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.