Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Poem For Knowing Place and Gratitude

Waking to Birdsong

Wild in the first light, catchments
of dreams, choruses
of the dawn star

cast out of the darkness
flails the new near shadows
where even the moon

has failed to crease the trees.
Cedars, river, beech,
old hemlock, stumps from beavers,

birdsong all
a chorus from the spinning
uterus of our stars. Galaxy,

whole mountains
of little winged things flying
that bring us day.

the paths between the tops
of trees. Awake

the calliope
in the near new sky. Awake
the grass by the golden rivers

where beavers
and the other nocturnal workers
hear those bells of slumber

and the rest of the blue-eyed
furless and furry world comes to. Waking

to birdsong all hallelujah
to the sun.
We arrive in another circle

another twist
in the molten membrane
of these beds of stars, oh

these little winged harbingers
of going on.
Even suicidals rise

and for just a few moments
are busted into
by joy.

The paymasters of the cheats
of the kings
close their eyes

on their ledgers of blood
and remember the children
they must have been,

once. The blasted kingpins
of the ugliest secrets and torture
cannot out sing these cherubs

of dawn. My dreams
as elevated as they have been
cannot compete

with this chorus.
I walk to the river.
They dip and rise and follow me

one after another over
the miracles of water. Darkness yes
will soon be shattered.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Gifted Child = Gifted Adult

(from the blog "The Gifted Way"

Who was I?

This is a recurring question for gifted adults because the intensity of our childhood experiencing has a direct bearing on our adult gifted success. It also offers valuable clues to understanding those things that don’t work so well for us.

In particular, the question: “What fascinated me when I was three years old?” seems of special significance. This is because the passionate preoccupations of three-year olds so often seem to form the foundation of success in a wide range of gifted adults.

The number of gifted and creative artists who recall their passion from their very early years is legion.

"I danced myself out of the womb.Is it strange to dance so soon?"Marc Bolan. "Cosmic Dancer".

At three or less, musicians pick up violins or start hammering on drums; dancers shake their booties; painters discover negative space without realizing there was ever anything else.

As an example, if you enter: “I started drawing when I was three.” as a single statement on Google you will get nearly 150,000 responses from illustrators, artists and so on. Substituting “playing piano” brings up 3,000. “Writing” only gives rise to 9, but includes one of my favorites: “I started writing when I was three years old, but it wasn’t until I was seven that I was first published.”

If you simply enter: “I started when I was three.” you’re greeted with nearly a million dancers, skiers, stamp-collectors, violinists, riders, soccer players etc. And these are only the people who feel compelled to commit their biographies to the Internet.
Pre-occupation to Occupation

Given that three is an age that has great significance for our future, how can we use the lessons to be learned from it?

Unconsciously building a gifted future.

Lucky the child whose obvious interests attracted parental support. S/he would all-unconsciously have started on the path to mastery and clarity.

But what about those of us whose creativity didn’t manifest through a musical instrument or box of crayons? We have to look harder to see where we come from.

The effort involved in this considered examination is highly worthwhile. Through it our uniqueness becomes apparent by revealing our own history and balance of preoccupations.

I hope you’ll take the time to uncover your own. As a process it can reinforce some affectionate self-recognition as well as open the doors to greater self-understanding.

As a guide to what I mean, here are some of my early qualities:

I was very clumsy at drawing.
I read a great deal.
I took every opportunity to go exploring on my own.
I built complex houses and towns from building blocks.
I focused a great deal of attention on my mother’s welfare, not least because we moved every six months or so, sometimes halfway round the globe.

How does that translate into today?

I still read a great deal. And, as reading is practice for writing, I write a great deal.
I’m very independent, an explorer in thought and in location.
I have always worked with complex systems demanding deconstruction, re-architecture and re-construction. This applies to my work in computing, in writing, and of course in the ongoing task of understanding and re-framing human nature.
My “taking care of mom” shows itself in dozens of ways, from a tendency to be over-solicitous in personal relationships to volunteering my time on committees. Many a professional or non-profit organization has reason to be grateful to my mother!
I’m still very clumsy at drawing.

Your mind is an iceberg

If your present life is more or less in accord with your three-year old preoccupations then you’re probably reasonably happy.

Out of sight but in the mind. What's concealed can slow you to a crawl.

However, if you’re finding it hard to follow through on your early enthusiasms, it could be due to your unconscious mind. Like the lower part of an iceberg, this is the hidden power that dominates your actions.

Brain research has made it clear that it is the unconscious, not the conscious, that rules our decision-making and thus our lives. (Check out Jonah Lehrer’s book: “How We Decide” for confirmation of this.)

Experts of all kinds have contributed their estimates as to when the development of our unconscious mind is ‘finished’. Such estimates typically fall in an age range between two and seven.

So where does that leave us?

Where does that leave us? Perhaps shockingly, it leaves us being managed by the assumptions and beliefs of – let’s average it – a five-year old. With our mind like an iceberg, our consciousness is the ten percent above water while the real weight and power lies massively beneath the surface.

This explains so much of what we find challenging. Our conscious mind says: “Let’s go to New York and look at some art,” but our unconscious wants to go surfing. With nine tenths of us pulling one way we are bound to end up in some compromise situation.

In this case, rather than New York it might be a trip to Malibu. There you can spend the days at

Surfrider Beach while taking side trips to the Getty Museum.

That kind of compromise might seem harmless enough but supposing your conscious mind is saying: “I need to save for a rainy day,” while your unconscious is saying: “There’s no point saving. Someone will just steal it from you.”?

The inevitable – yes, inevitable – consequence is that you will effect a compromise between these two positions. And it’s unlikely that it will meet all your conscious self’s need to save. So you will fret . . . and fret . . . and fret.

I want to correct any impression that I assume that the childhood unconscious tends to be irresponsible. It often isn’t. There are plenty of people who consciously think: “I ought to have more fun,” while their five-year old unconscious is nudging them to keep working “just in case.”

What to do about it

When our early preoccupations work for us, life is grand. But what happens when they don’t?

Gifted and creative individuals are highly sensitive. We feel conflict intensely and will take great steps to try to resolve it. The sense of going where we don’t want to – under the control of something hidden - is thus very painful and discouraging for us.

It’s never going to be easy, but the key to tolerating such apparent conflict and inability to achieve our objectives is first of all to make our five-year old selves real. Picture yourself back in that tiny body, mentally recreate a room in which you spent a lot of time, and allow these questions to pass across your mind:

Who were you then? How did you experience yourself?
Where were you? What events and family dynamics were determining your life?
Where did you go to be yourself and what would you do there?
What were the actions of your parents/caretakers showing you about their belief systems?
Did they all send the same message? Were you able to reconcile any conflicting messages and if so, how?

You can call for reinforcements when you know what you need to overcome.

The more clearly you are able to re-experience yourself at that time, the more understandable your current conflicts will become. And, much more importantly, the more you’ll be able to work with them rather against them.

This is because by revealing your most counter-productive beliefs to yourself you discover where your conscious will needs reinforcement.

You can use this information to help you find the appropriate assistance to tug you in your preferred direction. This assistance might come in the form of a person, a book, or some other form of external energy. You’ll recognize it when you need it.

And now . . .

I’d love to hear how your fascinations as a three-year old reveal themselves today. Just add your comments below and tell us your story.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Genius and Eccentricity

Actually, I think the idea that genius automatically carries with it the price tag of eccentricity or a kind of insanity is over-stated and under-supported by what ever kinds of research could be done to prove it.

That we are more interested in the lives of geniuses may only mean that we tend to be attracted and entertained by the eccentricities of history’s most examined, scrutinized characters. We are less likely to be interested in more mundane lives of those others who are just as integral to the full spectrum of human inventiveness and genius.

We are also less likely to scrutinize in so personal a way individuals in the rest of the population that are not considered genius, and so really have no way of comparing which “sample” has a greater degree/proportion of insanity/eccentricity.

We are also attracted by the eccentric on one level because, I think, it reminds us of our selves, our community of friends and family, our relationships, our inner lives and our own potential participation and desire to participate in the genius of the species.

I work in the mental health field so I have some background in this. The fact that we tend to know more about the lives of those who are considered to possess genius may throw off any untested theory that there are a greater proportion of eccentrics and/or a greater degree of insanity among those who are considered genius than those who are not.

As my work involves a much, much larger proportion of people who are not considered genius than people who are (although I might petition that rather arbitrary application of the definition for a definition that recognizes that everyone has, at least, the potential for genius in their own lives and community and may apply it in their own way), and as I am privy to the deepest life quandaries and pathologies of these people, of which there are numerous and frequent examples, even among the many who look to be quite "normal" to those who are not privy to their inner, more private and secret, lives, I am skeptical about any claims that the proportion of eccentrics and/or level of insanity among those who possess genius are any higher or lower than among the general population.

Though I would be glad to change my own theory if someone could fashion and implement a far-reaching enough study, I am not sure how that could be done, if one considers the enormous barriers of subjectivity that all this naturally calls into play.

How would we measure genius? Certainly not by IQ alone. How would we measure eccentricity or insanity? Certainly the behaviors and intelligences of any one culture, historical time frame, or social milieu can only be defined along a continuum from harmfully insane or eccentric to mind-numbingly dull and normal if each is left to be defined within its own sets of relative norms and abnormalities.

What system could we devise to compare these various and potentially innumerable sets of norms? Would we say that Moses was crazy for hearing a burning bush speak in the voice of his god if we are willing, at the same time, to continue to put much weight into the commonly held idea that artists like VanGogh or Sylvia Plath were insane because they heard voices? What is our system of measurements and how do we determine a manner of implementation of a system of measure that is absent our own set of assumed norms?

It could be that it only appears that the "genius" segment of the human community has more than its share of eccentricity because we know more about them than even our own “normal” neighbors and, in addition, we are attracted to genius, love the stories of their struggles, loves, pathologies, failures and successes simply because they DO reflect our own lives, families and communities of loved ones so well. Their stories are ours.

Another reason we may like to focus on geniuses’ foibles has something to do with our own deep feelings that our lives lack the kind of meaning and import that the lives and accomplishments of geniuses have and we are, on some levels, envious. So we like to balance their accomplishments against our own by diminishing their lives against our own lives.

Oddly enough, if my own theory holds true, we would be better off seeing their lives as comparable to ours in that they have the same struggles, heartbreak and victories, on very personal levels, that any of the rest of us do. Then, perhaps, we would also be more able to recognize and catalyze our own potential for genius.