The present condition of human communication is primitive. We may think that because of the development of high-tech machinery, fiber-optic communication networks, and the ability to see and hear into the far reaches of space that we must be quite advanced in the field of communication; after all AT&T guarantees that we can talk to natives in New Guinea. But all this is just technology that broadens our boundaries of the universe; it has little effect on our ability to listen with our heart to another being or, for that matter, to God/dess. Being able to clearly hear a voice overseas does not mean we are really listening to that soul. Hearing only means that the ear is perceiving sound. Real listening is conscious.
We are poor listeners most of the time. Even if we are listening, communication requires a medium of connection and the ability to make sense of the information that is being relayed. The language of the information must be processed (translated) into understanding. Language must be learned; if it is not, the result is thought to be a serious block to human development.
Since interpersonal communication is the flow and exchange of energy between people, it is not only a daily part of life but a necessity of life. We don't live on a deserted island. We need to communicate every day and, for most of us, it is the activity we engage in more than any other. Whenever we are with others, we are drawn into relationship and communication connects us to that relationship.
Simplifying the Dynamics of Communication
The dynamics of communication can be simplified. At any given moment, communication includes the one who is giving energy and the one who is receiving that energy. In his book Between People, Dr. John A. Sanford uses the analogy of playing catch. One person holds the ball and announces his intention to throw the ball to another. He goes through the motions and propels the ball into the waiting hands of the other. For the game to succeed, there must be some rules by which to play i.e.;
- don't throw the ball until I'm ready to catch it;
- don't throw it over my head; and
- don't throw it too hard.
In other words, in this game, let me treat you as I would like you to treat me. The game may last as long or as short a time as we both agree. If we can't agree, one or both of us may feel hurt. Then our emotional bodies get involved and add more difficulty to the process.
The Purpose of Communication: Both People Benefit
The object of the "communication" game is not to be competitive. It is not like tennis, in which we are trying to hit the ball so it can not be returned to us, or like football, where we must stop the person with the ball from reaching the goal. The purpose of communication is for both people to benefit: the one who gives feels fulfilled in the giving, and the one who receives feels fulfilled in receiving. When both people can give and receive, the process works perfectly.
Likewise, in our spiritual life we have to be open to the flow of energy in both directions. We don't just demand of God/dess; we communicate so that we can both give and receive. We experience both sides of the coin in balance, and each side is full.
Listening & Responding: Learning the Skill of Being Present
More practically, if someone is talking to us, we must not just hear them; we must be ready to listen and respond. This is a skill we learn. It requires the ability to be in the present moment and to be open to what the other wants to share with us. This is not always easy; many issues can block what seems to be a simple process. Do I even want to listen? Am I prepared to listen?
Many times we assume the other is available, willing, and interested. Such assumptions may be based on false beliefs or empty wishes. Also, am I physiologically able to listen -- am I fatigued or clearly attentive? For example, how many school children are really able to listen to their teacher on a hot, muggy day after a heavy lunch? Sometimes we ignore such simple causes for communication failure.
When someone lectures to us with no intention of listening to our response, after awhile we start shutting down because the energy is not completing its cycle. Such lecturing may be based in another person's agenda without agreement from the receiver, as in compulsory education. Lecturing that occurs in interpersonal relationships can often be an avoidance mechanism that blocks intimate connections, or it can be a defense mechanism to hide our fears.
Similarly, a person may make an announcement or declaration that requires no response: "I'm going home!" or "I have nothing else to say on that matter, case closed." We can feel cut off and disappointed with this type of communication. We may want to relate, but the other has unilaterally decided to shut down the communication process.
Shutting Down to Protect Ourselves from Painful Communication
Because human beings are generally poor communicators, we have developed behaviors to compensate and protect ourselves from painful communication. How many times do we try to get our message across before we finally give up?
It is common to see communication fail. It happens every day; it becomes habitual. The result is that we stop listening or we shut down emotionally. When we stop listening, we disconnect ourselves and withdraw from relationship or find something else to occupy our attention.
It requires a certain degree of courage to open ourselves to communication because when we connect with another person it is not always pleasant. If we have been hurt often, communication becomes conditional and guarded, as if we were saying, "I will only listen to you if you promise not to say anything that will hurt me." Of course, this doesn't work because our initial fear about "what might happen" has already biased our ability to be open and receptive.
Sometimes a person approaches us as if they were wearing a baseball catcher's protective equipment -- chest pad, face mask, shin guards, etc. They are so defensive that we can't quite find the real person underneath it all to whom we can relate. If the person is shut down or "absent," how do we connect with them? How do we connect with someone who is not available, whose behavior says, "I'm uninterested", "I'm afraid", or "Leave me alone"?
These few examples of difficult communication behavior demonstrate the complexity and broad spectrum of human communication. How do we learn to be successful in our communication when blockage and failure are the rule?
Taking Risks: Being Open & Conscious
We must choose to be conscious and take the risk, even though we will be hurt from time to time. Our expectations may be shattered and it won't always be fun. The human heart breaks, but the irony is that the heart is resilient and learns and grows stronger.
The heart evolves through experience. We find that we do survive, that we can handle it, and that from our expanded spiritual viewpoint, it's all okay. Once we take this step and choose to be open, to be conscious, our intention and attitude can be adapted to help our situation.
Pure Intention: Being Present & Available as a Listener
Our intention plays an important role. Ideally, we make a conscious choice, with clear responsibility, to pursue relationship without conditions. When we set our intention to be present and available to someone, we fulfill our role as the listener, being openly attentive and receptive. Then we have accomplished our part of the partnership. Spiritually, we remain clear and unattached to the outcome.
The Dalai Lama once told me, "With pure intention, with a pure heart, go forward in action with no regret." If our intention is clearly to be there for someone, to be in relationship with an open heart, then anything can happen, and we can be free of regret. Karma will play out as it needs to. We don't need to be attached to the outcome.
The process of communication allows the energy to flow for the purpose of playing itself out, and we face it openly and consciously. By our example, we demonstrate openness. Instead of shutdown, openness can become the norm. Instead of communication being conditional, it can be about honesty and trust.
We can communicate our intention to be present, regardless of the response or action, because we can handle it. We don't want to be codependent -- we don't need to promise or agree to take responsibility for the other person's behavior; but we can be available and we can be responsible for our own responses and feelings in this interaction.
About The Author
Rick Phillips draws on over twenty years of work as a practitioner in spiritual and psychospiritual fields. He is cofounder, with his wife Rachel Kaufman, of the Deva Foundation of New Mexico, where he works as a facilitator. Rick is a practitioner of Chinese medicine, and has taught meditation practices. For additional information about Rick and his work, you can reach him at: Deva Foundation, P.O. Box 309, Glorieta, NM 87535 USA. www.deva.org