Connection – finding yourself through others

29/03/2012 § 2 Comments

Last week I went down to Devon for a workshop, two days in Embercombe, one of my favourite places to hang out these days. The title of the course was “Speaking out”.  Somehow this feels like my year for finding my voice…

I won’t go into details about the course.  Suffice to say it was a powerful experience and I gave it 10 out of 10 on the feedback form. What I want to share is the main insight I gained while there.

I suppose I had travelled down there with an expectation that I was going to learn how to get my ideas across better to a group of people. What I learned instead, to my surprise, was that the key component of a powerful presentation is to connect. Bizarrely, the key to speaking powerfully is to listen.

Firstly you have to listen to yourself, to the voice inside you that will guide you if only you pay attention to it. Secondly, you have to listen to, to connect with, your audience. To do this is really helps if you look them in the eye, if you have an expressive voice and hands, and a relaxed but energised body. But this is not the most essential part.  The most essential part is an attitude that says “I need you in order to become truly alive, to become truly myself”.

I don’t know why but this came as quite a surprise to me. Intellectually I can see that I ought to have known this.  For example, I wrote last year how I remembered that the root of “communicate” is “commune”. So communicating is about hanging around with others, not transmitting data to them. But I have never experienced it in quite the same way before, never noticed how different it feels when I truly connect with people while presenting, rather than simply rehearsing something from memory.

One piece of advice from Mac, founder of Embercombe and one of the facilitators of the workshop, was that this was not just about formal presenting – it was about how we engage with people in our every day lives.  I took this to heart and have been experimenting with my new found skills ever since.

A good opportunity came in the latest dialogue session I held on Tuesday. It was a small group, just three of us, and this made the experience all the more powerful. I found that if I consciously looked the others in the eye while talking or listening, if I tuned into what was going on for them, I became more articulate, I listened better, I felt more energised. Somehow I became more alive.

It turned out to be an amazing session, lasting a good 30 minutes longer than usual. We all felt a heightened sense of presence, noticing for example how when we talked, we would tend to feel less connected, as if the complex process of talking caused us to withdraw attention from our senses. Hence the power of silence in a group.

What made it a particularly exhilarating experience was that the Royal Festival Hall was humming with life. People had been drawn to it, bathed as it was in the light of the evening sun.  We had to squat on a bit of floor space, surrounded by activity: on one side a plate glass window behind which was a large busy restaurant; on another a lengthy meeting was going on at a table; on a third side, a rehearsal for a play was taking place, with at least 6 actors proclaiming lines such as ‘Come quick, there’s been a tragedy”. It was hilarious.

We felt so present that we were able to take all this in, all this colour and vibrancy and life, while still staying connected to what was going on inside ourselves and what was going on for the others that we were in dialogue with. It was an amazing experience.

TS Eliot had it right. “Simply connect” he advised. I have discovered that it’s the best drug going…

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Simply connect

30/06/2011 § 4 Comments

How to describe yesterday evening’s dialogue session? As usual mere words can’t do it justice. But I will try anyway. Another potshot at the moon….

There was plenty of silence this time. It was nice to have a group of sufficient maturity that we were able to sit in comfortable silence for extended periods. This was so even though most of the participants hadn’t attended previous sessions.

I reminded the group that you could actively participate in dialogue even if you didn’t say anything.  Scooter proved the point by saying not a word but still finding a way to quietly connect with us all.   But then, dogs don’t generally have the hang-ups that we humans do.

I really enjoyed all the silence although I admit to occasionally having felt a nagging responsibility, as the convenor of the gathering, to ensure something more would “happen”.

One participant dropped a heavy weight into the space at the outset. She’d read in the last few days that the oceans are well on the way to collapse, resulting from a combination of climate change causing acidification of the oceans, pollution and over-fishing. This seems to have pushed her over the edge somehow. She could no longer kid herself that life on earth, as we know it, could be saved. She let go. To her surprise, the result was that she has been drawn back to the religious teachings she learned when she was growing up – love one another, celebrate life, share. This is how to live a life.

This struck a chord with the group and we explored what it might mean to “let go”. Did it mean stopping “doing”, or should it rather mean letting go of old pre-conceptions, old patterns of thinking and behaving. It may even mean we do more but we’ve dropped the need to do, the need to work towards any particular goal. Instead our doing flows naturally out of our being.

We went on to explore the tight link between language and culture. If we are going to move into new ways of being, we need a new vocabulary.  Someone observed that sometimes words just aren’t sufficient to describe the feelings or energies that we encounter. I mentioned “The timeless way of building”, a semi-mystical book ostensibly about architecture by Christopher Alexander, in which he talks about the “quality without a name” that the best buildings and spaces have.

Near the end I had what felt like a major insight. I had picked up a card from those I had scattered on the floor, as a prompt for reflection. The card I chose, when I turned it over, had “Communication” written on it. I wondered what it signified. Then I recalled that the word communicate comes from the root “commune” as in community. It struck me that I’ve been obsessed for years with the notion that I have to communicate what I feel about the changes that are happening in the world. Yet I have completely misunderstood communication – it is not about telling, informing or persuading anyone of anything.  It is simply about connecting. End of story.

Actually that’s not the end of the story. I am going to continue convening these dialogue events – it feels like they still have plenty more to give me and others. I just need to find somewhere cheaper to hold them (or free).  Do let me know if you know of somewhere.

Next week – my blog will be entitled “There is no progress without constraints”. It may include a mention of compost loos. I am looking forward to it already 🙂

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