Fallback & Spring Forward with Val Livesay

I sought Dr. Val Livesay’s insights about developmental fallback last year.  Now Val’s new book “Leaving the Ghostlight Burning” is out. The term ghostlight is taken from theatre where it means to welcome to ghostly characters. In her book Val invites us to welcome our inner characters, the ghosts that lurk in our own shadows. I recommend the book to those who care to grow more resilience and capacity for the participative practice of ART/action research for transformations. That capacity building must include turning the camera around on our inner characters. Even those, or especially those, we judge to be quite primitive.

What Leaving the Ghostlight Burning is about for ARTists.

Fallback is Val’s term for those times when, despite knowing better, we act/think in ways more primitive, more contracted, more horrible than is good for us or anyone.  Truth is, we all have those moments (or years!). But too few of us have been encouraged to take a closer look. The book is essentially a kind invitation to  learn, daily and forever, how to bring insight and improved practice to our primitive relational interactions. Val brings a few well told tales from real life and brings cases of others she knows. All the better to invite us be kind to ourselves too.   With new liberating insights and practices we can and will become better developmental friends, with ourselves and with one another. 

We each have our signature patterns of fallback. We might raise our voice or passive aggressively lash out at a colleague. And here’s the tricky part. Because ego is designed to protect us, it’s natural to cover up such fallback; it’s natural to simply export all the blame and never engage in inquiry. Val’s book is important for inviting us precisely to resist that natural impulse. Instead Val invites us to become vastly more curious about fallback. 

Curiosity makes all the difference between having lots of bad days on rinse and repeat cycles of fallback or accessing more resilience, more capacity, more of our inner resources. The good news is that it becomes possible to be way less primitive more of the time. What a relief to those around us. And ourselves. All to the good of our action research!

How does an ARTist work with fallback

It helps to remind ourselves of the basic insight of relational constructivism which underpins both the adult developmental theory Val works from and the participative worldview of ART. In a nutshell, humans are not solely predetermined by external stimuli.  We have choice in how we construct our experience. But to nurture this capacity, we need to practice to turn from the inherited impulse to blame/ run away/ lash out on its head. Through bringing compassionate inquiry, we can retrieve our wits and do our best to salvage any situation.  Simple, just not easy.

The book is therefore a gentle guide to disciplining our mind’s madness. With more choices opening up, we’re more user friendly with ourselves and with others.  As Val has a kind disposition it’s easy to admit we need to take on this fallback practice and not get caught up in a self punishing approach.

In sum, without getting curious about fallback we will remain naïve about power – and transformation. Let’s face it, no one really wants to work with your inner grumpy action researcher. Probably least of all yourself.  At this time of eco-social crisis, transformation cannot be considered somehow entirely separate from ourselves. With the language of fallback we can step into the glorious mess and make a positive difference for self and others by transforming our own fallback.