A friend chided me for not writing a New Year’s retrospective.
But that isn’t the way my mind works.
I have little interest in the past except as a reminder of what does and does not work or a means of liberating energy from a stuck place.
The past as the past doesn’t hold a great deal of interest for me. And so I don’t commit to memory what happened last week and last month.
But what happens now and what will happen in the future we create, that interests me.
In addition, I’m interested in the growth, expansion and evolution of mental, emotional and spiritual horizons. And that’s what I‘d like to write about here.
We’ve all heard about “big history,” which for me is another name for what Leslie White used to call history viewed from the “evolutionary” or “developmental” level of life. (1)
In the course of moving into my new apartment, sorting through stuff and throwing some things out, I’ve had a chance to refresh myself on some of the “big ideas” that have influenced the paths I’ve taken in life.
I’d like to just briefly mention some of them.
The idea that we had a self, were a self, and could know our self was probably the first “big idea” that I became aware of in life.
Yes, before it, I was taught to be respectful, play nice, be friendly, etc. and those were big ideas operationally. But they weren’t set out systematically, discussed, and explained in schools, learned journals, videos, and what have you.
Whereas the idea of self was.
At first I encountered the idea of “self” in psychology. Then in sociology. Then in anthropology. The self became the looking-glass self, the self image, the self-serving bias, the symbolic self, the inner-directed and outer-directed self, and so on.
Then in spiritual studies it morphed into an idea of Self, the One individuated, the many in the One. The Self became associated with the soul, the heart, the Light.
Presented in the first place in the fields of transactional analysis and symbolic interaction, I became enthralled with the notion of society and with the notion of social interaction and behaviour patterns.
“Transactional analysis” looks at the intentions behind the moves we make in interaction. It examines the games we play, the scripts we live, the rackets and numbers we run – all the manipulations we perpetrate on others to get what we want, when we want it.
“Symbolic Interaction” looks at the moves we make in social interaction as having meaning and what the symbols are that we use to convey that meaning, such as significant words, glances, gestures, props, even spacing.
Having become aware of the self/Self, I was now made to focus on the way people behaved with each other, the patterns they imposed on their behavior, and the ways they conditioned themselves to reproduce patterns of behaviour that accomplished their goal.
I was always fascinated with patterns in behavior. The newly-accepted emphasis on social interaction only confirmed that interest.
The IQ test I took back in 1979, which was said to be the test that measured the highest levels possible at the time, was pure pattern recognition. I could see synoptically, in a moment or gestalt, which of the six figures was not the same.
It was almost a recognition by a faculty similar to peripheral vision, but more like allowing the eyes to go slightly out of focus and seeing what was not the same in the images I was looking at. For me the test was easy.
The format of the repetition, the reasons for patterning, the results of patterning, the limits it placed on life, etc. – these were questions which constantly fascinated me. I was always commenting on patterns – how they felt, what they resulted in, etc. – like the wearing of lipstick or stiletto high heels. Or working night shift or gathering statistics on football games.
I would observe the patterns in my own behavior and notice why I did what I did. This tendency was awake in me long before taking Cold Mountain Institute, which ignited the path of awareness in me, or the est Training, which was like post-graduate school in the awareness path.
This all led to a search in my academic life, which was going on concurrently with my Growth-Movement explorations, for that which persisted through time and ushered people into a society, maintained that society, and saw to the society’s transformation.
The phenomenon that performed those functions was our “culture.” Culture is an organization of ideas, manifest in act and artifact, which allows us to understand our world and take purposeful action.
Culture has to be transmitted for social life to carry on at the level it was (and not deteriorate or implode). Ideas alone can be transmitted (usually through language). Neither behavior nor artifacts can be transmitted so neither is basic to the transmission of culture (except artifacts like books that convey the ideas).
Once I saw that culture was the repository of information that I needed to tap to understand the society I was in, I had my field of knowledge specified.
(1) Leslie White discerns three types of scholarly argumentation: the historical, the structural and the evolutionary. The historical looks at discrete events through discrete time and space. The structural stops the action and looks at the structures that make up the whole and their functions. The evolutionary looks at classes of events through non-discrete time. See Leslie White, The Science of Culture: A Study of Man and Civilization. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1949 and Leslie A. White, The Evolution of Culture: The Development of Civilization to the Fall of Rome. New York, etc.: McGraw Hill;, 1959.