About Survival and Devotion:
What’s Wrong With Us?


When I first began learning to do change-work (more than forty years ago now), as I was learning to work with behavioral and belief-related issues, I was struck by two ever-present, apparently contradictory realities: 1) that personal, conscious choice was the most important factor in creating and allowing growth and change, and 2) that personal, conscious choice didn’t seem to affect much of anything at all. I mean, how many millions of times a day do humans say, “I want to be happy,” or, “I choose to be well,” and how often does this seem to make a difference?

Of course, this was not an original observation. Human beings have seemingly forever been steadily experiencing what they do not want, and steadily not experiencing what they actually do want. As a result, all cultures have some elements of things they try out–stories, religious dogma, hierarchies of worth and achievement—to try to deal with this problem. Throughout millennia, people have always wanted to believe that somewhere there were sorcerers: unique but real individuals who can make choices and then, magically, manifest outcomes that are directly the consequences of those choices. If a culture couldn’t offer itself full-on sorcery, it would at least try to provide access to sympathetic saints: powerful, venerable individuals whose intervention might help change the mind of God or the gods.

Absent convenient (or bracingly inconvenient) access to saints of one sort or another, the culture could at least offer itself the consolations of philosophy, or perhaps inflict upon itself  the exhortations of religious and moral scolds who make it clear that our general powerlessness to create, change, or heal is a consequence of our much deeper, even more significant failings.

Strangely enough, by telling us about our shortcomings and our sinful, fallen natures, the religious judgers have always served to provide us some hope–hope that maybe we might find a way to improve ourselves enough that our choices can count, so that we may cause some good, observable, confirmable effects for ourselves and those we care about the most.

More recently, our own culture has become attuned to the message provided by personal growth gurus, charismatic figures with enough good advertising and stagecraft to say compellingly to their audiences, “Your main problem is that you are not like me. You are not as conscious / committed / courageous / driving / giving / ascetic / peace-loving / forgiving / warrior-like / etc. as I am. But I can teach you how to be more like me, and when you are more like me, you will be a better you.”

There is some attractiveness in this newer approach, as long as the answers are simple, which means that the questions must be simpler still. We have all experienced this end of the personal growth spectrum. It can be helpful in its way, as can the traditional approaches that employ the sorcerers, saints, philosophers, and the various messengers of Divine Displeasure. Because we all cannot help but continually reach for something better, we all frequently want to know what it is, specifically, that is wrong with us.

It is my impression that there is nothing wrong with us, AND we have created and chosen to live and learn in an environment that contains a host of contradictions and seemingly unhelpful obstacles. I use the terms Survival Patterning, Devotional Patterning, Pre-selected Life Catalyst, and Random Nuttiness quite a lot when training people to do Transformational NLP. These are simple terms to over-simply name processes of incredible creativity and complexity.

Survival Patterning is what I call the learning that occurs within our physical selves. The operation of “Survival Patterning” can be described this way: “Whatever it is that we learn to survive (when we are very young) becomes necessary for continued survival, for the rest of our lives, until we revise the settings in this level of patterning.” This level of things is private to our individual brains.

Devotional Patterning is what I call all of the complex learning that is not private to us, but that involves and transcends multiple family generations. The operation of Devotional Patterning can be described this way: “Whatever it is that is most disastrous and unresolved in earlier generations of our family, that is what we will seek to experience in our own lives in an unworkable effort to bring healing and dignity to events that may have occurred before we were conceived.” Devotional Patterning is my term to summarize all the operation of distorted love in our lives. My main teachers about this have been Kaskafayet, Bert Hellinger, and the hundreds of people who have asked me to work with their Family Soul.

For me, the term Pre-selected Life Catalyst, the concept of which is described in many places, comes from the work of Carla Reuckert most especially. The operation of Pre-selected Life Catalyst, can be described this way: “As we came into this incarnation, we all selected certain events, constraints, limits, conditions, etc., with which we would have to deal, for purposes that are/were transcendently important to us. We can complete the learning we seek, but we cannot cancel the operation of the Catalyst(s) until we do. That is how we have arranged things.”

Random Nuttiness is my term for everything in life that is not covered by one or more of the previous three terms. Random Nuttiness is most of everything, actually. It is life material and events that can be useful for our learning, but we are not betting the whole incarnation on what we do with it, or how it comes out.

By the way: we do all of the above on a planet that is designed to provide maximum (or nearly so) contrast between how things are and how they could be or should be. All of this is adjustable, with the exception of selection of “original” Catalyst, but even that is available for big change, in terms of the speed and ease of learning and completion. For example, if a soul selects birth into an impoverished family, this choice is not changeable. However, all the meaning-level consequences of this selection are available for change. It not what happens that counts for us, it is what it means! We always choose our meanings, even when we cannot re-choose the facts themselves.

To spend our time and intelligence to mainly locate that which is wrong with us–to specify just exactly how we are creatures living in a fallen condition–is really another way to dodge truly creative responsibility and possibility. The experience of being human, in all of its obvious and not-so-obvious causes and effects, is a very complicated undertaking. We are all learning.

This article was originally produced at NLP Marin.

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