Living volcano

“Is a volcano a living or non-living thing?”

After my Year 4 ethics students discussed this question with a neighbour, I asked for a show of hands. To my surprise, the majority voted for living.

Can a volcano move around? Yes, lava flows and continents move slowly.

Does a volcano breathe? It smokes and steams and lava expands and contracts.

Does a volcano have feelings, does it think, is it conscious (clinchers I thought)? But the students said we don’t know, how can we tell, it it might but differently to us.

At that point the whole class was in happy agreement, a volcano was a living thing. Outnumbered and liking their confidence, I decided against imposing the ‘correct’ answer.

In the weeks following, their response to the volcano question stayed with me. Whether from their sense of mischief and fun, or from a deeper intuition, they provoked me to examine my own quick classification of a volcano as non-living.

What if these ten year old children are right?

Isn’t understanding the earth as a complex and vastly interconnected living system an emerging world view? A volcano forms a part of the earth so it must be living in some sense. And ultimately, what value is there in separating living from non-living, other than to justify treating the non-living as lesser?

I notice there’s an art in staying open to surprise, respecting the unusual, allowing an awkwardness to dwell within and perhaps grow into new insight.

Our adult busyness often causes us to miss these moments, these small gifts, perhaps as a result making each of us a little less of a living thing …

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Q: How do I differentiate between healthy development aligned with my real self and compulsive moves driven by efforts to live up to an idealised image?

Yes, high ambition and standards of excellence may be the product of genuine ability and interests. But more often and less helpfully they are tangled up in and muddied by a compulsive ‘search for glory’.

These trends and criteria help identify compulsive drives

  • an utter disregard for yourself or for your best interests. What sacrifices are made in the pursuit of an ambition? Your physical and mental health, your relations with family, your happiness and sense of integrity? Neurotic ambition is to pursue something no matter what it costs.
  • indiscriminateness. The interest in a particular pursuit does not matter, rather it’s the drive to be the most successful, the most attractive, the most intelligent, the most caring that matters. Regardless of circumstances or ones given attributes.
  • insatiability. Any sense of satisfaction from an achievement or recognition is short lived, if experienced at all. Our idealised image quickly creates relentless demands for more, for better, for faster. The escalation continues with hardly any respite.
  • severe reactions to its frustration. Failure to live up to the standards we set ourselves may produce reactions well out of proportion to the actual importance of the occurrence. Whether panic, despair, humiliation or rage at self or others. The stronger the compulsive drive, the more intense the reaction to its frustration.

Healthy strivings arise from a propensity in each of us to develop our given potentialities. In contrast, compulsive drives, the search for glory, result from the need to live into an imagined and idealised image of ourself.

In practice we each fit somewhere along the continuum between healthy and compulsive. By looking within ourselves, we attempt to understand where the balance settles. To far toward the extremes noted above and we’re likely to be off course …

Reference: “Neurosis and Human Growth” by Karen Horney. Ch. 1 ‘The Search For Glory’

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Silkworms Again

Nearly a dozen silkworms have not woven cocoons for their metamorphosis. Instead they continue grazing on leaves, getting fatter and slower. Then each half-heartedly spins a few sparse threads before shrivelling and dying.

This terminal omission surprises me.

More than 80% of the caterpillars did spin cocoons. Isn’t this a natural instinct, hard-wired into these creatures? Why have such a significant number failed to succesfully produce a cocoon? Surely such a crucial step in the life cycle of the silkworm is automatic.

Do these silkworms lack a genetic message? Do they just leave their run too late? Are they distracted by the profusion of leafy food available? I don’t know.

But this occurence makes me think about our development as humans. There’s a number of well researched and validated ‘stages’ of human development. I often work with Spiral Dynamics memes of consciousness, or Kegans stages of adult development. Each maps a progression, a healthy trajectory of consciousness evolution. We seem to know plenty about this phenomena … but yet so many of us get stuck along the way.

Perhaps for us there are simply many more complexities and hurdles to navigate in our life-cycle? Versus munching mulberry leaves and timing when to build a safe cocoon for the transition to moth. Still, what strikes me as a fundamental urge for the silkworms, seems no less fundamental for us.


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Real Self

We meet every six weeks in a quiet Balmain pub lounge. Over the years we’ve mentored each other along our work and life paths. These are valuable friendships and conversations, our shared interest in encouraging each other toward full and happy lives. Soft conversations they are not.

Last meeting we added the spice of Chapter 6 from Karen Horneys ‘Neurosis & Human Growth’, material we each worked with through LF.

Ch 6. ‘Alienation From Self’ explores the process and costs of losing touch with our real self and invention of an idealised image. KH describes our real self as the “alive, unique, personal center of ourselves; the only part that can and wants to grow.” [p.155]

Five effects of alienation from real self are

  • dimished capacity for and awareness of feelings (i.e. pride governs feelings)
  • squandered energy (investing in idealised self rather than real self)
  • reduced sense of direction of own life (driven by shoulds, compliance, compulsions)
  • avoidance of self responsibility (vs recognition of self as is, willing to bear consequences of actions, realising it’s up to oneself to solve difficulties)
  • undermining our integrative powers (reduced feeling of inner unity)

As we talked, we examined each of our stories and experiences in relation to these effects. Asking questions about our spontaneous feelings and thoughts, energy levels, motives and intentions. Conversations of rare quality.

Inevitably though, it is tricky separating the real from the imagined. Having peers reflect back their impression helps orientate your view. And yet in the end, each of us takes responsibility for what filters through and into our life.

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