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The Art Of The Grok
by Serge Kahili King

"Grok" is a word invented by the author, Robert Heinlein. It was first used in his science fiction novel, Stranger In A Strange Land, to represent a Martian practice that was taught to a boy from Earth. It became so popular in the 1960s that it was finally added to U.S. dictionaries in a watered-down form. Usual definitions were "to understand intuitively and by empathy" or "to empathize or communicate sympathetically; to establish rapport." Anyone who has actually read the novel knows that it goes far deeper than that.

What Heinlein actually did was to novelize an ancient shamanic technique generally, and distortedly, called "shape-changing."

Every living being, every object, every concept or idea has a uniquely individual identity that can be called its essence. Another term, taken from Huna, is its aka pattern, based on the Hawaiian word aka, meaning "essence." Your aka pattern, for instance, is a combination of your physical characteristics, of your ideas about things, of what you represent and what you stand for, and, in short, everything that is included in your mind and what presents itself outwardly. This is the Total You, your aka pattern, your essential identity. Abstract concepts such as God, or the gods, the spiritual Jesus, the Christ Presence, the Buddha, etc. also have essential identities or aka patterns. So do plants, animals, cells, rocks and all the elements.

According to the idea of "grokking" or "shape-changing," it is possible for you to merge your consciousness with another aka pattern--to identify with it--and thus know it and make use of that knowledge. A fairly common mystical/magical/shamanic practice is to identify with a plant through meditation. The person who does this becomes, in a sense, one with the plant. He can then travel in consciousness from point to point within the plant and describe sensations and effects and the cellular structure in great detail because he is that plant at that moment. Much of the knowledge of the ancients was achieved through such identification. They had no need to use instruments to tear things apart and tack them up on a board in order to understand them. They were able to study life directly, and were not limited to studying death as so many modern scientists think they must do. Our modern technology has been useful in many ways, but in other ways it has only served to separate us from life.

Through identification, one can learn to do and feel as the object of identification does. It bears a similarity to the kind of in-depth role playing some actors use. A good actor playing the role of another person will identify with that person so well that for the period he is on the stage or in front of the camera he will be that person. This can even be done with a purely fictional character, because even these have their aka patterns formed from the thoughts of others about them. As an example, books have been written about the psychology of some of Shakespeare's characters like Hamlet and Falstaff which go deeply into their supposed thinking patterns, and the same has been done for Sherlock Holmes and others. Now, these were fictional beings limited to some lines on paper, and yet people have identified with these characters so totally through acting and reading that the characters have almost become like individually living beings. You might say that their essence was expanded to the point where people could write things about them that were never actually written in the plays or stories, but which have become implicit.

In various parts of the world there are men who play a traditional role in identifying with certain animals. One of the most well known cases is that of the "leopard men" in West Africa. These young men go into a trance brought about partly through drugs and partly through dancing and wearing the skin of the animal. They will so totally identify with that animal, transferring their consciousness to a leopard pattern, that in their own minds they actually become leopards. Within the limits of human anatomy they do everything that a leopard would do. Psychologically, they become leopards in every sense of the word. Of course, this is an extreme example. The skillful shaman will always reserve a portion of his own identify--we often say at least 1%--so that the transfer of consciousness is under his direction and is never total. For this reason he will usually undergo a period of training with a competent guide.

Mystics often reach for identification with spiritual beings and achieve states of ecstasy and profound knowledge of other dimensions. Mediums or channels go through a similar process. The principle of identification does not have to be carried to such lengths, however. It can be done by degrees so that one only gains the knowledge that one desires.

So far, this is still close to the ideas of understanding and empathy. The next stage of grokking, though, takes us a step closer to the original meaning.

From time to time it has been noted that certain people who have a deeply intimate relationship--not necessarily sexual--will begin to resemble each other in some ways, even visually. This has also been noted as happening between some people and their pets. From one point of view, this could be seen as an example of unconscious grokking.

An example of conscious grokking in this way might be how some indigenous peoples are able to virtually disappear in a forest by establishing such a rapport with trees and bushes that they blend in with them, with or without camouflage to help. There are trackers and military scouts who, consciously or unconsciously, can do the same thing. Actors, con men or women, and shamans can develop the ability to blend in practically anywhere in nature or among people. How do they do this? By establishing a rapport and thinking of themselves as being that which they want to blend with. Shamans and some indigenous people may carry this even further by blending in with animals to such a degree that animals accept them into a group and humans may take them for animals. This can be enhanced by moving in ways similar (not exactly) to how the animals move. The best examples I have seen of this are among the Australian Aborigines who are able to look and act uncannily like kangaroos and emus.

The third step in grokking is the ability--from a state of deep rapport--to influence the behavior of that which one is grokking. In Africa, among other places, this has been used not only to find animal herds, but to influence the animals to linger in or go to a particular spot and wait for the hunters. This has also been used with great success in modern times for moving storms and quenching forest fires.

What needs to be emphasized is that this is not control by any means. The first step is for establishing rapport; the second step is for determining the available behavioral potentials for what is being grokked; the third step is for lending weight to one of those potentials. For instance, in the case of a hurricane, one cannot make the hurricane go in the direction one pleases. Instead, one determines first the possible directions in which the hurricane is willing, to go and lends weight to the direction most like to produce the best outcome. "Lending weight" means one mentally and emotionally encourages that choice.

What might be called a fourth step is influencing a change in the behavior of what or who is being grokked by changing oneself. This is most often applied in healing where the person grokking changes his or her own mind, feelings and/or physical state to one most beneficial for the person being grokked.

Although the scientific method--hypothesizing, observing, testing and modifying--is used to learn how to grok, it remains an art that requires practice, persistence and the development of skill.

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