Reflections on September 11
Like many of you probably did, I had a difficult time sleeping following the horrific events of September 11. I saw the nightmarish images of the desrtruction in New York and Washington DC over and over during the day on television, and then again at night in my own minds eye. I received many wonderful, empathetic and supportive e-mails from concerned colleagues around the world. As one friend from the UK wrote: "I dont know what to say. It's a bad dream and I still hope I will wake up. So much beauty and so much ugliness in the same world. I hope that we in NLP can make some difference to what is unfolding."
My thoughts too have touched upon what these events mean with respect to NLP and the people who practice NLP. My conclusion is that it is a time of "awakening" for us.
The dictionary defines awakening as "rousing from sleep," "emerging from a state of indifference, lethargy or dormancy" or "becoming fully conscious, aware and appreciative." Times of growth and transformation in our lives are usually accompanied by such "awakenings." It is as if we were roused from a type of sleepcoming out of a self-imposed stuporor had been blind and suddenly regained sight. Our mental maps of who we are and what is possible in the world become broader, and we perceive old limitations in a completely new way. In these experiences, we succeed in breaking through our old mind set and "get outside of the box."
The results of awakening are frequently a renewed sense of purpose and meaning, expanded awareness, clear perception and emotional and physical revitalization.
Awakening is often associated with cognitive or mental expansion, but can also be related to our heart and emotions. Awakening frequently has to do with reconnecting with our motivations at the deepest level. While waking up is usually exhilarating, it is not always pleasant.
It seems to me that the events of September 11 were a type of unpleasant awakening.
In our seminar, Love in the Face of Violence, Stephen Gilligan and frequently quote the great Danish physicist Nils Bohr, who pointed out that there are two types of truth: superficial truth and deep truth. According to Bohr, "In a superficial truth, the opposite is false. In a deep truth, the opposite is also true." Beauty and ugliness are both deep truths. The fact that there is great beauty and hope in the world does not mean that it is not also ugly. And the fact that people are capable of acting so horribly, does not mean that they are not also capable of creating miracles.
Once somebody has been awakened to such a deeper truth, then he or she is able to truly choose. If they are both true, then where do I choose to put my life energy? Do I devote myself to the light or succumb to the darkness?
In fact, it is important to point out that sometimes "the brighter the light, the darker the shadows." When I have had even a minor spiritual awakening, I suddenly see shadows that I didnt see before because the light has gotten brighter.
When my daughter was born, for example, it was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I think it is transformational for a man to have a daughter. When Julia was born, parts of my heart opened that I didnt even know were there before. She was a really bright light, and I felt totally awake in her presence. But after spending more or less a whole summer with her, I had to travel again. I flew to Europe to do a seminar. It was the first time I was very far away from her. One morning I was in the bathroom at my hotel getting ready to go to the seminar. I had the television on, and I heard crying in the other room. For a moment, I thought it was my daughter crying in pain or fear. I hurried to the other room and found that the cry was coming from the television. They were showing reports of people in Somalia. On the screen was a baby girl in Somalia who was dying of starvation. Her cry sounded just like my daughters. I was so connected to my daughter, it was as if my heart was being broken by the image on television. Before Julia had been born, I would have just seen an anonymous image on television. Now the suffering of a child thousands of miles away was breaking my heart.
I realized in that moment that I had a choice: I could close down and say, "Oh this is something that is happening very far away from me. It is happening to somebody very different from me, that I dont even know or care about ." Or, I could keep my heart open and realize that the baby was no farther away then than my own daughter (both physically and emotionally). The specter of suffering and death became a very real Shadow. The fact that people were dying of starvation wasnt something I could just think of as a concept any longer. I was feeling it. And to choose to close my heart would have meant to somehow love my daughter less. I realized that to love my daughter meant that I had to allow my heart to be broken. It was as if someone that I loved was dying and I was helpless to do anything about it. That Shadow had been there all my life, but the darkness and reality of it had never before been so obvious.
This is an illustration of how, when the light gets brighter, the Shadow becomes more visible. In the presence of the light, we can no longer ignore pain, suffering and fear.
For me that was the decision that I made with respect to the starving baby and my daughter. I decided to love anyway, which meant loving the little girl who I saw dying on television, even if I was helpless, and could do nothing about it, and even if loving her led to greater pain in my life.
I felt this same pain many times over watching the images on the television yesterday.
It was also the same daughter I just talked about, now 10 years old, who kept asking me, "Why would somebody do such a thing daddy? Dont they know that they are hurting and scaring people?"
At first, I responded, "Yes, honey, they wanted to hurt and scare people."
"But," she persisted, "why? Why do they want to hurt and scare people. What is it doing for them?"
In her innocent, yet determined desire to understand and change things she was looking for the root cause, the deeper truth, the intention of the perpetrators. This search for a positive intention, especially since when it most difficult, seems to me to part of our task as a people. In Tools of the Spirit, Robert McDonald and I point out that this is the spiritual principle of NLP.
My daughters question continued to echo as I heard the haunting cheers of the children in the Palestinian refugee camp, "America is dead. God is free." What will it do for them if America is dead? What will do for them if God is free? These are some of the first questions we must ask if we are to find other choices and create a true and lasting solution.
A number of times yesterday I was reminded of the story when Albert Einstein was approached by a reporter during an interview and asked something to the effect of, "Dr. Einstein, you are recognized around the world as one of the most bone fide geniuses of our century, maybe of human history. Your scope of thinking has covered the workings of the universe from the tiny atom to the cosmos. You have seen your discoveries both evolve and enrich, and also mutilate and destroy the human life you so highly value. What, in your opinion is the most important question facing humanity today?"
Characteristically, Einstein stared off into space for a moment, and then looked down at the ground in front of him. Finally he looked back at the reporter and replied, "I think the most important question facing humanity is, Is the universe a friendly place? This is the first and most basic question all people must answer for themselves.
"For if we decide that the universe is an unfriendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to achieve safety and power by creating bigger walls to keep out the unfriendliness and bigger weapons to destroy all that which is unfriendlyand I believe that we are getting to a place where technology is powerful enough that we may either completely isolate or destroy ourselves as well in this process.
"If we decide that the universe is neither friendly nor unfriendly and that God is essentially playing dice with the universe, then we are simply victims to the random toss of the dice and our lives have no real purpose or meaning.
"But if we decide that the universe is a friendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to create tools and models for understanding that universe. Because power and safety will come through understanding its workings and its motives."
I myself do not know any answers to the many questions that arose as a result of the awful events of September 11, but I know that we must be congruent and awake to find those answers through understanding. In considering how to deal with the consequences of this tragedy, I was reminded of Gregory Bateson's comment that "Love can survive only if wisdom has an effective voice." I was also reminded of the important life lesson I learned as a child from my father that "two wrongs don't make a right." I hope that, as NLPers, the horrible events of September 11 reawaken in us the commitment to continue to "create a world to which people want to belong," and become awakeners ourselves.
In many ways, leaders, coaches, consultants, therapists and teachers are awakeners; opening up new vistas and possibilities for their students, clients and collaborators. Awakening others involves supporting them to grow at the level of vision, mission and spirit. An awakener supports another person by providing contexts and experiences which bring out the best of that persons understanding and awareness of purpose, self, and the larger systems to which he or she belongs.
Being an awakener requires the abilities of a coach, teacher, mentor and sponsor to some degree, but has other dimensions. It is obvious that it is not possible to awaken others if you yourself are still asleep. So the first task of the awakener is to wake up and stay awake. An awakener "awakens" others through his or her own integrity and congruence. An awakener puts other people in touch with their own missions and visions by being in full contact with his or her own vision and mission.
The job of the awakener is to shine light into situations which are dim, not cast his or her own shadow into the darkness that is already there. Awakeners have no illusions about human natureso they do not have negative surprises. But they have a strong belief about what is possible.
Awakening others involves the unconditional acceptance of who and how they are; yet, at the same time, the suggestion that there are possibilities and choices for expansion and evolution. Awakening can be gradual or sudden (such as a moment of "epiphany" or sudden insight). Awakening often leads to learning at the level of what Gregory Bateson called Learning IVthe creation of something "completely new."
In NLP the closest thing we do to praying is to "hold an intention." It seems to me to be appropriate at this time for all of us in the NLP community to hold the intention for healing and wisdomhealing for the people and their families who were devastated by this experience, and wisdom to decide how to respond.
In closing, I offer the words of Albert Einstein:
"A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe. . . a part limited in time and space. He experiences his thoughts and feelings as separated from the resta kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."
Thank you all for your concerns and warms wishes.
Santa Cruz, California
September 12, 2001