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Getting Real: 10 Truth Skills You Need to Live an Authentic Life by Susan Campbell
Why Do We Want to Get Real?
Those of us who understand honesty as a fundamental spiritual practice know that simply being honest, like meditation, helps us to experience life more fully. Whether we’re meditating alone or being honest when sharing with others, we find that a natural ease, happiness, and love occurs when we simply pay attention and notice what is going on rather than thinking about it. In fact, a further magnification of the already enhanced experience of being that comes from noticing occurs when we accurately describe our experience of noticing to another. Intimacy happens. Two beings know each other and have learned more about being itself.
We want to get real in order to reclaim the buried and hidden aspects of ourselves that we chose to cut off in response to real or imagined pain in the interest of staying safe as vulnerable children. Honest communications is the quickest, most direct path to wholeness.
What does it mean to get real?
It is about paying attention to and communicating about what you notice—your body sensations, feelings, thoughts, and things going on around you.
Check-in: Share your present moment awareness along with your name to the group.
How does getting real work?
Honest communications transforms an uncomfortable experience by going deeply into it recovering a piece of our wholeness instead of resorting to using control patterns (defense mechanisms) to avoid feeling pain based on false core beliefs that were created to help us as children make sense of and manage our world in “survival” mode.
What are the benefits of getting real?
Getting real develops your self-awareness. You engage with others in what I call a social meditation practice in which you support one another in unhooking from your self-image and your ideas about being “better” and risk being seen just as you are. The result is self-realization—making real the parts of yourself that you thought you had to hide to survive. And I mean all the parts, not just the pretty ones. Self-realization also leads you back to the simple, direct awareness of yourself as a being increasingly free of your personal story and the limiting beliefs you’ve picked up along the way. But before you can be free of these, you need to be willing to explore, experiment, and discover where your natural flow of energy is blocked. And to free yourself, you need to experience just how unfree you are.
What is the typical human communication pattern?
80 to 90% of typical human communications (based on a research study) is done with the intent to control rather than relate; however, a lot of creative energy is released and a lot can be accomplished when we take a risk by sharing authentically.
Control-oriented communications is geared towards ensuring a predictable result. It is the ego-mind’s way of protecting us from feeling anxious or uncomfortable when facing an unexpected or unknown outcome. The ego-mind is that part of us that likes to feel in control. Many of us don’t trust that, if we don’t get the result we were hoping for, we’ll be resourceful enough to come up with a “plan B.”
When we relate we value what is over what should or could be. When you relate, as opposed to when you control, you speak the truth of what you think, feel, and notice as a way of sharing information and making emotional contact---and not as a way of getting a particular outcome. You speak your truth without knowing how this truth with be received.
The Ten Truth Skills
Experiencing what is
Noticing your intent
Asserting what you want and don’t want
Taking back projections
Revising an earlier statement
Sharing mixed emotions
Embracing the silence
To really experience true contact with another person, you must enter a realm of uncertainty together. When your attention is on your mind chatter (thoughts, inferences, judgments, and interpretations), you are not present to what is happening here and now, so you cannot be real. You become more present, and therefore more real, as you peel away the layers of automatic patterns (such as judging or explaining others’ behavior) and conditioned beliefs (about how safe it is to speak honestly). As you shed these layers, you will reveal your authentic self. Honest communications is the vehicle for this process.
When you express what you are honestly thinking, feeling, and wanting with the intention of relating (rather than of bolstering your position), you come to see that who you are is not defined by your thoughts, your feelings, your story, or your position. You come to experience yourself as a human being whose experience of life is constantly changing and who is okay regardless of what you feel. You learn to participate in life instead of trying to control it.
Ch. 2 – Experiencing What Is
As long as you avoid experiencing whatever is calling out to be experienced, you will not heal. A part of you will be lost. Any time you feel something and then notice yourself trying to avoid feeling it, it’s probably more significant than it appears…because to feel what we actually feel, perhaps something that we weren’t strong enough to let ourselves fully experience in the past, allows us the possibility of becoming real.
Experiencing what is demands that you set aside your beliefs about what should or shouldn’t be going on, about what you wish were going on, what you expected, what you interpret, and what you judge as acceptable. These are all ways of maintaining an illusion of being in control. When you find yourself unable to stay with your feelings, you have an opportunity to see exactly what you’re doing to avoid being present to what is.
Experiencing what is also helps you make the distinction between what is, that is what you actually experience (see, hear, sense, feel, notice, remember) and what you imagine (think, interpret, evaluate, believe). You don’t experience an interpretation. You imagine an interpretation. And you interpretations are often a lot more painful than your actual experience.
People are much more likely to work through a conflict or misunderstanding if the conversation focuses on what both people actually experienced.
Exercise 1: Think of something that someone did or said that displeased you. Be specific about what was done or said. Now reflect back on the meaning or interpretation you attributed to that behavior.
Exercise 2: Now focus on something someone did that pleased you. How did you interpret their action?
Exercise 3: Noticing vs. Imagining -- What do you notice about someone or something and what do you imagine about them (what stories do you make up?). The aim of this exercise is to consciously play with the interpretations or assessments and to consciously recognize the distinction between what your senses receive and what your mind does with this information. This exercise also helps you practice letting others think what they think. In time, you will find that even when people do misunderstand you, your sense of self is not diminished. Playing with imaginings also helps you stop projecting them onto others and gives you a feeling of being “in control” in a whole new way. As you come to identify yourself as a “noticer” instead of a “reactor,” things won’t push your buttons like they did before.
Exercise 4: Comparisons and evaluations. Notice comparisons and evaluations that you do throughout the day as another way of noticing your mind chatter. The point of this exercise is not to get rid of mind chatter, but to just notice it.
Experiencing what is helps you hold your ego identity more lightly—so that you will not need to focus so much on protecting it from hurt, embarrassment, or discomfort.
What is a “trigger” or a button? A button is a “belief gone mad.” It is a predisposition to feel hurt, slighted, or attacked when you imagine that your negative expectations have been fulfilled.
Exercise 5: Noticing what’s happening
Once you have begun to detach from your identification with your beliefs and judgments, you will be in better shape to notice what you are actually experiencing in the present moment.
Exercise 6: Noticing talking in our minds group exercise
Your mental chatter is simply the mind’s attempt to protect itself—to avoid the anxiety or helplessness of not knowing or not being in control. Yet your real self, your presence, you as the notice, doesn’t need protecting or defending. It simply needs to be experienced. The more you experience yourself as “the one who notices,” the safer you will feel.
Ch. 3 – Being Transparent
You have the choice to either to be seen by expressing your observations, feelings, self-talk, etc. or to hide, pretend, withhold, or talk yourself out of your feelings (as in, “it’s no big deal”).
When you communicate with the intent to relate, you will naturally become more transparent, that is, easier to know. You aren’t being strategic or trying to manipulate the outcome. You’re being open and sincere, with no hidden agenda.
Seeing yourself is an act of observation, not of evaluation. The reason most people give for not being transparent is that they experience a gap between how they are and how they think they should be. Then they beat themselves up about the disparity and try to at least look like how they think they should be. But now instead of realizing that their pain is about living a pretense, they think their pain is about not being “better.”
Exercise 7: Admitting and Naming Your Fears & Desires
If you are not able to express something, if you are compelled to keep it hidden, then you are not free to choose an authentic response to each situation. Find people who value truth over feeling comfortable.
We learned either to protect others from feeling uncomfortable or to protect ourselves from their reactions to us. As adults we continue protecting people. We continue to believe we can protect people by avoiding anything we imagine would make them uncomfortable. Thus, we confuse their discomfort zone with our own, as we try to protect them at the cost of our own well-being.
Spiritual freedom comes from participating in the moment-by-moment flow of life, not by getting things to be just right once and for all. A lot of healing and transformation is possible if we could just stop hiding and let ourselves be seen.
Exercise 8: Sharing Self-Judgments and Judgments of Others
The goal of this exercise is to take judgments less seriously. Being judgmental is a very common control pattern. Learning to accept that you have judgments or other self-defeating thought patterns can help you develop compassion for yourself. Often the best way to find compassion is to start by noticing its absence—like when you judge yourself for being judgmental. When you catch yourself judging yourself or others, it’s very healing to have a safe place to admit it---in the interest of transparency, not as something you’re attached to. Sharing your self-talk and letting your judgments be seen by others helps you get a more objective perspective on that critical inner voice. Then you don’t identify with it so strongly: it’s simply something you are noticing.
Busting out of your comfort zone might be the most fun thing you ever did—after you get over the idea that you have to be safe, appropriate, perfect, right—or that you have to be anything.
Ch. 4 – Noticing Your Intent
Exercise 9: Eye Contact
Read 1 or 2 stories from book to illustrate someone’s intent
Is your intent to relate or to control? What is the difference?
Relating is motivated by the wish to know and be known, to open yourself to another so they can see and perhaps empathize with your experience. Relating encompasses truth skill #1, experiencing what is, and truth skill #2, being transparent. Controlling comes from the need to be comfortable and safe, to avoid feeling awkward, uncomfortable, or unsafe. Controlling uses all of the strategies you’ve learned over a lifetime to make yourself feel safe.
By relating as a regular spiritual practice, you will learn to trust that you do not need to control how other people react to you or whether things turn out as planned. Your sense of self-worth will be based not on how things turn out, but on whether you express what you think, know, and feel in each moment.
Relating is not about convincing anyone that you are right; it is about shared learning and mutual understanding. The controlling mind prefers to have things be predictable and known. Getting comfortable with discomfort means not resisting information, feedback, ideas, or events that may be at odds with your expectations and desires.
You have probably done your share of controlling—we all have. But where has it gotten you? Do you really trust yourself? How relaxed are you in the face of uncertainty? Are you confident that you can handle whatever life deals you? Is the feedback you get from life really about you? Wouldn’t you like to know, before your time on earth is up, how the world responds to your unique ideas, feelings, foibles, and gifts? Or are you content just to give a good performance of the script you were given by society or your family?
When we have the courage to show up as we are, we discover that we feel more deeply connected to others. Most people I meet are still playing the right, safe, and certain (controlling) game. The rules of the game are: project a positive image; don’t be too different from the norm; deny or cover up any doubts about yourself or what you are doing; don’t rock the boat, especially if this could lead to conflict or disapproval; act like you know; even if you don’t; and don’t show vulnerability.
Controlling is an attempt to maintain the illusion that you know how things should be and can make things happen as you want them to. Many spiritual teachers have observed that most people have not resolved enough unfinished business from the past to know what is good for them most of the time. Most people are so caught up in their self-image and in their image of how things should be that they are not able to be objective.
Communicating with the intent to relate builds a sense of trust and connection. When I show you how your actions have affected me without implying that you should change, then you will feel more connected to me and will be more likely to want to help me.
When I open my heart and mind to you, I am trusting the unknown. In a sense, I am entering the unknown with you and inviting you to meet me there. This leap of faith tends to create a greater sense of connection because I have just risked something on behalf of our relationship.
Control patterns are unconscious ego-protective strategies people use when they feel unsafe, that is, when they do not have sufficient self-trust to face the unknown naked and undefended. Most people feel the need for protection a great deal of the time, and most of what we do and say comes not from a sense of freedom but from a conditioned control pattern to avoid feeling pain:
Chapter 5 – Welcoming Feedback
Welcoming feedback means that you want to hear the truth, even if it’s uncomfortable. It means you’re genuinely curious and interested in other people’s realities. Do people feel they can be honest with you? Ask people if you are approachable with their uncomfortable feedback? Are you open to and curious about all types of information? Do you ever unwittingly blame the messenger?
Avoiding discomfort is dangerous and can lead to hearing bad news only after it is too late to do anything about it, like after your marriage is already on the rocks. In fact, avoiding anything is the opposite of openness to what is.
Asking for feedback from another establishes the fact that you are interested in her viewpoint and that you are open to learning with and from this person. This practice can also strengthen the trust between you. When you allow people to give you feedback about something they have been withholding, it clears the air and two of you can get back to feeling open and relaxed with each other.
Exercise 10: Withholds
Exercise 11: Active Listening
Active listening is especially in conflict or potential conflict situations.
The first thing to do when you have received feedback is to pause and take it in. Notice the sensations and feelings in your body. Notice your thoughts: Do you agree with the feedback or not? Do you feel any internal pressure to conform to the other person’s wishes? Remember, it is your choice what you do about the feedback. You are not obligated to change anything. Listen to your self-talk. Did your inner critic get triggered? Did you automatically discount what was said? Did you get defensive?
Being open to feedback does not mean you swallow the other’s impression of you as the truth. It means letting the feedback in and letting it have an impact on you. Listening to feedback is different from agreeing with it or taking it on. You weigh it against other things you have seen in yourself and in the person delivering the feedback and against other people’s feedback on the same issue. You are the one who decides whether or not to make any changes based on what you have heard.
Ch. 6 – Asserting What You Want and Don’t Want
When you have trouble expressing what you want or don’t want, your life may become clogged with unfinished business and fantasies about a world that doesn’t exist, about what someone should have done, how people should treat them, and how much better it will be when they are out of this situation. You may desire to stop cutting off your self-expression by pretending everything is okay. It is important to keep expressing yourself even if there is little chance of getting what you want.
False Beliefs Story in book
What are your core beliefs around asking for what you want or don’t want (share mine on pg. 121)?
If you desire intimacy with the people in your life, you need to include all varieties of strong contact in your expressive repertoire, not just the nice, sweet kind. Remember, that people tend to be self-absorbed much of the time. Don’t waste your energy wishing this were not the case. It’s what is. Other people sometimes need you to wake them up to the fact that there’s another person here with needs that are different from theirs. They may need to hear a strong, clear expression of what’s okay and not okay with you. Don’t be afraid to get in people’s faces when you want their attention. If you hint around, wait for them to notice you, and then resent them when they don’t, you are operating from a naïve picture of how most human beings are. It’s not that others intend you any harm. It’s just that most people aren’t very good at anticipating your needs.
When asserting your desires, you’re going to bump up against the other person’s boundaries. You might even push some buttons along the way. By bumping against her with your request, you’re “calling her out,” you’re asking her to be more than her limited view of herself. Or you may be giving her practice holding her ground. Either way, it’s not going to do her any real harm. And it just might help.
Exercise: Would you …?
Another patterned way of asking for what you want is to complain. You’re afraid to ask directly, so you complain about never doing something instead of simply asking to do it. Complaints also contain a strained, tense energy, which makes you less likely to get what you want because you’re not in harmony with your own energy flow. Can you discover the desire underneath the complaint? Instead, why not make a request? I want to …. Or Would you be willing to …?
One very common and important situation in which you may feel like saying no is when someone asks you a question about something you don’t wish to talk about at that moment. When this happens, give yourself permission to tell him so.
Use concrete, specific language. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. Asserting what you do want is a bigger commitment for you, and it’s easier for the other to take in.
Ch. 7 – Taking Back Projections
Human beings are like walking, talking projectors. Everywhere we go we see things “out there” that really originate inside us. If you’re upset that your mate doesn’t listen to you, take a look at yourself: How well do you listen to yourself?
Our inner conflicts are usually unconscious. Thus, when we project our inner conflicts onto others, communications can become dicey. Being judgmental is a control pattern. It is one of the ego-mind’s many automatic ways of dealing with inner conflict, pain, or anxiety. When you are being triggered, it is hard to be objective about an issue, and when we need other people to trigger us, so we can see what our buttons are, and how we avoid the truth of who we are.
Exercise: Think of a person whose behavior bothers you in some way. Give the behavior a label, such as angry, controlling, wishy-washy, boring, self-centered, and so forth. Now try on the hypothesis that the other’s behavior reflects an aspect of you or your life that you have not come to terms with. Let’s say you said that selfish people bug you. This statement most likely signals that you are not comfortable with your own selfish side in some way. Perhaps you are more selfish than you are aware of; or maybe you need to become more affirming of your own needs. Try looking at selfishness as a way of behaving that you either over- or under-learned.
I need people in my life to help me see my own shadow, the hidden aspect of myself that I can only see by first noticing that I judge it in others.
Exercise: Think of someone you are emotionally invested in. Reflect on something you wish this person would do to help you feel better. Use the sentence, “If only you would _____, I’d feel ______. Examples might be, “If only you would tell me you love me, I’d feel safe,” “If only you would stop telling me how to do things, I’d feel energized about getting things done,” or “If only you would look at me when I talk to you, I’d feel connected to you.”
Look at what you have written after the words “I’d feel.” Whatever you’ve written, it indicates that you long to feel this emotion but are having difficulty experiencing it. Something internal is blocking you, and you have projected this block onto the other. So if you said, “If only you would look at me when I’m speaking, I’d feel connected to you,” “feeling connected” is an experience that you long to have. Something inside of you is getting in the way of your feeling connected. Whether or not you feel connected is not the other person’s responsibility—it’s yours. It may make it easier for you to feel connected when she looks at you, but it is not she who needs to change.
You can use your awareness of this projection to communicate your wants in a way that is real and transparent, a way that takes responsibility for what you want instead of wishing the other person would do just the right thing to help you get it. Own up to the fact that “feeling connected” is hard for you and that you want her help. Asking for help is quite different from holding another responsible. By asking for help, you are actually taking responsibility for the fact that it’s hard for you to do something on your own.
When someone else is projecting onto you with blame and criticism, how are you taking it? Is your reaction a contraction? Are you blaming or beating yourself up as another control pattern to deal with the anxiety of not feeling in control of how another responds to you. If you find yourself feeling bad about yourself, to get yourself back into the present moment, disclose your negative self-talk. As you may have noticed, when you are unable to stay present, I always recommend confessing what’s going on for you as soon as you become aware of it. Expressing what’s being withheld results in a sense of closure and brings you back to the present.
When someone projects anger on you, don’t automatically assume that your behavior is the cause of it. His anger is his. It’s about him. The reasons for it are inside him. Even if he blames you for it, this doesn’t mean that the blame belongs to you. It just means he thinks you’re to blame. On the other hand, don’t automatically assume that you don’t have nothing to learn about yourself. Often a projection contains information about both people involved, so take a look inside and see if you are triggered. If you are, it’s probably related to one of your inner conflicts as well as the other person’s.
When you assume that you know what another person should or shouldn’t do, you are projecting. You have stopped relating and have slipped into an ego-protective control pattern. Example of what to say on pg. 132-133. If you get defensive when you feel blamed or criticized, once again, sharing your self-talk helps you disidentify with your defensiveness and be more present, as in: “I’m noticing that my self-talk right now is a judgment that you shouldn’t be blaming me for your reactions.” Express what you are experiencing and noticing about your experiencing of another’s criticism or blaming remarks.
Noticing judgmental self-talk can help you stop identifying with being right and start uncovering your own self-judgment. When you blame another person for your pain, it clouds the truth and makes corrective action less likely. Getting Real means feeling my own pain about how I am, not about how the other is or isn’t. Pain can be an effective motivator for change, but only if we’re honest about its source. Example pg. 135.
Remember, the goal of authentic self-expression is not to get the other to change. If you want to make good decisions, pay attention to what is. Don’t get distracted by your ideas about what should be. Focusing on what should be is a way to avoid making decisions and taking action on what you know to be the truth.
Ch. 8 – Revising an Earlier Statement
Exercise – If I Had It to Do Over
This exercise can be done after an interaction has gone off course because of one or both partners going into a control pattern instead of being present with their truth. This process allows people to take a look together at what happened. Each person takes a turn describing what they wish they would have done or said if they would have had more presence of mind. Tell the other person that you’d like to revisit the incident to share with her a new insight. Then simply say, “I realize now that I wish I’d done (or said)…” or, “If I had it to do over, I would …”
Think of a situation involving another person that you wish you had handled better. What do you wish you had done, said, or not said? Now imagine going back to this person and telling him how you wish you’d handled it. If you wish, call the person and share what you wish you’d done at the time. And leaver space afterwards for him to respond. Do you really believe that you everything right or at least well the first time?
Getting Real is about being imperfectly honest, that is feeling and saying what you are aware of in the moment with the understanding that once you’ve expressed yourself, you’ll either see something more or you’ll realize your feelings have changed. The impossibility of being perfectly honest is one reason why honest communication is such a powerful vehicle for self-realization. Each time you speak your truth, you get to see it in a new light, which generally leads to reevaluating it, noticing that there’s more to it (or less to it) that you thought. Getting Real is like peeling the layers off of an onion. Once you report your presence experience, a new and deeper version of the truth is often revealed.
Making Amends Exercise
If you actions have harmed another person, expressing regret later may not be enough. You may want to ask, “Is there some way I can make it up to you?” in order to achieve closure. Think of a situation in which you did something that harmed another person. Recall exactly what you did or said, being as specific as possible. Notice how you actually feel. Now make a list of things you might do for the person to make it up to them, to make amends. Now you may decide to call or get together with the person to discuss how you felt and what you would like to do to help make up for it.
If you give yourself permission to revise and revisit whenever you need to, then you’ll take each interaction more lightly. You don’t have to try so hard to get things perfect the first time.
Ch. 9 – Holding Differences
If you want to see reality clearly and take action based on all available input, you must be able to hold differences—to maintain your own viewpoint while considering other people’s views. This truth skills enables you to take in several perspectives at once so you can consider them in relation to one another. It allows you to see more of what is actually going on rather than narrowing vision to feel right, safe, or certain. Your consciousness becomes spacious and nonreactive, and you can see your options more clearly.
In dealing with differences or disagreements, you basically have three choices: you can try to get other people to see things your way; you can give in to others to minimize conflict; or you can practice holding differences. Many people assume they have only the first two choices—to dominate or to submit. But in a world of complexity and change, these first two options lead to solutions that are often simplistic or shortsighted. Holding differences enables you to draw a bigger circle around two or more competing views so that you can see how they are complementary parts of a whole instead of mutually exclusive.
The more you try to avoid conflict the more havoc it plays with your well-laid plans. The only way the world will ever be a safe place to express our full uniqueness is if we can learn together that your view need not pose a threat to mine. Holding differences is kind of an advanced listening. To practice this truth skill, you need to be able to listen to things you’d rather not hear, things that challenge your point of view or belief system, or even things that push your buttons.
Holding differences depends on your ability to assert your boundaries. You know what you feel and want and value, and you don’t let anybody mess with those things unless you so choose. This allows you to both have your own experience and to be open to alternative views. You can consider more information at once without getting confused.
Holding Differences at Work Story Example pg. 159
If you can stay in the impasse for enough time, allowing the differences to exist rather than rushing prematurely to a resolution, you will be changed by the experience. This change is not predictable. It doesn’t take the form of giving in or compromising but rather of expanding yourself. This is what it feels like to hold differences. It’s like hanging out in an unresolved predicament without knowing if there will be a resolution. Some people can’t stand the tension, so they jump to a premature conclusion—like “I’m out of here” or “I know I’m not being fair to you, so I’ll just leave.”
Yet sometimes when you do stay with your experience, you get to a deeper level of what the conflict is really about, which results in magical or unbelievable outcomes to the people involved—when they consider where they were before they got unstuck. For many couples just staying in the impasse, holding their differences for a period of time, produces an inner expansion or transformation that enables them to experience a deeper level of what’s real for each of them. I have come to fully trust the process that occurs when you let yourself simply hang out with uncertainty.
Go over the Staying Present Exercise pg. 164
Paying careful attention to your own experience and to each other allows for feelings to be experienced more fully so that they can be released. Paying attention also builds a sense of intimacy or connection—even if the disagreement still exists. Mates who have been together for a while tend to camouflage the really painful unfinished situations by making interpretations, generalizations, comparisons, and assessments. They apparently hope that this sort of more distant, less intimate language will keep them a safe distance from the pain. Holding differences trains you to tolerate more intensity of feelings.
Chapter 10 – Sharing Mixed Emotions
Is there someone you haven’t been completely honest with? How do you feel as you anticipate telling her something that might be difficult to express? Do you notice mixed feelings—such as a desire to express your feelings and at the same time a fear about her reaction?
It’s Okay to Feel Confusion
Confusion simply means that more than one thing is pulling on your attention. The way out of confusion is not to fight it but to allow one of your several feelings to float to the foreground and be expressed, even if you also feel something else in the background. Once this is done, see what emerges next in your foreground, and express that. Usually when you express what’s in your foreground, the way is cleared for the next “layer of the onion” to be expressed. Don’t use the fact that you are confused or don’t know where to start as an excuse for not expressing yourself at all.
Read “Sharing Mixed Emotions with Children” Example on pg. 173
There is great value in including both of your feelings in one statement. Sharing both can give your statement added depth and genuineness. Be careful not to use “but” between feelings as but cancels whatever came before it, use “And” instead as both feelings are true.
Ch. 11 – Embracing the Silence of Not Knowing
When you can embrace silence, you do not need to know everything in advance or have all the blanks filled in. You understand that there are many things that cannot be known all at once and for all. These things emerge gradually as we learn to be more patient and to openly wait, without forcing the issue.
Authentic communications depends as much on silence as it does on words—the silences between your words and the silence you leave after you have spoken, awaiting the other’s response. Silence is needed to allow your words to sink in. You also hear yourself better when there are silences. Silence between words also provides room for new ideas and feelings to gestate and take form—yours and the other person’s.
For some reason people tend to fear the unknown, and silence, or the void, has been associated with death and emptiness; however, in all cultures the void is a powerful symbol, it is the ground of creation, the sea out of which new life emerges.
Have you ever noticed how some people (maybe even you) ask a question and then, before the other person has had a chance to respond, answer it themselves? When I notice myself doing this, I know it’s an indication that I’m avoiding something—probably the void. If the ego-mind gets the tiniest bit uncomfortable, it initiates a control pattern—a pattern of filling the silence to avoid feeling the anxiety of waiting for an unknown reply.
The belief that knowing is better than not knowing, that something is better than nothing, and that fast is better than slow are some of the fundamental dysfunctional beliefs of our culture. The most important thing about embracing silence in a human interaction is that it allows for feelings to be fully experienced, your inner feelings and the feelings being exchanged. This helps you develop your ability to notice what is and prepares you to communicate with more of your whole being, so you’re not just coming from your head or your automatic control pattern. I recommend that you pause before speaking—to check in with yourself, to get grounded in your bodily sensations, and to connect with the other person. This takes a few seconds of silence. During this silence, energy is building to support the contact between you and the other.
Notice your behavior the next time you are sharing in a group setting: Do you begin talking right away, as soon as it’s your turn? Or do you take a few seconds to connect? Do you have something planned to say before you begin to address the group? Or do you sit in the silence and see what emerges? In many group meetings that I attend, everyone seems to be competing for air time. A talking egg can be used in groups to have only the person with the egg speak without interruption.
Do You Ask or Do You Tell?
If you want to be the type of person with whom people can be true and honest, if you don’t just want to be told what others think you want to hear, take a look at how spacious you are as opposed to how attached you are to getting things to go your way. Think about your recent interactions with people. Notice what proportion of the time you spent telling people what to do, how to do it, or what you think, feel, or want and what proportion you spent asking about their thoughts, feelings, ideas, or wants and then really listening with an open mind. Do you tell or do you ask? Do you take space or do you make space?
Are you open or closed?
If someone disagrees with your position on an important matter, do you quickly reassert your position, as in, “Perhaps you didn’t hear what I said,” or do you inquire about their reasons for their position, as in, “Can you tell me more about why you think that?”
Often the deepest truths arise from the spaces in between words, that fertile void where thoughts are absent.
Practices to Support Embracing Silence
1) Word Fasting: Spending time with a friend in total silence for a while.
2) Partying without words: Dance party without words.
3) Free Association: Speaking out loud any and everything that comes up in your mind, uncensored.
Ch. 12 – Serenity, Compassion, and Presence
Serenity, Presence, and Compassion are the three words that best describe the qualities we begin to embody when we Get Real. Serenity refers to the calmness and inner peace that come from knowing you are okay, no matter what happens to you. Presence is the energetic aliveness and attentiveness that say you’re open and available for anything that life may bring. Compassion is your ability to be moved or touched by others’ real misfortune or suffering without becoming dramatic or sentimental and without needing to find fault or blame. tter when there are silences. Silence between words also provides room for new ideas and feelings to gestate and take form—yours and the other person’s.
If you want to be the type of person with whom people can be true and honest, if you don’t just want to be told what others think you want to hear, take a look at how spacious you are as opposed to how attached you are to getting