The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Genius of Milton Erickson

I want to go through every basic pattern I’ve used or taught in connection with my own life, creating characters and situations in fiction, or coaching clients.  It’s all connected.  The very first breakthrough, and something I’ve spoken of often enough that I don’t think I need to go back through it right now (although if there are requests, I will) is the structure created by cross-referencing the Hero’s Journey (generally in the way I use it: a ten-step perspective on the deep structure of world myth, which simply relates to the process of dealing with any challenge in life) and the yogic Chakras, which is generally (there are other interpretations) a seven-step model of human growth or consciousness, on either an individual or cultural level.  
Those were the X and Y axis, and I could sense the presence of a “Z” that made a dynamic sphere of interaction.  Couldn’t quite label it, but could feel it.    But I could see that if I looked at the Hero’s Journey as a spiral, it became the route between the different “levels” of the Chakras, and the Chakras mapped over beautifully with Maslow hierarchy of human needs.  
They pop up elsewhere.    The hypnotic skills of Milton Erickson are legendary.   I’ve seen and done things using his patterns that were so powerful they were almost frightening.  Stories of this phenomenal man, his ability to create therapeutic interventions that were shatteringly powerful, gloriously subtle, and subversively generative (a client would come to him to stop biting his fingernails, and months later his entire family would be transformed.  Spooky) are so far-out that if I hadn’t had them verified from a dozen different sources, and seen the power first hand, I wouldn’t believe them.   Skepticism is absolutely justified when dealing with images and claims at this level.
I had occasion to speak to the man who originally taught me Ericksonian hypnosis a few months ago, and asked a question I’d not thought of before: why, exactly, was Erickson so efficient and effective at creating healthy change?
And the answer brought me right back to the Chakras.  Paraphrased, the answer was that Milton had a simple belief he applied consistently: that 90% of human beings wanted about 90% of the following things:
1) to mature to become a self supporting adult human being. 
2) To find joy in the “hunting and gathering” of daily occupation.  To satisfy sexual needs with ethics and without guilt. 
3) To have a healthy, vibrant physicality.
4) To find love, marry, and have children. 
5) To live a life of joy, growth, health, and contribution. 
6)To age gracefully
6) To die at peace.
Most people, he believed, wanted most of that.  He simply assumed that if people were not functioning along that path, they had a “knot” in the natural flow of their lives, and helped them un-knot it, freeing up the energy they needed to continue their evolutionary process.  That expanded health would then affect their entire family or social structure. 
One reason that this was so successful, of course, is that no one who had their act totally together would show up asking for help in the first place. Was he generally correct?    I don’t know, but so long as you keep an open mind to the probability that not everyone will fit into this pattern, it seems fairly safe to assume that the majority of people want the majority of these things, and let an orange flag raise when multiple arenas are non-optimal.
(By the way, one of my greatest teachers suggested that you can begin this healing/growth process from the “core survival” level up, or the “love” level “out.”  But NOT from the head level down.  In other words, don’t create a map of reality and then try to fit reality into that box.   Begin either with your actual interactions with the world on a pain-pleasure basis, or with the emotional heart-space connections with family and friends.  Either of those leads to growth, whereas being head-heavy can lead to a disastrous overly-intellectual attempt to mould the world into a form consistent with your presuppositions and prejudices.   Your ego will invalidate anything that doesn’t support your beliefs.    It gets ugly)
 If you look at the Chakras as a path of evolution (survival, sex, power, emotion, communication, intellect, spirit) we can see six thousand years of yogic psychology agreeing with Erickson.    And Maslow’s hierarchy (physiological, safety, love/belonging/self-esteem/self-actualization) would seem to be a different window in on the same process.
This suggests that, for instance, in writing a story you can simply wound a character on one of these levels, and then confront them with the challenges they need to grow and heal.
In personal life, you can look at the “weak link” in this chain and by strengthening it, begin to positively affect everything above it.
And in coaching, raising children, or teaching you can simply look at this basic pattern and assume they want CHOICE on each of these levels, and give them the resources to have it.  They may well choose not to have children (for instance)…but I can think of no reason a person wouldn’t want to be emotionally healthy and financially secure enough to raise and protect them if he wanted to.   At the least, a person genuinely secure in their decision not to have a relationship, or to accept poverty, or weigh 300 pounds will simply smile gently at any suggestion that they secretly wish to change.  What they WON’T do is react with  anger, or resentment—those can be safely assumed to be evidence that the person is acting out of fear rather than love or self-actualization.
So I would suggest looking at that chain.    If you function beautifully on all those levels, fantastic.   If not, and you hear yourself saying: “Nah, I don’t want that” then fine.  But if you feel a flash of emotion, especially anger, you may want to look more closely.


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