Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year from NLPCT!

We write this on the final day of 2005. Nothing actually begins on New
Year's Day except the calendar. No seeds are sown; no harvest arrives.
The days begin lengthening before January 1st. And yet, it is a day to
celebrate beginnings, a day that marks our understanding that even
birth begins before we see its signs.

Whether or not you write resolutions on this day, you have been
continuously planting seeds in preparation for the beginnings that will
happen in your life in 2006. As you look toward the coming months, you
have a choice: you can watch to see what happens to survive and thrive
or you can nurture a garden of chosen plants, enjoying the anticipation
of what will come almost as much as the actual blossoms. Like any
gardener, you will find that very little is entirely within your
control and that even less is entirely beyond your influence.

Whatever your gardening choices, we wish you a year of peace,
prosperity and pleasant surprises,

Linda & Chris

Friday, December 30, 2005

A sense of time and a sense of direction

We are used to having five senses and sometimes to allow for the possibility of a sixth sense. The founders of neuro-linguistic programming were pragmatists: they grouped the sensory predicates we most commonly used and discovered three categories would be sufficient: visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic (which included smell, touch, taste and any other sense of living in and through a body). In essence, they took the limitations of language and used those limitations to further limit - or filter -what people would notice.

The logic has been questioned, and studies trying to prove the efficacy of noticing and responding to preferred sensory systems have generally been inconclusive. This does not mean that there is no point in becoming more aware of our senses and the impact they have on the way we understand and communicate. It does mean that there is room for further exploration.

If we assume that anything that is habitually put into language will either reflect something of which we are capable or become something of which we are capable, then it is worth noticing that our sense of time is expressed as frequently as our sense of sight or hearing. While it is not certain that we have sensory organs that govern how quickly or slowly time passes for us, it is clear that different centres in the brain cooperate to change the way we sense time and that we live in temporal information in the same way that we live in auditory, visual or kinaesthetic information.

Understanding how we are located in space is analogous to being able to locate ourselves in time. Our "sense" of direction is possibly a compilation of information from other sensory systems. If so, it is more than the sum of its parts: it contains some element of not only noticing what is external but relating it to inner landmarks that let us know not only where we are, but how our position relates to where we will be next. Direction implies both that there are some absolutes by which to navigate and that we are in constant motion.

How do you know which way you are going and how quickly you are moving?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Thinking Ahead

There is a saying that may have come from ancient Greece: "A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they will never sit." I first remember reading it somewhere in the works of the poet W.B. Yeats although I have never been able to locate it there again. The saying lingers nonetheless, a reminder of a different way of thinking about the world.

The story is echoed in a story told about Oxford College. I encountered it first in a book called "After the Ecstasy the Laundry," and again while reading Gregory Bateson. The link below is another version. The essence of the story is that the foresters at New College, Oxford, planted oak trees so that hundreds of years in the future, someone would be able to replace the oak beams in the Great Hall.

We all solve problems when solving them means that we make our lives easier or accomplish something we could not otherwise accomplish. Planting trees does not solve problems: it avoids them by ensuring that the shade, and the replacement beams, are available when they are needed. Hundreds of years into the future.

We all have goals and plans for ourselves and our families. As you consider the coming year, set another level of goal as well. Plan to plant trees so that people you will never meet will have what they need hundreds of years from now. In a society where five years is considered long-term, and 50 years an incredible commitment, think hundreds of years into the future and act now to change what has not happened, what will never happen because of your action.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas

It's true that the gleeful, crazed mother in me is chanting "It's almost Christmas" with the same fervour I used when I was six years old. Now, it means: "it's almost finished! Soon I will not have to prepare for Christmas! Hurray!"

When the tree falls down on Boxing Day, it will be a signal to take it down, not to spend hours engineering a way to keep it standing until Christmas (it's fallen twice. so far). When I run out of cookies next week, I will tell the teens to make some. Or buy Oreos. I will make no lists between Christmas and New Year's.

And still, it is almost Christmas. Sometime in the next three days, I will watch my boys, now grown up and tall, and see them glowing like the lights on the tree. I will listen to a wave of talk and laughter and know that my family is safely gathered. I will remember, through the confusion and bustle and chores that I am unreasonably lucky. That I am blessed.

What is born on Christmas Eve after all the struggles, the birth-pains of preparation, the frustration, the irritation? Let something be born on Christmas Eve. Something worth wondering at and protecting, something sublime and terrible and awe-inspiring. Something that binds you to the world you are in so tightly that it hurts a little. Something you will be thankful to remember - because you are glad you have had it in your life and because you are glad it does not happen every day.

And if you have not flooded the laundry room at the same time your slightly crooked Christmas tree is crashing to the ground, think of me. And laugh.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Christmas presents & present

Quick. Think about last year and tell me what you gave to other people and what you received from them. I bet it takes you a moment and most of what was given and received has been so deeply stored that you are unlikely to retrieve it. I also bet that if we could verify it externally, much of what you tell me would have been moved from some other Christmas or event.

We assume in the week before Christmas that presents matter: that we need to find the right gift for the right person (at, we hope, the right price). Yet when we look back at Christmas (instead of forward), what do we remember that is important to us? Are there a handful of gifts from different years and different people that come to mind?

I remember. . . the year I desperately wanted a clock radio. I cannot imagine why but I really, really wanted a clock radio. We were allowed to open one present each on Christmas Eve. I opened something and then my brothers opened a clock radio! I knew with part of my mind that my parents had probably also hidden a clock radio for me under the tree somewhere. I think my mom even offered to let me open a second present right then and there. But I stuck to the rules and waited through the longest night (forget the Solstice: Christmas Eve is the longest night for kids), thoroughly ashamed of myself for being so ferociously jealous and yet consumed by longing. For a clock radio. (Which was waiting under the tree, of course.)

As my mind meanders through more recent Christmases, I remember a few of the gifts I gave, fewer of the gifts I received. It seems to me that the pile of presents wrapped under the tree is more significant than what the boxes actually contain. The pile gives Christmas the right look - the look that corresponds to my memories. The gifts themselves are only the stuff that comes and goes. Although there are a few that catch my attention, there are very few for the number of Christmases I have lived.

Which brings us from Christmas presents to Christmas present. I have trouble recalling Christmas presents, and yet I can summon a rich and wonderful sense of Christmas presence. There are smells and sights and sounds and tastes that tell me: this is Christmas. I am lucky. I am blessed.

How do you know when Christmas is present? What part will you play in Christmas presence for the people you love?

Monday, December 19, 2005

How do you love them?

I am celebrating Christmas this month, and this blog is about Christmas. If you do not celebrate Christmas, you can skip this blog, or you can read it with the same kind of interest you read about interesting meals from new places.

Christmas makes me think. Mostly, in truth, it makes me think in long lists of things to do and to make and to buy. Sometimes, it also makes me think about the nature of my relationships, and the way boundaries wrap around those relationships to define them and keep them safe. Specifically, I think a lot about who I am in relation to the children I love.

I loved each of my sons before he was born, before I knew how he looked, before he had done anything at all. I loved each of them even more once I got to hold him. Each was inexpressibly precious to me by virtue of being - not even by virtue of being himself (since neither he nor I knew what that meant at first) - just because he was. This is why Jesus arrives as a baby:babies remind us that having been born makes us worth celebrating long before we do or say anything.

As we grew together, I learned that my sons need me to be me, just as I needed them to be themselves. They needed my understanding, but more than this, they needed to understand. They needed me to somehow radiate presence, and in the centred, radiant self they required, I found I could be a deeper self than the tired lady changing diapers and doing endless laundry. For my kids, I could be - just be.

We continued to grow together, and I learned more than I had dreamed or imagined or understood about being myself and being something entirely more - being complete and being completely integrated into this new team that stood together and moved together. My boys and I - and my husband, too - were something together - something more sinewy, more actively united, more vision-led than the word 'family' generally conveys. I was myself and not myself -and so were they.

Christmas makes me think.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

What if we forgot the word "problem"?

I have been reading about the brain and language. Babies are born with the ability to distinguish all the phonemes used in human languages. The synapses that correspond to the language they hear in their first six months or so become stronger, and those that correspond to other languages can disappear all together.

What would happen if we all suddenly lost the ability to see or hear the word "problem?" We would not cease to encounter difficulty, but we would have to find another way to express it. The only solutions we would have would be the ones where one substance is dissolved in another.

Think about a particular problem. Now describe it to yourself without using the word "problem" in any of its forms. What difference do you notice when you have to choose different words to characterize the situation. What difference will that difference make as you take action in that situation?

Now switch your perspective. Think about what motivates people to make changes. If you start to say they want to solve problems, reword your thought. Do you know someone who likes to problem-solve? What would that person do if the word problem vanished from the language?

For many of us who celebrate Christmas, preparation is a series of problems to be solved: who will we visit or invite? What will we buy or cook or decorate? How much can we get done in one week? Is it really the desire to solve problems that movitates these activities or is something else at work? Without the word "problem" to provide an easy characterization, how would we describe the multiple, multi-layered activity that moves us through a celebration of Christmas?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Holiday outcomes

I wonder how much of our holiday discontent results from having too little idea about what we want at this time of year. Our inner seven year olds still want the perfect gift from Santa; our practical adult selves say that "Christmas is for the kids" or that "we don't really need anything." Since the two can't get along in one mind (and one body!), it is hardly surprising that we often find it hard to get along with others.

At the same time, we all have some perfect holiday memories. . . memories that tell us what we really want at Christmas, how we really want to welcome the New Year. As you allow those memories to enter into your awareness now, you can notice what catches your attention. . . notice whether you are indoors or outdoors. . . the lights and the colours. . . the smells. . . the sounds. . . notice who is with you and what you are doing. . . then allow yourself to notice the particular set of physical sensations that represent this in your body memory. . . notice that you would recognize this set of sensations when they occurred in a new context.

With all this information, now make a choice about what you can replicate this year. If your most special holiday was spent on the beach and you can't afford a holiday this season, what can you do here to create that same pattern of sensations? Is what you want most the sensation of a wonderful holiday moment or the trimmings: the foods you would not eat at any other time that nonetheless mean "holiday" to you, the lights on the houses or the tree or candle light or fire light, the sound of a busy mall or jazz played softly or dance music at a party. . .

If you have been blessed, you will remember a particular quality of connection with another person or a group of people. . . connections are never entirely within our control and yet surprising things happen when we unite our conscious and unconscious resources to form a particular quality of connection. Surprise yourself this year.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

What do teachers do?

Teaching places a spotlight on the role that other people inevitably play in our success. No matter how brilliant the teacher, his or her success depends on students who learn. If there is no learning, there has been no teaching.

Tonight I watched my son perform in his high school's production of Oklahoma. The production relies on the work of amazing teachers; it would not be possible without their talent and their hours. Yet what is being taught is rarely the same as what is being instructed. While it is true that the kids all learn something of the techniques and technicalities of performance, they learn so much more.

So what were the teachers doing that was separate from the instructions they gave and provided for such leaps in understanding and such dramatic (pun intended!) new behaviours? Clearly, they made it possible for students to learn in rich and complex ways: to learn by observing the teachers as models, by following instructions, by experimenting with different skills and approaches, and by interacting with one another. Clearly, they are immensely successful teachers because their students have learned deeply and well.

Tomorrow, I will teach adults who teach adults that training is more than providing information and inspiration. I will give them an experience in which they become aware that their learning is inevitably self-directed and inevitably influenced by those around them, including teachers. As teachers, they will succeed when their students integrate not only the material they teach but the fact of their teaching into the way they think and behave outside the training room. They will be eager to learn this because it corresponds to their best experiences as learners. They will be terrified to learn this, because it suggests that their success cannot be entirely measured or predicted from the front of the training room.

Virtually all of us are in the same boat. While a few may run races where success is measured only in terms of one's own efforts, many more do our best work knowing that we can influence our own success but never control it. We know that someone else has to finish what we start, to complete our thoughts and our actions with their thoughts and their actions. We know that we can only really get better when these other people also get better. That is both scary and liberating.

That's what I saw on the faces of the music and drama teachers as they watched their students tonight. They were willing to look into the mouth of the lion and know everything that might go wrong. And then they were willing to celebrate the always sudden release into knowing that, once again, everyone learned more than they had been taught. Especially the teachers.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Cowboy boots

I was born in Alberta and tacky souvenir shops filled with cowboy-and-indian stuff take me back to being about six years old. I think that stuff is wonderful and then I wonder what I am thinking! Maybe some of that six year old longing and excitement is pulsing through my veins this week as my younger son prepares to go onstage as Curly in the musical Oklahoma! (the exclamation point is part of the title. Really.).

My parents were both raised in Alberta and cowboy outfits were part of our family history when I was little. When my oldest son was born, my brother returned from a job in Alberta with tiny, perfect cowboy boots for him. Now I have caught my first glimpses of my younger son wearing a cowboy hat and boots. He is very tall and slim and appropriately slouchy. He looks like a cowboy. He looks like my Dad.

Cowboy boots make subtle adjustments in the way one stands and moves. If physiology is the foundation of state, then cowboy boots make a range of states possible that would not be possible without them. And they make another range of states impossible. The same could be said of flip flops, of course. Yet there is something intriguing about the states created by cowboy boots. Something that is at once relaxed and ready, restrained and free. Something that implies those things that beautiful horses and wide open spaces have always represented.

Oh yes. And there's also something just plain fun about cowboy boots. Boys dance in them - not the way boy pop stars dance. Real boys full of boy energy and boy awkwardness. They dance in cowboy boots. Sometimes to music.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

connections in relationships

To notice connections is to see the wind: we see the things that are connected and assume that there must be a force that keeps them in relationship. We do not see that force; sometimes we see signs of its influence. We can choose to perceive relationship - to notice a family instead of individuals, or to cheer for a team regardless of who is making the plays. Yet we are sure only of the end points, the people who are connected and not the connection itself.

This is why we are so uncertain about our own relationships. We are not exclusively visual people, and yet we rely on what we see with our own eyes to tell us about what is true. And we cannot see ourselves with our own eyes - we can only imagine that we see ourselves or see ourselves in a reflection. Neither can we see ourselves in relationship: we can only see the person with whom we are connecting and try to guess at the relationship from what we see in that person, and from what that person reflects back to us of ourselves.

Maybe this is why we urge people to 'keep in touch' with us. In touch, the connection becomes real: a sensation is perceived simultaneously by both people in connection. Touch is not subject to the vagaries of shifting light and shadows. Particular kinds of touch are reserved for particular relationships. We know the connection by the quality of the handshake, the brush of the elbow, the lips against the cheek.

You can hear your own voice while someone else speaks, but can you hear yourself think? How does connection sound?