Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Desire to Communicate

The last post had generated a lot of interesting comments. Thank you to everyone who has added something to the mix.

It strikes me that one of the pivotal issues behind all of that which I discussed in the last post is how we address conflict. The title of one of Reb Anderson Roshi's books, Being Upright, always comes to mind when I think about conflict in my own life.

Many times, I have fallen too far backwards when in conflict with others. The passivity of withdrawal, or false agreement, or repressed silence is what I mean here. It's kind of like sleeping in zazen.

Other times, I have fallen too far forward when in conflict with others. The agressiveness of anger, harsh criticism, or flat out nihilism is what I have in mind here. Kind of like trying to force your mind to have no thoughts at all during zazen.

This "Being Upright" is what our meditation posture looks like, feels like, acts like - just as it is. And I think it also is useful for envisioning one's self in the middle of conflict and being at peace with it. Not too far back, and not to far forward. Easy to write; not so easy to do.

Here's are really interesting Q and A from Trungpa Rinpoche's book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.

"If you have conflicts with other people, making it difficult to relate to them, what do you do?

Well, if your desire to communicate, which is generosity, is strong, then you have to apply prajna, knowledge, to discover why you are unable to communicate. Perhaps your communication is only one-directional. Perhaps you are unwilling for communication to come from the other direction as well ... we have to be careful to see the whole situation, rather than just being keen to throw something at the other person."

I'm really interested in this view of communication as generosity. Really seeing it in that way changes how it is approached. In a way, if you are attuned to the moment, and open to what is being called for, then you can't help but be generous. This might mean pulling back and staying quiet. Or it might mean praising someone's strong points, even if they also are displaying a lot of weaknesses. It might also mean clear, precise criticism driven by an intention to help someone see something they are missing. Or a calmly stated correction to someone who has spoken falsely, or wrongly, about something.

Trungpa Rinpoche says "Essentially, we have to provide some kind of space and openness." So, whatever is it we intend to try and communicate with someone, our job is to do so in a way that allows the other some room to work with.

In addition, it's really important to be open to receiving something in return, even if it comes in a form that isn't so easy to digest. In other words, it might be helpful to ask yourself now "How am I going to deal with the next 'ego insult'?" Instead of waiting for the next "fuck off" or "you're an idiot" to arrive in your e-mailbox, practice now, so it might not be such a shock later.

Let's go even further. Maybe those kind of blunt things roll off your back. Or you just ignore them. How about something a little less easy to tease out? Something like "I'm surprised you say it's ok to have an abortion. How can you be Buddhist and pro-choice?" My guess is people get comments like this often: not overtly nasty, but testy none the less because they call to question one's identity - that is, if there is strong attachment present.

So, it might be a good idea to practice receiving these kinds of comments as well. Because really, if you think about it, communication is not only what we say and do, but also how we receive what others say and do.

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