USA Trip May-June 2016

My USA trip was a real zinger.

Coming on the beginnings of a new relationship with a generous, caring, successful, playful and creative woman, conferences, courses, projects, visiting with my son, and chilling out, was interspersed with lengthy viber or skype conversations that were flirty, jokey, intellectual, dissonant, honest, vulnerable, happy, and teary.

The Landmark Global Transformation conference, my entry event in San Fransisco, rode on the theme of ‘Wonder’. One of my all time favourite topics, wonder would anchor the whole trip and come back, specifically, again during the Alba Emot Course in Asheville, North Carolina, a couple of weeks later.

Although Global Transformations took the ‘Wonder’ theme, it was a wondering about leadership that took my ear. Gladly, presenters I had met a couple of year ago, facilitated a couple of beautiful engaging structural movement communication work. I attended those sessions for my work in dance and it gave me another access to my hearing on leadership. Initially that hearing on leadership was all about what I need to be a leader of my rEvolve project. As my trip comes to a conclusion, that has transformed into rEvolve being the possibility of a leadership training program, ‘Moving into Leadership’.

The idea of moving into leadership is a more clear consolidation of the work I am doing around sustainability and climate change, men’s culture, and dance, into an integrated work, a leadership training program.

From San Fransisco, I flew over to Denver, Colorado, for a few days, to catch up with my friends in Art as Action. Staying at an Air BNB nearby, I was able to ride a hire bike into the city, and even on the light rail to Jefferson County where I could ride to hiking paths. As with my previous experience in that part, life at one mile high can make the legs ache in bike riding unusually earlier than at my home altitude in Australia of half a mile. I learnt how to use Lyft.

It seemed that each time the past two years I’ve seen my friends in Art as Action they have been grieving over the loss of a loved one. Last year the grandfather of the director had passed away. This year one of their music/dance colleagues and his partner were killed in a car accident. I want to make some bigger sense of this coincidence. It only mattered that I could be some community of listening around the grief. Sarah Leversee welcomed me into her Reconnect Class based on Dance for PD and it was wonderful to see the liveliness of that ‘older’ dance class.

It was a special treat to spend a few hours over lunch with Wayne Gilbert, performance poet, retired literature teacher, and recent (having Parkinson’s Disease) dance performer with Art as Action. Wayne is a volunteer poetry teacher to the State prison to the north of Denver. His experience of the attraction of poetry to some hard men, has been profound. At one of his earliest classes, having delivered a poem on Parkinson’s Disease, he was astounded that a hand immediately shot up. The owner said, “Yeh, I get that poem. It’s like how I feel about being in this prison.” I find myself amazed by the nature of the human being around their limiting circumstances, their authentic relationship with those limitations, the access they find to some expansion of those circumstances and they contributions they choose to make, nonetheless. There is some inspiration there, for all of us, and I store that idea away for a way to provide access to that inspiration for everyone.

It was great to spend a week chillin’ at my son’s place in Riverside, California. We had a number of social outings together including a Baha’i meeting. We played an hour of table tennis every night. I got a little heat stroke doing a hike in the desert hills at the back of his place, and the effects of that took quite a few days to remedy, reminding me, among other things, that I’m not as young as I used to be. It was lovely to spend a sedate four hours with my son in the UCR library while he played with an assignment for his masters degree in social work. Sometimes I think I should be in conversation with my son, seeing that we can’t see each other much across the seas, but I profess one of my greatest joys is just to be in proximity.

The next phase of my travel was to spend a few days with Sue Blythe on the Sustainable Farm, Hampton, Gainesville, Florida, around her Future Flash Climate Change Project. Sue’s work has expanded to engage commitments from some fabulous environmental players in Florida, including the manager of the ‘Sustainable Floridians’ volunteer training program out of Florida University, Lanny the Earthman, Actor Jan Booher, and Dave Room San Fransisco based creator of Pacha’s Pyjamas. As I write this I’ve just finished a Skype conversation with Dave Room, opening the way for his work to find expression for children environmental education in Australia.

From Gainesvile to Asheville to the Alba Emot course with Laura Bond. What a fantastic 9 days, learning and training in primary emotional expression, Feldenkrais movement, and exploring related experiments in life story, text, voice and dance with an extraordinary teaching team. So much to bring back to my dance and theatre work but also into the possibility of leadership training.

And so, this week another chill out and exercise at my son’s place in California. It’s a hot summer week in the desert, 113 F early in the week. Time to meditate, play with movement training (God I need it), and have dozens of small conversations with him around his life. He became an American citizen while I’ve been here. Looks like another feather in his global citizen’s cap.

Two nights ago I woke in sadness. My time here is slipping away. Today, I’m prepared for a great weekend with my son, at the beach, in LA. It is time to go home.

What is the Ego?

This question recently came my way, with the questioner admitting that although they thought they knew, on thinking about it, they finally felt they had no idea.

So here is my attempt to shed some light. Sorry if it just looks like I’ve thrown mud all over it.

There are two levels we can define a human behaviour: functional (the what) and physiological (the why). Ego is a term for a functional level. Specifically the ego is the habitual emotional and behavioural response to any event.

As to the why. We can consider that our fundamental psychology is based on the evolutionary development of the brain in 3 phases: reptilian, mammalian, and human. The first two phases provide us with survival, namely killing and eating and avoiding being killed and eaten. Being good at this leads to access to procreation and propagation. Mutations which give an edge on this in any context (environment) create new species. Eventually we mutated a very large brain, a wonderfully agile opposable thumb, and a voice box, that together could really deliver hundreds of adaptive strategies to make sure we were very, very good at killing, eating and avoiding being killed. In exploring these possibilities, we mimicked the noises of the environment and, while that enabled us to become very fabulous team hunters and attractors of prey, we went beyond that to create speech and language.

Language has not only giving us an extraordinary ability to communicate with each other, it gave us the ability to talk to ourselves, to think. However, consider that our emotional birthright is to filter everything by its threat (could kill me) or reward (could be food), and provide rapid response. This is ego, and it is so rapidly responsive that every experience creates an emotional state that selects our response before we are consciously aware. ThisĀ  emotional response and action is reinforced from the earliest stages of life. As language develops in the child, it fundamentally co-exists with those emotional messages as a vehicle to kill (dominate) and avoid being killed (avoid domination). It’s responsiveness is reinforced either way by the experiences of the growing child.

The preponderance of our experiences and responses are through language with other humans. Our ‘human’ brain has become so extraordinary in its ability, through reiterative process, to have moved from simple mimicry to metaphor to the abstract though, that our rational consciousness seems to ‘float’ above, quite detached from, our physical nature. This is far from the reality. Our rational consciousness, playing catch up with our automatic response via the emotional-action system, usually just rationalises what we have done. However, if we become mindful of that initial emotional response, as we look at it which is happening through language, we will ‘hear’ ourselves translate that emotion into a ‘voice’. The little voice will be in one form or another be saying, “Let’s get out of here” or “I’m gonna kick your …” Of course it has been harping for so long while we build our rational faculties that it has become quite sophisticated itself. This older, subtler, ‘little’ voice has made choices for us from an early age, and from those choices we have created our identities.

Meanwhile, depending on the access, the human brain is exploring more abstract concepts. The abstract concepts such as mathematics and morals, are supported by the development of increasingly sophisticated language. So the little voice applies itself to the building of identity by using the individual best possibilities of the human brain to dominate others and avoid being dominated. In this manner, the ‘little’ voice can even mimic behaviour that looks like a ‘higher’ abstract concepts. In this way, it offers aggression as righteousness, hides rage in depression, and proffers withdrawal as humility.

Yet the big voice of the human brain has a trump card. It can look at itself and it can find and look at the little voice. But this is no easy task. As the little voice camouflages itself in so many ways, the human perception often slides off it. So responsive is our ego to any semblance of threat, it will equally respond to our more rational voice as an external threat, if that rational voice creates concepts of denial or suppression. Rather the way to quietening the ‘little’ voice is to accept it and look at it clearly. By avoiding denial of the ‘little’ voice, we talk with it out in the open, without it escaping into sophisticated mimicry. Then a simple acknowledgement, perhaps an enquiry about the ‘truth’ behind the emotional interpretation. Then a consideration about alternative possibilities to look at the event, which can induce alternate ways of feeling, and thus alternate responses. Here, higher order thought co-exists with lower order responses in a more reliable state for the development of higher order thought and behaviour. From this perspective we can see that, releasing the higher order thought through language from the little voice of ego has been a critical aspect of all spiritual teachings over time.