Sunday, 21 June 2015

Observational Genius - Milton Erickson

Milton Erickson had many challenges in life, completely paralysed by the polio virus when he was seventeen he defied all the doctors who said he would never walk again by 'teaching' his body to feel again, teaching his legs and arms to move and respond to his instructions. This had a huge influence on his understanding of the amazing physical capacities that we who learnt to walk in childhood take for granted. He became fully conscious of how babies learn to recognise and use body parts because he had to do just that in order to regain the use of his body. While he was recovering he also further developed his observational skills studying all those around him including his baby sister who 'coincidently'  was learning to walk at that time .
But I digress from the point of this post.
Erickson's observational skills were already well honed even before his paralysis.
He was completely tone deaf and became curious and puzzled in grade school about the behaviour of his classmates and sisters whenever they listened to music or singing.  For some inexplicable reason they began to move their hands and feet and bodies in a regular patterns whenever music was played and what confused him most was that their breathing patterns all shifted in unison when one song ended and another began even though none was actually singing (" yelling " to Erickson ) at that time. Erickson felt no urge to move about and was unaware of any shift in his own breathing pattern. But he became intensely aware that his classmates consistently began humming the songs sung by soloists after a while. Thus what is commonplace, expected and ignored by most of us became a source of interest and concern to him because he did not naturally respond in the same way.

After some experimentation he found that when he mimicked the pattern of breathing associated with a particular song, those around him would begin humming or even singing the song and assume it was a tune that had just come to them out of the blue. ( His questions about the phenomenon were met with rebuffs and disapproval, a response he later indicated merely stimulated his interest and observations further.)
Erickson's observations eventually revealed to him that a particular pattern of breathing could initiate not only humming or singing but even yawns, a discovery that he employed surreptitiously to interrupt recitations by classmates, to initiate yawning in an entire classroom , or even to disrupt the the lecture of a boring professor.
It is worth noting that young children were able to notice the intentional shifts in his breathing pattern and the effects of these changes even when adults could not. One two and a half year old told  Erickson that  "you breathe me to sweep " and other children observed that he breathes differently to get someone to go to sleep or to wake up.  ( Adapted from The Wisdom of Milton Erickson by Ronald A Havens ).

What astonishing powers of perception, how 'awake ' he was. I am in awe of the man's powers of attention and observation. I had come across some stories about Milton Erickson a while ago and reading more about him in Steven Goldsmith's "The Healing Paradox" inspired me to 'study him in more detail.  So grateful to Mallow library for having such wonderful books available.

No comments: