alone’ empathy for the suffering of the other does not have. The latter can easily lead to empathic distress and burnout. While collaborating with Tania Wolf, we arrived at the idea that burnout was in fact a kind of “empathy fatigue” and not a “compassion fatigue” as people often say.[x]

COMPASSION, MEDITATION, AND BRAIN COHERENCE

We call it fulfillment, wholesomeness, inner peace. That brings us back to what His Holiness the Dalai Lama often says, with a good touch of humor, when he explains that the bodhisattva – the ideal embodiment of altruism and compassion in the Buddhist path – has in fact found the smartest way to fulfill his own wish for happiness. The Dalai Lama adds that when thinking and acting in an altruistic way, it is not at all guaranteed that we will actually benefit others or even please them. When you try to help someone, even with a perfectly pure motivation, they might look at you suspiciously and ask, “Hey, what do you want, what’s the matter with you?” But you are 100% sure to be helping yourself because altruism is the most positive of all mental states. So the Dalai Lama concludes, “The bodhisattva is smarty selfish.” In contrast, the one who only think of himself is “foolishly selfish” because he only brings distress on himself. [That makes me think of an exercise I’ve learned from Charlie Palmgren and what he uses to call ‘The Purpose Game’. During that game (exercise) every person of each dyad playing the game thinks of an action he or she repeatedly do over time, without being forced. She or he has to express the activity and the other person has only one question to ask: “What the purpose of that?”. The first player has to answer authentically to that question, which means, “What’s in for me?” One has to stay with one self while being authentic. The second one questions each answer of the first person: “What is the purpose of that?” This game until the first person repeats in paraphrases his ‘final’ purpose’. Then the roles of the dyad game change, but not the rules of the game, until the second person reaches his ‘final’ purpose. I’ve played that game with hundreds of dyads and every person came to the following ‘final’ purpose: be happy, be content, and be in inner peace and the kind. So the Dalai Lama’s right: we are smartly selfish.]

Many people are literally destroyed by inner conflicts and those go together with a lot of rumination. Yes, and we ignore the nature of the activity patterns representing conflicts and ruminations. Maybe it is a condition where mutually exclusive assemblies compete for prevalence, thereby causing instability, a permanent alternation between metastable state – that are simply called “hope and fear” – if no stable state is reachable, if the internal model of the world that the brain permanently has to update by learning continues to be in disagreement with “reality.” If the brain is striving for stable, coherent states because they represent results and can be used as the basis for future actions, and if pleasant feelings are associated with these consistent states, the one purpose of mental training could be to generate such states in the absence of any practical goals. However, to generate such states right away, detached from any concrete content, may be difficult. This is probably the reason that the meditator initially imagines concrete objects – why you try to focus attention on specific, action-related emotions to evoke positive feelings such as generosity, altruism, and compassion, which are all highly rewarding attitudes.

As opposed to selfish behavior. Exactly. So you use this imagery as a vehicle to generate coherent brain states, and if the contents are pleasant, then a joyful condition is created. Then, once you gain more expertise in controlling brain states, you learn to detach these states from their triggers until they become increasingly free of content and autonomous.

ALTRUISM AND WELL-BEING

Altruism, inner peace, strength and freedom, and genuine happiness grow together like the various parts of a nourishing fruit. Selfishness, animosity, and fear come together as parts from a poisonous plant. The best way to become truly compassionate is out of wisdom, by deeply realizing that others do not want to suffer, just like you, and want to be happy, just as you do. Consequently, you become genuinely concerned with their happiness and suffering. Helping others may sometimes not be “pleasant,” in the sense that you might have to deliberately endure some “unpleasant’ hardship to help someone, but deep within is found a sense of inner peace and courage and a sense of harmony with the interdependence of all things and beings.

To come back to inner conflicts, they are mostly linked with excessive rumination on the past and anxious anticipation of the future, and thus they lead to being tormented by hope and fear.

One can see it as an exaggeration of the otherwise well-adapted and necessary attempt to use past experience to predict the future, an attempt that is likely to not always converge toward a stable solution because the future is not foreseeable. Maybe it is the clinging to the fruitless search for the best possible solution – that is by definition impossible to find – that frustrate the system and causes uneasy feelings.

MAGIC MOMENTS

Hiding in the bubble of self-centeredness to protect oneself reinforces the feeling of insecurity. In fact, within the confined space of self-centeredness, rumination goes wild. Thus one of the purposes of meditation is to break the bubble of ego grasping and let these mental constructs vanish in the open space of freedom. [This makes me think of hiding in the nine-dot space of the Vicious Circle, the space of the demands and expectations we can just cope with. Thus, one of the purposes of meditation could be to break the Vicious Circle of ego surviving.]

When in daily life people experience moments of grace or magic, what happens? All of the sudden, the burden of inner conflict is lifted. It is great to fully enjoy such magical moments, but it is also revealing to understand why they felt so good: pacification of inner conflicts and a better sense of interdependence with everything, rather than fragmenting reality into solid, autonomous entities, a respite from mental toxins. All of these are qualities that can be cultivated through developing wisdom and inner freedom. This practice will lead not to just a few moments of grace but to a lasting state of well-being that we may call genuine happiness. It is a satisfactory state because the feelings of insecurity gradually give way to a deep confidence. i.e. Confidence that you will able to use those skills to deal with the ups and downs of life, sensations, emotions, and so on in a much more optimal way. Your equanimity, which is not indifference, will spare you from being swayed back and forth like mountain grass in the winds by every possible blame and praise, gain and loss, comfort and discomfort, and so on. You can always relate to the depth of inner peace, and the waves at the surface will not appear as threatening as before. [Living Creative Interchange from within will create magical moments and generate inner peace. The confidence Matthieu talks about is the confidence in the Creative Interchange process. The confidence that you will able to create the conditions and use the skills so that you can deal with the tides of life and that you are not steered from the outside, by blame and praise, but from the inside, the inner peace, the inner security through living Creative Interchange.]

COULD FEEDBACK REPLACE MIND TRAINING?

Thus through mental training, you familiarize yourself with states of inner stability, thereby protecting yourself against fruitless ruminations. If these desired states have a characteristic electrographic signature that can be measured and monitored, then we could use bio-feedback to facilitate the learning process required to obtain and maintain these states. It might help to familiarize oneself with these states more quickly. Admittedly, this approach is typical Western aspiration to circumvent cumbersome and time-consuming procedures and look at shortcuts on the way to happiness… [Learning to live Creative Interchange from within surely is cumbersome and time-consuming, that’s why a lot of people who want that search for short-cuts, although they know that is not possible. Western people are still desperately looking for quick fixes…]

Matthieu is convinced that any shortcut will result more in a state of addiction than in a deep change in your way of being, as it is acquired through mind training. The perception of inner peace and fulfillment is a byproduct of having developed an entire cluster of human qualities [through living Creative Interchange from within.]

A meditator would relate alpha waves to mental chatter, the little chaotic conversations that seems to be going on most of the time in the background of our mind.

As mentioned earlier, we should correct the naïve image of meditation that still predominates in the West as sitting somewhere to empty your mind and relax. Of course, an element of relaxation is present, in the sense of getting rid of inner conflict, cultivation inner peace, and freeing one from tensions. Also, an element of emptying your mind can be seen, in the sense of not perpetuating mental fabrications of linear thinking and resting in a state of the clear freshness of the present moment. However, this state is neither “blank” nor dull relaxation. It is a much richer state of vivid awareness. Also, one does not try to prevent the thoughts from arising, which is not possible, but frees them as they arise.

Research done by the neuroscientist Scott Barry Kaufman has indicated that brain states favorable to creativity seems to be mutually exclusive with focused attention. According to him, creativity is born from a fusion of seeming contradictory mental states that can be limpid and messy, wise and crazy, exhilaration and painful, spontaneous and yet arising from sustained training.[xi] [cf. The Polarity exercise in Creative Interchange Mindset Training of Charlie Palmgren.]

ARE THERE LIMITS TO MIND TRAINING?

Understanding the deeper causes of others’ suffering and generating the determination to alleviate them also arises from wisdom and ‘cognitive” compassion. The latter is linked to the comprehension of the more fundamental cause of suffering, which, according to Buddhism, is ignorance – the delusion that distorts reality and gives rise to various mental obscurations and afflictive emotions such as hatred and compulsive desire. So this cognitive aspect of compassion can embrace the infinite number of sentient beings who suffer as a result of ignorance.

MEDITATION AND ACTION

Freeing oneself from the influence of self-centeredness and ego clinging is precisely what makes you more concerned with others and less indifferent toward the world. Meditation is a key process for developing and enhancing altruistic love and compassion.

You need time and concentration to cultivate a skill. While thrust into the often-hectic conditions of the world, you might be too weak to become strong, too weak to help others and even to help yourself. You don’t not have the energy, concentration, and time to train. So this development stage is necessary, even if it does not appear to be immediately useful to others.

The idea is to develop skills in an environment that is conducive to mental training, so that one becomes strong enough to display and maintain genuine altruism and compassion even in the most trying and adverse circumstances, when it is most difficult to remain altruistic. The advantages of spending dedicated time to develop human qualities are obvious. You thus gain inner strength, compassion, and balance before embarking on serving others.

Developing the right motivation is a crucial factor in everything we do. In the Buddhist path, the core motivation of the apprentice bodhisattva is, “May I achieve enlightenment in order to gain the capacity to free all beings from suffering.” If such an aspiration is genuinely present in your mind, then your practice is the best investment you can make for the benefit of others. This is not the result of indifference but of the sound reasoning that you have to prepare yourself and build up the necessary strength to be of use to humanity.

It also makes sense to see that as long as you are still a mess yourself, there’s no point of going around and messing around with other people’s live as well. You need to be skillful in recognizing when you are mature enough to meaningfully help others. Otherwise it is like cutting wheat when it is still green. Nobody benefits from it.

We would not underestimate the power of the transformation of the mind. We all have the potential for change [since we’re all born with the Creative Interchange process and have our intrinsic Worth], and it is such a pity when we neglect to actualize it. It is like coming home empty-handed form an island made of gold. Human life has immense value if we know how to use its relatively short time span to become a better person for one’s own happiness and that of others [and become the Leader we were born to be: “Becoming a Leader Is Becoming Yourself.” – Warren Bennis and Russ S. Moxley.] This requires some effort, but what doesn’t? [as Herman de Coninck – a Flemish poet – once said: “What doesn’t cost effort is mostly not worthy of the effort.”]

So let’s end this first part on a note of hope and encouragement: “Transform yourself to better transform the world.” [quotes of Ghandi, Archimedes, and so on]

 

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[i] M. Ricard and W. Singer, Beyond the Self: conversations between Buddhism and neuroscience. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2017

[ii] M. Ricard, Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill. New York, NY. Little, Brown and Company. 2006

[iii] http://pauldeblot.nl/2009/11/16/we-hebben-geen-houvast-meer/

[iv] S. Hagan and C. Palmgren, The Chicken conspiracy. Breaking the Cycle of Personal Stress and Organizational Mediocrity. Baltimore. MA: Recovery Communications, Inc. 1998.

[v] O. L. Carter, D. E. Pretl, C. Callistemon, Y. Ungerer, G. B. Liu and J. D. Petigrew, “Meditiation alters perceptual rivalry in Tibetan Buddhist monks,” Current Biology, no. 11 (2005): R412-R413.

[vi] M. Ricard and W. Singer, Beyond the Self: conversations between Buddhism and neuroscience. op.cit. p. 33.

[vii] M. Ricard and W. Singer, Beyond the Self: conversations between Buddhism and neuroscience. op. cit. p 36.

[viii] F. Ferrarelli et al. “Experienced mindfulness meditators exhibit higher parietal-occipital EEG gamma activity during NREM sleep.” PloS One 8 no. 8 (2013): e73417.

[ix] A. Lutz. H. A. Slagter, N. B. Rawlings, A. D. Francis, L. L. Grieschar, & R. J. Davidson, “Mental training enhances attentional stability, neural and behavioral evidence,” Journal of Neuroscience 29 no. 42 (2009): 12418-13427.

[x] O. M. Klimecki, S. Leiberg, M. Ricard, and T. Singer, “Differential pattern of functional brain plasticity after compassion and empathy training.” Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience 9, no. 6 (2014): 873-879.:

[xi] S. B. Kaufman & C. Gregoire, Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind. New York NY: Targer Perigee, 2015.

 

Paraphrasing Richard Rohr[i] in Creative Interchange language

Contemplation helps us to actually experience our experiences so that they can become transformational. Contemplation exposes our created self so that we can be open to our Creative Self. In this column we will explore the contemplative mind and the necessity to rediscover our inherent Intrinsic Worth and grow into our Creative Self. Without contemplative consciousness, we live on the surface of our own experiences and thus our created self.

The Second Gaze

The world today tends to be cynical about most things. Why would it not be if we see only at the surface level? Everywhere we turn, every time we watch the news, we see suffering. We have become skeptical about human goodness, humanity’s possibilities, and our planet’s future. We can’t help seeing what is not and are often unable to recognize or appreciate what is. What we should do is to force ourselves for a second gaze, a deeper seeing. This should be our daily dialogue with us as observers, not as interpreters; being more pure aware than colored conscious.

In the very beginning, i.e. from the start of what Henry Nelson Wieman called the development of our ‘valuing consciousness”[ii], we see that nature is good, humans are good, and, later, some of us understand that God is good, while others say then that Creative Interchange is good, since they believe that God equals Creative Interchange. I have never met a loving human being who did not also believe in the foundational goodness of people and all of creation. Remember, all people objectively hold Intrinsic Worth, and each of us has to choose to grow toward our Original Self through our Creative Self. That is, to me, our primary task on this earth.

Indeed, all each of us can give back to Life is what Life has already given to us. We must choose it, respect it, and allow it to blossom. The most courageous thing we will ever do is to bear humbly the mystery of our own reality, to trust our Intrinsic Worth and evolve our created self toward our Original Self through our Creative Self (i.e. living Creative Interchange from within). It is simply a matter of becoming who we already are.

The Vicious Circle

Unfortunately, the Vicious Circle[iii] led us to rely on dualistic thinking, which is incapable of comprehending, much less experiencing, the mystical, nonviolent, or non-dual level. With the rational mind, we literally cannot imagine the Divine and humanity being one, or being one with our neighbor, because the dualistic mind always splits things apart and takes sides. The contemplative mind or non-dual thinking allows us to see things in wholes instead of in parts.

The lost tradition of Contemplation

An awesome and even presumptuous message of divinization is found in the Judeo-Christian story of Creation: we are “created in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:27 and 5:2). Many tomes of theology have been written to clarify this claim, and this is theologians’ primary consensus: Image is our objective DNA that marks us as creatures of God from the very beginning; whilst likeness is our personal appropriation and gradual realization of this utterly free gift of the image into our Creative Self.

It’s all too easy to recognize our daily created self as being unlike our meant Creative Self, as well in ourselves as in others, so we have a hard time believing our Creative Self could be true in ourselves or others. But some form of contemplative practice will allow us to rest in and trust this deeper and truest Original Self.

Actually, our Creative Self is the only Original Self or real self that has ever existed. It’s the only self that exists right now. The trouble is, most people don’t know it. It’s not their fault; they’re just trapped in their own Vicious Circle and they’re not always given the necessary tools they need to connect with who they really are and those tools are the tools of the Creative Interchange Process. The dualistic and argumentative mind of the created self will never get you there. Thus we have an identity crisis on a massive scale!

Unfortunately, the contemplative mind has not been systematically taught in the West for the last five hundred years. The Spanish Carmelites Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582) and John of the Cross (1542-1591) were the last well-known teachers of contemplative awareness in European thought. With the so-called “Enlightenment” and the argumentative Reformation, Western Christianity almost abandoned contemplation in favor of dualistic thinking and its own strange form of “rational” thought, which actually produced fundamentalism in both its Catholic and Protestant forms. Thomas Merton (1915-1968) felt that even the monasteries no longer taught the contemplative mind in any systematic way, as monks just “said prayers” with their old dualistic minds.

You cannot know God the way you know anything else; you only know God or the soul of anything subject to subject, center to center, by a process of “mirroring” where like knows like and love knows love—“deep calling unto deep” (Psalm 42:7). The Divine Spirit planted deep inside each of us yearns for and responds to God—and vice versa (see James 4:5). The contemplative is deeply attuned and surrendered to this process; the process we call Creative Interchange.

We are not so much human beings trying to become spiritual. We’re inherently spiritual beings and our job is learning how to be good humans! Richard Rohr “Jesus came as a human being: not to teach us how to go to heaven, but how to be a fully alive human being here on this earth.”

Learning to See

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to [us] as it is, infinite. — William Blake [iv]

Contemplation is about seeing, but a kind of seeing that is much more than mere looking because it also includes recognizing and thus appreciating. The contemplative mind does not tell us what to see, but teaches us how to see what we behold. Being contemplative is being fully aware!

Contemplation allows us to see the truth of things in their wholeness. It is a mental discipline and gift that detaches us—neurologically and spiritually—from our addiction to our habitual way of thinking, which likes to be in control. Through contemplative practice we stop identifying solely with our small binary, dualistic mind, which strips things down to two choices and then usually identifies with only one of them. Gradually we begin to recognize the inadequacy and superficiality of that limited way of knowing reality. Only the contemplative, or the deeply intuitive, can start venturing out into much more open-ended horizons. The rational, dualistic mind does not have the capacity to hold the big questions of life like love, death, suffering, sexuality, the Divine, or anything infinite.

We need a contemplative, non-dual mind to accept or even have an elementary understanding of what is meant by Jesus being fully human and fully divine—at the same time. Western Christianity has tended to overemphasize his divinity, and we thus lost sight of how Jesus holds these two together. Since we couldn’t put together this paradox in Jesus, we couldn’t recognize the same truth about others and ourselves. We too are a paradox, a seeming contradiction that is not actually a contradiction at all. Yet we ended up being “only” human and Jesus ended up being “only” Divine. We missed the major point! Only a non-dual mind can discover that to be human is to also be divine.

How do we learn contemplative consciousness—this deep, mysterious, and life-giving way of seeing, of being with, reality? Why does it not come naturally to us? Many people experience this knowing in small glimpses, in brief moments of intimacy, awe, or grief. But such wide-eyed seeing normally does not last. We return quickly to dualistic analysis and use our judgments to retake control. Contemplation is simply a way of maintaining the fruits of great love and great suffering over the long haul. And that takes a lot of practice. In fact, our whole life should become one continual practice and we should do this in an interdependent way, forming what I call a “Community of Practice of Creative Interchange’.

Mirroring the Divine

In Christianity the inner self is simply a stepping-stone to an awareness of God. Man is the image of God, and his inner self is a kind of mirror in which God not only sees Himself, but reveals Himself to the “mirror” in which He is reflected. Thus, through the dark, transparent mystery of our own inner being we can, as it were, see God “through a glass.” All this is of course pure metaphor. It is a way of saying that our being somehow communicates directly with the Being of God, Who is “in us.” If we enter into ourselves, find our true self, and then pass “beyond” the inner “I,” we sail forth into the immense darkness in which we confront the “I AM” of the Almighty. — Thomas Merton[v]

Your life is not about you; you are about Life. You are an instance of a universal, eternal pattern. The One Life that many call “God” and others, like Henry Nelson Wieman “Creative Interchange”, is living itself in you, through you, and as you! You have never been separate from God [Creative Interchange] except in your mind. Can you imagine that?

This realization is an earthquake in the brain, a hurricane in the heart, a Copernican revolution in the mind, and a paradigm shift in consciousness. Yet most of us do not seem interested in it. It is too big to imagine and can only be revealed slowly. So it takes time, courage and perseverance and we lack them all.

Luckily, there is hope, since we are much more prepared to understand this in a post-Einstein world—where energy, movement, or life itself is the one constant movement, and not an isolated substance.

Awe and Surrender

To begin to see with new eyes, we must observe—and usually be humiliated by—the habitual way we encounter each and every moment. It is humiliating because we will see that we are well practiced in just a few predictable responses. Not many of our responses are original, fresh, or naturally respectful of what is right in front of us. The most common human responses to a new moment are mistrust, cynicism, fear, defensiveness, dismissal, and being judgmental. These are the common ways the ego tries to be in control of the data instead of allowing the moment to get some control over us—and teach us something new!

To let the moment teach us, we must allow ourselves to be at least slightly stunned by it until it draws us inward and upward, toward a subtle experience of wonder.

The spiritual journey is a constant interplay between moments of awe followed by a process of surrender to that moment. We must first allow ourselves to be captured by the goodness, truth, or beauty of something beyond and outside ourselves. Then we universalize from that moment to the goodness, truth, and beauty of the rest of reality, until our realization eventually ricochets back to include ourselves! This is the great inner dialogue some call genuine prayer. We humans resist both the awe and, even more, the surrender. Both are vital, and so we must practice.

Practice: Watching the River

To live in the present moment requires a change in our inner posture. Instead of expanding or shoring up our fortress of the small self—the ego or created self—contemplation waits to discover who we truly are. Most people think they are their thinking. They don’t have a clue who they are apart from their thoughts. In contemplation, we move to a level beneath thoughts and sensations, the level of pure being and naked awareness.

In contemplation (in the West) and meditation (in the East), we calmly observe our own stream of consciousness and see its compulsive patterns. That’s the essence of mindfulness: We wait in silence with an open heart and attuned body. It doesn’t take long for our usual patterns to assault us. Our habits of control, addiction, negativity, tension, anger, and fear assert themselves; this is the devastating work of the Vicious Circle.

Many teachers insist on at least twenty minutes for a full contemplative “sit,” because you can assume that the first half (or more) of any contemplation time is just letting go of those thoughts, judgments, fears, negations, and emotions that want to impose themselves. We become watchers and witnesses, stepping back and observing without judgment. Gradually we come to realize those thoughts and the corresponding feelings are not “me.”

Thomas Keating teaches a beautifully simple exercise. Imagine yourself sitting on the bank of a river. The river is your stream of consciousness. Observe each of your thoughts coming along as if they’re saying, “Think me, think me.” Watch your feelings come by saying, “Feel me, feel me.” Acknowledge that you’re having the feeling or thought. Don’t hate it, don’t judge it, don’t critique it, or move against it. Simply name it: “resentment toward so and so,” “a thought about such and such.” Then place it on a boat and let it go down the river. When another thought arises—as no doubt it will—welcome it and let it go, returning to your inner watch place on the bank of the river.[vi]

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[i] Rohr, Richard. https://cac.org/contemplative-consciousness-weekly-summary-2018-01-13/

[ii] Palmgren, Charlie. http://www.creativeinterchange.org/?p=172

[iii] Stacie Hagan and Charlie Palmgren, The Chicken Conspiracy: Breaking The Cycle of Personal Stress and Organizational Mediocrity. Baltimore, MA: Recovery Communications, Inc. 1998.

[iv] Blake, William. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, The Complete Poems, ed. Alicia Ostriker. New York, NY: Penguin Classics, Penguin Books USA, Inc. 1977, 188.

[v] Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation New York, NY: HarperCollins. 2004, 10-11.

[vi] To further explore this centering prayer practice, see Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel. New York, NY: The Continuum International Publishing Group, Inc. 2006, especially chapter 9.

 

In 1995, Peter M. Senge had an interesting conversation with Master Nan, the Chinese Zen master who lived in Hong Kong. In China he was considered an extraordinary scholar because of his integration of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Peter asked him if he thought that the industrial age was going to create such environmental problems that we would destroy ourselves and that we had to find a way to understand these problems and change industrial institutions. And he didn’t completely agree with that. It wasn’t the way he saw it. Master Nan saw it at a deeper level, and he said, “There’s only one issue in the world. It’s the reintegration of mind and matter.”[i]

Master Nan published later a reinterpretation of Confucius’s “Great Learning” essay, one of two central texts in Confucianism. The central section of the “Great Learning” essay reads like a crucial-dialogue-in-action process from macro to micro and then back:

The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the world, rst ordered well their own States.

Wishing to order well their States, they first harmonized their families.

Wishing to harmonize their families, they first cultivated their persons.

Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts.

Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts.

Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost their awareness.

Such extension of awareness lay in the investigation of the underlying matrix of mind and matter.

The underlying matrix of mind and matter being investigated, awareness becomes complete.

Awareness being complete, thoughts then become sincere.

Thoughts being sincere, hearts then become rectified.

Hearts being rectified, persons then become cultivated.

Persons being cultivated, families then become harmonized.

Families being harmonized, states then become rightly governed.

States being rightly governed, everything under heaven then comes in balance.[ii]

“The important part is to actually understand yourself, understand your opening process” is to Master Nan the crucial lesson of “The Great Learning”.

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[i] Peter M. Senge. “Closing the Feedbacks Loop between Mind and Matter”, interview by Otto. C. Scharmer, March 15 1996, www.presencing.com/presencing/dol/Senge (accessed February, 26, 2018).

[ii] Otto Scharmer and Karin Kaufer. Leading from the Emerging Future. From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies. Applying Theory U to Transforming Business, Society, and Self. Oakland, CA: Berret-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 2013. p.p. 142-143.

 

 

 

My grandson Edward taught me to love the StarWars films. More specifically I became fond of the dialogues between Yoda and Luke Skywalker. For example, The Empire Strikes Back[i] contains at least a few crucial scenes.

In one scene Luke sees, during a workout, that his X-Wing is about to disappear into the bog. Then following dialogue, in which Yoda describes Creative Interchange (‘ the Force ‘), unfolds.

The dialogue start at follows:

Luke: Oh, no! We’ll never get it out now!

Yoda: So certain, are you? Always with you, what cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say?

Luke: Master, moving stones around is one thing, but this is… totally different!

Yoda: No! No different! Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned.

This is one of Yoda’s instructions to Luke: One has to unlearn what one has learned. We have indeed to unlearn things that do not matter any mor. We have to change the parts of  our behavior, which are not helping. Changing one’s behavior means changing one’s mindset, which corresponds with ‘unlearning what one has learned’.

The dialogue continues:

Luke: All right, I’ll give it a try.

Yoda: No! Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try.

Within the scene this is a great nugget of undeniable wisdom that teaches Luke to have a more serious mind. Yoda had consistently tried to teach Luke to focus on the present, and essentially, to grow up. In this moment, with these words, he makes it clear. The first time I heard this line of Yoda (it must have been in the early eighties) I exclaimed:  This is my father’s Richard’s line. Although my father is seldom quoted for this line he uttered in to me in the following dialogue from around Easter 1965:

Johan: Father, can you sponsor me for my studies at the University of Ghent

Richard: What kind of studies do you want to follow there?

Johan: I would like to become a civil engineer, father.

Richard: Your choice is not a bad one. Indeed, one doesn’t have to be handy to become a civil engineer. But can you tell me, will you succeed in those difficult studies? In other words: “Will your endeavor be successful?”

Johan: I’ll try, father.

Richard: No! Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try.

So father Richard made it crystal clear to me: I had to focus on the present while growing up! So we made a contract. Father would sponsor me and would continue to do so, if I passed the yearly exams. If not, I had to stop studying and start working for him. He was head of a team who sold insurances on behalf of a renowned Dutch company. He could fix me in his team at any time. This foresight (having a career selling insurances) was one the elements of my motivation to focus on the present and to grow up. After five year I was a Civil engineer …

Then, Luke tries to use the Force to levitate his X-Wing out of the bog, but fails in his attempt.

Luke: I can’t. It’s too big.

Yoda: Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us.

So when Luke fails in his taks of  raising his X-wing from the swamp, he complains that it’s too big, which frustrates Yoda — size matters not when it comes to the Force and to life. What’s amazing about this quote is that when Yoda says it, it’s not funny. It rings true, you believe him, and you see that he makes no excuses for himself — and does not want to hear any from his students.

And Yoda continues:

Yoda: Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship

Luke: You want the impossible.

The Star Wars saga is about the battle between the  Sith and the Jedi.  The Sith have a big fear of death because they try to hold onto life. I think that’s why they’re willing to basically mutilate themselves and live these cybernetic half-human lives. Yoda’s lesson with this quote reflects the exact opposite of this mentality, and it’s essential to the saga. It speaks to the underlying difference between Jedi and Sith: being completely selfless, and recognizing that the Force binds all life and creation together. That’s the base of my bold claim that The Force is in fact The Creative Interchange Process.

The story continues and Luke sees that Yoda uses the Force to levitate the X-Wing out of the bog and gets flustered when he succeeds.

Luke: I don’t… I don’t believe it!

Yoda: That is why you fail.

This is Yoda being brutally honest with Luke, who breathlessly says, “I don’t believe it,” after his Master raises an X-wing from the Dagobah swamp. It’s a definitive statement that comes from Yoda’s years and years of experience as a Jedi and a teacher, and it cuts through both to Luke and to us, the audience. In fact Yoda uses here The Force, since Authentic Interaction in one of the four characteristics of Creative Interchange.

 

The reason I wrote this ‘intermezzo’? Well, at the end of last month I saw an episode of the Flemisch television serie ‘Winteruur’ (Winterhour’). This is a late night serie with short episodes wherein so-called Well-known Flemish people present a favorite text of them. This time Wim Helsen – a briljant stand-up comedian amongst other things – guest was Sven De Ridder – a do-it-all and driving force behind the Real Antwerp Theatre (Echt Antwaarps Teater). Sven piece of text was the dialogue between Luke Skywalker and Yoda of that particular film. Unfortunately Sven’s presentation of that particular dialogue stopped in the middle of Yoda’s comment to  Luke’s lament “I can’t. It’s too big”. Dutch speaking people can whatch this particular Winteruur episode here: https://www.vrt.be/vrtnu/a-z/winteruur/3/winteruur-s3a50/

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[i] Lucas, G., Brackett, L. En Kasdan, L., Star Wars Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, directed by Irvin Keshner, Lucasfilm, Ltd./20th Century Fox Home Entertainment 1980.

 

 

 

Henry Nelson Wieman suggests in his book Man’s Ultimate Commitment that we have a natural need to achieve in our lives the infinite potentialities present in us at birth. He goes on stressing the importance of our commitment to a life-long process that enables us to live our lives to the fullest. In order to have the Greatest Human Good he argues one has to commit to live Creative Interchange from within.

This special human interchange that Henry Nelson Wieman coined Creative Interchange is our ability to learn what others have learned, to appreciate what others appreciate, to feel what others feel, imagine what others imagine and to creatively integrate all this with what we have already acquired and form this way our true individuality. This Creative Interchange uniquely distinguishes the human mind from everything else.

The choice to commit oneself to live Creative Interchange from within is in fact a big decision that involves a choice to have experiences that teach us things we cannot know about from any other source but the experience itself. Someone who has never been fully aware of being in genuine Creative Interchange with another person can only know what contemporary science can tell him or her about the experience of Creative Interchange and/or what friends can describe to him or her, as best they can, what it is like to engage in Creative Interchange. Before engaging in Creative Interchange one might imagine undergoing some sort of experience that is surprising and intense and emotional. As it turns out, many of life’s big decisions involve choices to have experiences that teach things that we cannot really know from any other source but the experience itself.

When we face the choice whether or not to commit oneself to Creative Interchange, we can’t know what our lives will be unlike we’ve undergone the new experience, and if we don’t undergo the experience, we won’t know what we are missing. I know from experience that committing oneself to Creative Interchange is life changing, thus personally transformative. In the case of commitment to Creative Interchange you make the choice without knowing what it will be like if you choose to have that new experience, but the choice is big, and you know it is big. You know that undergoing the experience will change what it is like for you to live your live, and even change what it is to be you, deeply and fundamentally.

What makes it even more fundamental, that it is not just a one-time choice committing oneself to live Creative Interchange from within and not just a commitment to one person, like a marriage; it is a life-time commitment to every person you’ll meet from the moment you commit yourself to live Creative Interchange from within. And the outcome of this commitment is far from sure. While committing to live CI from within is a personal life-changing decision – for after all, your decision concerns mainly your personal future – we find ourselves confronted with the brutal fact about how little we can know about our futures, just when it is most important to us – speaking rationally – that we do know. The choice for Creative Interchange is no different as for many other big life choices, where we only learn what we need to know after we’ve done it, and we change ourselves in the process of doing it. To me, in the end, the best response to this situation is to choose based on whether we want to discover who we’ll become, what our beyond the actual, created self will be.

When a person has a new and different experience that teaches her something she could not have learned without having that kind of experience, she has an epistemic transformation. Her subjective point of view, her knowledge of what something is like, changes. With this new experience, she gains new abilities to cognitively understand certain contents, she learns to understand things in a new way, and she may even identify new information.

I had such an experience in 1977 during the start up of a Sulfuric Acid Plant in Visag (India). I was the start up engineer and thus overall responsible for the success of the start up of the new facility. During that start up an Indian engineer was heavenly burnt having been splashed with hot sulfuric acid when the valve he was opening on the sulfuric acid circuit suddenly burst open, while his body was just protected by a cotton work overall. This experience changed completely my mindset regarding safety, which ultimately changed completely my professional life. It was indeed the starting point of what I called later my second professional life. Safety became in one split second one of my values, a subjective personal value grounded by what it is like to have lived that particular experience.

The sorts of experiences that can change who you are, in the sense of radically changing your point of view, are experiences that are personally transformative. In my life those experiences included: experiencing a traumatic accident (as described above), having a daughter (Daphne 1972), experiencing the death of a parent (father Richard 1982 and mother Donatine 1987), fundamentally changing my career path (1988 and 1995), having a career setback (losing the ISRS rights in 1992), becoming grand father (Eloïse 2002, Edward 2004 and Elvire 2008), living through a deep depression (2008 – 2010), undergoing radiation and chemical therapy and a major surgery (colon cancer 2013), to name the most important ones. Those experiences were life changing in that they changed what it is like for me to be me. In other words, those experiences can change your mindset, and by extension, your personal preferences, and perhaps even your values and thus even change the kind of person that you are, or at least take yourself to be. In my case each of those experiences turned out to be a personally transformative experience.

So, such experiences are very important from a personal perspective, for transformative experiences can play a significant role in one’s life, involving options, that, metaphorically speaking, function as crossroads in one’s path towards self-realization. The path you choose determines where you take your life, what you will become, and thus by extension, your subjective future. While some of those experiences happen to you without you having chosen them, I learned through the years than you can have your own choices involving transformative experiences. Those transformative choices allow you to causally form what it will be like to be you in your future. In this sense you own your future (Peter Senge would say, you create your future), because it is you who made the choice to bring this future – your very own future self – into being.

The problem is that when you face a transformative choice, that is, a choice of whether to undergo an epistemically and personally transformative experience, you cannot rationally make this choice based on what you think the transformative experience will be like. Consider, for instance, the transformative choice of marrying ‘The One’. When you decide to marry someone, you are not deciding to be married at that time or for just a couple of weeks. It is not as deciding where you will spend your holidays: at the coast side or in the mountains. In fact you are deciding whether you want to commit yourself to an extended life event. This extended life event is in fact a continuous relationship between your future self and the future self of another person. You’re about to marry someone not just for the here and now, you are marrying this person for a long term. You are marrying to be part of each other’s life as you grow and transform, “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”

Is the decision regarding getting married rational? In my personal case I dare to doubt this. We both made our decision by attempting to project forward our subjective future, to see what it would be for us to make a life with each other. Since we were the last of the Mohican’s (a metaphor I often use since we were both virgins when we got married) and thus did not live with each other for many years, like young people do nowadays, we did not know what being married really meant, let alone having an extended marriage. So we did not marry based on knowing what our future life would be like; we married based on a commitment to discover our future life together. This meant that we took on commitments that involved providing mutual support even though we knew that unexpected events and other kinds of events that life brings – for instance having a child – would happen. We committed ourselves that we would face these new experiences as one unit, a couple, not as a single person. While we knew some things before we got married, such as our current dispositions and inclinations, we could not know what it would be like to have the marriage that we would actually have. The only thing we knew was that our marriage would be an extended transformative experience.

Milan Kundera described beautifully what such a transformative experience is in his bestseller ‘The unbearable lightness of being’ in which he quotes Friedrich Nietzsche and uses the German proverb: “Einmal ist keinmal’. Gallimard first published this book, although originally written in Czech two years before, in French: ‘L’insoutenable légèreté de l’être’ in 1984. I bought this French edition in Paris in the fall of that same year and I enjoyed it so much that I read it all in one sitting.

The phrase “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” is Kundera’s own, but to understand it we actually have to start with Friedrich Nietzsche and the idea of eternal return. Eternal return is the idea that our universe and our existence has occurred an infinite number of times in the past, and will continue to occur ad infinitum. In this theory, time is cyclical rather than linear. The idea of eternal return is an ancient one, but Nietzsche, a 19th century German philosopher, popularized it for modern times. That’s why the narrator of Unbearable Lightness refers to it as Nietzsche’s concept. Nietzsche explored what the consequences of such eternal return would be. In his eyes, eternal return was das schwerste Gewicht, or “the heaviest weight.” It was a petrifying concept to imagine that our lives have been and will continue to be repeated endlessly. But one could learn, through philosophy, to love the idea. The proper mind can embrace this weight, rather than be terrified by it. Nietzsche seems to conclude in Thus Spoke Zarathustra that we must live and act as though our lives functioned in eternal return, suggesting that we give our own lives meaning and weight by behaving this way.

Kundera argues that Nietzche was wrong and states: “Human time does not turn in a circle,” he argues; “it runs ahead in a straight line”. Nietzsche said that eternal return gives our lives the heaviest weight. So if our lives only occur once, it must mean – according to Kundera – that they are filled with lightness. This is where Kundera’s phrase einmal ist keinmal comes into the picture. And Tomas, one of the main characters of the book, translates this for us: “What happens but once, might as well not have happened at all. If we have only one life to live, we might as well not have lived at all”

The point which is interesting in our context is that if we live only once, then we can never compare the decisions we make to any alternatives. And if we can never compare different outcomes, we can never know if the decisions we made are correct or not, which means – according to Kundera – we can never judge them properly or take responsibility for them. Hence, Kundera suggests that to live only once is to live with lightness.

The question then becomes: “Do we want lightness, or do we want weight?” Which do we choose? Kundera takes a look at Parmenides, a Greek philosopher in the 5th century B.C. who considered the same question. Parmenides argued that lightness was positive and to be desired, while weight was negative. The narrator of The Unbearable Lightness of Being isn’t so sure about this. “The heaviest of burdens is […] simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment,” he says. “The heavier the burden, […] the more real and truthful [our lives] become”.

During the course of the novel, the narrator refers to the lightness of being in two different ways: the sweet lightness of being, and the unbearable lightness of being. Kundera argues that lightness is unbearable, but it is up to us as readers to understand the reasons behind his argument. The lightness may seem at first to be a sweet deal – no responsibility, no judgment, no meaning. Sounds like fun – at first. But eventually, as I’ve argued in my previous column[ii], we desperately would like for our lives to mean something. We want them to have weight and significance, because we want them to matter. The problem is then, still according to Kundera, try as we might to give our lives weight…we cannot. Our lives are fundamentally light precisely because they occur only once. So Kundera’s argument is two-fold:

  1. Nietzsche was wrong; there is no eternal return; our lives occur only once, and that makes them light.
  2. Parmenides was wrong; such lightness is not sweet, it is unbearable.

Notice that both these arguments are established right in the title of the novel and it takes (Kundera) the entire novel for the argument behind these ideas to unfold. By the way, as I’ve argued in my last book ‘Cruciale dialogen’, the title is a metaphor.

For what it’s worth, let me express my view on Kundera’s argument. I agree: ‘Einmal ist Keinmal’; you simply cannot live two lives in parallel. I cannot, at the same time, be married to Rita and be single. The consequence of that is that I cannot compare those two ‘lives’ the moment of the decision and throughout my whole married life, neither can Rita. Regarding Kundera’s question: “Is ‘being’ light or unbearable?” the only right answer is, as I learned from my mentor Charlie Palmgren, since the question is a ‘or’ question: YES![iii] Finally I really can’t say Amen to Kundera’s statement that because we cannot judge we are not responsible for the consequences of our decisions. To me we definitely are responsible for those consequences and what’s more they become bearable if we live Creative Interchange from within. In other words we should stay aware of the unfolding of our lives and take the right measures and decisions when needed. We are responsible for our actions, period.

Personally, I adhere to Wieman’s two-fold commitment, which keeps the “old” from obstructing the emergence of the “new” and keeps the “new” from abandoning and discarding the value of the “old.” Wieman’s said this requires following two-fold commitment: “A commitment to act on the current best we know and a commitment to remain open to what in truth can transform our current best to what is better.” Through living this two-fold commitment from within we will continually transform our mind as it cannot transform itself. The language surrounding the death of the old self and the creation of a new self takes on a new kind of significance. For Wieman, such a person is able to have the old self transformed in a way that takes on a wider world, a wider range of concerns, experiences, and valuations. For him, the greatest barrier to emergence of the new is the convulsive clinging to present beliefs, values, and habits giving them the loyalty and commitment that should be given to the Creative Good (i.e. Creative Interchange). Wieman’s central theme is self-commitment to growth and transformation through Creative Interchange; in other words, a self-commitment to the Creative Interchange process that transforms human life toward the Greatest Human Good.[iv]

So, Creative Interchange changes the mind in ways that the mind cannot do this by itself. The challenge of life is not to realize goods that we can now imagine but to undergo a change in consciousness in which there will arise possibilities of value that we cannot imagine on basis of our present awareness. This transformation of the mindset cannot be imagined before it arises and therefor cannot be planned or controlled, neither from the outside nor from the inside. One must cultivate a willingness to set aside present held values and open oneself to a creativity that leads the mind toward a wider awareness and a new consciousness. The human task is not to contrive a better form of living based on present understanding but rather to set the conditions under which creative interchange may operate to expand our awareness. The good of human life increases, as the mind becomes a more richly interconnected network of meanings.

Charlie Palmgren took the challenge of continuing the search for the conditions necessary for Creative Interchange to thrive. One of his first contributions was to make the barriers within ourselves to Creative Interchange visible by discovering the counter productive process: the Vicious Circle, his articulation of Wieman’s greatest barrier to the emergence of the new. The Vicious Circle is Palmgren’s view of how humans become disconnected from their innate Worth. He believes that human worth is the capacity to participate in transforming creativity. Worth is innate, in other words Worth is the innate need for creative transformation. He drives home his point clearly: “Our need for creative transformaton is to our psychological and spiritual survival what oxygen, water, food, exercise, and sleep is to physical well-being.”[v]

Concluding note: Man’s Ultimate Commitment – i.e. providing for the conditions for and living Creative Interchange from within in an awareness way – leads to a continuous transformative experience.

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[i] This column is based on three books:

  1. H.N. Wieman. Man’s Ultimate Commitment. University Press of America®, Inc., Lanham, Maryland, 1991
  2. L.A. Paul. Transformative Experience. Oxford University Press. Oxford UK – New York NY, 2014
  3. M. Kundera. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. New York NY, 1984.

[ii] http://www.creativeinterchange.be/?p=811

[iii] http://www.creativeinterchange.org/?author=2

[iv] https://www.slideshare.net/johanroels33/essay-creative-interchange-and-the-greatest-human-good

[v] Stacie Hagan and Charlie Palmgren, The Chicken Conspiracy: Breaking The Cycle of Personal Stress and Organizational Mediocrity. Baltimore, MA: Recovery Communications, Inc. 1998. p. 21.

 

 

 

One of my daughter’s Christmas presents was a book which original version was published the year I was born (which happened today exactly 72 years ago). I don’t think she new that when she bought it, neither was she aware of the fact that during decades I have promised myself to read it. Since more than five years I had even a pdf version of this book on my laptop; as well as, since a couple of years, an audiobook version on my iTunes app. I never created time to read it, until now.

Man’s Search for Meaning is a 1946 book by Viktor E. Frankl chronicling his experiences as an Auschwitz concentration camp inmate during World War II, and describing his psychotherapeutic method, which involved identifying a purpose in life to feel positively about. According to Frankl, the way a prisoner imagined the future affected his longevity.

The edition of Man’s Search for Meaning Daphne gave me is a Rider one (2011) based on the 1992 edition[i]. Part One constitutes Frankl’s analysis of his experiences in the concentration camps, while Part Two introduces his ideas of meaning and his theory called Logotherapy. Part Three is a postscript of 1984 and presents a case for Tragic Optimism.

In the preface to the 1992 Edition, Viktor Frankl admonishes the reader:

“Don’t aim at success –

the more you aim at it and make it a target,

the more you are going to miss it.

For success like happiness, cannot be pursued,

it must ensue and

it only does so as the unintended side effect of

one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product

of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.

Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success:

you have to let it happen by not caring about it.

I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do

and to carry it out to the best of your knowledge.

Then you will live to see that in the long run

– in the long run, I say – success will follow you

precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.”

Reading this passage I thought of two of my spiritual fathers: Charlie Palmgren and Paul de Sauvigny the Blot SJ. The latter survived, as Viktor Frankl did, a concentration camp. Indeed dr. Paul de Sauvigny the Blot SJ (in short Paul de Blot) was a prisoner of war in a Japanese concentration camp during WWII and this for almost five years. After the war he became Jesuit and studied in Indonesia and Europe and worked in Lebanon, Israel, Indonesia, came to Europe; started a career at the Nyenrode Business University in the Netherlands where he studied, got his PhD in 2004 (at the age of 80!) and became professor there in Business Spirituality. His Business Spirituality is based on DOING (Business) and BEING (Spirituality) and on the INTERACTION (Creative Interchange) between the two.

Paul states: “The success I had in my life was primarily due to the fact that it simply happened to me, not as a winning lottery ticket, but by a conjunction of circumstances and relationships. I was not looking for success, success came my way, and I recognized it, picked it up and made use of it.” So Paul and Viktor are thinking along the same lines regarding success.

The story Paul often tells regarding his surviving the Japanese concentration camp (he lived more than a year in an isolation cell where he could not see any light, so after a while he didn’t know if it was day or night) is fundamentally about relationship. He testifies that not the strongest men survived, it where those men who were in interchange with others.

Among the tribes of northern Natal in South Africa, the most common greeting, equivalent to hello in English, is the expression sawobona. It literally means, “I see you”. This I see you is not so much about effectively seeing the other, it means – as the perhaps more known expression namaste – “The God in me sees the God” or “I see myself through your eyes” or “I come to live through you.” According to Peter de Jager[ii] this Zulu greeting is mostly answered with ngikhona, which means, “I am here.” The order of the exchange is important: until you see me, I do not exist. It’s as if, when you see me, you bring me into existence. This meaning, implicit in the language, is part of the spirit of Ubuntu, a frame of mind prevalent among native people in southern Africa. The concept Ubuntu stems from the folk saying umunto ngumuntu nagabuntu, which from Zulu translates, as “A person is a person because of other people.”[iii] The dyad sawubona and ngikhona form a dialogue; sawubona is an invitation to participate in each other’s life, ngikhona is the positive answer to that invitation. Although Paul de Blot in his isolation prison cell could not literarily see his comrades, having dialogues through thick prison walls they came to and stayed in live.

Let me quote David Ducheyne[iv]: “Psychology has discovered that your mental development is triggered by interaction with others. You cannot healthily exist without the other. You define yourself, based on the interactions with the other.” One of the philosophers who discovered this is the American Religious philosopher Henry Nelson Wieman. He writes extensively about “that creative good which transforms us in ways in which we cannot transform ourselves.” For Wieman our supreme devotion must be to the creative good not to the created relative goods [created by the creative good], this was an ultimate commitment to what in his later years he increasingly came to label creative interchange.[v] In 1966, Wieman met and formed a working relationship with Dr. Erle Fitz, a practicing psychiatrist, and Dr. Charles Leroy (‘Charlie’) Palmgren, my third father. Wieman, Fitz and Palmgren met regularly in Wieman’s home (Grinell, IA) until Wieman’s death in 1975 to focus on how creative interchange could be the basis for psychotherapy, applied behavioral sciences, and organizational development. After Wieman’s death, Palmgren continued to nurture the creative interchange philosophy, identifying the conditions necessary for the Creative Interchange process to occur, and developing tools to help people remove the barriers to those conditions while identifying the counter unproductive process, which he labeled The Vicious Circle.

Some quotes from part I “Experiences in a concentration camp” that I find interesting:

  • We who have come back, by the aid of many lucky chances or miracles – whatever one may choose to call them – we know: the best of us did not return.
  • Apart from a strange kind of humor, another sensation seized us: curiosity. Cold curiosity predominated even in Auschwitz, somehow detaching the mind from its surroundings, which came to be regarded as a kind of objectivity. At that time one cultivated this state of mind as a means of protection. We were anxious to know what would happen next.
  • An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.
  • Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human 
poetry and human thought and believe have to impart: The 
salvation of man is through love and in love.
  • Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It find its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive, ceases somehow to be of importance.
  • Set me like a seal upon thy heart, love is as strong as death.
  • The consciousness of one’s inner value is anchored in higher, 
more spiritual things, and cannot be shaken by camp life. But how 
many free men, let alone prisoners, possess it?
  • It is this spiritual freedom – which cannot be taken away – that 
makes life meaningful and purposeful.
  • If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.
  • In robbing the present of its reality there lay a certain danger.
  • It is a peculiarity of man that he can only live by looking in the 
future – sub specie aeternitatis. And this is his salvation in the most difficult moments of his existence, although he sometimes has to force his mind to the task.
  • Quoting Spinoza: “Emotion, which suffering is, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.

On page 61 Viktor Frankl presents a fundamental change that was even paraphrased years later by the late president John Fitzgerald Kennedy during his inaugural speech of January 20th, 1960:


“What was really needed was a fundamental change

in our attitude towards life.

We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.

We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life,

and instead to think of ourselves being questioned by life

– daily and hourly.

Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation,

but in right action and in right conduct.

Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find

the right answer to its problems and

to fulfill the tasks which it constantly set for each individual.”

More than once in my life I’ve needed such a fundamental change in my attitude. For instance in 2008 – during my darkest period until now in the midst of a deep depression – when black thoughts of committing suicide haunted regularly in my mind. I needed to force myself to realize that life was perhaps still expecting something from me; I needed to realize that something in the future was expected from Johan Roels.

And Viktor Frankl continues:

“This uniqueness and singleness which

distinguishes each individual and gives meaning to his existence

has a bearing on creative work as much as on human love.

When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized,

it allows the responsibility, which a man has for his existence

and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude.

A man becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears towards

a human being who affectionately waits for him,

or to unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life.

He knows 
the ‘why’ for his existence,

and will be able to bear almost any ‘how’. (Page 64)

Here Viktor Frankl is paraphrasing one of his favorite quote’s of Frederich Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for, can bear almost any how.” In my particular case it was both: my love towards my wife, daughter and three grandchildren and a book I had to finish: “Cruciale dialogen” (Crucial Dialogues).

Viktor Frankl loves to quote Frederich Nietzsche to help his comrades: “Was mich nicht umbrengt, macht mich starker.” (That, which does not kill me, makes me stronger). This phrase really resonates with me.

Part II of Man’s search for Meaning describes Logotherapy in a nutshell. Viktor Frankl explains why he has employed the term Logotherapy as the name of his theory; logos being a Greek word denoting meaning, Logotherapy focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as on man’s search for such a meaning. To Viktor Frankl:

“Man’s Search for Meaning is

the primary motivation in his life

and not a secondary rationalization of instinctual drives.

This meaning is unique and specific

in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone;

only then does it achieve a significance

which will satisfy his own will to meaning.” (Page 80)

He continues:

“Man’s will to meaning can also be frustrated,

in which case Logotherapy speaks of existential frustration.

The term existential may be used in three ways: to refer to

(1) existence itself, i.e., the specifically human mode of being;

(2) the meaning of existence; and

(3) the striving to find a concrete meaning in personal existence,

that is to say; the will to meaning.” (Pages 81-82)

His ideas regarding the connection between mental health and tension are, to me, very interesting:

“It can be seen that mental health is based on a certain degree of tension,

the tension between what one has already achieved and

what one still ought to accomplish,

or the gap between what one is and what one should become.

Such a tension is inherent in the human being and

therefore is indispensable to mental well-being.

We should not, then, be hesitant about challenging man with

a potential meaning for him to fulfill.

It’s only thus that we evoke his will to meaning from its state of latency.

I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene

to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium or,

as it is called in biology, homeostatis, i.e., a tensionless state.

What man needs is not a tensionless state but rather

the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.

What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost

but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.

What man needs is not homeostatis but what I call noö-dynamics,

i.e., the existential polar field of tension

where one pole is represented by the meaning that is to be fulfilled

and the other pole by the man who has to fulfill it.” (Page 85)

Frankl’s view on the connection between mental health and tension makes me think of two things: (1) Peter Senge writing in his bestseller ‘The Fifth Discipline’: “The gap between a vision and current reality is a source of energy. If there were no gap, there would be no need for any action to move toward the vision. Indeed, the gap is the source of creative energy. We call this creative tension;”[vi] and (2) the state of tension I’m continually in the noö-dynamics between my actual created self and my will to meaning to (re-) become the Original or Creative Self I was born.

And Viktor Frankl continues:

“Having shown the beneficial impact of meaning orientation,

I turn to the detrimental influence of that feeling

of which so many patients complain today, namely,

the feeling of total and ultimate meaninglessness of their lives.

They lack the awareness of a meaning worth living for.

They are haunted by the experience of their inner emptiness,

a void within themselves; they are caught in that situation

which I have called existential vacuum.” (page 85)

And this is more and more the case. The staggering raising number of people wrestling these days with bore-out, burn-out and even depression proves that a Search for Meaning is more than needed.

Regarding that existential vacuum, Viktor Frankl writes:

“The existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom.

Now we can understand Schopenhauer

when he said that mankind was apparently doomed

to vacillate eternally between the two extremes of distress and boredom. In actual fact, boredom is now causing, and certainly bringing to psychiatrists, more problems to solve than distress.

And these problems are growing increasingly crucial,

for progressive animation will probably lead to an enormous increase in the leisure hours availably to the average worker.

The pity of it is that many of these will not know what to do

with all their newly acquired free time.” (Page 86)

Following the AI and Workforce conference of MIT (Nov 1-2, 2017)[vii] I learned that in Frankl’s statement, quoted above, the word probably might be erased.

According to Viktor Frankl Logotherapy sees in responsibleness the very essence of human existence. This emphasis on responsibleness is reflected in the categorical imperative of Logotherapy:

“Live as if you were living already for the second time

and as if you had acted the first time


as wrongly as you are about to act now!” (Page 88)

 Regarding the meaning of suffering, Viktor Frankl writes:

“When we are no longer able to change a situation


– just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer –

we are challenged to change ourselves.” (Page 89)

When in the fall of 2013 a colon cancer was finally identified, I had to undergo chemo and radiation therapy before the cancer could be removed through surgery. While the cancer was still operable, the odds were high that if it would turn out that the complete medical protocol were to be successful … this would be ‘just in time.’ During those months I had enough time to transform myself by asking and responding one single question: “How want you, Johan, be remembered by your three grandchildren, Eloïse, Edward and Elvire?” So, my answer was to transform myself starting Living in the Now.[viii]

Viktor Frankl regarding the erroneous and dangerous assumption, which he calls pan-determinism (and I being prisoner of the Vicious Circle):

“The view of man which disregards his capacity

to take stand towards any conditions whatsoever.

Man is not fully conditioned and determined but rather

determines himself whether he givens in to conditions

Or stand op to them.

In other words, man is ultimately self-determining.

Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be,

What he will become in the next moment.” (Page 105)

Charlie Palmgren thought me that man is indeed self-determining and can always choose to stay his actual created self or evolve this created self towards his Creative Self.

Part III of my copy of Man’s Search for Meaning is a Postscript 1984: The case for a tragic optimism[ix]. A tragic optimism is to be understood as follows:

“In brief it means that one is, and remains,

optimistic in spite of the tragic triad, as it is called in Logotherapy,

a triad, which consists of those aspects of human existence

which may be circumscribed by: (1) pain; (2) guilt; and (3) death.

This chapter, in fact, raises the question:

“How is it possible to say yes to life in spite of all that?”

or posed differently:

“How can life retain its potential meaning in spite of its tragic aspects?” (Page 111)

He continues:

“A human being is not one is pursuit of happiness

but rather in search of a reason to become happy,

last but not least, through actualizing the potential meaning

inherent and dormant in given situation” (Page 112)

Regarding the perception of meaning, Viktor Frankl writes:

“The perception of meaning

differs from the classical concept of Gestalt perception insofar as the latter implies a sudden awareness of a ‘figure’ on a ‘ground’,

whereas the perception of meaning, as I see it,

more specifically boils down to becoming aware of a possibility

against the background of reality or, to express it in plain words,

to becoming aware of what can be done about a given situation.”

(Page 116)

Viktor Frankl is crystal clear about the difference between what Charlie Palmgren’s calls our (intrinsic) Worth and an (extrinsic) value:

“In view of the possibility of finding meaning in suffering,

life’s meaning is an unconditional one, at least potentially.

That unconditional meaning, however, is paralleled by

the unconditional value of each person.

[labeled as Worth by Charlie Palmgren[x]]

It is that which warrants the indelible quality of the dignity of man.

Just as life remains potentially meaningful under any conditions,

even those that are most miserable,

so does the value of each and every person stay with him or her.

Today’s society blurs the decisive difference between

being valuable in the sense of dignity [Worth] and

being valuable in the sense of usefulness [Value].” (Page 122)

Charlie defines worth as the capacity to engage in transforming creativity. And to him, as to Viktor Frankl, Worth is inherent in every human being.

Viktor Frankl exactly describes my final life’s meaning as follows:

“My interest does not lie in raising parrots

that just rehash ‘their master’s voice’,

but rather in passing the torch to


’independent and innovative and creative spirits’. (Page 123)

I lived that meaning not only when I stopped in October 2016 my latest series of workshops, the famous gatherings of the Crucial Dialogue Society but more importantly in writing my thinking down and publishing those in columns (from today on solely on my website www.creativeinterchange.be) for the sake of my three grandchildren, AKA the three E’s: Eloïse, Edward and Elvire. Leaving it up to them to decide what they’ll do with those thoughts. I will certainly not push them since ‘grass doesn’t grow faster by pulling at it’.

I’ll simply continue to do what I do, since it is my ultimate meaning in life! And at the same time this is an ultimate two-fold commitment (cf. Man’s ultimate Commitment[xi]): Creative Interchange; in other words, a commitment to Continuous Improvement through living Creative Interchange from within thus evolving my created self towards my Creative Self. I know I’ll never reach that final destination and will continue to enjoy the voyage, as long as it lasts. All this while staying aware of one of my favorite quotes:

“The act of discovery

consists not in finding new lands,

but in seeing with new eyes.”

– Marcel Proust

____________________________________________________________

[i] Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search for Meaning. The Classic Tribute to Hope from the Holocaust. London, Rider, an imprint of Ebury Publishing, a Random House Group company, 2011

[ii] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/parsing-personal-privacy-puzzle-peter-de- jager/

[iii] Senge, Peter M. [et al.] The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, strategies and tools for building a learning organization.Doubleday, New York, 1994.

[iv] http://www.hrchitects.net/purpose-lies-outside/

[v] Wieman, Henry Nelson. Man’s Ultimate Commitment. University Press of America®, Inc., Lanham, Maryland 1991.

[vi] Senge, Peter M. The Fifth Discipline. The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization. Doubleday, New York, 1990. Page 150.

[vii] http://futureofwork.mit.edu

[viii] http://www.creativeinterchange.be/?p=800

[ix] This chapter is based on a lecture Viktor E. Frankl presented at the Third World Congress of Logotherapy, Regensburg University, West Germany, June 1983.

[x] Hagan, Stacie and Palmgren, Charlie. The Chicken Conspiracy. Breaking the Cycle of Personal Stress and Organizational Mediocrity. Baltimore. MA: Recovery Communications, Inc. 1998. P. 25.

[xi] Wieman, Henry Nelson. Man’s Ultimate Commitment. op. cit.

 

Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment. — Eckhart Tolle[i]

Of all the things I have learned over the years, I can think of nothing that could be of more help to anyone than living in the now. It is truly time-tested wisdom. To live in the present is what we mean by presence itself!

Creative Interchange makes us know that we can fully trust the “now” since a) we’re born with that fundamental learning and transformation process that resides within us and b) living Creative Interchange from within in the “now” is how we’ve transformed ourselves from baby to infant, to toddler until we were ready for the Kindergarten and beyond. Living Creative Interchange from within and in the now is like making love. We can’t be fully intimate with someone who is physically absent or through vague, amorphous energy; we need close, concrete, particular connections in the “now”. That’s how our human brains were and are wired. Not surprisingly, Creative Interchange is what changes the human mind since it cannot change itself.

Yet, as practitioners of meditation have discovered, the mind mostly does two things: replay the past and plan or worry about the future. The mind has been thought to be bored in the present. So it must be re-trained to stop running backward and forward and to be fully ‘present in the present’. This is being fully aware; awareness being the condition underlying the CI characteristic Authentic Interaction. Indeed, awareness makes the interacting authentic.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
 Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.
 — Rumi[ii]

Non-dual awareness opens our hearts, minds, and will to actually experience Creative Interchange in the now. Ultimate Reality cannot be seen with the dualistic consciousness of the mind, where we divide the field of the moment and eliminate anything ambiguous, confusing, unfamiliar, or outside our comfort zone. Dualistic thinking is highly controlled and permits only limited seeing. It protects the status quo and allows the ego to feel like it’s in control. This way of filtering reality is the opposite of pure presence.

We learn the dualistic pattern of thinking at an early age, and it helps us survive and succeed in practical ways. But it can get us only so far. Becoming self-conscious at the expense of being self-aware undermines our capacity to be authentic and compromises the quality of our interacting using the Creative Interchange Process. Not surprisingly all religions at the more mature levels have discovered another “software” for processing the really big questions like death, love, infinity, suffering, the mysterious nature of sexuality, and whoever God, the Divine or the Force is. Some people call this access contemplation, some meditation and others mindfulness. It is a non- dualistic way of living in the moment. Don’t interpret, just observe (contemplata).

Non-dual knowing is learning how to live satisfied in the naked now, “the sacrament of the present moment” as Jean Pierre de Caussade called it[iii]. This awareness will teach us how to actually experience our experiences, whether good, bad, or ugly, and how to let them transform us. Words by themselves divide and judge the moment; pure presence lets it be what it is, as it is. Words and thoughts are invariably dualistic; pure experience is always non-dualistic.

As long as you can deal with life as a set of universal abstractions, you can pretend that the binary system is true. But once you deal with concrete reality – with yourself, with someone you love, with actual facts – you find that reality is a mixture of good and bad, dark and light, life and death. Reality requires more a ‘both/and & different from’ approach than ‘either/or’ differentiation. The non-dual mind is open to everything. It is capable of listening to the other, to the body, to the heart, to the mind and to the will with all the senses. It begins with a radical yes to each moment.

When you can be present in this way, you will know the ‘factual reality’. Of course, you will still need and use your dualistic mind, your consciousness, but now it is in service to the greater whole (i.e. the ‘Creative Self’) rather than just the small ego (i.e. the ‘created self’). The Original or Creative Self is aware and conscious, the created self is mostly only conscious.

There is, in the context of living in the now, an additional distinction to be made between intention and attention. The core of human freedom is choosing (intention) and determining where one’s attention is (will be) focused. Most daily routines involve our attention being on ‘auto-pilot’. Autopilot is our unconscious daily habits, rituals and routines. Self-consciousness has been developed at the expense of self-awareness. Living in the now is living mindful. Mindfulness is sometimes characterized as “open or receptive attention to and awareness of ongoing events and experiences” [iv] with attention understood as “a process that continually pulls ‘figures’ out of the ‘ground’ of awareness”[v] an being mindful meaning “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”[vi]

Organizational Management of Change involves teaching people this and that, an accumulation of facts and imperatives that is somehow supposed to add up to transformation. The great wisdom teachers know that one major change is needed: how we do the moment. Then all the this-and-that’s will fall into line. And how we do the moment is, to me, continuous living Creative Interchange from within.

Wisdom is not the gathering of more facts and information, as if that would eventually coalesce into truth. Wisdom is a way of seeing and knowing the same old ten thousand things but in a new way. I suggest that wise people are those who are free to be truly present to what is right in front of them. It has little to do with formal education. In fact little children, who have not encountered formal education yet, are always wise!

Presence is the one thing necessary to attain wisdom, and in many ways, it is the hardest thing of all. Just (try to) keep your mind receptive without division or resistance, your heart open and soft and your will aware of where it is at its deepest level of feeling. Presence is when all three centers are awake and open at the same time!

Most organizations decided it was easier to use doctrines – and obey laws created by management guru’s – than undertake the truly converting work of being present. Otto C. Scharmer identifies in his book Theory U three levels of deeper awareness and the related dynamics of change. “Seeing our Seeing requires the intelligences of the open mind, the open heart and open will.”[vii] Paraphrased in Creative Interchange language: ‘Seeing our seeing’, which I call Process Awareness, requires the intelligences of the Open Mind (Left hand side of ‘our’ Butterfly), Open Heart (body of ‘our’ Butterfly) and Open Will (Right hand side of ‘our’ Butterfly):

 

 

  1. Seeing with an open mind is ‘Awareness’ (i.e. non-colored or naked consciousness) that is able to change our Mindsets, (i.e. colored consciousness);
  2. Seeing with an open heart is seeing beyond the mind (feeling – butterfly body): this is also seeing one’s own part in maintaining the old and in denying the new;
  3. Seeing with an open will unlocks our deeper levels of commitment to which we ‘surrender’ in order to imagine what is needed, although the ‘what’ may be far from clear – Otto C. Scharmer calls this presencing;
  4. The ‘how’ of the transformation is effectively doing what we’ve just imagined through presencing; transforming means living Creative Interchange fully from within. Creative Interchange being the Meta process of all transformation and learning we’re all born with.

Mindfulness is about how to be present to the moment. When you’re present, you will experience the Presence. But the problem is, we’re almost always somewhere else: reliving the past or worrying about the future.

Living daily Creative Interchange is crucial in helping us live in the now. It takes constant intention and attentive practice to remain open, receptive, and awake to the moment. Intention has been defined as “a process that (a) carries motivational impetus, (b) specifies a future goal and (c) increases the likelihood of subsequent information processing that serves that goal.”[viii]

We live in a time with more easily available obstacles to presence than any other period in history. We carry some of our obstacles in our pockets now notifying us about everything and nothing, often guided by algorithms we don’t understand and that are far from being transparent. And let’s be honest: most of our digital and even personal conversation is about nothing. Indeed about nothing that matters, nothing that lasts, nothing that’s real. We think and talk about the same things again and again, like a broken record. Pretty soon we realize we’ve frittered away years of our life, and it is the only life we have.

We have to find a way to more deeply experience our experiences. Otherwise we’re just on cruise control, and we go through our whole life not knowing what’s happening. Whether we realize it or not, the energy of Creative Interchange (Yoda calls it The Force) is flowing through each one of us. When we draw upon this Source consciously, our life starts filling with what some call coincidences or synchronicities, which we can never explain. This has nothing to do with being perfect, highly moral, or formally religious. It has everything to do with living mindfully in the now.

I wish someone had told me all when I was young[ix]. I would still have been transforming my mindset, but this time in a whole different way – and what’s more all the time; in other words, a Continuous Improvement of my mindset through Creative Interchange (which I sometimes label CI2).

Life is what happens to you, while you are busy making other plans.            

John Lennon

There’s no way for the mind to control living in the now trough living Creative Interchange from within. Indeed, the Creative Interchange Process cannot be controlled and happens when the required conditions are met:

“Creative Interchange creates appreciative understanding of the diverse perspectives of individuals and peoples. It also integrates these perspectives in each individual participant. Thus commitment to Creative Interchange is not commitment to any given system of values. It is commitment to what creates deeper insight into values that motivate human lives. It creates an even more comprehensive integration of these values so far as this is possible by transforming them is such a way that the can be mutually enhancing instead of mutually impoverishing and obstructive.”[x]

According to Wieman, Creative Interchange should not be sought directly. When it occurs, it will always be somehow spontaneous. Commitment to Creative Interchange means that one will always seek to provide those conditions that are most favorable for this kind of interchange. So living Creative Interchange from within boils down to providing the conditions so that Creative Interchange can thrive. My mentor, Charlie Palmgren undertook in the period 1966-1972 the task of discovering what some of these conditions might be. He has found four mental conditions that facilitate and enhance each of the four Creative Interchange characteristics. Those conditions make the interacting authentic, the understanding appreciative, the integrating creative and the transforming continual. These conditions are, awareness (mindfulness and trust), appreciation (heartfulness and curiosity), creativity (playfulness and connectivity) and commitment (steadfastness and tenacity).

As we’ve seen in part I, most of the time the mind can only do two things: replay the past and plan or worry about the future. I’m not arguing that those two things are per se bad; I do argue that those two are mostly obstructions to living in the now.

Replay the past often leads to shame or guilt; those are two major forms of negative reaction to one’s self. Shame is the feeling that “I am not OK”, guilt is the feeling of having done something bad. Shame and Guilt are two elements of the Vicious Circle[xi], which ultimately leads to hiding in one’s mental model; one’s mindset is blocked and becomes what the Buddhists call the “monkey mind”.

Mental models are the images, assumptions and stories we carry in our minds of us, other people, organizations, institutions and every aspect of the world. They are the colored spectacles through which we see the world. Mental models determine what we see because they immediately interpret the reality we see and present that interpretation as reality. Mental models are ‘mental maps’ and all these mental maps are, by definition, flawed in some way. Differences between mental models explain why two people can observe the same event and describe it differently. Mental models (part of the left side of the ‘Butterfly’ model) ultimately shape how we act (the right side of the ‘Butterfly’ model) and thus the outcome.

The concept of Mental Model has many synonyms like Frame of Reference and Paradigm to name two of them. I prefere to use the synonym Mindset. Because mental models are part of our consciousness, our Mindset – below the level of awareness – they are often untested and unexamined.

One of the core tasks in Living in the Now is bringing mental models to the surface, to explore and to talk about them with minimal defensiveness – this helps to see the qualities of our ‘colored spectacles’, appreciatively understand their impact on our lives and find a way to re-form the glass by creating new mental models that serve us better in the world.

Two types of skills are central to this endeavor: they are reflection (slowing down our thinking processes to become more aware of how we use and form our mental models) and inquiry (holding conversations where we openly share views and develop knowledge about each other’s assumptions).

Anthony de Mello SJ urged us to ‘wake up!’[xii] Living Creative Interchange from within gradually transforms our minds so that we can live in the naked now, the sacrament of the present moment. Without some form of reflection, we read life through a preferred and habitual style of attention. Unless we come to recognize the lens through which we filter all of our experiences, we will not see things as they are but as we are.

Zen Buddhist masters tell us we need to “wipe the mirror” of our minds and hearts in order to see what’s there without distortions or even explanations – not what we’re afraid of is there, nor what we wish is there, but what is actually there. Creative Interchange’s Process Awareness is a lifelong task of mirror wiping. “I” am always my first problem, and if I deal with “me,” then I can deal with other problems much more effectively. I have to stop my ‘monkey mind’.

“Our monkey mind (an ancient Buddhist term) naturally prefers to scatter our attention hither and yon, but the whole purpose of Buddhist practice is to tame the mind, to calm the monkey in our head, and to be fully present to what we are doing in each and every moment.”[xiii]

Process awareness is the inner discipline of calmly observing our own patterns—what we see and what we don’t—in order to get our demanding and over-defended egos away from the full control they always want. It requires us to stand at a distance from ourselves and listen and look with calm, nonjudgmental objectivity, in other words: being fully aware and waken up! Otherwise, we do not have thoughts and feelings: they have us! A clear mirror allows us to simply see the reality of what is.

The real gift is to be happy and content, even when we are doing simple tasks. When we can see and accept that every single act of creation is just this and thus allow it to work its wonder on us, we have found true freedom and peace.

Plan about the future often leads to either knee-jerk reaction (or jump to conclusion-action) or worrying about the future. One should plan about the future while living in the now, making sure that what we see is what there is and not what our mindset tells us what there is. In this phase we have to – like toddlers – embrace ambiguity and stay long enough in testing our consciousness through awareness, until we have appreciatively understood reality. Appreciative Understanding being the second characteristic of Creative Interchange. Living in the now is appreciating the choice to interrupt one’s unconscious “autopilot’ thinking, saying and doing.

Once we have appreciatively understood reality we can start to open our heart in order to really feel it and to ponder if we want to transform that reality, if undesired, in a new, more desired one. If this is the case we’ll use Creative Integrating – the third characteristic of Creative Interchange – to imagine and create a plan in order to realize this desired reality in the near future. All ideas that pop up have to be reason- tested using skills to break down polarized thinking and other barriers to creativity. Through greater spontaneity (nobody’s idea is shot down) and connectivity (we connect and built on each others ideas) we enjoy greater freedom to integrate what we creatively experience through our relationships into our expanding individuality – to constantly evolve into the infinite potentiality of our being. This progressive, creative integration works at the individual level as well as the relationships level, constantly changing our individual and collective mindsets for our marriages, our work teams, our organizations, our communities and our societies. Once our plan is ready we reason-test the plan itself to make sure that we have the resources and approach to execute it and, finally, we have tot decide to go ahead.

During the transformation of our reality we have to live in the now permanently. We have to be aware of the process of transformation, which is the fourth characteristic: Continual Transformation. During this phase our commitment supports tenacity of intention to and attention on the repetitions required for neuro-networking the brain in order to establish new habits and ultimately a new mindset. Process awareness ensures that one is not only aware of what one is doing, but also how one does this. In addition it makes sure that one is aware of the extent to which, what and how one does, is congruent with the terms of the Creative Interchange process. In its simplest form Process Awareness is a dual awareness. A portion of the awareness focuses on the task (what is done) and the other part focuses on the process itself (how it is done). In our mind this process is Creative Interchange. So the Process Awareness skill can monitor what you say and do, identify and evaluate what others say and do, monitor how the team members are living the Creative Interchange process and most of all identify if you yourself live or hinder that living Process. The latter means too that through Process Awareness you are aware of the functioning of your personal Vicious Circle and is often called self-awareness, beautifully painted by Albert Einstein’s quote:

“The superiority of man lies not in his ability to perceive,

but in his ability to perceive that he perceives,

and to transfer his perception to others through words.”

Process Awareness is also linked to the concept transcendence. You certainly have heard once following expression: “Being in the world and not of the world.” In this context, being in the world means that you identify yourself with your thoughts, feelings and behaviors and being of the world suggests that you are nothing more than a conglomerate of your experiences and actions in this world, in other words nothing more than your created self. Being of the world means that we conform to that world. Being in the world urges us to go beyond conformity to transformation, in other words to transform ourselves towards our Creative Self. Being in the world means that we choose for transformation of the mind, in other words that we choose for Creative Interchange. Something that is transformed is something that is changed. The prefix ‘trans’ means “above and beyond”. We are to become above and beyond the standards of this world, not in the sense that we elevate ourselves in lofty status above everybody else, but that we are called to a more excellent way of life. In other words, we are to transform towards our Original or Creative Self. Not being of the world means that you can observe the world from a distance. One is, so to speak, above the world and can therefor observe the world without being effectively concerned. Being capable of both is an ideal I’m striving for.

This way, the created or adaptive self – a by-product of the Vicious Circle – is of this world. This self is a unity created from the mix of experiences, perceptions, roles, images, games, demands and expectations and so on. The Original Self is not of the world. The Original Self is beyond the world being with both feet in the world.

Process Awareness has to do with being receptive to information associated with the task or activity being performed, and to information connected with the Creative Interchange Process while being at work with others (i.e. being in the world) AND at the same time being open to analyze oneself, the internal data that are generated by those actions, without being prisoner of these data (i.e. not being of the world).

If we have successfully transformed ourselves through the transforming power of Creative Interchange (remember Yoda’s Force!), we will have begun to experience (1) an interchange which has as its core authentic understanding and appreciation of the uniqueness of ourselves and others, and (2) how this transforming power enables us to continually re-create ourselves by integrating what we experience from others. Through an ultimate commitment to Creative Interchange we start to transform ourselves and invite others to do so, in the direction of ‘The Greatest Human Good’.[xiv]

As the life of awareness settles on your darkness, whatever is evil will disappear and whatever is good will be fostered. But this calls for a disciplined mind. [However] When there’s something within you that moves in the right direction, it creates its’ own discipline. The moment you get bitten by the bug of awareness… it’s the most delightful thing of the world. There’s nothing so important as awakening. — Anthony de Mello S.J. [xv]

To me awakening is living Creative Interchange from within. I once called Creative Interchange the Sixth Discipline desperately needed by Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline in order to thrive. [xvi] Making Living in the Now through Living Creative Interchange from Within a discipline and thus a habit is to me – believe me, I know firsthand – hard work needing commitment, tenacity and process awareness.

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[i] Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (Penguin Books: 2005, 2016), 41.

[ii] The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks (HarperOne: 2004), 36.

[iii] Jean Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence, trans. John Beevers (Image Books: 1975), 36.

[iv] Kirk, Warren Brown and Richard M. Ryan. Perils and promise in defining and measuring mindfulness; observations from experience. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11 (3), 242-248, https://doi.org/10.1093/clipsy.bhp078 , 2004. 245.

[v] Kirk, Warren Brown and Richard M. Ryan. The benefits of being present: mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84 (4), 822-848, https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.84.4.822 , 2003. 822.

[vi] Jon Kabat-Zinn. Wherever you go, there you are: mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York NY, Hyperion. 1994

[vii] Otto C. Scharmer. Theory U Leading From the Future as it Emerges The Social Technology of Presencing. San Francisco, Ca: Berret-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 2009, xiv

[viii] Peter G. Grossenbacher and Jordan T. Quaglia. Contemplative Cognition: A more Integrative Framework for Advancing Mindfulness and Meditation Research. J.T. Mindfulness 8: 1580 https://dio.org/10.1007.S12617-017-730-1 . 2007, 1580-1593.

[ix] I’m publishing this column on my website www.creativeinterchange.be for the sake of my grandchildren, the three E’s: Eloïse, Edward and Elvire, without really knowing what they will do with it. Not pushing them, since ‘grass doesn’t grow faster by pulling at it”. I simply find it my duty to do it, period.

[x] Henry Nelson Wieman, Commitment for Theological Inquiry, Journal of Religion, Volume XLII (July, 1962) N° 3, pp. 171-184, 176.

[xi] Stacie Hagan and Charlie Palmgren The Chicken Conspiracy Breaking the Cycle of Personal Stress and Organizational Mediocrity. Baltimore: Recovery Communications, Inc., 1998

[xii] Anthony de Mello S.J. Awareness, The Perils and Opportunities of Reality, a de Mello spiritual conference in his own words (edited by J. Francis Strout), New York: Image book published by Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. 1992

[xiii] Frantz Metcalf and BJ Gallagher. Being Buddha at Work. 108 Ancient Truths on Change, Stress Money and Success. San Francisco, CA. Berret-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 2012. 37.

[xiv] Johan Roels. Creative Interchange and the Greatest Human Good. https://www.slideshare.net/johanroels33/essay-creative-interchange-and-the-greatest-human-good

[xv] Anthony de Mello S.J. Awareness, The Perils and Opportunities of Reality.op.cit. 20

[xvi] Johan Roels. Creatieve wisselwerking. Nieuw business paradigma als hoeksteen van veiligheidszorg en de lerende organisatie. Leuven-Apeldoorn, Garant. 2001. 234.

 

The barriers to Creative Interchange

One breakdown has been discussed: the failure to integrate meanings from one another. Given the explosion of information and tools for communication, such a thing might strike one as ironic. Wieman would undoubtedly have been excited by the rise of such technologies from cell phones to the internet. But the rise of technologies cannot guarantee communication. It is just as easy to fail to communicate now as prior to such an age, if not easier.

For one thing, we may be suffering from information overload, where information simply passes over us with little or no effect. Therefore, the central issue is not simply the amount of information one receives but whether one has been in a position to let the process of integration do its work in a way that changes the person for the better. If there is a lack of meaning and context associated with this information, then all that has occurred is the transaction of a barrage of disconnected bits of information. Flashes of information disconnected cannot bring greater meaning or value. Coherence and connection of what is received and integration of this with a self is central for creativity to work in our lives because this is the basis by which a self can be a self, a requirement to being engaged with others.

Worship provides a context by which people can seek to undergo the process of integration and can come to recognize the connection of events and their meaning to our lives. This may be done with sermons, rituals and the like, establishing a link between the world of today’s experiences and a rich past. They can direct our full bodily self to openness towards creativity. But there is another form of worship, which is best done alone, in a reflective mode. Leaving the clamor of life to reflect provides a needed basis to integrate previous interactions. Jesus in the wilderness, in solitude, was able to take his experiences to forge a new life purpose, which infused his life with meaning and direction.

Another feature of integration is that a sense of self is required, with which these new experiences, meanings, and values are integrated. One mistake some religious liberals make is to believe that openness to others requires a shedding of those distinctive features of our own selfhood, especially as it relates to the religious tradition that inform us. But the sort of creative interactions that expand both sides require each to bring selfhood and tradition to the table. Eliminating that which is distinctive about us so as to get along may produce a getting along but it does so at the cost of the expansion of both worlds.

The second important feature which allows for creative interaction to do its work is a particular openness to the other. So we must become open to the “modification of our minds, our sensitivities, and our judgments” through our interactions with others.[ii] That is, we come to recognize that our beliefs, as good as they are, cannot account for the whole of life and need to be expanded, refined through the interaction with others, so that we gain new experiences, new ways of seeing the world, and thus provide the basis for a wider world. A wider world with more material to draw from creates some basis for better determining what the good is in a given situation. When we isolate our interactions apart from such a world, what may seem like a good in a particular context can provide the basis of greater evils for those outside our sphere of sympathy.

For this reason, the goal is always to increase the range and quality of interactions and relations that one engages in. There is always a wider world than the current range of interactions and experiences, informing us. The task is to expand this to take account of a greater and wider world. Through this expansion the likelihood that a local good could be serving a greater evil lessens.

Therefore we need to direct our attention to possible values, experiences, which are not in our realm of our appreciation yet. We need to “open avenues of communication between one’s self and other individuals, other cultures, other races, and other

classes.” That is, differences must be sought out and included in how we engage the world. Someone is invariably not at the table and some perspective or experience of the world is not included in the discussion and therefore some element, which could rectify our understanding of a situation, is not present. They may be voices we do not appreciate or ones that seem to go against much of what we believe, but they have a range of experiences and valuings which we have not engaged and which could provide the basis for expanding our sense of a world.

What are the barriers to engaging the other in a way which could transform and widen our world? It could be a particular self-image that one seeks to protect, an image which could be torn down if evaluated within some forms of interaction wherein who we are and what we value could be called into account. If one were a racist, the sort of possible interactions with someone of another race could be so unsettling to one’s self-image that such interactions are avoided at all costs.

If one’s identity is determined by our current sense of self, the desire to have that challenged is greatly lessened. That is, the sense of our own identity has some of the greatest and dearest meaning to us. It is what makes life coherent, something required for human life and conduct. But if our interactions with others call this into question, then we may fear our own sense of self could be dissolved. Understandably this is a situation that most humans seek to avoid. And there is a good reason for this. Selfhood is a precarious achievement.

Wieman is not calling us to be dissolved but transformed and the line between one and the other is not always clearly apparent, especially for someone who is examining this prospect prior to transformation. Sometimes the refusal to undergo such a transformation is rooted in the quality of the good itself which we seek to protect, including our own sense of self. Goods can have a precarious existence and only through hard work and dedication can they be brought about. It is natural that if such goods become endangered, that our reaction is to seek to protect them. But it is ironically through this very protection that we can transform such a good, as a sense of self, into an evil. This can occur when the dedication to the existent good blocks any attempts to recognize or nurture other possible goods, goods which we may not yet recognize or appreciate. Our actions, without reference to a wider world, a wider set of experiences can do great harm without any awareness of this result.

For even well-meaning people operating out of the best sense of their world, their experiences can inflict great evils because their world, their sense of the best, is too provincial, too limited, and does not include enough people, enough experiences, and enough factors. And they resist any correction because what they now think is good might be endangered and how they now see themselves in relation to this good could fall apart. Many foreign policy failures are the result of such a process.

This is why Wieman stresses the need to give oneself up for a radical commitment to this creative process which can expand our world, expand our range of appreciation and sympathy. It means putting trust in a process that can create more than we can currently imagine, appreciate, or value. That is, radical commitment calls us to place priority with the possible over what is actual, the creator over the created, a wider world over the world we currently inhabit and are comfortable in. That is, the insight of monotheism needs to take hold of our lives.

Conflict means differences and this becomes central in Wieman’s account because without such differences clashing with one another there would be no basis for expanding our world or even having it challenged. A complacent herd mentality where our beliefs and prejudices are re-enforced would grow. This could produce an “absence of conflict” but this is not peace. The peace of God is what happens when the conflicts are transformed in a form of creative interaction where our valuations and our sense of our world have now been expanded to take account of our encounter with the other.

To the degree that such an encounter has taken place so that new values are created which are inclusive of the whole community there one finds a deepened sense of community. But such a process could never have happened if conflict was avoided at all costs. The two proposals before the mainline, agreeing to mutual isolation from one another in the form of local option or separation, minimizes conflict through minimizing interactions with the other. In this proposal, addressing conflict means engagement with the other in a manner that allows for mutual influence so as to create values inclusive of the conflicting parties.

The more common route is to avoid conflict or to minimize the influence of the other who is conflict with us. Wieman calls this process supra human but this is not to suggest that humans do not participate in the process of creative interchange. Rather it means that human actions alone are not sufficient. This is because what we imagine as the highest good for ourselves and our communities are subject to the range of experiences and events that have marked our life. So our imaginings must be changed and expanded through the incorporation of a wider world. This occurs when we are able to integrate experiences we’ve never had, events that have not marked our life but now do shape it as a result of receiving them from the other and incorporating them into ourselves. A wider sense of the world which takes account of factors, events, relations we had not considered prior to the interaction.

When these experiences and values from the other are incorporated into our previous experiences a sort of reorganization of self transpires which takes account of the previous interaction and our previous sense of self. Imagination cannot effect such as change because as Wieman writes “profound insights emerge by way of reorganization of the personality of such sort that the individual, prior to this reorganization is unable to accept, appreciate, understand or receive in any way the insight which finally comes”.

Recognizing that it is not us but this creative process which can create the good adequate for a common life together means that we have to look beyond ourselves and our best sense of things to something that can transform our vision The creator/creature distinction which was raised in the second chapter becomes central to the outlook informing Wieman and the project of the thesis. Trust in ourselves and failure to recognize that which is beyond us means placing trust in our present sense of the good and this leads to the intractable conflicts facing the church and our world.

The language surrounding the death of the old self and the creation of a new self takes on a new kind of significance. For Wieman, such a person is able to have the old self transformed in a way which takes on a wider world, a wider range of concerns, experiences, and valuations.

Wieman warns that “creativity is not omnipotent. It often fails against the inertia in man himself, in social institutions and in subhuman conditions.” That is, if we will not engage others, the possible goods which can result become limited if not stymied. Nothing makes a wider cooperative fellowship fully engaged and appreciative of the other necessary or even a likely event.

There are also barriers to communication and openness to the other which need to be searched out and removed to allow for more possibilities of creative interaction taking hold. Some of these were discussed in the second chapter, but simply being aware of the problem is not enough. The barriers are more deep seated than that which can simply be changed by resolve As Wieman notes, “they are in part psychological, internal to the individual himself.” These conditions were focused on in the second chapter. “They are in part biological, requiring development of the sensitivities and other capacities of the biological organism of man.” Wieman recognizes the sort of limitations our own physicality can place in creatively being engaged with another. It may be that we are not biologically equipped to have the required sensitivity for humans to live together creatively. Are there ways in which this can be modified? It shouldn’t be outside of the purview of those interested in removing barriers to creative interaction.

Some of the barriers are physical, “requiring continuous reconstruction of the physical environment so that men can live together with sensitivity and appreciative understanding of one another.” The sense of neighborhood where people interact versus the suburbs where privacy is upheld are two different environments which lead to greater or lesser creative intercommunication. Greater levels of interaction may require the construction of more public spaces from city parks to library cafes.

But there is another kind of public space that is needed. A space where people get to exercise for themselves and others a good which is recognized by all involved. That is, there is the need for the creation of genuine communities. An example could be as simple as a low income organization working together to get a stop sign up. All of a sudden unknown neighbors are working together and become friends and allies even as they have a whole range of differences in regards to race, gender, and religion. They relate to each other to accomplish a common end.

Wieman’s vision of the church as well as other communities could play a similar role in our national life so that a great diversity of people from a range of backgrounds, classes, and races can come together because it is in that context that possibilities can open to allow for mutual learning and therefore creative interactions. Such communities could act to be the bearer of the good news of God’s saving work which the participants can experience and be thus transformed.

 

Barriers to Creatie Interchange in major ‘institutions’

Other barriers for Wieman are “institutional, requiring continuous modification of the social order.” Whether it is our educational system or the way our economy is organized or the structures of the church, a number of features of such institutions impede giving ourselves to the creative process in a spirit of openness and trust. Usually they center on preservation and continuance of the institution at the expense of the required openness to change and transformation which could make unstable the status quo.

One example in government might be as simple as the current U.S embargo of Cuba which prevents a number of possible creative interactions. It may be the obedience to a political party or to those who hold office that prevents diverse responses to the situations governments are called to deal with. In this loyalty is placed in the state and those in authority and dissent can be seen as an attack instead of a possible place of transformation to a more inclusive vision of ourselves and the world.

Another barrier to creative interaction can be found in education with the growth of religious and politically defined schools where parents are able to send their children so as to not have them confronted with ideas that are not their own, with differences that may challenge them. The internet can also act as a barrier to creative interaction to the degree that it allows people to self segregate. This can be done reading only those news sites and discussion groups which buttress their own beliefs and valuations instead of challenging and expanding them. There are other kinds of media from television to print which must pander to both advertisers and to a public which wants to have its sense of the world reflected back to itself through the media instead of being challenged and questioned.

Another barrier can be found in [organizations] where policies can be used to prevent workers from fraternizing with each other in and out of the workplace. When there is a lack of accountability in companies and the workplace this re-enforces the idea that these are not participatory institutions which require discussion, dialogue and debate. Obedience not creative interaction becomes the prime value at work.

The church is one of the few institutions that is in a position to work through all the levels that either open us up or block us from being engaged with the other. That is the biological, physical, institutional, and personal features of our life can be affected depending on how the church is organized and conceives of its mission. One example of how all levels could be affected is through the use of ritual, such as prayer, which can organize “habits, impulses, sensitivities, forces of attention, and all the resources of personality” in a way which is directed to creative interaction with the other.

Rituals, like any form of practice, habituate their ends within us physically, emotionally, and cognitively. Like football practice they act not as much to perform the act called for but rather to ready us for when such an act is required. That is, rituals develop in us the sort of habits of response to the world that can prepare us to meet the world with the kind of openness required in forms of creative interactions Rituals, when done poorly, point to themselves for the sake of themselves or the institution which gave them birth. Rituals need to direct our whole selves, including our feelings, habits, even bodily reactions to God or otherwise they are misplaced.

Self reflection can be directed to the sort of world we live in, in what ways can it be organized to move to this vision of increasing mutual appreciation and learning and in what ways has it failed in this regard. But with the church’s language of sin and repentance it is also able to call us to reflect on the way that we as individuals block the possibilities of creativity in our life with others. Such a self reflective mode is required if we to remove such barriers.

But such reflection requires the building of a community of people who are dedicated to such a task. That is a group of people who can mutually criticize, build up, support in this task of both societal and individual reflection. Both the individual reflection and the communal response to this become central in such an account. The building of public spaces raised earlier can happen in the church, which is one of the few institutions in this country where these questions and this sort of interrelating is possible.

A church which is able to direct us to this creative process must be open to learning from any and all disciplines and communities, including that of other religions and other religious perspectives. There is a recognition of our limited understanding of where and what is God doing in the lives of others, which needs to influence our sense of God and the world. There is also a recognition that other disciplines can engage in areas of specialization, such as the sciences, that cannot be done by the church even as it affects the work of the church.

While the church recognizes the finitude of its own understanding, it strives to surrender its life to this creative process in all things. The whole church becomes united for a common end, something the mainline is missing. Wieman writes “the weakness of liberal religion is due to the inability of liberals to agree on what is supremely important and the consequent inability to unite in a common commitment.”

Does this suggest the sort of unanimity that some evangelicals have called for in the mainline church? Yes and no. There is unanimity in being open and engaged in creative interaction with others, both living and dead, in books and in varying diverse communities. But the results do not suggest that what flows from such engagement will be a singular result. It certainly cannot mean resting in whatever result follows from such an engagement.

Wieman seems to have given us a means by which mainline can unite around a common end, a common God, even while the diversities in the church would remain, even add to this quest. Wieman’s project is a holding together a common end, a common future, a common goal by which diverse communities can mutually appreciate, support, and find meaning in without thinking that a unified belief on the other questions which bedevil the church will produce the same result.

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[i] Based on:

  • Henry Nelson Wieman, The Wrestle of Religion with Truth, (New York, NY: The MacMillan Company, 1927).
  • Henry Nelson Wieman, The Source of Human Good, (Carbondale, IL: SIU Press, 1946).
  • Henry Nelson Wieman, Man’s Ultimate Commitment, (Carbondale IL: SIU Press, 1958).
  • Henry Nelson Wieman, Intellectual Foundations of Faith, (NY: Philosophic Library, 1961).
  • Henry Nelson Wieman, Religious Inquiry, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968).
  • Henry Nelson Wieman, ed. and intro. Cedric L. Hepler, Seeking A Faith for a New Age: Essays on the Interdependence of Religion, Science and Philosophy, (Metuchen, NJ: The ScareCrow Press, Inc, 1975).
  • Henry Nelson Wieman, Creative Freedom, (New York, NY: Pilgrim Press, 1982).
  • John Cobb, Can Christ Become Good News Again, (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1991).

 

 

Creative Interchange and conflict

Henry Nelson Wieman’s work in philosophy focused on the question of conflict and how conflicts might be negotiated in a manner that could be transformative for those involved. Such a proposal needs to allow for differences to have play within communities because it is engagement with the other and his/her experiences which can challenge and expand our sense of the world in a way that encompasses a wider set of experiences. [i] And yet such differences should not simply remain as differences, but need to engage each other in a manner which allows for some mutual affecting of one another so that the basis of commonality that holds communities together is able to endure.

Democracy must…rest primarily upon the mutual interpretation of conflicting interests to one another”- H.N. Wieman [ii]

But Wieman has certain suppositions, which need to be granted if his proposals are to have some standing. He believed that nothing could wholly protect the human mind from error. Rather, a key feature of human existence is our finitude, our limitedness. Therefore nothing coming from the minds of humans could be understood as infallible and beyond revision.

The created good is finite, has value only in relation to a set situation and can be subject to revision and even dismissal as the situation changes. The intractability of human conflict many times is found in the failure to accept the created basis of any human idea, institution, and belief. If beliefs can be made absolute and impossible to modify in any manner, then there is little basis to engage those who disagree with whatever is in question. [iii]

Failure to recognize the finite basis of our beliefs, practices, and institutions, produces the result of treating them as if they were divine and therefore immune, to some degree, from criticism and modifications. Such a move misdirects our energies and loyalties to what merely is, or what is within the realm of our present appreciation, instead of towards what could be. That is, if there is some belief in a [creative good] who remains active in the creation of the new, we should focus on what is directs our attention away from [that creative good], and away from the source of new possibilities outside of our range of appreciation. [iv]

What is the range of our appreciation? For Wieman, this could be understood, in some sense, to be our world. A world is constructed out of the range of experiences, interactions, events, and meanings, which constitute our life. Recognizing the finitude of the human condition, we can recognize that our world has limits. The limits are imposed by the range of experiences and interactions we have engaged in. In this sense a world is not fixed but ever changing, even growing, as more aspects of life, of experience, gained from interactions with others, can be incorporated into a coherent whole within a person. [v]

Given that our worlds are as varied as the range of interactions and experiences constituting the life of humans and given that we regularly fail to estimate properly our valuings, beliefs, and what we hold dear but instead imagine that they have somehow escaped the limits and finitude of the human condition, the basis of intractable conflicts becomes clearer. We come to interact with others, with what we consider to be the best good for the situation, but the range of our appreciation is what produces this vision of the good.

The problem is that other people with a different range of experiences, events, and relations have constructed a different vision of the good and so there is a clash. If ultimacy is given to the good we hold there can only be two responses. One could seek through battle to defeat the competing vision. Or one could organize life in such a manner that the competing vision is ignored. [vi]

During a conflict both positions are ill equipped to ascertain goods, experiences, and values from the other and therefore are unable to modify their positions in light of missing interactions. Such interactions when they do occur Wieman calls creative interchange. In his work Religious Inquiry, Wieman breaks down creativity into four phases. First there is an awareness of a value, which is is transmitted to the other through communication and is to be found by the other. Secondly, this value and then is integrated into one’s previously held values. Third is the resultant expansion in the individual or group of what is to be valued. This occurs because the integration of the values of the other has now modified my own valuing in such a manner as to take into account the newer values. Fourth, such transformed valuing leads to a widening community whereby our values no longer clash but can support and mutually enhance one another since they are now sensitive to the experiences and values of the other. [vii]

This is the basic four-fold structure that Wieman developed in the 1930s and which would come to serve as the basis for his work on the question of value, the resolution of conflict, and of theism. In The Source of Human Good, Wieman works out how meaning can be understood given this structure. First there is an emerging awareness of meaning to be derived from the other. Second there is integration of old meanings with the new. Third there is an enlargement of the world one experiences because of the new meanings which now form it. Fourth, there is a widening of community because there are now common meanings to be had and shared. [viii]

What is key, regardless of what is evaluated within this structure, is the way that the interaction of the other and the receiving of experience, meaning, knowledge, and value from the other is appreciatively understood and creatively integrated into one’s self in a way that transforms my previous appreciable world. The role of integration is central to the transformative power of creativity. Our success or failure at the process of such integration determines whether the interaction in question can be said to have been marked by creativity.

Integration happens when one’s values, in interaction with other people’s values, are so modified that they are able to sustain and enhance the values of both the self and the other. A value for Wieman could be a liking or interest or goal seeking activity.

“If I can come to recognize as worthy particular values through conversation with those in opposition, then I can open myself up to having my values modified through the conversation. My modified values now seek to take into account the other person’s values in my assessment. And the other’s valuations are likewise modified in relation to the reception of my values. It is in that context that our activities may be in a position to enhance each other’s values and perhaps provide a basis for working ourselves through the conflict in a manner which does not do violence against certain values.” [ix]

What is important is that this growth should not be understood as simply a compromise, meeting each other half way. The result may look like this, but what needs to transpire, which is not always the case with compromise, is a genuine valuing of what the other values, seeing the world through the eyes of the other in a way that transforms my own way of seeing the world. The goal is to integrate with one’s previously held values ways of seeing the world, such that both sides can come up with a solution inclusive of both values which are felt to be such by both parties. [x]

Of course it is not always the case that every interaction can be marked by [Creative Interchange]. Some ingredients need to come into play, in the interaction of two people or two groups if the interaction can be marked by [Creative Interchange].. Both sides must be committed to having their own valuations transformed in the interaction. If one is committed to retaining one’s own views without modification and one holds firm to such a goal, then no transformation can take place. If one side is transformed and the other is not, the ability for both to relate to each other in a constructive way breaks down. There is no deepening of community, the fourth element in a creative interaction. [xi]
Another limitation is due to the kind of values that are in conflict. One might have the value of racial purity. Such a value, because of its very make up precludes it from linking up with other values across a broad range of different peoples in a way that mutually enhances others and their values. In such a situation, the best way that the activities of people can be constructive is when such a value is no longer under consideration.

There are certain values which cannot connect up with and support other values. But one should not seek ignorance of the values found in such groups. One should seek to understand, even if it is to reject, such values in the ongoing activities one engages in. To take note of a value, even negatively, is to have widened one’s appreciable world because the world has to includes the recognition of the existence and impact of such a value. [xii]

In this understanding, the values of one group could link up with another group but they may not be inclusive enough to link up with the wider world. Too much of the world, too many events, experiences, factors, are not being included which would allow these values to connect with a wider set of values. The question is whether groups that have marked differences can be included, that is, can our valuings include a much wider range of differences?

The goal, for Wieman, is the widest number of values and goods being held together in such a fashion as to mutually enhance and sustain one another. As he writes “Human existence is better to the degree that all goal-seeking activities are brought into relations of mutual support across the widest ranges of diversity to form an expanding system of activities when this system is so symbolized so that the individual participant can be conscious of the values of it.” [xiii]

When creativity dominates such interactions with the other, there ideally should be an expansion of what is known, what can be controlled, a greater ability to distinguish good and evil in a situation, and a larger awareness of one’s self and others. These four elements working together provide the basis for living together but if some of the elements are not there, then havoc can be the result. [xiv]

But this becomes a source of tension within Wieman’s vision. There need to be differences sufficient to challenge our valuings, beliefs, experiences, so that we are moved to modify them in our interactions with others. Thus our world can be enlarged. But the changes required need to be in a position to be integrated with our previous experiences, taking account of our past such that the sense of self does not dissolve but is enlarged. It calls for openness to difference and a commitment to integrate this into a self, which can be held together meaningfully.

If the differences are not sufficient, we find our beliefs and ways of experiencing the world alwas re-enforced, a sort of herd mentality can grow even if there is interaction with other groups, as long as these groups re-enforce our sense of the world instead of challenge it. But if the differences are so stark that they cannot be integrated with our previous self, they fail in influencing, challenging, or expanding us. The goal is to have as much diversity as possible in a way which can be connected with, and integrated with others in a given community.

This becomes the basis for the critique of both the local option and forced singular positions, in that one allows for differences to develop in a manner which does not affect or expand the other while the second option seeks to squash differences all together.

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[i] Henry Nelson Wieman, Religious Inquiry, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968), 23.

[ii] Henry Nelson Wieman, Now We Must Choose, (New York: Macmillan Press, 1941), 63.

[iii] Henry Nelson Wieman, The Source of Human Good, (Carbondale, IL: SIU Press, 1946), 24.

[iv] Henry Nelson Wieman, The Source of Human Good, op. cit. 27.

[v] Henry Nelson Wieman, Religious Inquiry, op. cit. 17.

[vi] Henry Nelson Wieman, Now We Must Choose, op. cit. 40.

[vii] Henry Nelson Wieman, Religious Inquiry, op. cit. 22.

[viii] Henry Nelson Wieman, The Source of Human Good, 58.

[ix] Henry Nelson Wieman, Religious Inquiry, 15.

[x] Henry Nelson Wieman, Now We Must Choose, 38.

[xi] Henry Nelson Wieman, Religious Inquiry, 15.

[xii] Henry Nelson Wieman, Ibid, 15.

[xiii] Henry Nelson Wieman, Ibid, 15.

[xiv] Henry Nelson Wieman, Intellectual Foundations of Faith, (NY: Philosophic Library, 1961), 7.