While there is an obvious meaning to the words ‘meditation-dialogue’ as a dialogue that is enhanced by meditation, the term also suggests something more that may occur when the two apparently opposite processes are brought together. So, let me examine the words to see if I can get at this less obvious ‘something more’.
I’ll begin with Dialogue because it is more readily understood as an instrument of communication. However, an examination of its roots compared to the roots of other words that are often associated with – even assumed to be the same as – dialogue reveals something interesting. Debate, for example, is not dialogue. The roots of the word ‘debate’ (Latin: de-battere) suggest ‘beating down’, implying winning, defeating, or even discrediting another person or position. Debate has its uses, especially in the face of clearly destructive forces as some political perspectives are. The roots of the word ‘discussion’ (Latin: dis-cutere) mean to shake asunder, suggesting separating out for examination and comparison which is another very useful process, especially in scientific research or organizational strategy.
In both debate and discussion, we are dealing with known or at least assumed realities and the goal is to determine the best one. However, there are times when we don’t have the data, when we are dealing with what is not known, when we are trying to discover what to do and there is no precedent. This is the field of dialogue. For the roots of the word ‘dialogue’ (Greek: dia-logos) refer to meaning (logos) coming through (dia) and suggest a creative or generative process. Dialogue might be defined as ‘participating in the emergence of meaning’ implying a process of interaction that creates something new that does not already exist. It might be argued that the raw material, as it were, is already present and that we simply create the conditions for the new reality to emerge: like electricity that emerges, in a sense, when opposite forces are held together; or music that is born out of the tension between different notes. Of course, it could also be argued that what is generated and what emerges is a unique form or expression of this potential. Thus everything that can or will be already exists as potential, as energy and relationship. And it is the latter – relationship – that incarnates (enfleshes or brings into existence) – reality.
In the Christian tradition this is what the Trinity refers to: Relationship (the Holy Spirit) incarnates (brings into existence) Life (God). Clearly Dialogue, understood in this context, suggests amazing things. One is that the universe is a dialogue, another is that human beings can participate in this dialogue in a deliberate (intentional and skillful) way. For the ancient Greeks, the word logos had the sense of ‘ultimate meaning’ which made dialogue a kind of sacred act and everything, including human beings, in our unique self-knowing way, co-creators with God.
Meditation is more difficult for most of us, probably because it suggests the realm of the mystical and the world of monasteries. Of course, in recent decades it has made its appearance in the market place, from TM that became popular some years ago to today’s multiple meditation apps. Moreover, a growing number of people are attempting to use meditation in a variety of fields, including stress relief and simple relaxation, and even therapy and physical healing. Along with this movement has surfaced a general consensus around a description of meditation as expanded consciousness or tapping into the unconscious. Such descriptions seem to make room for many definitions that are both biological and mental, as well as psychological and spiritual. Like dialogue, meditation suggests finding form for what is already there, at least potentially.
Both meditation and dialogue address the fact that this is NOT how we usually relate to life. Instead, we are trapped in other ways of thinking and acting that are shaped by habits and assumptions that constitute a veritable prison of perception: a lens – partly inherited, partly ground by our own experiences – that we use to construct (and constantly reinforce) reality. This prison has been called ego which implies that it is at least partly who I am, though not all. We need an ego in order to function in the world but it becomes a trap when we cling to it or identify with it because it gives a sense of control in the face of the daunting reality of the universe: the infinite spaces that terrified the French philosopher Pascal who genuinely struggled nonetheless to face them.
The illusion of limited control is what our lives tend to be unless we deliberately choose otherwise. And we tend not to choose otherwise until we are forced to. However, we get opportunities for this too. We’ve all glimpsed the ‘infinite spaces,’ whatever we name them, when life breaks in – when the world nudges us out of the comfort zone of our limited control with loss or failure or suffering. Then we find ourselves saying things like ‘now I know what’s important’ or ‘if I get out of this, I swear…’ The problem is that when we do get out, we soon enough revert to the old, deeply ingrained, habits of limited control and rationalize the regression: ‘human kind can only bear so much reality…’
One of the reasons for this regression is the absence of support by which I mean human or community support. We understand the value of meditation and other similar methods, but, for most of us, developing a constant, deep practice is unlikely. Those who do stay with it, often do so because they go to regular meditation classes or join a sangha or meditation group.
My thought is that while few of us meditate daily, all of us talk daily (in the sense of interact with each other, whether or not with words). ‘Dialogue talk’ might be a good bridge into living more deliberately and fully with the infinite spaces. So what I’m calling meditation-dialogue is an attempt to explore this: how to make normal talk more artful and thereby creative and fulfilling; and also how to make meditation more accessible and constant in our everyday lives. I’ve invited a handful of people to experiment with me in this meditation-dialogue where we’ll bring the two together in a mutually enriching way, perhaps around a theme reflected in a poem (a little like the ancient tradition of lectio divina which was about reading a piece of sacred scripture and meditating on it, alone or in a group). I’ll use the Blog to reflect on the process and what emerges. Perhaps a simple method or template will surface that others might try with a few friends and we can compare notes.
A final thought is this: Our experiment is essentially about learning to be more fully present to our lives. ‘Contemplation’ is a good word for being present: the roots of this word (Latin: con-tempus) mean ‘time with.’ Contemplation, I believe, is the key to a renewed humanity that is capable of seeing the world and other subjects in the world with freedom – freedom from self-oriented, acquisitive habits and the distorted understanding that comes from them. To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit. To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter. Meditation-Dialogue hopes to contribute to the critical work of contemplative practice.