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"Genius and the Generative Self"

Interview with Steve Gilligan PhD.

Why not check out our seminar on the same topic: Genius and the Generative Self?

Steve Gilligan PhD and Robert Dilts were originally undergraduates together, and were both in on the beginning of NLP with Bandler and Grinder. Robert has gone on to develop his vision of NLP, working all over the world in therapeutic, educational and business contexts. Steve apprenticed with Milton Erickson and developed his own "Self-Relations" approach in psychotherapy. Now these two pioneers of personal development are bringing together their expertise, exploring exciting areas of overlap.

Sian Pope interviewed Gilligan on behalf of PPDPD. Sian is a personal development coach using NLP, business processes and a spiritual approach. She can be contacted on 0127 585 6537.

Q: - You have worked before with Robert Dilts. What's special for you about training with him in this seminar "Genius and the Generative Self"? .

SG: - Robert and I go back a long way. We were students at UC Santa Cruz together, and both students of Bandler and Grinder. I left Santa Cruz in 1977, and didn't really connect with Robert again for almost 20 years. We bumped into each other at a Congress in Orlando, Florida, and caught up on what each other was doing. Mutual students of ours had told each of us over the years that our work was really complementary, and we discovered to our delight that this was so. So we decided to do some teaching together, which we have doing periodically since then.

One key intersection point is this idea of "genius" and "generativity." Robert has done really remarkable studies of great geniuses, and I have been working on this idea of a Generative Self for a long time. So it's a topic that really excites both of us.

Q: - What would be a special emergent property arising out of this particular combination?

S.G. - A more multilevel understanding of what it means to be a genius in whatever areas are most important to you-- work, relationships, family, marriage, art, health, political change, etc. Each of these areas is filled with extraordinary challenges and problems. The whole notion of generativity or genius is how you establish some deeply creative context, as well as a body of skills, to deal with problems and opportunities without being locked into them. Then, we say, the problem becomes the solution; that is, whatever is presented is an opportunity to create, grow, and change. In the Self Relations work I developed, we say that however big the problem appears, the Self is always bigger - the field of the Self has both more breadth and more depth than the problem. When you can center and expand yourself into the Generative field, you find a new capacity to think, feel, and respond. This is part of what we call "genius."

Q: - It could be said that your deep trance approach and Robert's very strong and detailed cognitive approaches are almost polarities - how do you see that?

S.G. - Well, I wouldn't quite say that. While on the surface it may look like Robert is more detail oriented and I am perhaps more process oriented, I don't find that to actually be the case. In fact, I think one of Robert and Judith DeLozier's major contributions to NLP is systemic NLP and a field-based understanding. This is deeply implicit in everything Robert does, and all his descriptions of technical skills are grounded in that contextual understanding. While I may seem to emphasize more on the field and "listening to the unconscious," all this rest on multiple levels of subtle skills for organizing and guiding attention. Staying present under adversarial conditions in a creative way requires both a wide lens and an attention to micro-detail. While we may have complementary ways of saying this, I think both Robert and I deeply emphasize both at the same time

Q: - In what ways are you looking forward to teaching with him?

S.G. - Robert so deeply understands what I'm up to - it's a joy to experience that. I am impressed at how closely he listens to what I am saying; and then, the next time we teach together, I am even more astonished that he has understood and integrated everything than was said. In the same way, I am always amazed at the place Robert speaks from. I don't know if it's the Irish influence, but I think he could talk forever in a creative way. He seems to tap into an eternal wellspring of life-affirming ideas, and he is so happy and committed to sharing those ideas with others. Maybe another way of saying this is that Robert has remarkably little ego coupled with immense intelligence. It's a pleasure to share a conversation with a person like that.

In terms of our teaching style, we complement each other. He takes the lead for a while and I play the rhythm guitar, then I am the lead singer, then sometimes we sing harmonies together. That's a metaphor, by the way (laughter); we don't actually sing together. But in any case, the whole is clearly greater than the sum of the parts.

Q: Do you have a set idea of where you're going with the seminar?

S.G. - I always have a plan and never quite arrive in the place I thought - it's part of the creative process, I think. One must be thoroughly prepared and focused, with clear ideas of where things should head. But you are never the only position in the field, so you must equally allow the other influences to contribute to the process, thereby upsetting your plans in the process. When Errol Flynn, the great swashbuckler of the silver screen, was asked how he held a sword, he replied that he always imagined he was holding a bird. If he held too tight, no more bird; if he held too loose, no more bird. I try to practice this "not too tight, not too loose" principle in any creative activity, including teaching a seminar. Too tight and following a plan rigidly, there's no creativity; too loose, there's no rigor or coherence.

Q: Could you say more about this Self-Relations idea of a Sponsor making a solemn vow to be present and unwavering? It's very intense, a big undertaking.

S.G. - One's life is a big undertaking, but what else are you doing? The important thing is to recognize that the clock is running, it's only a matter of moments before your life is over. So the question, when I am working with someone, is, "What's your point? What is your life about?" If you don't make it a primary question, you're liable to just space out in a low-grade trance and be very unhappy and unproductive. And then you die, and you gravestone reads, "He ate a lot of potato chips, and then he died." Or, "He complained a lot, and then died." Or, "She watched a lot of television, and then she died." Life is full of such people. We are really inviting people to pay attention with fierceness, tenderness, and mischievousness to the deeper patterns of your life.

Listen to what parents say to young children-pay attention, pay attention, pay attention!! We're asking people to do this in a high quality, passionate, creative way. We're asking people to notice the incredibly different ways they can organize and use their cognitive selves. Most of us have been taught to think of the cognitive self primarily in terms of it's being critical, judgmental, aloof, non-engaging with the world - whether through consumerism (where we sit back and get lazy), fundamentalism (we attack what's different) or intellectualism (we become cold and withdrawing).

If you look at geniuses or generative people, they tend to organize their cognitive selves to be fully embodied, passionate, clear, sober, and committed to bring more life-affirming experiences into the world. The stakes are enormously high. When we lose track of these "genius" traditions, the negative life-dishonouring traditions prevail. Look around at the world - passionate caring is ebbing.

It brings to mind W.B. Yeat's "The second coming"

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
The blood dimmed tide of innocence is loosed , and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The best among us lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of a passionate intensity."

In the seminar we really look at the cognitive self's capacity to "sponsor" and to bless and transform everything it encounters. To do this, we emphasize that one of the major properties of the cognitive self is touching. That may sound strange, but think of how you orient to your pet when you come from work, or how you approach a 2 year old. We intuitively realize that our mind must extend and "touch" the pet or young child in order to establish rapport and communication While we allow that with pets and infants, somehow we have a rule that's its not polite to do that with grown-ups or with a creative project. We have to break that useless rule so we can bring our life's energy into connection with all that we do, so that we can make a creative difference

Q: You are a committed practitioner of the Japanese martial art of aikido. Is that about embracing your opponent?

S.G. - Well, not quite. Like any creative principle, it's about finding a center point that allows a balanced use of complementary principles. Aikido is a great metaphor for examining how you can respond to intense attacks in a creative way. We start with the principle, "drop into center, extend into field." That means that you don't lock onto the attack, but drop into yourself and then into the space that holds both you and your attacker. You then apply principles such as "proper distance," which means not too close and not too distant; "relaxed extension", which means being totally focused but not muscularly locked or rigid, "blending," which means joining the pattern of the attack to be able to redirect it; and "staying connected," which means sensing the meeting point of connection between you and your partner-e.g., where he's grabbing you-as the shared center that allows "giving and receiving" of information at a deep level. The whole idea is that you are welcoming the attacking energy as an opportunity to enjoy a relationship and get to some interesting place. This is a basic belief of the generative self, I think. There's a lot of training to be able to do that with difficult, disturbing energies. It involves an immense skill bas, not just a general philosophy. That's why we train. And that's why we do these workshops.

Q: Are these then the basic skills of the Generative Self?

S.G. - Yes, basically. Actually, I group the skills of the Generative Self into three main principles. The first is "centering" into the somatic self. This involves a deep connection and communication with your body. Knowing how to calm yourself, how to stay relaxed under stress, how to hook up with another somatic being letting experiences flow through your body, so that archetypal patterns of knowing and responding are activated. So you can think more clearly, less anxiously, less negatively. We say that when you are centered, good things tend to happen; and when you are not centered, bad things tend to happen.

The second class of techniques has to do with "field connection." This principle is about always opening up to something bigger than the problem. Whatever the mind focuses on-a person, a memory, a thought, an image, a pain-you can train yourself to always expand your focus a little bit beyond that attention. That way, you can deal with something without being trapped by it. For example, if someone is criticizing you, the mind tends to lock on to that person. It then thinks in terms of either "fight" (attacking the person back) or "flight" (withdrawing from the conversation). When you train yourself to extend into the field, e.g., by gently focusing beyond or behind the person while centering, you can sense the attacker without being locked into his "negative induction." You can be with a problem without becoming the problem. The field is another way of talking about the "creative unconscious." It may be similar to what NLP'ers call 3rd and 4th position. Some people experience the field when in nature, or in prayer, or playing music, or during sex, or being with a friend. We emphasize how you can learn to access that creative field not only under positive circumstances, but also under negative circumstances. We say that when you stay connected with the field, good things tend to happen; when you contract from the field, bad things tend to happen. With clients, any stuckness can be seen as them having lost their connection to the creative field and to their centre.

The third set of practices has to do with "cognitive sponsorship." We think of the cognitive self as the bridge between the center and the field. Its chief responsibility is to bring the gifts and goodness of the self into the world, while bringing the goodness and gifts of the world to the self. It's like a midwife. This is the basis for creativity. We talked earlier about how the cognitive self could be constructed and used in so many ways. We emphasize its creative use as a sponsor of life. We cover many techniques for sponsoring life. In the workshop we will be asking people to identify areas where they want to sense their own capacity for genius - look at how to incorporate these principles of centering, field connection and cognitive sponsorship.

Q: At your seminar there will be many coaches as well as therapists - how do you see that?

S.G. - Well, my trainings are open to both, so I look forward to it. I see more similarities than differences. This work is not remedial or diagnostic-it's not about intellectually telling people what's wrong with them. Nor is about merely suggesting behaviour or cognitive changes. It's about going deeply to the core of one's creative center, to a place beyond problems or other cognitive frames, so you can learn how to harness the wild horses of deep creativity in a "horse whisperer" sort of way. It really focuses on performance issues, that is, how and where do you want to be different in the world? and then invites you to take the genius route to get there.

Q; How do you feel about NLP these days?

S.G. - Well, I don't think you can talk about NLP in the singular. There are many different descriptions of NLP, it seems to me. That seems healthy and inevitable. One of ways that I think some NLP went wrong was to primarily emphasize a reductionistic, structural approach-the brain is organized like this, and this behavior means that, and that one means that, and so forth. I know that two of NLP's "godfathers", Bateson and Erickson, would cringe at such an approach. It also seems so opposite to the original energy of Bandler and Grinder. I mean, those guys were barnburners, really burning through any description to get to a deeper connection where you could create and really play. It's an awareness that every theory is at best a poem, not a literal description.

People like Robert, Judy, and Julian Russell embody, to me, the most helpful understandings of NLP. As a vehicle, a poem for creative expression. Something always in flux, in change, not set in stone. Those approaches, I really like and appreciate.

Q: Have you heard of the work of Arnie Mindell? He also talks much about "the field" and draws a lot on Shamanism, Zen Buddhism, the Tao and Jung? He also talks a lot about social activism.

S.G. - I think Milton Erickson, who I consider my main teacher, was basically a shaman. He went into very deep trances, deeply into other worlds as well as deeply into the patient's world, and used the unconscious for creative healing. I started out in Milton's tradition, but it's been a long road for me. I'm not sure how emotionally healthy it was for him to do that so deeply. I know it wasn't good for me as a lifestyle to live so deeply into trance. You know, I think a lot of people have access to those states because of deep woundedness-there was a deep opening into the unconscious from an intense wound-and they become incredible healers for others. But in my case, and maybe for Milton, I don't know, it kept me away from healing myself. The Self-Relations work I developed out of my work in Ericksonian hypnotherapy was an attempt to bring a bit more balance into the process. Walking and working in both worlds-the underworld and the outerworld-at the same time. Finding the balance point between the worlds, and having skills that allow a creative interchange across the thresholds. That's what I think is truly a creative process.

I think everyone should carefully think this through. Aikido for me has been a very different sort of education than with Erickson. Staying in one field in sensual connection with movement and pulse, while continuing to receive and connect with the otherworld. . It is bringing me to a somewhat different place. How do you situate the Self so that you can really fee this intersection between both worlds and walk in both? - there is no single way to do that.

The seminar "Genius and the Generative Self " will be hosted in London by PPD.
Dates: 31st January - 2nd February 2003 Venue: Central London