There’s some repetition in this article which I revised and repost from April 2013 with what I posted recently. But, if we’re creating sacred partnerships now, review is not necessarily a bad thing.
I’d like to begin the work of creating a communicational framework that may serve us as sacred partners in the times that lie ahead.
The framework I use here was developed by the growth movement and was proper to the awareness path. We used to call the work we did on that path “the awareness game.”
The photos that accompany this article are of Cold Mountain Institute on Cortes Island, British Columbia, where three-month resident fellowships were staged and people were trained in the awareness game. The discussion that follows is what we learned about the awareness path in a typical three-month resident fellowship program at CMI.
Awareness is probably a path born of western culture more than eastern. I’m not even sure what its equivalent might be among traditional eastern religions.
It has certain agreed-upon features that I’ll be drawing on in discussions because, in a nutshell, I think these concepts work. They’re the precipitate of the collective wisdom of many workshop leaders or what we used to call “circuit riders.”
So here are notions of communication from the awareness path.
In the awareness game, our communications were called “shares.” I imagine the name reminded us that this was not a competitive or conflictual exercise but a cooperative and collaborative one. We were sharing ourselves with others.
In the same way that the universal greeting is an open and upraised palm, showing that we had no weapons in our hands, so the universal communication was to share information about ourselves that it was important for others to have, rather than holding it back or hiding it.
The word “share” reminded us of the basic move in the awareness game – the act of sharing. Sharing set the tone, defined the action, and predicted the outcome of much that occurred on the awareness path.
Sharing was seen as the great leveller. All shares were born equal. The share of a prince was as meaningful and important as the share of a pauper. Where we met was in our shares and listening to the shares of all never ceased to interest and enrich us.
Staying with Myself
In the awareness game, we generally stayed with a discussion of “me.” That may be why its adherents were satirized as the “Me Generation.” The reason behind that resolve was that we were weaning ourselves from minding our neighbor’s business and placing the attention on our own.
What I had to share about was me and what you had to share about was you. What I’m the expert in is me. What I have to give is me. No one knows as much about me as I do and I’m the last word in what is true for and meaningful to me. All of these matters were accepted as self-evident on the awareness path.
A second reason we stayed with me was that we realized that the object of life was to know ourselves and the more we studied and knew about ourselves, the more we advanced the real work of life.
After a while followers of the awareness path felt increasingly interested in seeing their own ways and raising their own investments and agendas to awareness. Even their rackets and vasanas became endlessly fascinating. While some people might collect baseball cards or china figurines, the followers of the awareness path collected awarenesses of themselves.
Being Responsible for Myself
I recall distinctly that the more a person could be responsible for their deeds and misdeeds, their accomplishments and dropped balls, the more people generally looked up and listened to them on the awareness path. I remember being amazed at what some people were willing to be responsible for and share.
Newbies to encounter groups would be found to hide and deny things, to stutter and stammer when asked a question about their responsibility in something.
But oldie, mouldie yogis were acknowledging things that made my cheeks burn and “owning” things that I ordinarily would regard as my deepest, darkest secrets.
Fairly soon into an encounter group, the boundaries of what were kept secret shrank and shrank until it seemed there were no boundaries left. What a person said outside the group, how they made love, what their real intentions were – nothing was off-limits to be revealed and to be “called on.”
If we wanted to hold onto feeling victimized, then we denied our responsibility in things. But that was a powerless position. If we wanted to experience our own power, then we needed to acknowledge our responsibility in matters.
Gradually we began to experience our responsibility for the state of our being, our neighborhood, our city, our province, our world. And as we did so, our sense of personal power grew.
Stating How We Feel
Special importance in the awareness game was placed on communicating how we felt. That was the piece that most of us ordinarily left out of our communications and the piece that most of us most dearly wanted to know.
We said what we thought, what was right, what seemed appropriate, but we dropped out on saying how we felt. And it’s how we feel about something that seems to drive what we do and how others respond.
We backed away from something if we felt uncomfortable with it. We attacked someone if we felt angry towards them. We avoided what we hated, approached what we love, etc. Our choices, our desires, our movements all seemed to be determined by how we felt.
And if you really look and listen to other people, you’ll see that they take action or respond to us once they know how we feel. So how we feel often shows up as what’s missing in most of our conversations and sharing our feelings voluntarily, like taking responsibility, was viewed as the mark of an experienced practitioner.
I remember running down the path at Cold Mountain Institute six weeks into the program suddenly aware that I was out of touch with my feelings. It was like a revelation from God and I was shouting at the top of my lungs “I got it! I got it! I’m out of touch with my feelings!”
From that point on I could become aware of more and more of how I felt, just as a child becomes aware of more and more words. Life suddenly got very exciting and interesting. I entered a world of self-observation which has fascinated me ever since.
The Rule of Four
Another matter we dropped out on was that we often considered what we wanted and didn’t want and failed to canvas what the other person wanted and didn’t want. We got to see how preoccupied we were with ourselves.
Or we may have canvassed them on what they wanted and considered what we wanted as well, without considering that there might be things they didn’t want.
In sharing communication, we made sure we considered all four positions before making a final decision. We didn’t leave one of the four positions out.
When we listened to another, we didn’t interrupt them with advice, cut them off, tell them what they should do, etc. We didn’t try to fix or improve them. We allowed them to speak their piece and accepted that what they said was how things were for them now and might be for them in the future. If it wasn’t how things were for them, that was too bad for them. It wasn’t something we “took on.”
The deeper the listening, the deeper the sharing. We treated what others said as chapter headings and allowed them to go into as much detail as they wanted. What were they driving at? What cried out to be said? What was the communication in its fulness? Listening became as enjoyable an activity as sharing.
For every person who shared there had to be someone who listened. Without listening, there really could be no sharing.
We extended to them acceptance for the ways they were and the ways they were not. We didn’t require them to be a certain way, hold a certain belief, endorse what we endorsed, or avoid what we avoided. We allowed them to be just as they were and just as they were not.
And finally we allowed the choices of others to be OK if they did do something and OK if they didn’t. We did`n’t force an outcome on them.
I’m not saying I lived up to all these ways of being. In fact I didn’t. I fell and failed as often as the next person. But I still regard these as desirable goals.
Relationship is a Negotiated Matter
It very soon became plain that relationship was a negotiated matter. It didn’t matter if one partner said “You should do this,” “It’s right to do that,” or “How could you do this other thing?” If we didn’t want to do it, we weren’t going to do it and the counterarguments were all useless.
Attempts to control are attempts to subvert negotiation. But most things in relationship have to be negotiated. Those who are into control deny this reality and lose their relationship in the end because of it.
So let me stop there having outlined the framework in which many of the discussions that follow will take place.