We had the first of our Meditation-Dialogues recently and, as promised, I am offering a few thoughts, on the content as well as the process, for both felt important.
In terms of the process, we followed what I have found to be the basic steps of a dialogue – connecting, exploring and discovering – beginning each step with a short meditation. I’ve included the outline below. As I’d hoped, the meditation piece enhanced each of the dialogue steps: in the case of connecting, by helping us be more present to and aware of the moment; in the case of exploring, by helping us to listen more deeply; and in the case of discovering, by guiding us to listen FOR what was being generated out of our interaction.
I offered some definitions and reflections on Dialogue as the opportunity presented. For example, I suggested that dialogue was more about listening than talking, and that listening in a deeper way informed and shaped what we offered with our words. My hope is that an understanding of dialogue will emerge as needed. At this stage it feels more important to experience the process directly.
Structure can be really helpful in any kind of exchange, even if only as a way of encouraging us to follow the progression or steps that others have found useful. Thus, for example, it seems to be important to remember that we are now in the stage of connecting and that we are creating the space for dialogue to happen; or that now we are in the stage of exploring and that we need to deepen our mutual understanding before anything can be generated between us; or that we are now in the stage of discovering and will be able to build new meaning and insight together if we listen really well.
Let me begin by saying something about what came up in the Connecting stage when we meditated by listening to our breath, and then widened this listening to include our bodies, the people around us, the sounds in the room, the outside world, etc. When we shared by responding to the question, ‘what’s going on for you right now? what’s important to you these days,’ etc.? participants shared in a way and at a level that is unusual. Some spoke of an all pervasive anxiety, others of anger at what is happening in the world, and others still of a loss of control and a loss of how to respond. This served our dialogue in two ways: one is that it surfaced a theme; the other is that it clearly connected us around things we seldom talk about, at least not in a direct way, like this.
The Exploring Stage brought us more directly into the content of our exchange with a short lectio divina (literally ‘divine reading’), which is an ancient Christian practice of opening up to a passage of sacred scripture. The ‘sacred scripture’ in our case that evening was a short poem by the Kentucky farmer-poet, Wendell Berry, called The Real Work.
It may be that when we no longer know
what to do
we have come to our real work
and that when we no longer know
which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
The poem clearly touched a chord and, synchronistically reflected the theme that was clearly in the field, as the Connecting sharing had demonstrated.
Here again, we meditated for a few minutes to allow ourselves space to listen to the poem internally, including – especially – where in our bodies we felt the impact of the words. When we shared what the poem stirred in us, it was clear that we were all hearing – and understanding – it in different ways and out of different experiences. I’ve quoted the words of the French poet Anais Nin on previous occasions: ‘We don’t see things as they are, We see them as we are.’ Thus, even though all our comments reflected a common theme – the experience of facing the unknown – they also reflected different experiences with different interpretations and conclusions.
This offered an opportunity to suggest another aspect of dialogue as working with our differences rather than competing with them by using them almost as weapons. The simple principle here is mutual understanding without (necessarily) agreeing Mutual understanding allows us to hold our differences without needing to defeat or convince.
In the Discovering stage we meditated by listening FOR what was being generated out of this interaction of our differences. Our sharing and building on one another’s insights that resulted allowed another aspect of dialogue to be offered: as generating new meaning – new life – in the form of insights and ideas (shared understanding) that emerge out of the tension between our differences.
Insights that surfaced in this way included the sense that some problems cannot – are perhaps not meant to – be resolved. But they can – and should – be listened to and observed from a place of stillness. In this way these problems can become teachers of our hearts. As a friend said to me the other day, in the darkness (of not knowing what to do) you can distinguish lights that you would otherwise miss.
This is intended simply to give a sense of what happened in this first step our process: nothing earth shattering, nothing profound. Though, perhaps for some of us it was. One goal that the session did serve, I think, was to normalize or de-mystify deeper human processes, like meditation and dialogue. The closure seemed to suggest as much when people spoke of ‘relief’ and ‘gratitude’ and ‘enjoyment.’
Perhaps you would like to try out the meditation-dialogue with a friend or two. The outline below is meant to be a framework but a flexible one. In other words, the exchange can be shorter or longer, and the ratio of meditation to dialogue can similarly shift: shorter meditations at the beginning, perhaps, longer later.
I’ll keep you posted on our pilot effort here. We intend to meet every three weeks or so as a beginning, maybe more frequently after the summer. It would be great if some of you were able and willing to try it out and share your experiences. We could be onto something here!!
- Meditation in order to be present to the moment: 3 m – to oneself and others
- Connect through a question that invites sharing from this presence 10 m – – What is going on for you? What is most important right now?
- Meditation to savor the connection 2 m
- State/Read theme (poem, reading, music, etc.) 2 m
- Meditation to notice what the theme says to you: 3 m – pay particular attention to where you feel this in your body + remind yourself of the validity of every perspective:
- Explore by sharing the different perspectives elicited by the theme 10 m
- Meditation to acknowledge the importance of differences AND to advert to my ‘triggers’ 2 m
- Explore further our differences AND 10 m – deepen our understanding through inquiry
- Meditation to hold the tension between our differences AND 5 m – to listen FOR what is being generated
- Discover by sharing what is emerging AND 10 m – building shared understanding
- Meditation on the ‘wisdom’ of this shared understanding 3 m – and commitment to the action it suggests
- Close by sharing our commitments 5 m
 Meditation format: 3 deep breaths + follow your breath + focus on:- the moment (the place, oneself, others…) OR the connection (the empathy generated) OR your body OR the validity of the other’s perspective OR the differences and the triggers they create OR the tension between the differences OR the consciousness that is emerging OR the action that it suggests