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Everyone seems to be on a journey nowadays. Politicians, sportsmen, even TV talent show contestants, so Stephen Gilligan and Robert Dilts could be seen as tapping into a well-practiced metaphor except that " journey " here is being used in a more specialised sense as it refers to the journey undertaken by the ancient heroes of myth and legend, which Joseph Campbell has distilled into a mere eight steps.
And for Gilligan and Dilts the hero in question is not Hercules or Gilgamesh, it's you and me. And the pattern that Campbell has discerned is the pattern we all must follow if we wish to live fulfilled lives. It's our destiny as human beings; we are all called to be heroes.
But there is a slight awkwardness to this book since Gilligan and Dilts are not speaking directly to you, the reader, as this is a transcript of a four day conference they ran in Barcelona recently. Anyone who has attended a course in NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) will be familiar with the approach, namely that it is eclectic and relies heavily on the group experience. Rather than have a consistent theoretical underpinning, NLP relies on many sources for its techniques so long as they seem to work.
During the course of the four days the participants are introduced to a dizzying array of ideas and techniques, all with their roots in someone else's system of thought and practice. But there is a difference. There is an underlying structure here and there are some other important departures from NLP.
The stage directions are good with the actions of the two main facilitators clearly described and the response of the participants also tagged. But if you are not able to project yourself into this Spanish setting or are unfamiliar with NLP and the work of Milton Erickson, often cited here, I think you will find this book heavy going.
Spirit is their starting point, which, say the authors, is our deepest identity. Spirit is awakened into the world through our amazing nervous systems. It has a gift to give and a wound to heal. They say that the path of the hero's journey is a metaphor for this awakening of the spirit into the human world. We are something more than our thoughts; something more than what other people think about us. We're this amazing human presence who has come here to bring our gift into the world. Our task also , they affirm, is to heal the wounds of ourselves and the world.
The book basically consists of bringing together two frameworks. Joseph Campbell's eight --step procedure which ranges from hearing the call at the start of the journey to heroically returning home with the gift at its end -- alongside a framework which has been constructed by Stephen Gilligan over the years, which is used here to develop the tools and the consciousness necessary to make that journey.
This framework is called Generative Self and has five major premises. 1)Spirit is waking up 2) through a human nervous system 3) on a hero's journey , already alluded to, and steps 4 & 5, which are really at the core of the book. How do we become conscious of this spirit and accommodate it in the way we lead our lives?
We do this by 4) utilizing our three minds -- apparently the Generative Self has three minds that can be distinguished -- somatic, cognitive and field -- and 5) each of these minds can operate at three different levels of consciousness: primitive(or regressive i.e. no self awareness), basic or ego as separate, and generative -- a conscious differentiated wholeness, a balance of parts and whole.
Yes, it's complicated but the participants have four days to get their heads round it all through the well-tried routine of the Gilligan-Dilts double act which consists of the authors introducing the key ideas, a volunteer from the audience coming forward to experience the effectiveness of these ideas upon their inner self through some form of acting out and then for the group to do likewise in arranged pairs.
For example, one of the participants, Marcos, volunteers to come forward and reveal that his deepest calling is to relieve suffering. He is then asked to make this statement out loud before the group with varying degrees of conviction or in the authors' terms, feeling deeply connected to his center. The final effect is akin to someone coming forward at a revivalist meeting. After his final attempt, Stephen Gilligan exclaims," Wow...That's really amazing! Beautiful.(Audience still calling out support and giving applause.) That's what we're talking about! I really get that, Marcos...And as you can see ( makes gesture to audience), so does the field! Congratulations! (Steve and Marcos exchange hugs.) p57
In spite of using this well-practiced NLP technique, there does seem to be a running internal dialogue with NLP taking place in these sessions (and with both authors' own self-acknowledged Irish Catholic upbringing, which has influenced them more than they realize.)
The NLP approach is one of instant results bordering on the miraculous. Magic is word often employed in its key texts. Instead, these authors seem content to take a longer view. Take for instance Step 7 on Joseph Campbell's ladder -- The Transformation. According to Gilligan. "It could be 20 years of a marriage, a lifetime of work, or years of exploration and innovation. There will be many setbacks and failures: times when all seems lost and the future bleak." (p20)
Again Robert Dilts eschews the notion of techniques in favour of that of practices. "In the hero's journey we emphasize practices more than techniques. Practices are what allow you to have an ongoing transformation of identity. This is different from techniques. In emphasizing techniques, the focus is often more narrow. You focus on a single situation and think, "Gee, which technique will I use to fix this?" ...To hear your calling, to live that calling, to turn demons into guardians, you need practices -- repetitive activities you do over and over." (p224)
And again, in the context of using a method they call sponsorship as a way of transforming ourselves, which basically means owning up to all our feelings, not only the helpful but also the unhelpful ones and acknowledging them as our own as a prelude to changing them, Gilligan says, "For those with NLP training, when your clients encounter symptoms and difficult feelings you're taught to think, "Oh, this is a negative state! Here is a tool to fix it. Here's a tool to dissociate, to change it, to get rid of it." We're suggesting something radically different...we're suggesting, Here's a method for the soul to grow. For us to become more fully human." (p98)
If you are prepared to get to grips with the schema that the authors lay out here and their own specialized terminology, and to heroically battle with their transcribed text, I think you will find their take on other people's ideas, fascinating and rewarding. They are well-versed and humorous and their perspective is optimistic and expansive. And their mission is to encourage our self-belief
They take a phenomenological, experiential approach and although some of the language may seem at times a little esoteric there is nothing here that wouldn't chime in with the reader's own experience. Gilligan and Dilts display a supreme confidence and certitude that their approach works, even though some of the notions advanced are debatable, for instance, in any conflict there is always a resolution that suits both parties if only they would acknowledge each other's positive intentions. And although their methods, too, would certainly help access one's own inner resources, they are not an unfailing line to some higher intelligence, as they seem to suggest.
I'm sure that the participants will have come away with a transformed outlook about the direction of their lives. But as this takes place outside any real social or political context, you wonder how permanent their resolve will be. Deep down you can open up to any calling you like, but no matter how noble, it still has to be put into practice. You have to collaborate with like-minded people and to mobilize social and political forces to realize that inner drive. Step Number 9, the 'how' of one's calling, is never discussed.
But a major criticism would be this. Surely we don't need any psychic scaffolding to know that there is only one agenda right now -- saving the planet. Individually we may want to sort our spiritual lives but collectively we are ransacking the world beyond recovery. We don't need an eight step process. One step will suffice. As Mr Nike says: "Just do it!"
What does it profit a man if he gains his soul, yet destroys the whole world?
© 2010 Chris Vaughan
Chris Vaughan writes about himself: I live in Birmingham, England. I am now retired after a career in the pharma industry and am very much involved in community activities. I am a board member of the Birmingham Environmental Partnership and chair a local patient network. I have written a book on the British Health Service and I currently write for a health website. I am very interested in the mind-body