Communication beyond words

"20% of communication is actually what we say, and 80% is tone, inflection, and body language."

I'm sure many of you reading this have heard that quote, maybe some of you haven't, but either way, it was essentially the inspiration behind this post.  It's so amazing to me that only 20% of what we communicate to each other is what we actually say.  We often think of communication as words primarily, but when it comes to genuine face to face communication, there tends to be so much more happening.  I was reminded of this recently while doing some dialogue work at a retirement community in Seattle, WA.  The work I was doing entailed taking a group of 10-12 residents through my eight week "Full Circle Dialogue Introductory Series."  For eight weeks we met once a week, I taught them various dialogue concepts/tools, and we would practice them together.  

On the first day while meeting all of the residents, aside from the common hearing and sight impairments of old age that most of them shared, I took note that one of the residents had suffered a stroke recently and struggled significantly with speaking.  Initially, I was slightly anxious, thinking to myself, "How is she going to participate?  Is she going to enjoy this?  How will I know if she's enjoying this?"  Having said that, as one week turned into the next, and I got to know each resident, especially this particular one, I came to find that she struggled with speaking, but she did not struggle one bit with expressing herself.  It was very inspiring, and served as such a powerful reminder to me that there is so much more to communicating than words.  The experience obviously made me think of the quote I started this post with.  With her though, I'd take liberties with the percentages to make it a bit more accurate.  About 5% of her communication was words, and the remaining 95% was tone, inflection, and body language....and amazingly, I always understood her!

I always understood her?  Well how could I without words?  We need words to explain complex concepts, but expressing feelings is a whole different story, and she was always able to successfully express to me how she was feeling throughout the entire process. Tone, inflection, and body language are all very effective ways to express how one feels, and when combined, they can be exponentially more powerful than words.  After one of our weekly sessions, she combined all three by approaching me, gently grabbing my hands, smiling, looking me in the eyes, and she then spent a minute or two struggling to get out the words "I appreciate you being here" with such a transparently kind tone and inflection.  When people can just use words, they tend to not be as intentional with their tone, inflection, and body language, because they don't feel that they need to.  Words can be the ultimate short cut in a way, but the lengths that this resident was forced to go to to express herself to me, proved to have been a much more powerful way to communicate than if she just casually said "I appreciate you being here" on her way out the door.

It was interesting to me that at the beginning of the eight week series, I looked at her as if she was impaired because she wasn't able to explain things very well sometimes.  Due to her "explanatory difficulties" though, she had become exceptionally gifted at expressing herself through other means still available to her.  Many people use the words explain and express interchangeably, but they're fundamentally different as their definitions show below:

Explain:  make (an idea, situation, or problem) clear to someone by describing it in more detail or revealing relevant facts or ideas.

Express:  Convey (a thought or feeling) in words or by gestures and conduct.

Explaining seems to be more about details and facts, where words work best, but expressing can involve feelings, and though one can express through words alone, gestures and conduct can be forms of expression as well.  All of us should be equally balanced in our skills of explanation and expression, but how many of us are indeed balanced?  How many of us are always intentional with our words, but come up short with the other conversational qualities?  Part of practicing dialogue is slowing down, and becoming more conscious, aware, and mindful of our thoughts and reactions while in conversation.  This is a perfect example that this concept extends beyond being mindful of the content of our words, but to the vehicle we are delivering them in.  That vehicle is our tone, inflection, and body language, and it accounts for the majority of how our messages are being received in communication.

I hope this post inspires those reading to not wait until their ability to explain dissipates to start deeply expressing themselves.  The experience I had with this resident was such a great reminder to me that we as humans come into this world with a vast array of tools in our communication toolbox.  We initially tend to use the ones that each of us find easiest, and let the others gather dust until we absolutely have to use them.  Don't let your tools gather dust, use them all as often as you can!  Rarely do humans connect deeply through words alone, feelings seem to be the universal thread of connection, and the tools of expression, tone, body language and inflection are the best ways to tap into that.  Words are of course important, but in closing, as Maya Angelou said, "At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”






Is it time for a communication revolution?

We're currently living in a time, that in spite of all of our technological advances, and progress if you will, people are coming full circle and looking to the past for answers for the future, by asking the question, how were our ancestors living 10,000 years ago?

 There's more and more buzz about getting back to our roots.  There is an increased awareness that our bodies and genetic makeup have not evolved past that of our ‘hunter gatherer’ relatives.  Though our surroundings have been evolving at the speed of light, from self-driving cars, to 3-D printing, we’re essentially operating out of the same cave man minds and bodies that we were several thousand years ago.

So what do I mean exactly by, getting back to our “roots?”  I mean people are taking a hard look at how they live their day to day lives, and wondering which things they do are adaptations to the modern world we live in, and which lifestyle choices seem to be truly natural and harmonious for the way we're wired.

 A good example of this is that people are becoming much more conscious of the food they put in their bodies.  Whether or not you are an advocate for a paleo diet, or a vegan diet, or somewhere in between, I think the shared goal of either of these "dietary advocates" is to put food in our bodies that come most natural to us.   People are becoming more aware of the health risks associated with the convenience of modern man-made creations like pop tarts, skittles, and frozen pizzas, and are opting for ‘fuel’ our bodies originally adapted to run on.  This has resulted in seeing labels like  “organic” and “non-gmo” in every grocery store you enter today.


 Another popular lifestyle analysis that the masses have become more mindful of for quite some time, is how we get from one place to another, and what an average day at work is like.  The modern industrial and technological advancements of cars/buses/trains, and computers, have equated to sedentary days for most folks.  Most people drive, bus, or train to work, then sit in a chair at a computer all day.  When taking your daily audit of what comes natural, and what does not, this lifestyle most definitely falls into the latter category.  Those that do their homework on our hunter-gatherer relatives find out that every single day consisted of a tremendous amount of movement, walking 4-10 miles at the very least searching for food and shelter.  It's safe to say that this raised awareness has resulted in the nearly ubiquitous daily supplementation of exercise that most of us at least try to squeeze in to our busy lives.

  When it comes to the above examples, how one eats, and one moves,  it’s nearly consensus opinion that the further away you get from what comes most natural to human beings, the more your health declines.  What other lifestyle aspects have we not evolved past that we should be attempting to restore and "supplement?"  What about communication?

  I believe we’re in the middle of an unprecedented time in regards to the primary ways we now communicate with each other.  Did our tribal ancestors, who's biological needs we share,  ever spend several days alone communicating through screens, never sharing space with another human for authentic communication?  Would our ancestors feel comfortable walking through crowds of people, brushing up next to them, without even saying anything, or at least acknowledging each other’s existence like we do today?  If most people would agree that it's true that we haven't evolved past the dietary needs and exercise needs of our ancestors, is it farfetched to say that we haven't evolved past their needs socially and communicatively either?  Many of us "supplement" our lives with natural dietary choices and exercise choices, but might it start to become more popular to put all the screens down for a moment and make the same natural choice with communication?

 Stephen Illardi, Psychologist and author, states in his book "The Depression Cure," that "Anthropologists who visit modern foraging tribes invariably notice something peculiar about their hosts’ social lives:  Hunter-Gatherers almost never spend time alone.  Whether it is hunting, cooking, eating, playing, foraging, sleeping, grooming; regardless of the task, it is carried out in the company of others, loneliness and social isolation are virtually unknown." Wow…how different from our modern world!  So many of us work alone, sit in traffic alone, eat alone, and feel alone when everyone we’re with is sucked into the virtual world of their phones!

 I’m sure we can all attest to a time when we were leading very healthy lives across the board; eating healthy, exercising, getting plenty of sleep, but we still felt a little off and out of balance.  Then after meeting up with someone, spending time together and having great conversation, we left feeling invigorated and in perfect balance. 

What is it exactly about sharing space together and communicating face to face that has these unique healing elements to it?  Now what might that say about the sort of communication humans are wired for?  Is that the missing piece of the puzzle that so many people are missing in our increasingly isolated and technology laden society?  There was an interesting study done in 2004 called the “Blue Zones Project” that may have proved just that.

 In 2004 National Geographic and the world’s best longevity researchers teamed up to identify pockets around the world where people tend to live much longer lives.  In these “Blue Zones” they found that people live to 100 at rates 10 times greater than in the United States.  Out of all these random “Blue Zone Communities” around the world, from Japan, to Italy, to Loma Linda, CA, they identified nine lifestyle common denominators among them.  In addition to the more obvious lifestyle traits of healthy eating habits, and moderate exercise, three out of the nine lifestyle common denominators were community based:  engagement in social life, engagement in family life, and engagement in a spiritual or religious communityThese are all ways of being in community with one another, and as the great American philosopher, educator, and author Mortimer Adler once said, “There can be no community without communication.”  I think we all can agree that community cannot exist without a rich source of communication and interaction.

 As more studies like this emerge, and we continue to become more and more isolated in our tech-saturated lives, might there be a "communication movement" or "communication revolution" the same way there's been a "natural foods movement" and a "exercise movement?"  Might it become  just as common to see “dialogue centers” in every neighborhood the same way we see gyms, yoga studios and Whole Foods markets?  Who knows.....that might just be the missing piece to the puzzle in our shared quest for optimal health!



How to Choose Compassion over Fear on a Daily basis

I would guess that if all of us were given the option of experiencing the feelings that accompany fear or compassion in any given situation, most people would say that they would choose to feel the feelings derived from compassion.  The feelings associated with fear aren't feelings we human beings crave by any means, in fact, we avert feelings of fear at all costs for the most part!  On the other hand, we all generally enjoy the "warm fuzzy" feelings of compassion that are associated with altruistic acts.  Whether it is donating to a charity, volunteering somewhere for the less fortunate, or giving a homeless person the spare change in our pockets.  I think it's a safe assumption to say that not only are those on the giving end of the compassionate acts willing participants, but it is an emotionally fulfilling experience for them as well.

 Going beyond my general assumption that it is a fulfilling experience for the "giver" in these instances, studies have been done  on the brain by The Association for Psychological Science, and several universities, showing that the act of giving is just as pleasurable, if not more, than receiving, and has been proven to speed up recovery from disease and to lengthen our life spans!  If compassionate acts indeed feel good, and there are positive health benefits backed by science,  then why is it that every single day we often have countless golden opportunities to be compassionate in a way that costs us no money, and little physical effort, but we frequently pass it up and succumb to feelings of fear instead?  The opportunity that we encounter every day, is the opportunity to truly listen to someone, and to give our attention.  Let me explain.

In the dictionary, compassion is usually defined something like what is seen below:

"Sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortune of others."

The above definition is definitely suitable for some of the more "acute" opportunities to be compassionate that I originally referenced in the first paragraph. Having said that, there's another definition I really enjoy that lends itself to a broader application, and particularly to the simple act of listening.  Last winter, I was hosting what I call a "dialogue dinner" with a small eclectic group of friends at my apartment.  At one point during the evening I asked everyone to define compassion in their own words.  One of those in attendance, my friend Jessie, defined it as the following:

 "Putting someone else's needs in front of yours, putting someone else first."

So simple and yet so profound!   I immediately thought of how applicable that definition was to the act of genuinely listening to someone else.  By genuinely listening, I'm referring to a type of listening that is a bit slower than what we're used to in our fast paced lives, and engages a part of us beyond the mind.  William Issacs, a leader in the world of dialogue, describes it well:

"To listen respectfully to others brings out the 'intelligence of the heart,' through dialogue we learn how to engage the heart." -William Isssacs

 It seems that most of the time, unfortunately,  instead of really listening, to the point of "engaging the heart,"  what is happening can be better described as "waiting," waiting to speak that is.  Conversations start to replicate a tennis match where each "player" in the conversation is trying to score points on one another, but instead of a tennis ball being sent back and forth, it's the perpetual reinforcement of one another's ego.  By ego in this case, I mean the constant ambient noise, or voice, inside our head that is always tapping us on the shoulder to remind us of our  self-importance, and relentlessly urges us to make it known.  It could also be described as that constant reminder that "it's about time to interject and have our ME moment."  A good example of this is when you're telling someone a really important story and before you know it, you've been cut off and they've hijacked the story and made it about them!  Now that's not exactly putting someone else first right?  Most of the time, the people doing it  don't even realize it, because we're all so used to giving in to those familiar feelings of fear.

At this point you're probably wondering what exactly I mean by "fear."  Actually,  I think a better word to use might be anxiety, and it's the low-level anxiety we all feel when all the while that we're "listening" to someone, our "ego-minds" are jumping around in a constant state  of "word and sentence scanning," looking for some way to make what we're hearing  about us .  Sometimes, once we've decided what that "thing" is, and we've attached to it, in a way we're done listening, because now we're waiting to speak.  What if we let that thought go and surrendered our full attention to the person in front of us?  Why can it be so anxiety producing at times to watch our thought, or the "point" we wanted to make, drift back into our memories?

What is this worst case scenario that our mind fears so much that attributes to that distracting ambient anxiety?  That fear is derived from a belief that when that point, or comment, you had suspended in your mind drifts off into your personal sea of consciousness, and it is forgotten,  you are losing part of yourself, and that you're losing the conversation.  Is that reality though?  I think not, we can all rest assured knowing that this is simply an illusion, you don't become less of you, and in fact, by bringing your full attention into the present moment through compassionate listening, not only do you not lose, but you win.  Compassion tends to yield compassion, it is the gift that keeps on giving.

Having an ego, or sense of self, that is continually reinforced is a necessary part of the lives we all live to a certain extent.  Whether its our job, certain relationships, or our family, we all take on different roles, which come with labels, so it is inevitable to establish an ego of your own.  When it comes to being completely present in conversation with others though, it can be of great benefit to suspend the ego, and not give into its needs and wants.  Spiritual teacher Eckart Tolle describes this well:

"A genuine relationship is one that is not dominated by the ego with its image-making and self-seeking.  In a genuine relationship, there is an outward flow of open, alert attention toward the other person in which there is no wanting whatsoever."   -Eckart Tolle

So how can one work on this and stop the ego from creeping into conversation?  It's not as much a matter of "stopping" it, but just becoming aware of it, and moving into a more conscious state.  The alternative is  the unconsciousness state when we think we're listening, but we're really just waiting and reacting.  Eckart Tolle happens to have a very applicable quote that applies to this as well:

"The moment you become aware of the ego in you, it is strictly speaking no longer the ego, but just an old, conditioned mind-pattern.  Ego implies unawareness.  Awareness and ego cannot coexist."  -Eckart Tolle
Just listen.JPG

It can definitely be a challenge to break long time habits that we've all developed, especially something like conversational patterns, but like many things in life it is a practice, and it can be done.  The moral of the story is that when you choose to recognize that seemingly important ambient noise, fear, anxiety, or pressure in your mind as a relatively unimportant illusion, and surrender to a more present and  compassionate state of listening, everyone wins.  Like I mentioned earlier, It might even lengthen your life too!






Using the Principle of Participation


Using the Principle of Participation

A good friend of mine I grew up with got me a bracelet for my birthday this year, but this wasn't just any bracelet apparently.  He got it from a gift shop at an International Peace Center in Montana called "The Garden of One Thousand Buddhas, " which is a place said to awaken one's natural inner qualities of joy, wisdom, and compassion through the use of the ancient symbols of Buddhism.  Additionally,  the attendant at the gift shop who sold it to him claimed that the beads used in this  particular bracelet had some sort of "special energy", and that others who had bought one of these bracelets had come back days later echoing that very sentiment, and professing  the changes that had occurred in their lives since putting it on.  Pretty interesting stuff right!?  Initially I wasn't too sure what to think of the whole back story, but it was a very "aesthetically appealing" bracelet, and a lot of thought went into the I figured I'd put it on and "see how I felt" in the coming days.  

Aside from the  "superstitious rush" we all get in the initial moments of buying into something "woo woo"  like that, the succeeding days were like any other string of days in life; some good, some bad, some blah...and then a GREAT one sprinkled in!  Weeks later I wasn't too sure that I was sold on the 'mystical' qualities of the bracelet, but I was receiving random compliments from strangers, which is usually  more than enough to curb any "wearers remorse" someone might be experiencing, so I happily kept it wrapped around my wrist.  Soon enough, something annoying happened though, one of the ends used to pull it tight around my wrist looped around the main part of the bracelet, and it ended up creating a knot that I couldn't get out, preventing  me from tightening it all the way.  No big deal I suppose, but whenever I noticed it in between daily tasks, it would bother me, and I would try to quickly untangle the tight tiny knot, each time ending in a frustrating failure.  After this occurred a good 5-10 times, I was sort of at peace with the knot, and would stop trying to untangle it  when I noticed; the knot and I were going to have to become friends I decided.  

One afternoon, after a long day,  I decided to walk down to my favorite little "green way" to relax and watch the sunset.  I say "green way," because I'm not exactly sure what it is, it's not a public park, but its not private property either.  Either way, this sweet little patch of grass, with a beautiful view of the Puget Sound, always relaxes me, and brings me back to a "grounded" place.  While sitting there, I looked down and noticed my new friend THE KNOT once again, and thought it was time for my final attempt at untangling it.  This time though, I was in a completely different state of mind than I had been in before;  I was relaxed, I was present, and I definitely wasn't in a hurry.  I slowed down, and not only was I gentle and patient, but I didn't look at it as if it was the "infamous knot" that I had gotten to know over the past couple weeks.  I approached it with  a certain freshness, as if I had never seen it before .  Slowly but surely....IT CAME OUT!  Instead of trying to squeeze this in between daily tasks, while thinking about the NEXT thing I had to do, I was totally present and I truly participated in every moment of the process.  Though this bracelet was obviously void of any real magical powers, it was then that I realized it had definitely taught me a valuable lesson. 

 I started to think while I was sitting there afterwards that the knot I had in that bracelet could serve as a great analogy for several other "tightly wound"  situations in my life.  What other "knots" do I have in my life?  What other "problems" or dilemmas am I trying to "rush through" just to get off my to-do list?  We often use  rushed methods simply to get things done and over with, but not to understand the true nature of the given situation.  Could I benefit in other areas of my life by slowing down, being patient, and being a bit more gentle with the moment?  Instead of looking at a situation in the same light, and using the same labels (ex. this is a terrible tight knot I can't get out), maybe I could take on new perspectives, and examine problematic situations through a different lens. 

It began to remind  me of a term used in the practice of dialogue called "The Principle of Participation," or what Zen Buddhists call the "Beginner's Mind."   The principle of participation is a term used to describe the exact same process I used to untie that knot, but bringing those qualities into conversation.  Using those qualities of slowing down, being patient, and being gentle with the moment in order to listen better to ourselves and to others.  This principle can best be defined as seen below:

"To examine objects, subjects, and things others are saying without preconceived notions, to open yourself up to a world of possibilities instead of just a few associated with memories or thoughts."

Or as described in Zen Buddhist philosophy:

"In the beginners mind there are many possibilities, but in the experts mind there are few."

In my particular situation, that meant letting go of the fact that I had already tried to untangle this knot 5-10 times, and had failed.  I had to let go of any memories I had of frustration associated with this knot, I had to even let go of labeling it as a "knot."  Sometimes we don't even know how the labels we use effect our state of mind in a given situation.  The word "knot" by itself has a negative stigma attached to it to begin with.  What other labels could we let go of?  A knot in a bracelet is a very "low stakes" situation, but it can be easily related to many "high stakes" situations, or "knots", we all have in our lives.  Sometimes letting go of knowing, and simply settling in to a state of being and acceptance of a particular situation can be freeing.  It can actually end up opening you up to a world of possibilities instead of the few you may have been initially limiting yourself to.

So coming full circle, that bracelet didn't necessarily make me smarter, stronger, or luckier, but it did teach me a valuable lesson, and reminded me of one of the great principles of dialogue, and of life: slow down, be patient, and be gentle while untangling your knots.  Oddly enough....a day or two later I woke up with the bracelet broken apart, beads sprinkled all over my bed, it had somehow came apart while I was sleeping.  I was upset at first, but  It occurred to me then  that it had taught me what it needed to teach.



A Produce Section Connection

Not too long ago, I had taken a trip down to the grocery store with a long list of ingredients for a  "Caribbean Hot Sauce"  I was planning to make.  Aside from the interesting hot sauce recipe that I had never tried out, it was a pretty standard trip to one of my neighborhood grocery stores,  yet something unexpected happened that really made my day.

 One of the ingredients from the recipe were mangoes, so I made my way over to the produce section in the back of the grocery store to search for them.  Not only did I find the mangoes...but I found several different kinds and was a bit overwhelming, considering I had embarrassingly never bought a mango before.  Do I choose a bigger greenish one?  Or do I choose one of the smaller bright yellow ones?  Once I decide that, how do I know which mangoes are ripe, and how should I be checking for that?  

I obviously had a bit of a predicament on my hands, so out of habit,  I started to reach for my "all knowing" smart phone.  I  began typing  in "How to Know if a Mango is Ripe" into my search engine..... then I thought to myself, what in the world am I doing?  What's wrong with me?  I'm literally surrounded by people that work in the produce section, who most likely know everything there is to know about anything found there, and I was about to search for answers in "cyber space!"  So I then made the conscious decision to  subordinate my phone,  and put  my faith in humanity instead of technology.  I picked out an older looking gentlemen working there, who was stocking the shelves with some carrots and lettuce at the time,  and shouted over to him "Excuse me, I have a couple questions for you about these mangoes ."  When I said that, his face absolutely lit up with a huge smile,  he dropped what he was doing, and walked right over.  With a great deal of excitement and enthusiasm that I could practically feel,   he began telling me everything I could possibly need to know about mangoes, and went into even more detail about the ones he had in the store that day.  Having a hard time specifically explaining what he liked best about the flavor of the "Asian Mangoes," he impatiently got out a little knife, and started cutting me off  pieces of the ripest one on the pile to taste.  It was delicious!  When he started doing that, someone else shopping, a middle-aged African American man, decided to stop to see what was going on, he enjoyed some mango as well, and also told us about his favorite mango salad recipe!  Long story short it was a really great experience connecting with other people in a neighborhood grocery store that I wouldn't have had a chance to enjoy if I had been sucked into my phone.

Why is it that nearly 100% of the time we opt for the technological route for information, via our phones, which promise convenience, instead of giving the human route a shot, where there is always a chance for authentic communication, connection, and community?  My phone easily could've gotten me the information, or "data," that I needed, but it couldn't have replicated the connection I experienced with a couple strangers that day.   Now, it's not that I do this ALL the time, I have my days where I'm just as enamored by my phone as the next person, but it was a reminder to me of the great benefits that can be reaped from lifting your head up from that screen and "unplugging."  Our phones can give us content and answers, which they're great at,  but can our phone look us in the eye and act like it cares?  Laugh with us?  Validate our human nature?  Not just process our words, but read between the lines and process the feelings behind our words?  In case you can't tell where I'm going with this, my answer to that is no.  Having said that,  I'm sure there are some technology enthusiasts that would disagree with me, and that eventually, if not already, technology will have an answer to that as well.  Until then though....I suggest lifting your head up from the screen once in awhile!

So, what is it about those sort of experiences that make us feel good?  Not only did the experience make me feel good, because I got the exact information I needed, and some delicious mango,  but I'm sure the man who helped me felt great as well.  The reason I surmise he also felt fulfilled, aside from the big smile on his face,  is because his role in that space was validated by me.  That type of validation reminds me of something we talk about a great deal in my dialogue work.  A core desire of all human beings, regardless of your background or belief system, are the following three things:  to be heard, understood, and valued.  While I was getting the exact information I needed, and some delicious mango, he was being heard, understood, and valued.  We both got something we wanted, whether we were consciously aware of it at the time or not.  Real face to face interaction like that isn't a "zero sum" game like the exchange of information between a human being  and a piece of technology.  When you ask a question to google, you get your answer, and you're satisfied and happy, but did it make "google" feel good about itself?  Once again, I'm sure there are some technology enthusiasts that would argue we're not too far away from artificial intelligence that WOULD feel good about the exchange....but, for now, my answer is no, google does not care either way.

Until we "merge with the machine" one day, we need to be responsible with technology, and try to remember that we're still human, and we have human needs.  We are indeed "social creatures," so some of those needs include a sense of community, connection, and genuine communication.  There's a quote that perfectly describes the point I'm trying to make by one of the "greats" in the field of dialogue, Mortimer Adler, and it goes as follows, "Without communication, there can be no community."  I couldn't agree more, and I think this quote is a short and simple explanation for why so many people tend to feel isolated and disconnected in big cities.  Everyone walks around in crowded places, ignores the people they're bumping into, while staring into their device, and then wonders why they're feeling stressed.  I had happened to "demote" my phone that day, but I can only imagine how many great experiences, big and small, that I may have missed out on in past similar situations when I didn't make the same decision.  Whether you're in the produce section looking for mangoes, on a bus, or at a park, I suggest lifting your head up from your phone once in awhile, and not only seeking the information you're looking for, but also seeking a bit of  connection, you just might find both.



The Most Important Word You've Never Heard of...

I love learning new words, and I have become very fond of one recently that I would love to share.  That word is "proprioception," and it is an attribute, or a skill, that can be found and developed in both authentic dialogue and yoga.  Proprioception is essentially just a long word that means "self-perception," or "our own reception,"  but when used in different schools of thoughts it becomes much more intriguing.  

When applied in yoga, proprioception is the idea of cultivating a more refined awareness of every part of ones body through the continual practice of a diverse range of yoga postures, or asanas.  When the body lays stagnant for years, certain parts of oneself are forgotten about, and are more or less operating on auto-pilot.  Practicing yoga wakes up the whole body and gets one tuned into parts of themselves that they've forgotten about, or never felt to begin with.  Yoga helps to reconnect the "circuitry" between the conscious mind and various parts of the body.  We're not just talking about the lower back.....your left foot...or your hips.  There are some long time yoga practitioners that claim that their level of proprioception is to the point that they can feel the most subtle functioning of their internal organs!  Now that might sound like a stretch to some people (no pun intended), but you get the picture.

In the practice of dialogue, it is the idea of becoming more mindful of our thoughts, and the origin of them.  Instead of simply "reacting" in conversation, by engaging in authentic dialogue one is lifted into a more conscious state by suspending opinions, thoughts, and feelings for examination.  Just as yoga reconnects the "circuitry" between the conscious mind and various parts of the body, authentic dialogue can help to reconnect the "circuitry" between our "knee jerk" reactions, and the origins of them.  Many people feel as if "thoughts just appear," but the practice of proprioception in dialogue can enable us to perceive the impulses that lie behind everyday thought.  The same way that the practice of yoga "wakes up" parts of the physical body that have been laying dormant for some time, the same goes for how the practice of dialogue can wake up parts of our consciousness that haven't been explored in quite awhile, or at all for that matter.

A good example of the use of proprioception in dialogue,  is a disagreement I had with my mom just the other day on how often one should get the oil changed in their car.  I had decided that instead of going by what the auto-shop usually recommends, which is to change your oil every 2,500-3,000 miles, I was going to go by what the owners manual for my car recommended, which was every 7,500 miles.  She basically disagreed with my reasoning and was very adamant about "getting your oil changed sooner than later" for no apparent reason.  I didn't understand why she would think that...because clearly the manufacturer of my car would know what was best instead of an auto-shop that just wanted to make a buck right?  I started asking her more questions, genuinely trying to understand where she was coming from, and it turned out that when she was my age, she had waited too long to change her oil and her engine burned out!  She ended up having to pay $1,500 to replace the engine, and the car was only worth $2,000!  Once she told me that, I had a completely different point of view on her opinion.  That experience left a scar of embarrassment for her, and she never wanted to make that mistake again, I think everyone can relate to something like that.  Through dialogue we were about to "follow the disturbance" to the source, and understand what was really driving her feelings.

For all these years she  had this strong willed opinion on when someone should get their oil changed, and had long since  forgotten about the original experience that made her feel that way.  Aren't most of our thoughts and opinions that way though?  How could they be any other way?  The only way we make meaning of the world is through experiences and things we come into contact with.  Most of us forget about that though, and are just left with our "surface level" opinions and thoughts, due to the fact that it's convenient and easy to draw upon in the midst of conversation.  Of course we can't spend every moment of every day diving into the origin of everything that dances across our consciousness, but if it is necessary, we should all have the capacity to do so.  Not only does it  help us understand ourselves better, but it also enables others to understand, empathize, and feel compassion for us when they're able to learn more about the "roots" of our points of view.

Whether it is in regards to yoga, or dialogue, proprioception is really all about going deeper.  A biologist wouldn't stop at the surface of a lake if he wanted to understand a whole ecosystem, and a physician wouldn't stop at the surface of a patients skin while giving a complete physical (Well unfortunately some doctors probably would!).  Like the biologist and the physician, we can all benefit by going a little bit deeper, and cultivating a personal practice of getting below the surface to explore our greatest depths.  


Fields of Conversation


Fields of Conversation

I've been working with Socratic Seminars International for the past several years, and part of what we do is travel to different cities all over the country running one-day open registration workshops for K-12 teachers, training them how to facilitate rich classroom dialogue with their students.  Mind you, these aren't your standard "sit and get" workshops where you listen to someone lecture through the entirety of the day, the teachers actually get to DO.  By DO, I mean that all the teachers get to put their "student hat" on, and practice being a participant in a Socratic Seminar the same way their students will once they bring this strategy back to their classrooms.  What this ends up looking like is an eclectic group of 30-60 teachers from a given region, sitting in a big circle, and engaging in an authentic dialogue centered around a compelling and ambiguous text.  Watching these Seminars unfold into something unique and beautiful each time is probably one of my favorite things about the work we do.  Such amazing insights about life and the world we live in that these teachers always bring to light!

 Considering we're always in a different city, and no one will know the difference, we typically use the same text for the workshop dialogue.  Initially this was a product of convenience, but as time went by, it became more and more interesting to see all the varying perspectives and insights about the same text as we introduced it to different groups.  Now how could that be?  How could that be that the exact same text, and the exact same opening question could lend itself to so many diverse thoughts and perspectives?  That's because each time we were in a new city, be it Chicago, Miami, San Antonio, New York, San Diego, or Seattle, the "Field of Conversation" would change.  A Field of Conversation, is a term coined by William Isaacs of  Dialogos, and is defined as the combined atmosphere, energy, and memories of the people who are interacting at any given time.

What are the implications of this?

The implications of this is that most people don't step into different "Fields of Conversation" often.  Most people have the same conversations on the same topics with the same people, and are then surprised that they seldom learn anything new from these experiences!  Both personally and professionally we can all learn from the above example.  Whether it is organizational change that you are seeking in your professional life, or a personal shift of some sort, try bringing a diverse collection of minds into the fold.  You'd be so surprised at how the same "data" can be perceived and interpreted in such different ways based on someone else's life experiences, energetic presence, emotional predisposition, or even the weather they've been experiencing recently!  We're all the same blank canvas for the most part when we enter this world, then as the days turn into months, and the months turn into years, we are all painted by our experiences, and end up being these beautiful "pieces of art" that are completely unique to ourselves, and equally different from one another.  

Changing the field both internally and externally.

In addition to bringing different minds into your life, another way to expand consciousness and expedite change both personally and professionally is to tinker around with your own "field of consciousness and awareness."  This can be as simple as reading a different type of book than you usually might, driving to work via a different route,  or as extreme as taking a trip to Africa, either way, it is inevitable that their will be "new paint added to your canvas," and there will be a certain degree of change that occurs to the lens with which you were looking at your current situation through.  

Long story short, change is hard, but change is needed in some cases , and if you're open and optimistic, there is an infinite amount of "Fields"  out there in the world that are just waiting to be tapped into, and authentic dialogue is one of those.