An interview with Stephen Gilligan – Part 1

Today’s Musings


Hi all,
Since moving to Thailand a couple of months ago I have been sharing my Thai experience in the introduction to our newsletter. So here is a bit more today…

I have been finding the people I meet to be kind and caring with a wonderful sense of humor. When you move to a new country and most of the people don’t speak any of the languages you speak and you don’t speak their language all that well, every day you go out you will be sure to have some interesting experiences. 

Let me tell you about a short encounter I had the other day during lunch-
I went into a noodle shop that I had visited several times before. I know enough words to squeak out an order, but not all that much more. The mother of the owner was in the shop this time around and she decided it would be nice to have a conversation with the new “farong” in the neighborhood. (“Farong” is the Thai word for “foreigner”.)

First she said it was hot today, and I could understand that, so I nodded my head “Yes”. Then she made another statement which I could not understand, but I guessed that “Yes” was a safe answer, and I replied “Yes”. Well, I think she became somewhat confident in my Thai language ability because she then went on a bit of a riff in fluent Thai. 

At the end of her soliloquy, I could tell by the intonation in her voice that she had asked me a question. I had no idea what she had asked and thus I had no idea what to reply, so I made a gesture to hopefully show I was confused and didn’t understand. Seeing my “reply” she got up from where she was sitting and came over and sat down at my small table and immediately started gabbing away with a smile on her face. I had no idea what she was talking about, but she did seem to be enjoying herself! After about a minute of talking, she asked me another question, and I gave the same gesture to try and let her know I had no idea what she was talking about. Which led her, I think, to try and explain herself even better!

We engaged like this for about five minutes or so and then her son came to my table to serve my noodles. He winked at me and then took his mom by the hand, apparently asking her to get up and help him do something on the other side of the small shop. As she was doing the assigned task she was still actively talking and at some point another person in the shop who could speak some English called out to me and said, “She just told her son that she thinks you are a very nice young man, and she would like to talk to you more some time.”

I couldn’t help but smile… And now I am looking forward to seeing her in the future when I can speak at least a few more words of her language. 

These are the kind of encounters that really wind up enriching the quality of my life!

Today’s Learning


Tony and I had the pleasure to interview Stephen Gilligan, Ph.D for the current podcast episode. Stephen is a leader in the field of generative psychology, and during the interview we were able learn his thoughts on how we can live a life that is less stressful and thus more emotionally fulfilling. Due to the amount of material we covered, we decided to split the interview into two parts.

For me, interviewing Stephen was a blast from the past. In many ways it seems to me that Stephen and I have been like two butterflies flitting around in the same large field, and only first meeting each other after both of us had logged a good deal of flight time.

I started out on my flight path by studying various healing and bodywork modalities, adding in Ericksonian Hypnosis, getting deeply involved in NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), while also getting nicely swept away by my study of Aikido and moving to Japan.

Stephen on the other hand was a psychology major who happened to be studying at UC Santa Cruz, the school that was the nexus point of a number of exceptional human beings, and the gestation of NLP. Not only did Stephen study with Richard Bandler and John Grinder (the founders of NLP) in their early days of teaching, and Gregory Bateson as well, but through Grinder and Bandler, he came to meet and study with Milton Erickson, and eventually he began to seriously study Aikido as well.

So simplifying the above, the “areas” where our  flight paths overlapped were: Ericksonian Hypnosis, NLP, Gregory Bateson, and Aikido. And each in our own way, we learned a lot that is similar and complementary. Let me explain…

My study of Ericksonian Hypnosis started mainly with John Grinder. One of the things I noticed early on with John was that whatever response he got from a “client” while teaching was quite alright with him. He accepted and acknowledged whatever the client said, and he UTILIZED the response of the client to help create positively-oriented change. As an example- If he held up a black placard and asked the client what color the placard was, John wasn’t at all concerned with whether or not the client said “black”. This was quite intriguing for me to experience. It was as if there were no right or wrong, but only acceptance of the client’s experience and model of the world.

Then when I moved to Japan and started to study Aikido with Tohei-sensei I got to see that he had the very same way of reacting as John did. Tohei-sensei would ask a student to attack him and regardless of the attack the student mounted, Tohei-sensei seems quite at ease with what the student did. If the student kicked, that was quite ok. If he instead punched, that was also quite ok. Tohei-sensei UTILIZED the attack as a way to neutralize the attacker and lessen the aggression being expressed.

I found the similarities between John and Tohei-sensei to be deeply fascinating, and I felt truly blessed to be witnessing two great teachers with very different backgrounds, responding in very much the same way. Although John never studied Aikido, he used to say that Aikido and NLP are both based on the same principles- Going with the flow and utilizing whatever was manifesting at any given moment.

Stephen and I have talked and shared a good deal over the years, and we have very similar models of how we approach our work. One of the many gifts that Stephen offers his students is the understanding of how Milton Erickson engaged in the very same process of utilization .

So what I have written here, sets the beginning context for what Stephen and I talk about in today’s podcast. So let me stop now and give you the chance to listen to the podcast. I hope you will get as much enjoyment from this interview as Tony and I did!

A wide range of topics were covered in this interview, so you can click the button to read an outline of the interview and also listen to the podcast. We’ll finish up with Part Two of the interview when we publish the next newsletter in two weeks.

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In Community,

One thought on “An interview with Stephen Gilligan – Part 1

  1. Suzanne Improvisation Lerner

    Hi Charlie,
    Love the story with the “Ma.” It’s one thing to know the statistic that only a small percentage of our actual communication is based on the words themselves.(estimates as high as 55 percent body language and another 38 percent to the tone and music of the voice.)
    I had a similar experience in Crete…
    Lost, hot & tired, I wandered into a tiny cafe bar. I had just arrived. There was only one patron, a very old man on a bar stool, I showed him my English/Greek guide & tried to show w/ gestures that I was looking for the guest house. It was written in Greek & English. Rather than respond to “my question”, he affirmatively and w/ his head gesturing in a definitive way, patted the stool next to him. I was to sit down. That was #1. #2 was he put a big, fresh, homegrown slice of watermelon, in the same definitive way, almost singing out: “carpoozi!” I ate. #3 I finish the watermelon, and he now, in his class mode, takes a small glass, and w/ the same confident gesture, as if we’d rehearsed these lines forever, and he had delivered the punchline, he sings out “OUZO!”
    It’s 2PM in the afternoon and I hardly drink, but when in Kriti, do as the Kritis!” I had one small shot & gently turned down the rest, giving the International gesture of woman to man, “oh, I’m just a wimpy woman, so I can only drink this tiny little bit, but you go ahead.”
    And then we sat…and sat and sat. Looking out at the harbor, feeling the beautiful sun on our faces, this warm two-ness, like a married couple of 40 years on a park bench.
    Thanks for the fond memories. what you speak of is a very special kind of intimacy.
    Off to hear the “Stephen Charlie Tony tapes”

    Sawahdee Kah


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