When Humanity Listens

By Valerie Simon

Photo Credit: Lorraine Wilson Counselling

One of the most valuable things we can do for the world is cultivate our own self-awareness. In having a better understanding of how we, as individuals, uniquely experience the world, we can mindfully allow others to process things for themselves without the need to objectify or make them wrong. With globalization, climate change, and endless political dispute, now more than ever we are in a time where listening with intent could lead towards a more cooperative world. A beneficial way of applying this in our lives is through a unique practice called “proprioceptive dialogue.” Dr. Steven M. Rosen, Ph.D., introduced us at VACS to this unique practice, which I also had the pleasure of taking part in.

Steven Rosen obtained his Ph.D. in 1971 and went on to pursue the theoretical aspects of psychology. He then became drawn to the philosophy of physics, later coming to the conclusion that in order to deal with key problems in theoretical physics, a phenomenological approach is required. This is because modern physics features the intimate interaction of observer and observed, and the phenomenological orientation offers better support for this feature than the approach ordinarily used by physicists. He expands more on these topics through his books and articles, and on his website: embodyingcyberspace.com.

Photo Credit: PeriwinkleAdventures

Beyond his theoretical and philosophical interests, Steven emphasizes the danger of the current political and social crisis we confront, where people tend to demonize and objectify one another to the point of denying each other’s humanity. The environment, too, is objectified, and this leads to damage to ourselves and our planet. “The new kind of dialogue can help to address these basic issues,” he says.

Steven has participated in the practice of proprioceptive dialogue ever since his 1990 meeting with renowned theoretical physicist David Bohm, who pioneered work in this novel form of self-discovery and communication. (Bohm and his colleagues explain the dialogue process in depth through this website: http://www.david-bohm.net/dialogue/dialogue_proposal.html#1.) What do we mean by  “proprioception”? The word comes from the Latin proprius (self/one’s own) and capio (to take in) – when I operate proprioceptively, “I take myself in.” Conventionally, this refers to the physiological sense we all have of movements in our own bodies. Applied to group dialogue, it involves observing what you are thinking, feeling, and sensing from moment to moment, and sharing this with the group.

Steven describes this new form of dialogue in the following way:

“Proprioceptive dialogue (PD) is a process of embodied communication in which participants bring their feelings and sensations into the discourse as well as their thoughts, and look to withdraw their projections (à la Jung) in real time. For example, if I feel the need to impress you with how knowledgeable I am, in PD I become concretely aware of this need and bring it into the group’s transactions. PD can be thought of as an experiment in “radical honesty” in which members relate to one another on the basis of an awareness of and willingness to share their hidden agendas: underlying assumptions and motives, feelings and projections, defensive maneuverings, and so forth. The group has no single leader and no fixed agenda. Deep listening is encouraged and silence is respected. The intention is to provide a supportive medium that facilitates an exploration of non-objectifying, self-disclosive, core-to-core communication.”

Photo Credits: Bianca Neve

Here are the guidelines the PD group follows:

  • Let go of the need for any specific outcome other than to explore.
  • Share your own perspective by speaking in the first person.
  • Share your observations without seeking to persuade anyone of anything.
  • Listen deeply for understanding without needing to agree or disagree.
  • Speak to the center of the room and avoid cross talk.
  • Speak from an awareness of what you’re experiencing in the present moment, paying attention to feelings and bodily sensations as well as thoughts.
  • Suspend judgment of your own and other’s opinions and perspectives while attending to your inner physiological responses.
  • Inquire into both your own underlying assumptions as well as those of others for deepening the dialogue.
  • Honor silence between speakers so people have a chance to reflect.
  • Allow silence to guide our receiving and sharing.

Through proprioceptive dialogue, we are exploring another way of communicating. By default, our bodies tell us to operate in the usual way where we are not attending to how we feel or where our thoughts are going. When we don’t cultivate an awareness around these aspects, we will continuously succumb to the habit of objectifying one another. Objectification is a habit, and like most habits, it is difficult and frustrating to break. But when objectification occurs in the dialogue group, participants can become aware of this tendency and gain some distance from it, so that, eventually, it may lose its force and a more intimate way of relating can take its place.

Steven considers this a “non-group group.” Rather than coming together with the immediate intention of bonding with each other, people go there with the intention of seeing and experiencing how separate they may actually feel from one another on a bodily level. The paradox is that, by bringing concrete attention to the feeling of being separate, members of the group can realize their commonality.

I had the pleasure of joining the Vancouver dialogue group that has been running since October 2018. In my own experience of the dialogue, I found it to be incredibly helpful in terms of eliminating stress and being present with the people that were in the group. At the start of it, my mind was all over the place. It was finals season and my responsibilities kept flicking me in the head as little reminders to make sure I’m getting everything done on time. We started with a ten minute meditation – some dialogue groups do this and some don’t – and I immediately found that there was lots of stress on my mind and in my body. After opening up the circle for dialogue, I shared a bit of my own experience during the meditation and then sat back and observed for the remainder. The dialogue went from exploring everyone’s own internal/physical experience of the moment, to memories, to philosophical abstractions that could have made us go longer than the two hours we were there for.

The dialogue circle was like a two hour meditation. I was so absorbed in the moment that the thoughts of stress and anxiety had evaporated. I left the dialogue session feeling weightless. That’s what being present with people really helps us do. It brings us back to all there really is – the moment. Even more so, it allows us to experience how dialogue with other human beings really should be – respectful and honest.

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