Saturday, June 28, 2008

Tom Andersen's Dog

By the way, this is not Tom Anderson's dog... just my dog.

I remember hearing the late Tom Andersen (Norwegian psychiatrist, family therapist pioneer) say the following words at the beginning of his presentations.

Get a dog

Let the dog teach you
How to gently
Stroke it

What rich words! Tom would go on to discuss his own thinking in regards to this saying. He talked about a professional work where our very interactions with the people we are working with inform us as to what our own actions might be. We perhaps gain little from our previous instruction – at least when it comes to the understanding we need for our engagement with the people before us. We certainly don’t learn because we have become experts on human behaviour, not even because we have been informed about social justice and human rights. Even the best intentioned of our learnings can interrupt the beauty and power of our joint work with those human lives, bodies and relationships we are in interaction with. According to Tom we learn what to do as we are looking and listening from the midst of our own interactions with those we are in conversation with. We always learn from the middle, and certainly not from a place prior.

The people Tom was in conversation with -- they taught him. And, those we are interacting with must also always teach us.

But Tom’s words say so much more. They talk not just about work, they talk about life.

After I would hear Tom’s words about getting a dog, I would find myself wishing that he would stop right there, that he would say no more!

For -- in something akin to the spirit of a Nietzsche aphorism, or perhaps in accordance with the sensualism of a Walt Whitman poem -- in these few words Tom speaks... and we all listen.

And Tom repeats to us...

Get a dog

Let the dog teach you
How to gently
Stroke it

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Have You Seen...

Have you seen the beauty
In a swarm of gnats
The late afternoon light
Transforms them
Into a universe of dancing stars

Have you seen such utter loveliness
Just off to the side
Beneath the feet
Outside of the glare
Of our prejudices

“Look, don’t think...”

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Eyes, Hands and Words

The Work of Harlene Anderson

I wish to focus within this posting upon a particular person, one who I have come to deeply admire and respect, and one who over the last couple of years I have also come to call my friend.

Her name is Harlene Anderson.

Harlene is known for her pioneering work in the family therapy field, beginning many years ago with her friend and colleague, Harry Goolishian. But, in this posting my purpose is not to reiterate Harlene’s many accomplishments in family therapy and beyond -- though it would be a privilege and a delight to do that. I encourage the readers to learn of Harlene’s work, beginning with her own website, And of course one must read the many books and articles she has authored.

But here I wish to talk of Harlene as I see her, as I experience her in her life and work. These are my own words.


Harlene talks much about collaboration. She writes and speaks of the Collaborative Therapies. But this collaboration is much more than words.

For one, this collaboration is an inescapable impulse evident in the eyes – and it appears in Harlene’s eyes. Connections merge into life as eyes speak and as eyes meet. Such engagements of eyes, through words unspoken, or perhaps with words, but words which dance with the unspoken, pull together many lines of community and awaken a commonwealth of collaborative becomings.

There is an unpreventable honesty in such collaborations. In this vein, it seems that Harlene’s eyes are not particularly well equipped in the ways of deception, for collaboration refuses to hide, appearing even in the silences. One could be deaf in Harlene’s presence and the movements of collaboration would still be most evident, there is no keeping it secret, it would repeatedly appear in every passage of her eyes.

Keeping close to the spirit of collaboration, Harlene knows it’s not just about her eyes; it’s about many eyes, rhizome lines connecting between looks. Not the look of the gaze as described by Foucault, but relations between countless eyes, circulating care, respect, love, the humour of living, the delights of friendship. Harlene’s eyes, and her words, become a one-among-many, one net of influences joining with a world of influences, small and large, near and distant. And, is this not the very work she repeatedly talks of, and the very joy which she cannot hide?

A democratic work! Harlene becomes a one amidst many communal becomings, but a one with influence, along with the rest of us. An irony appears here, for Harlene has often been uncomfortable with the talk of the political within our work, but in a way her own work becomes, and she becomes with her work, a certain becoming-democracy. Joining in this democratic impulse is a host of dear friends, including, of course, Lynn Hoffman and the late Tom Anderson.


It is not that Harlene talks much of hands; it’s that I see hands – moving, working, touching -- within Harlene’s ongoing interactions. Such hands are in movement upon the front page of her website. She invites people to be “inquisitive, creative, authentic, and open to the ever-present possibilities for newness in others--and in themselves.” This is a call to create, to make something specific -- to repeatedly produce ways whereby we are able to open ourselves and others to the plenitudes of life and newness.

This is a call for hands creating together. Watch what happens at those events she helps organize. A buzz of making occurs, in the meetings and out of the meetings. Many things – thoughts, relations, joys and other gifts – created together. I think that for Harlene the hands of creation and the language of collaboration are one and the same thing.


We return to words. Many years ago Harlene and Harry Goolishian engaged in their own creating, and they called what they produced, Collaborative Language Systems. The landscape of therapy was forever altered. Harlene persists in talking about the way we talk together, particularly about the way professionals talk within their work. But as I watch Harlene she continually endeavours to create words, particular kinds of words – words which return. That is words returning to the movements of life, to the curiosity, the creativity, the newness and hope that life calls forth.

I invite you to read Harlene Anderson... encounter the creations and the many processes of creations she unravels. For words continue to meet eyes and hands upon her pages.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pure Immanence

Shortly before his death, the philosopher Deleuze wrote about what he called "pure immanence". It was the last piece he ever wrote. A daring, and some would say naive move, to entertain an idea such as purity in a cold-hearted intellectual world. It is much easier to tear apart something like purity, to deny it, to destroy it with cheap and easy questions. And immanence! Who talks of immanence these days? And why bother? Why not tackle the hard questions? Relevant questions such as the environment, gender; questions of justice, of governance, of war and peace. Why, at that late date in his life, did Deleuze not put his mind to such grand and contemporary issues?

But think of Deleuze, the man, for just a minute.

Beginning with the most stark of facts -- he took his own life. Deleuze suffered from an illness that was killing him. Rather than continue with his suffering, at the time of his own choosing, on his own terms, he ended his life. Just weeks before, at the time of his last writing, Deleuze was all-too aware of the idea of immanence -- the immanence of his own death, the immanence of suffering. Yet, at that time, when he wrote of immanence, he wrote of it as if it were life.

Derrida called Deleuze the "thinker of the event," I consider him a "thinker of life." His readings of Spinoza, of Hume, Berkley, Nietzsche, Foucault, of so many, continually brought forth a life which is lived, life in the midst of living. A live beyond words, beyond descriptions, beyond labels. A life whose very "immanence" could never be reduced by any identity, any narrative, any essence.

Deleuze often in his writing evoked the idea of life, Alive, of immanence, but, in these last words he wrote he allowed the idea to emerge through two particular images.

First of all, there was this character which Charles Dickens created. A miserable, nasty old man, who pushed every caring soul away. Yet, when this man was upon the brink of death, a community emerged, a people gathered around, and whatever could be done to save this man's life was quickly and eagerly done. At that particular moment, poised between life and death, that man's identity, his history meant nothing. However, in the midst of that very moment the man's life came to mean everything.

Secondly, Deleuze talked of small children. I cannot recall Deleuze ever discussing small children before in his writings, but in those last days this is precisely what he did. He particularly noted their play and their faces. He spoke with adoring words, tender words, words of love. A dying man gazing into the eyes of childhood. No, no... not childhood, into the eyes of a child. And there he saw what he called "pure power" and "bliss." It was life, simple unadulterated life, lived in a moment, all focus upon that moment. He saw joy -- beautiful joy.

These two images, the dying old man, the eyes of a child, brought alive for Deleuze the idea of pure immanence.

Yet, this immanence, this life, is not a rare thing. It is everywhere around us. But one must pay attention, one must, as Wittgenstein said, "look, don't think." For pure immanence is not understood, it cannot be claimed in language, rather it is felt, one brushes-up against it. In the realm of language one can play with it, invite it, talk of it in fleeting terms, but one can never approach its definition, never truly know it.

My cat has just joined me -- she sits upon my desk. It's in the eyes... between her eyes and mine. She looks directly into my eyes then she calmly closes her own as only a cat is able to do. In that moment a bliss breaks into the day, just as it did when Deleuze looked into the eyes of a child, just as it did as he watched the child in her play... A gentle explosion of bliss.

Pure immanence -- not evasive and endangered, no unattainable perfectionism, as some may think, but contagious, even explosive, and always close to hand.

And our words... they are anything but useless. They can call, invite, they can evoke and invoke. Oh yes, yes, and best of all, words can sing. I venture to guess that one day some anthropologist, or perhaps a biologist, will come to the conclusion that the spoken word is simply an evolution of the lyrical word -- the singing of song came first! Pure immanence... and the voice of song.

As for life, it comes eagerly. But, whether the old man on his death bed, whether the eyes of the child, whether the bliss of a cat, one thing repeatedly emerges -- life always comes, and only comes in the moment of its living.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Aphorisms about the Idea of Becomings

While I was particularly inspired by Deleuze, Nietzsche and Derrida in my thinking here, I wish to talk of these ideas more in the first-person-singular.

Perhaps there is no other way to write other than first-person-singular.

Becomings I - Nature and the Alive

I wish to talk of Becomings rather than change.

I wish to talk of Becomings as moving toward the Alive, moving toward beauty, hope, connection and other gifts of life.

I wish to talk of Becomings as connected to the becomings of nature.

I wish to see our human worlds as indistinct from nature.

I wish to see our Becomings as sharing much in common with the constant Becomings emerging within the grass, the rivers, the trees, amidst the lives of birds, fish, insects.

We know, of course, that the language of nature can itself invite separations – nature/culture; natural/artificial; natural/human -- distinctions that can set the stage for regimes of violations and violences. Yet, we still wish to talk of nature. We still wish to see ourselves connected to those vast plateaus wherein all life moves.

Becomings II - Community & Difference

The relationship between Becoming Community and Becoming Bodies is a complicated one.

I put forward that community is built upon difference, yet it is often imagened as built upon unity. It seems to me that unity can never Become at all -- it is an illusion of Becoming. The creation of unity takes something like force and power, submission and subjugation -- such attributes are antithetical to Community and to Becomings. Force and power are able to create impossible-to-realize hopes and dreams of unity, they can create an image of something that may appear like unity, but they cannot create unity, and they cannot create community.

Only difference can truly Become in these social worlds -- and the Becoming of community is built upon such difference. We can approach each other to understand, to differ, to be surprised, but we can never approach each other for the purpose of unification. Life, joy, love -- all such communal treasures, only come into life because of the differences which inevitable emerge, and because of the response we offer to such differences -- not through any illusion of sameness.

Time to discard the intensity of the alliance between difference and conflict. While the two can certainly be found together, difference also pairs up with curiosity, admiration, attraction, desire, love, humour, and on and on... The very biological notion of sexuality is built upon the necessity of difference.

Becomings III - Negations & Affirmations

These Becomings which we experience do not emerge from negation processes.

The ideas of negation and affirmation are meaningless unless connected to something of importance. Negation does not stand on its own -- we connect it to the idea of the Alve. Negation means a great deal when it is seen as the negation of things living. The same with affirmation. Affirmation on its own could stand for many things -- it could even stand for the affirmation of destruction. However, we are referring to it as the affirmation of the Alive. Affirmations of the movements of life.

Now, clearly, negations surround us. Out of force of habit, we repeatedly participate in them. Negations are ingrained in our thought. They seem integral to the ways of our institutions.

We are taught that change emerges because we face up to negations. We are to learn what is wrong with us, we acknowledge what is wrong with us, and then we change based on such learnings.

However, in life, and in my work with people, I see very little of this. Negations are far more likely to create further reactive negations in response -- negations triggering more and more rounds of negations. Also they are likely to create a depressive paralysis, an immobility that breeds further depressive negations.

There seems to be a powerful tie between those experiences we see as depression and worlds dominated by processes of negations. Reactive and negative forces tend to glorify depression. These forces inform us that it is good to bear the burdens of one's errors, to acknowledge the depths of one's sins – this is often thought of as being responsible.

This is the age–old tradition of sin/redemption. In this tradition our relations to the natural world swarming around us are condemned. Such connections were historically considered "pagan," and therefore undesirable. In the same way we are now informed of our sinfulness, of our transgressions against, not imminent forces surrounding us in nature, but forces transcendent to nature, forces informed by higher powers. We are also informed of the requisite transcendent mechanisms which are able to redeem us. People are thereby pulled away from nature, and from the forces of life, and become dependent upon the transcendent worlds of redemption inherent within our human institutions.

Thought becomes one of the tools of transcendence. Thought, in this manner, must not emerge from relation to nature, or relation to the lives of people, rather thought comes to bear upon us as an authority which must be accepted, as a statement of truth, from a separate and transcendent plane, which directs and forms our thinking. All of this, outside of our relations to life with nature and people.

Thought is not just used this way by religious authorities, it is used by most institutional authorities, including education, the workplaces, government, the media, special interest groups, etc. It is a tradition handed down to modern institutions from our religious roots. In this view, thought is owned, it is a possession of an established order, it is not something which comes from and returns to our living engagements.

Yet, inspite of such influences, thought, as it is connected to a living and responsive world, is very much alive. It is clearly evident in much of our everyday relations and interactions. If we look, it is there in abundance.

Becomings IV - Never Fixed... Always Flowing

We can dare to put aside such influences of negation. We can enter with the grass and the trees, the grasshopper and the crow, those unmanaged and joyful possibilities of Becoming.

We can think of Becomings rather than identity. For we are not an identity, some thing, some finality that can be boxed and wrapped up. We are many Becomings at any possible time, constantly in the midst of various flows. Nothing ever fixed.

Becomings flow through us on the backs of the gifts and goods which move through our worlds. For example, we don't have love, we don't own it, hold it as a thing. Rather, we flow up and toward love, we respond to loves, and we constantly are called to respond again and again. Loves always move. And loves always diverge and multiply.

Becomings are always the result of many hands. But the many hands never create just one thing, and there is never just one perspective, and there is always, always difference. Community is the very recognition of such differences, and it is the connections which come forth from amongst those differences. Becomings always happen in numbers beyond one, and even beyond two.

Becomings are never manipulated through self-help or through the cult of the therapeutic. Becomings are always in some form of friendship with chaos. They flow through us as we immerse ourselves in the chaotic abundance of our communal realms, as we participate in the varied becomings of others.