Posts Tagged ‘Dialogue Method’

Elephants in Rooms

March 31, 2012

The process of enculturation –  by parents, through classroom education and in peer groups – trains a person in rules regarding what is acceptable to speak about, and what is not. The information we receive is sometimes imparted openly, but I believe most of what we learn comes tacitly. Vibrations of approval, discomfort or annoyance register in our subtle bodies. Thus we learn. Most families, groups and individuals have variants in the rules, so we adjust as we go. When we say something that hits the force field of a rule barrier, this can feel like crossing one of those invisible fences used for animals. Zap; ouch. Note to self: avoid that territory. A lot of this occurs unconsciously.

I used to teach a Dialogue method developed utilizing theories articulated by physicist David Bohm. One of the exercises we employed to help move a group into authentic voicing and deeper listening was to have people draw a line down the center of a page, dividing it into a Left-Hand Column and a Right-Hand Column. Think of a recent conversation that contained some level of significance. On the right side of the page write down to the best of your memory what was actually spoken during the conversation. On the left, write about what was in your mind but remained unspoken for whatever reason; and then write what you imagine might have been in the other persons mind that remained unspoken. This is not to be presumptuous, as if we could actually know what is in the other’s mind. It is an exercise to help broaden attention to include what is unspoken in any given conversation, and sometimes to realize that much of what is “said” is not said aloud.

In practicing dialogue in a group, we encourage participants to speak a little more from what would normally remain in their left hand column. Those gathered learn to hold the tension and to suspend assumptions, judgments and opinions related to one’s “training” and listen more deeply into self and other.

In Jungian psychology this Right-Hand, Left-Hand Column technique is not articulated in the same terms, but I think psychoanalysis might be described as a safe place to empty out the Left-Hand column, to think out loud about what in other circumstances remains unspoken, and then to work with it. Psychoanalysis and dream work also help identify that much of what remains unsaid due to long years of training falls into the unconscious. We lose awareness that these thoughts, feelings or impressions were ever there. A person learns to focus on what is “appropriate,” what can be said, and too often forgets about the rest.

Two images come to me to describe the material that has fallen into the unconscious in such ways. One is that it becomes like the ghostly coachman, the one who is driving your chariot but who cannot be seen or related to. People are afraid of psychoanalysis in the same way as they are afraid of ghosts. But, these ghosts are there. Not talking about them doesn’t make them go away. We deny them to our detriment.

The other image that recently occurred to me regarding this material is that it is like what we call “the elephant in the room.”  Musing on this idea, a deep respect came over me for what an elephant is, and what it represents. They are ancient beings, it seems to me. Sacred. They hold wisdom and intelligence of the pre-verbal and pre-rational mind, as well as knowledge of this world. They are relational creatures, loyal, family and community oriented.

To regard the elephant in the room is to turn attention to what is ancient, wise and sacred. We tend to use this term with judgment, meaning that avoiding the elephant is due to dishonesty and being in denial. But what if, instead, we turn to the elephant in the room with interest, trust, respect, hope, curiosity, love, and with an open heart inquire into it? Who is it, and what does it want to tell us? Humans often have an instinctive skittishness and distrust when faced with what is unknown among us – like what is not known mostly will hurt or overwhelm us. But what if that big body just wants to love us, help us, heal us, play with us?

The “elephant in the room” can be among people or even inside someone, an internal, individual phenomenon – whatever is there that we avoid bringing to consciousness. What if we turn our attention to the elephants in our rooms?

I want now to commit to regarding the elephants newly. I want my teacher to be the elephant, to learn to regard the metaphorical elephant the way incarnated elephants regard us. With stillness. Alertness. Power. Tenderness. With those big eyes and long eyelashes. With beauty and apparent sweetness.

The week coming up is Holy Week in the Christian calendar. It commemorates events around the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. He was (and is) certainly an elephant in the room of traditional powers; what if He were regarded differently? This may be a good week to begin the elephant meditation.

Still Thinking about Thought

April 27, 2010

I do believe that thoughts create our reality. As David Bohm says, “Thought creates the world, and then hides and says it didn’t do it.” We look at that reality and think it’s just there, objectively, not that our thought created or could influence it. I’ve been observing  this for years, as a student of a spiritual teacher who taught very similar principles, as a student of the Dialogue method ingeniously developed by Bohm to help practioners become more aware of what thought is doing, and during doctral studies in depth psychology. It’s a habit of mine to observe thought and connect dots, like people watch sports or the weather, I watch this.

A  lot of teaching is going on now in various books and circles about how to manifest through thought. Great that people are learning more and more about this, but I get concerned about what is left out in much of the teaching. So much of thought is unconscious, most of it is. There is thought we inherit from ancestors that comes through family lines; thoughts that are gathered from experience that is often misinterpreted but from which conclusions are drawn and become our certainties without re-evaluation; thoughts that are created collectively which are very hard to sort out from our personal thinking. To change thought is a big job. It requires effort, energy, motivation, practice and help. I believe it requires practice with others, with those who are willing to catch us in unconscious thought, or in group effort such as spending time in intentional dialogue. Changing conscious thought is hard enough, changing what we are completely unaware of takes special attention.

Then of course probably the best medicine is “no thought.” As often as we can get to that place – to just feel, don’t think, that is probably when the most powerful shifts become possible.

I wish people would spend more time thinking together about thought, getting to the root of it. I got to teach about it in a college classroom in Los Angeles with rooms full of students from multiple countries and backgrounds. I miss that. Dialogue work takes committment, but can be as exhilarating, intoxicating, creative and astonishing as anything ever gets. To deeply change thought is to change everything.