An end of semester gift to my students who have reaffirmed my faith in the human capacity for participatory thought. This is for all of you to say thank you!
I have taught a course on Mindful Communication this semester. I created an ‘interpersonal meditation lab’ and invited my students to join me. It was all online and it was a closed community. Yet, the rules were simple.
Simple and we all had to sign up to them and interact with the intention of only visiting our website as a interpersonal meditation practice space not as another quick chore to do. In what follows all the quotes are the voice of my students as we engaged in the lab this semester. I have edited the quotes to preserve anonymity.
One of my students reads and article and tells us that this quote jumped out at him “At a time when connections can seem like commodities and on line interactions can become casually inauthentic…”
“I thought back to the instruction on day one. Mariana stated every interaction and post we were to make throughout this course were expected to be true and deliberate mindful interactions, every one of our readings was to be done mindfully and every post supported by mindful consideration for the connections we were attempting to make.”
I read and smile. I respond.
“I am told by my friends that I am prone to sweeping idealistic statements that no human can aspire to! Did I say every post, every word, every letter…? Yes, it sounds like something I would say!”
Others speak of the commitment they are making.
“We all have taken this to heart and are working with the idea that our keyboard mediated communication can be a vehicle for interpersonal meditation as we make connections and listen deeply to what we read.”
And I begin to think it is actually possible to augment individual thought.
“The original thinkers wanted a technology that supported us not one that replaced us, a technology that enabled something more than is possible by each of us individually. What Bohm called participatory thought as we learnt to think with coherence and from silence – a sense of participation in a whole larger than this group or the ego.”
There are ways in which asynchronous is just better than not. When we have to be more than a student and remember to be a husband, a worker, counsellor, a lawyer and discover that
“it is because of this form of communication that I am able to still feel connected to the material and the people involved and do my best to still contribute and connect.”
And there are fears as possibilities are imagined.
“What if we were to discover that without ‘technology’ we cannot exist authentically? Yet as we desire authentic symbiosis with technology we fear it.”
“I found myself revisiting the age old dilemma that asks us to notice if we are too busy marvelling at something that we don’t stop to ask if we should”
“I wonder if sometimes in my idealism for the potential of technology I forget about those who are not virtually connected.”
“Is it realistic to aspire to live in a culture that feels inspired to use the Internet as a mindful communication tool rather that a means to superficially connect?”
What a thoughtful question. As I unpack the question I wonder about our aspirations. I want to say yes, of course it is realistic. And then I remember that majority who struggles to even know what the Internet is.
… and I add to that my sense that most of us find mindful communication a challenge even when we know its value.
“Finding the pause between the thought and engaging in meaningful dialogue seems to be the key to communication in a world where we are ‘filibustered.’ ”
“Can we learn to see beyond the technology into the person on the other side?
I think about Kramer’s view on meditative speaking.
We add to our learning wonderful concept experiences which they frame as mindful use of the Internet and our course site.
“This week’s concept experience changed my thinking. I had such a surreal experience. It confirmed my initial thought that I can learn to use technology in a different way beyond what I thought possible.”
“We need to model how we can be mindful and use technology like a meditation’
“Our course encourages my thinking and after reading the essays I find my thinking and learning adjusting and growing exponentially”
“I always do more than one thing at once, but this course has made that impossible. Not only do I need to read the work of my peers, but I need to respond, but in a meaningul and INFORMED way based on what has already been offered. The associations we have all made through the different modules have kept the sharing rich and streaming with growth. The benefit has been a clarity of thought for my own work.”
“My young daughter was interested in what my work was about so I asked her to help me come up with a list of obvious statements: She loved “Ireland is Green” Off we go.”
I wish I could convey to those outside our community the richness and thoughtfulness of their blog posts as they reflected on ‘how [they interacted] with the computer to create new associative trails deliberately but without a preconceived formula’. We learnt about the need to train the mind to occupy this space.And we learnt about just how reactive our minds can be.
How they took instruction to heart and through their account of the ‘why concept experience’, as they started to call it, showed themselves and others how the habit mind works and how hard it is to resist the divergence.
“Why is Ireland is green? Why do I hate social media? What about poets who have/not socia media accounts? I’d better get back to green…and how did I get here? What does the unpredictable nature of a force have to do with handling dialogue?”
I responded in my comments: “What a lovely mind walk! Your ability to describe accurately your process offered a window into how mind works when engaged in asking rather than answering….how we get side-tracked in favourite answers and (you beautifully illustrate) we do have the capacity to “resist the divergence”.
And there were many more questions and insights.
“Why do birds chirp? Do trees die of old age?”
“It’s like all my unskillful tendenices just got a play zone (the internet) to fool around in”
“What did I learn? The obvious is not always obvious.”
“I started with live trees and ended with human death.”
As we continued to use mindful communication guidelines to throw light on our mental habits ideas were slowly converging. Reading some of the assigned essays in a module I called ‘As we may think’ was challenging. We turned our attention to our tools and how they help or hinder us in mindful communication, we looked at the hopeless and the hopeful. I asked us all to remember to use our mindful communication guidelines and the principles of dialogue to help us explore differing views on the role of technology in skilful communication. And we all rose to the challenge.
“Throughout this process, I was in dialogue with myself. One idea leading to the next, and the ending point was not pre-determined. I started with live trees and ended with human death. There were Pauses and I was Relaxed and Open to new information. I Trusted Emergence that I was following the path outlined in our assignment as I referred back to it (Listen Deeply) for guidance. In writing now I Speak the Truth.”
“From sunlight and my shadow to teaching as a subversive experience to Games of Thrones times to Jimmy Fallon to Alfred North Whitehead to Gmail chat to who switched on FB notifications to want to turn them off to sundials and shadows to a funny quote ‘Knowledge does not keep any better than fish’.”
“I keep picturing the web as this universal suspension (in the bohmian sense) space for which we humans do not have the capacity. We learned that we break things down because imagining “the whole is too much” for us but not for the web it appears.”
“To Be and Not to Scroll”
“I think one way that asynchronous written dialogue may be better than live conversation is that we are able to take all the time we need”
“Being mindful makes being able to process pages and pages of content less daunting, but for me not less daunting enough.”
“So I thought that through the internet it was possible to see different aspect of reality. Everything is connected, nothing is absolute and all is relational.”
As I read the discussion board, their blog posts and comments that showed the deep attention the students were offering each other, I was hopeful. I hoped that they could find a passion for inquiry and see that the spirit of interpersonal meditation is in inquiry – always holding a question rather than prevailing with our answers as we interact.
“Being able to see that I wanted to convince someone of the rightness of my perspective is a broadening of my own proprioception of thought”
“Concept experiences or mindful Internet searches – very helpful in being more aware of what I search for on the internet and why. This will help me not waste time and get more out of the experience. I have also shared this information with others.”
“Learning more about technology..having to learn about blogging, vlogs, Vialogues, recording Skype, etc. was extremely helpful to me in feeling like I actually know more than my teenager on this topic!”
I was extremely skeptical (ignorant) of how quality communication let alone mindful communication was going to take place via this on-line forum. Between voice threads, video blogs, skyped ID practice, vialogues and all the rest I have expanded my knowings and feelings as they relate to the use of technology to, as we would if we were face to face, truly be with the other.
I framed the need to learn how to use the tools as the same as needing to learn a new language to communicate well with those in a new country we visit. I truly see it this way. If we are to engage in text based mindful dialogue we need more than a voice and a body. We need to work with digital tools to express who we are online. It was tough to teach both content and how to ‘speak digital’ in a learning management system that did not even grace us with permalinks or grace me with anyone in IT who understood why we needed them. You all understood why and used each and every obstacle as an opportunity to practice mindful communication.
I am grateful for so much during the last few months. The book one of you found coming out of your local library that spoke to you and I had never hear of.
Your willingness to engage with the obstacles and inner challenges as a way to learn about mindful communication. I took the idea of nuggets of learning from Gardner Campbell and it was a touchstone for us all during the most difficult times. You kept looking for nuggets in all the challenges.
“I just had to keep coming back again and again with right effort, do the assignments as best and authentically as I could, ignore my complaining mind, keep looking for the “nuggets”, find the relevance for myself, and realize that I was learning a lot and often enjoying myself”
“It has been amazing to become more aware of my own thought process, and to see how limited I have been in making inquiries. I am finding myself asking more questions, as well as questioning the questions and the assumptions behind the questions. This has been a major shift in my thought process.”
“I found this class challenging and a lot of work – but I enjoyed the learning and growing – which does not describe the true benefits I have discovered by taking this class and I suspect will continue to feel for years to come.”
“New ideas are great but it is the true change within – the knowledge and self reflection that is “instantly” making me change as I’ve reached a new level of understanding.”
I commented on a student’s post.
“What touches me about your final reflections is that they appear to be work in progress. The tentative yet owned nature of words speaks to me of words spoken from the heart. You express a concern I share so well: There is so much to learn about mindful communication and ‘in the absence of this work it can be rather difficult to communicating consciously’. So often people use the word ‘dialogue’ just as a synonym for ‘conversation’. As if the relabelling of the same old habits changed the patterns. You now know the ‘underground essence’ because you gave yourself the time to engage and learn.”
And as we ended they explored some guiding life questions.
“How can we listen to others when we don’t know how to listen to ourselves first?”
“How can we get inside each other and evolve together if we are afraid of what’s on the inside of us?”
This was a most rewarding teaching experience, simply driven by our willingness type each word on our keyboard guided by 6 simple rules.
We can communicate mindfully online, we just need the honesty of engaging from a quiet and attentive space even when nobody is looking.
The result of the engagement and effort? It goes back to one of my role models in education, Seymour Papert. We created a learning space that was an example of hard fun and, to paraphrase Papert, this course was fun because it was hard not in spite of it. Can we make this commitment to all our engagement online? Each time we do we make mindful communication possible.