Monday, February 21, 2011

Following your breath

We have all been told - and told others - to take a deep breath as a way of collecting our thoughts or changing our states. Taking a deep breath is as appropriate in the quiet of private reflection as it is before a performance. It's interesting language: take a breath. We don't take it from anyone else: breathing adds as much to the air as it takes.

What if you changed your language. Instead of taking a breath, what if you followed it. Your attention would have to make choices. Would you imagine your breath as starting at your mouth and moving down (as it does) or would it seem to start at the bottom and move up (as all your muscles shift to accommodate the depth of your breath)?

It's harder than it sounds, this business of following breath and deciding what comes first: the air or the intention? Either way, following your breath will lead you to the space in between breaths, the space where there is nothing to follow. In that moment that hangs between one breath and the next, you can live an eternity. You can probably think of one of those moments when time was suspended between two breaths now.

This is the space of utter stillness when, with no pattern to place between you and the world, you must just wait and be. In this waiting, you hope the next breath will begin and when it does, you might feel just a little relieved, a little energized by the thought that you have made it to another breath and all the new possibilities that ride its wave, in and out, up and down.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Back to first principles

Let's go back to first principles.

Let's begin with what came into your mind when you saw this phrase. It's one of those deceptively simple phrases: none of the words are unfamiliar, but the meaning of the whole is curiously hard to express.

The meaning of the words would be one example of first principles: any attempt to understand communication through language finally runs back into the correspondence between words and what they mean. It is a first principle of language that to understand an expression you need to understand the words used in that expression.

The way we define a problem becomes the problem. That's also a first principle. If the problem is a battle, we fight to win. If the problem is a sale, we persuade until we get the cheque. If the problem is to understand, we seek more information.

In NLP, we say that all problems are choice points and there is only one way to handle a choice point: step outside it, find new resources, then integrate the resources into the choice point.

The first principles in NLP are unequivocal: you don't solve problems from the inside: you shift choice points by stepping outside them and moving back into them with new resources. Always. This is why NLP is both curiously pleasant and strongly effective: you are never caught with your guard down. You are always either disassociated or resourceful.

It's a slippery habit to form. It's easier to add information or backbone than it is to step aside, pull your shoulders back, take a deep breath and think of a time when life was good and so were you.

But first principles are foundational and inescapable. We ignore them at our peril (and the peril of those we are trying to help).

So. Step outside the problem. Keep your chin up and your throat relaxed and full. Breathe deeply. And become aware of that resource just outside the frame that is going to be the difference that makes the difference.