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A Method of Dialogue, Step One: Preparation

A method is not like a machine, where once you get it going you can step back and leave it alone. This is particularly true when we’re talking about a method of dialogue and community formation. To step back from dialogue is to abort the process and abandon community.

Furthermore, dialogue and community simply do not happen where individuals are not invested in the work.

That’s why PREPARATION is the first step or phase in the Mentallurgy Method of Dialogue that we’re exploring in this five-part series of blog posts (Introduction + each of the four steps). If individuals and would-be partners in dialogue mistakenly think that they are stepping into some kind of automatic machine for making community and cranking out creative resolutions, the process doesn’t stand a chance.

The higher consciousness represented in the spiritual phenomenon of community does not (and cannot) exist separate from the individuals whose creative intentions combine and fuse in its consilient effect.

Neither is PREPARATION for dialogue a simple routine that we do as a way of getting ready for the really important stuff. As an organic process, community awakens and unfolds out of the deeper presence that partners bring to the encounter. And although I am analyzing my method of dialogue into four steps, we shouldn’t think of these as stacking blocks or even as stepping stones where we leave one for the next in line.

It’s preferable to regard them as phases, as in the developmental transformations from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly. Just as the butterfly doesn’t stack on top of these earlier manifestations or leave them behind, but rather incorporates and emerges out of them, our individual PREPARATION for dialogue is the interior source out of which community grows. No egg, no butterfly. No intentional presence of individual partners, no dialogue and no genuine community.

What I’m calling intentional presence can be further analyzed into three virtues, by which I don’t mean moral qualities but actuated powers, as when we speak of the potency of medicine as its virtue. In the case of our intentional presence as individuals, the virtues in our intention to be fully present can be differentiated in terms of our being grounded in existence, centered in ourselves, and open to reality.

When we are grounded, centered, and open, we are becoming more fully present.

It’s important to understand that these virtues of intentional presence are not the result of effort, as if we must work to become grounded in being, centered in ourselves, and open to reality. The truth is that we are already these, but our mind gets distracted or lured away from this truth, tangled up and captivated inside its own designs.

Each form of existence is grounded in being; if not, it wouldn’t be. Each individual is centered in itself; if not, it wouldn’t be one. And it’s also true that we are always open to reality – to the turning cosmos (or ‘universe’) and vibrant web of life; if not, we would instantly perish.

So we require some sort of practice – a technique, a ritual, a simple meditative exercise – that can help refocus our conscious attention on this place and this moment, commonly called the here-and-now. There is no single and set way of doing this, but the counsel from our numerous wisdom traditions is pretty straightforward: Be still. Be quiet. Close your eyes and just breathe. Let yourself simply relax into being.

If a focal object in front of you helps orient your attention; if soothing music and soft light help you calm down; if counting your breath occupies your mind and keeps it from wandering away, then include these supports as needed.

The purpose of such a practice is to allow all your insecurities, all your concerns, all your judgments, and all your expectations to just fall away. What’s left is boundless presence: grounded in being, centered right where you are, and open to it all.

As we should expect, such practices of intentional presence take on the character of our local cultures and traditions. And because historically it has been the enterprise responsible for mediating our minds to the present mystery of reality, we should neither be surprised nor offended if such practices still carry some of the formal features of religion.

It is possible to ‘liberate’ intentional presence from these traditional accouterments, however; which is what we must do if our aspiration is to engage dialogue and create community across cultures in this increasingly secular and global age.

Individual PREPARATION ensures – or more accurately, makes it more likely – that the productive dialogue and consilient effect of genuine community can arise. When partners take the time to be fully present (grounded, centered, and open), the dialogical phase of consideration can begin. We’ll explore that next.

 

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A Method of Dialogue (Introduction)

For our future to be long and prosperous, our species needs to learn better ways of getting along. Our growing population, along with the steady increase in the pluralization of global culture, is making it impossible to stay inside our provincial bubbles of meaning.

More and more, we are confronted with the differences that characterize our remarkable diversity, but we’re still struggling with how to negotiate these differences and peacefully coexist. The high ideal would be that we develop methods, skills, and practices that will foster genuine community – not only in small pockets of intentional practitioners, but across the planet.

We’ve made some headway, but there’s much work to be done.

In this post and the next four, I will present a method which is highly effective when it comes to working toward resolution – whether it’s reaching agreement on a proposal, building mutual understanding, or resolving conflict between and among ourselves.

The method is based in a therapeutic approach to health and happiness that I’ve been developing for a decade and a half, called Mentallurgy, which helps individuals take creative control inside the ‘mental theater’ of their own brain. It is importantly different from – and much more effective than – both talk therapy and drug therapy (the conventional forms of therapy most common today).

Because the process for dialogue presented here uses many of the same skills introduced in my Braintracts blog, I’m naming it the Mentallurgy Method of Dialogue.

For now we’ll only take a summary overview of the Method in order to get a sense of its process. In subsequent posts I will open up each of its four phases and dig into the details. As the diagram above illustrates, effective dialogue moves through a developing sequence of steps, none of which can be skipped if we truly want to reach resolution (i.e., agreement, understanding, reconciliation, and unity).

We should start by making a critical distinction between dialogue on the one hand, and conversation, discussion, or debate on the other. The latter are either too unstructured (conversation), topic-driven (discussion), or gladiatorial in pressing for a win-lose outcome (debate). Dialogue literally refers to the collaborative process of finding common ground and making meaning in which all partners are invested.

This obviously requires some individual PREPARATION to ensure that dialogue partners come to the table in a creative, resourceful, and optimistic frame of mind. Individuals can’t do this for one another; each is responsible for doing the necessary “work before the work.” It’s common in everyday relationships for us to take a more passive, casual, or reactive role, so this step is essential for the Method to get successfully underway.

With partners thus engaged in the process, the next step of CONSIDERATION can begin to cultivate the conditions in which healthy and productive dialogue takes root. We’ll look more closely at the art of dialogue, in the way it carefully navigates a middle path between urgency and conviction – the Scylla and Charybdis that have wrecked many a ship seeking successful passage to the island paradise of genuine community.

Effective dialogue protects the space where each partner feels safe, welcome, and included.

As partners clarify their common interests and values, DELIBERATION guides them through a simple system of factors that helps focus their work together on a goal that matters to everyone. Built into the term is the idea of balance (Latin līberāre), which speaks to the importance of staying aligned with our desired outcome even as we honestly appraise the serious effort required in getting to what we want, what we may have to give up for its sake, and the possibility of falling short of our goal.

Realistic assessment, rather than starry-eyed wishful thinking, is intrinsic to the dialogical process. This careful balance of work, cost, and risk in pursuit of what we hope to gain by reaching our goal is the basic calculus of success.

RESOLUTION is where partners come to agreement, understanding, and reconciliation around the matter of concern. The goal that was clarified during the deliberation phase might still lie in the future, but there is now a shared commitment to its realization. This distinction between project (a future objective) and process (an organic unfolding) is what makes dialogue different from a mere strategy meeting.

Partners may well leave with specific task assignments, but the true resolution is a transformation by which separate individuals are lifted into the higher wholeness of genuine community.

These four steps or phases in the process of creative dialogue together comprise a method that can help move us into a more peaceful and prosperous future. In coming posts we’ll look deeper into each phase, arriving eventually at a full understanding of how we can flourish together, and not merely get along.

 

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What’s Going On

world gridEach of us is responsible for creating and maintaining a personal system of meaning called a world. It isn’t entirely our invention, as much of it, including the foundational elements known as assumptions, were installed by our culture (family and society) even before we acquired language. These pre-verbal dimensions of our world – which I also refer to as our worldview – should not be confused with the ineffable mystery of existence that fascinates mystics and inspires artists across the cultures.

According to the theoretical perspective known as constructivism, “the world” is not just another name for the environment or the globe or our planet Earth. “The” world identifies the personal system of meaning in which live; it is the habitation of this separate center of identity called I-myself. You live in the world, and I live in the world, but our worlds are not exactly the same. We should also make the point that your world today is not the same world you inhabited when you were younger. The “meaning of (my) life” has changed over the years, sometimes dramatically as in response to hardship, trauma, or loss.

belief systemYour world, then, is a construct, the appearance of which is really a function of your assumptions, conclusions, opinions, and predictions about reality based on what you’ve been taught to believe, and of your adaptive strategies along the way. Indeed, what you perceive as your world might be more accurately regarded as a product of your beliefs than a perfect representation of reality.

Even though you may think of your world as arranged outside and around you, its objective existence is only an optical delusion. Behind your world, as a projector is behind the images projected on a screen, is your mindset – that framework of assumptions (etc.) concerning the nature of reality, the meaning of life, the value of persons, and so on. Constructivism suggests that by altering your mindset you can actually revise or recreate your world, in some cases bringing about an apocalyptic “new heavens and new earth” by virtue of an entirely new system of meaning.

The educational author Carol Dweck (2006) has defined the categories of “fixed” and “growth” mindset to distinguish how people tend to regard talent, intelligence, achievement, and excellence as either something we’re basically born with (fixed) or which instead can be developed with effort, practice, and persistence (growth).

outlookBesides its role in supporting a particular construction of meaning (i.e., the world), your mindset also works as a lens or filter setting an emotional tone or general outlook on life. In a therapeutic approach called Mentallurgy (see my blog http://www.braintracts.wordpress.com), I have identified four primary attitudes that color our outlook, selecting for “evidence” that confirms how we feel and screening out (or minimizing) what doesn’t. These primary attitudes are Confidence/optimism (green), Discouragement/melancholy (blue), Anxiety/paranoia (yellow), and Frustration/hostility (red).

We can distinguish worldview, mindset, and outlook by saying that your worldview represents the way things are (to you), your mindset consists of the beliefs you hold with respect to what it all means, and your outlook is how those beliefs cast reality and the future under an emotional tone – generally speaking, positive (green) or negative (blue, yellow, red). Your outlook sets up each situation as an opportunity or adversity, as opening new possibilities for growth and discovery or foreclosing on your happiness and making life hard.

brainMentallurgy is a brain-based therapeutic approach which seeks to empower individuals in taking creative control of their mental focus, storytelling (aka “meaning-making”), and behavior. Ultimately – and I’m making the point explicit here – your worldview is rooted in particular brainstates, referring to more or less persistent moods that link your nervous system to external reality.

When your brainstate is coherent you are able to interpret sensory information, access your feelings, organize your thoughts, understand your needs, and behave in situation-appropriate ways. Alternatively when your brainstate is confused, irritable, or depressed, the connection and flow among these faculties is disrupted or gets stuck. All you have to do is trace these brainstates into their associated mindsets, outlooks, and worldviews to get a feel for how this whole system spins out and feeds back upon itself.

With the technology to scan live working brains, neuroscience is helping us appreciate the wonderful benefits of a coherent brainstate, where the quantum field of consciousness flows in smooth waves across the regions and networks of the brain. We can also see where things tend to get hung up and go awry, depending on whether the brainstate is confused (prefrontal cortex), irritable (limbic system), or depressed (deep temporal lobes).

Because we are obviously talking about something (i.e., consciousness) presenting as a continuum, the positions chosen as distinct brainstates might seem somewhat arbitrary. My choices are persuaded by the frequency in which these particular brainstates manifest themselves in common behavior, as when we’re confidently engaged in what’s going on (coherent), uneasy and disoriented (confused), frustrated and over-reactive (irritable), or lethargic and disinterested (depressed). While all of these may be considered normal behaviors, the hope is that we can shift back into coherence when we feel ourselves slipping or on the way to getting hooked.BMOWAll of this helps us interpret “what’s going on” through a system of correlates – brainstate, mindset, outlook, and worldview. Depending on where in this system we undertake our analysis, a description of what’s going on will employ a vocabulary that is neurological, psychological, or sociological in orientation. When it comes to instigating transformative change (the general theme of this tracts blog), however, we will always have greater success by shifting into a coherent brainstate first.

What does all of this have to do with spirituality (another of my themes)? When our brainstate is coherent, our mindset is also more flexible, our outlook more positive, and our worldview is correspondingly more open and accommodating. We are able to live more intentionally and charitably in the face of what life brings our way.

We are also empowered to live more creatively as we take up the Deeper Process and Higher Purpose of existence itself, transcending the often petty concerns of ego and accepting our responsibility as authors of what’s going on.

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2015 in Philosophical Underpinnings

 

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Welcome!

Daniels-JohnWelcome to my thoughtstream on the topic of creative change. I appreciate your visit and hope you’ll stay a while.

Tractsofrevolution explores the dynamics of human creativity as it swirls in our cells, pulses through our bodies, connects us to each other, and constructs the magnificent panoply of world cultures. You will find two distinct currents to this thoughtstream that may interest you.

“Conversations” are blog posts where I reflect on the creative works of authors and artists of our present day and recent past. These creators communicated their visions of reality and the human future through words and other art-forms, partly to share them with the rest of us, but also because they finally couldn’t resist the force that seized and inspired them. I name that force “the creative spirit,” and am convinced that it inhabits all of us – while only a relatively few of us are courageous (or foolhardy) enough to “go with the flow.”

I have a lot to say about spirituality and religion, but this shouldn’t lead to the conclusion that I consider the creative spirit especially religious or “spiritual” in a more narrowly religious sense. The authors I bring into conversation are both religious and nonreligious, believers and atheists, metaphysically-minded psychonauts and down-to-earth humanists. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter what ideological camp you inhabit, what country you call home, what language you speak, which way you’re oriented, or whether you are charming or abrasive. You and I are creators, and it’s time we take responsibility for this incredible power with which the universe has endowed our species.

For a more practical and therapeutic approach to creativity, check out my blog Braintracts.Wordpress.com. Over the past 20 years I have developed a life-change program that helps individuals take creative control of their lives and step more intentionally into the worlds they really want to inhabit. This approach is brain-based and solution-focused, pulling from the current research of neuroscience and the best practices in human empowerment (counseling and coaching).

The Medieval art/science of metallurgy investigated the molecular secrets of changing natural ores into metals and other alloys. The process was mysterious and the research traditions of those early scientists often took on the shroud of an almost gnostic mysticism. Mentallurgy is my attempt to remove the shroud of secrecy from the question of how the power of attention is transformed into the attitudes, beliefs, moods and drives behind human behavior. If you don’t particularly like the world you presently inhabit, then create a different one! Mentallurgy can show you how. Click over to http://www.braintracts.wordpress.com

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2013 in Timely and Random

 

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