The first part of this interview centred on Chris as a coach, and looked at how he’s developed a career with clients in politics through his background as an activist. That’s not the full story though, and there’s a reason Chris has been compared to Elizabethan magician John Dee. That’s the side of things we look into this time around.
What led to your interest in magic, and is that distinct from spirituality? How?
I was watching some ants earlier and there were hundreds of them carrying bits of grass along a path, around a stick and up a fence. When a dog came past and moved the stick, they immediately rerouted in unison and carried on. Did you know that when we fracture a bone, blood flows into the crack and over time that blood transforms into bone? When we cut ourselves, blood flows to the surface and there it transforms into a scab. How does blood know what to do? How do the ants? We all began as two cells and all this intelligence came forth. Before I learnt to appreciate these everyday miracles, I liked to think grand thoughts about sorcery. I travelled far and wide. Along the way, I was fortunate to meet some smart people – some of them well-known and others not – and they shared with me their ideas. I think of magick very practically now. The rituals we’ve embedded into our lives are as invisible to us as the blood vessels in our own eyes. But when you shine a light into your eye a certain way and look into a dark mirror, then, just for a few moments, you can see your blood vessels wriggling like worms. Magick is a bit like that. We use our attention differently to achieve different things. The other day a member of parliament was teasing me about my ‘supernatural’ beliefs and I asked him why he had paused earlier and waited for the mace to be moved across the House of Commons chamber before he started his speech. He said that was tradition. Why did he follow the tradition? He said otherwise there would be no order to things. And then we laughed. He’s as into the hocus pocus of life as I am, but I’ve spent time thinking about it while he’s been doing other interesting things. When we share our experiences with the intention of growing together, that’s magick.
To me, spirituality is a reflection of the truth that we’re all connected. You and I have DNA in common but more than that we’ve breathed the same molocules of air and drunk the same molecules of water. What’s inside me has been inside of you, and vice versa. I feel something when I see you laugh and when I see you cry. The concept of Namaste is important to me. There are many translations of Namaste but this is the one I like: “I honour the place in you where the entire universe resides. I honour the place in you of love, of light, of truth and of peace. When you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, there is only one of us.”
So I think magick and spirituality are separate and connected, like you and me.
So, Namaste — we are all one. That totality encompasses behaviours that are pretty unpleasant. We are all perfect, and some of us are perfect serial killers and conmen. Being all one surely means acknowledging the darker side of human existence, which brings us back to archetypes. What convinces you that the self-knowledge you’d like someone to experience isn’t going to result in others getting hurt?
There are a few things there. First, you make it vague when you say we are all one. You’ve done that before so let me be clear – I’m not talking about personalities, Adrian. Personalities are masks that we construct for ourselves and I like some personalities and dislike others. However much I like you, I’m never going to be one with your personality. But I absolutely and unconditionally love the You that created your personality.
Have you experienced ego death? It’s one of the reasons that some drug experiences are so powerful, because we experience our unconstructed self. There are other ways to experience it too. In TA they call the unconstructed self ‘the free child’. Others call it ‘the real self’, ‘the spirit’, ‘the soul’. I don’t think it matters what you call it. When I coach people, it’s not about killing the ego or personality, because I think egos and personalities are useful, but I think being truly comfortable with yourself is about more than being comfortable with your personality. Most people spend a lot of time and energy trying to show a prettier mask to the world.
You hinted at something else as well. Most of us want to hold ourselves separate from the murderers and con men, and I think we’re all capable of anything human beings are capable of. My friend Bill Cumming explains this with an example. When his daughter was raped, Bill discovered that he has the capacity to do great harm to others. His daughter was only eight. Bill wanted to kill the man who violated her, and he’s sure he would have done so if he could. Years later, Bill shared that experience with some men in prison while he was running a development program. Those men were confessed murderers and rapists. When a prisoner with no hope of parole or any perks came up afterwards with wet eyes and said he was very sorry to hear what had happened to Joy, then Bill knew that he (Bill) was capable of murder and a murderer was capable of loving kindness. We all do the best we know how to do in every moment. Getting comfortable with that takes time and may never happen. That’s why we wear our masks. Ironically, I think all the hurt in the world is caused by the masks.
Masks takes us into the realm of archetypes, which are a subject of fascination for you. What’s your take on them, and how do they affect you on a day to day basis? Do they affect the way that you interact with coaching or political clients? How?
I think we’re all born with tremendous scope and very quickly we learn to restrict ourselves. We can’t survive without some kind of parent figure and most of us learn that we can get more or less attention by altering our behaviour. We learn to be good, or clever, or funny, or whatever works with the people around us. We construct a personality to show the world we’re worthy, and soon we mistake that personality for ourselves.
Personalities are like paintings – each one is original, but they fall into a few categories. I think of archetypes as the most discreet examples of each category. The challenge, I think, is to realise we’re more than our personality while still using it to create the life we want. Wandering about as spiritual balls of light is great sometimes but you won’t survive a trip to the supermarket. I think archetypes – and the enneagram – are wonderfully useful ways to explore the masks we wear.
In terms of working with archetypes, what practices have you found beneficial?
I don’t do much like that. I used to do a thing based on what Neuro-Linguistic Programmers call third position. When listening to someone talk about what they really want to make their life about, I’d split my attention and experience the conversation through several filters simultaneously, using the qualities of several archetypes. It’s an alternative to trying to be clean. It’s being dirty with intention. However, I don’t do that any more. It’s far too complicated.
What do you continue to find of value within NLP?
Lots! I heard about NLP many years ago while I was studying psychology at school and they paid for us to attend an NLP training with Paul McKenna. It was one of the first trainings Paul did, I think it was 1997, and I was so impressed by the presentations, the exercises and the results. NLP also gave me a structure to use while studying psychology more generally. That first training was only a brief introduction but the basic skills I developed remain useful. If I deconstruct my client sessions now, which I do sometimes, I can see the seeds from those early days. I’ve refined my skills over the years, of course. I don’t use NLP techniques as such any more. But my understanding of how things fit together and how we construct our own experiences, all that began for me with NLP.
Ron Perry told me something I’ve found useful. He said most people have a set of distinctions they make – things they notice – that are useful to model. They also have some behavioural responses – things they do – that are useful to model. And then they have a story about who they are and how they work – and those stories are rarely useful for anything.
Nowadays I think NLP has become an ideology for a lot of people. It’s as much a religion as a science and most of what’s taught as NLP is hardly related to Neuro-Linguistic Programming. People often think I’m a big fan of NLP because I set up NLP Connections, which became the world’s biggest NLP site. Actually I’ve always been quite skeptical. I drank the kool aid but didn’t swallow.
The bits I find most useful are what Frank Pucelik calls Meta. Frank was the third man in NLP – he lived and worked with Bandler and Grinder in the 70s. They explored putting ideas together and testing them out. The main thing I’ve got from NLP is encouragement for that sense of adventure – finding things from other fields, combining them and testing them out. What works, what doesn’t? How can we do things differently to make more things work in more ways? I don’t think it’s about endlessly repeating the cute little sayings, most of which were borrowed from other fields anyway. If it’s about anything, NLP is about mastering our hunger to understand the structure of how we construct our own experiences. We must be careful about doing it so much that we delude ourselves and can’t get back. If you’ve seen Inception, you understand that. If you’ve met some of the people who hang around NLP trainings year after year, you also understand that. But beyond the madness and the egos, besides the carping and the ‘mine’s bigger than yours’-games, I think there’s a lot I continue to value. The challenge is not to throw the baby out with the bath water.
Chris Morris blogs here, where you can also discover more about the events he puts on.