Archive for May, 2020


‘Suppose we were able to share meanings freely without a compulsive urge to impose our view or conform to those of others and without distortion and self-deception.  Would this not constitute a real revolution in culture. – David Bohm [‘On Dialogue’]

Words, words, words and more words.  We throw words at one another until one party is defeated – we call this debate.  We hurl words at one another until the center falls apart – we call this discussion (from the Latin ‘dis’ which means ‘apart’ and ‘quatere,’ which means ‘to shake’); discussion, Bohm reminds us, has the same root as ‘percussion’ and ‘concussion.’ We search together through the use of words – we call this dialogue (from the Greek ‘dia’ which means ‘through’ and ‘logos’ which means ‘word’ or in Bohm’s case: ‘the meaning of the word’). 

The physicist David Bohm changed the conversation when he and others gathered together with the purpose of searching for a new way to use words; the process that emerged was named ‘dialogue’ [see Bohm’s book On Dialogue]. 

One of the key elements of Bohm’s concept of dialogue is that all participants actively seek to uncover and challenge their deep, or basic, assumptions (anyone who has attempted to engage in this process knows how challenging it is for us to engage in this process; our reaction when one of our deep assumptions is challenged is that we become defensive if not aggressive). 

Dialogue is also rooted in a spirit of inquiry rather than advocacy.  Inquiry means that I ask questions and search with you from places of ‘not knowing’ with a goal of understanding and learning together.  Dialogue in this sense is also rooted in an assumption that the group is wiser than the wisest person in the group and that this wisdom can be discerned and engaged via the dialogue process.

Today, people banter the word ‘dialogue’ about so that its deeper meaning and challenge seems to have been lost.  Personally, I speak of inviting people into ‘searching conversations’ rather than use the word ‘dialogue.’ In ‘searching conversations, we search together using words. 

In Bohm’s concept of Dialogue, there is no agenda and the process is time intensive (days not hours).  It is time intensive because each person has to have the time to emerge and explore his or her deep assumptions.  There is no goal or outcome other than engaging in the process.  The process is what is important.  In a dialogue there are no non-discussables.  In fact, there is a commitment among the participants that non-discussables are surfaced, are named and are engaged. 

Judgments, stereotypes, prejudices and beliefs are suspended during a dialogue (another powerful challenge as anyone who has attempted to do just one of these knows all to well).  The dialogue provides the participants a safe place where they can search together; thus certain agreements must be in place (my experience is that each group ‘knows’ what these agreements need to be and they will offer them up to the group – some will be offered up quickly and others will only be offered up over time so one agreement is that ‘we can always add to the list of agreements’). 

Dialogue is a powerful, if not daunting, process and experience and does not occur very often.  It is much easier to debate and discuss than to search together; it is much easier to advocate than to inquire.  It is much easier to cling to our surety than to be skeptics of our deepest assumptions.  Dialogue threatens us in many ways and so we need to be open to the possibility that we will be influenced by the search. My experience of people – myself included – is that people who are ‘sure’ are not interested in (i.e. open to) ‘searching’ for there is nothing to search for.  ‘Surety’ is a dialogue killer.

If you, gentle reader, have not spent time with David Bohm’s book On Dialogue I invite you to do so and perhaps you will then choose to experience dialogue as he describes it.  Then again, you might not choose to do so.  As always, you have choice.      

A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices. –David Bohm

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Recently I was speaking with a friend.  Things were rolling over her. . .big things. . .tsunami-like wave things.  Change we know is the new normal.  For most of us change and ‘things’ wash over us as the waves do when we stand in the ocean’s shallows; the waves are constant and each wave is ‘new.’  We can end up missing the wave for we are simply bracing for the next wave; we become wave-bracers.  The same occurs with the many changes and ‘things’ that wash over us every day.  We are so busy bracing ourselves for the next ‘thing’ or the next ‘new’ that we miss the ‘now.’  We come to believe that we have too many ‘news’ and too many ‘things’ that we don’t have the time to savor the ‘now’ and we don’t have the time to stop, step-back and reflect (even on our day much less on the event or experience itself).  How do we savor and integrate the ‘new’ or the ‘thing’ so that we can, in a more conscious manner embrace the next wave?

One way is to become selective; to choose which ‘new’ and which ‘thing’ to focus on and engage ‘now.’  Another is to practice the discipline of reflection.  We can practice taking time to listen in response to the ‘new’ or the ‘thing’ that is washing over us.  We can learn to listen to our inner guide (and trust him/her); we can learn to listen to the soft voice of the spirit that sustains life (some call this spirit God or the Divine or the Teacher within); we can learn to listen to the person(s) in our life who deeply care about our well-being; we can learn to listen to the discordant as well as the harmonic that accompanies each ‘new’ and each ‘thing;’ we can also learn to pay attention to the silence that resides between each wave.  The discipline of being selective and of listening can, over time, serve us well.  It is the ‘over time’ piece that bugs us for we are quickly becoming a culture of if it doesn’t happen quickly it isn’t worth it. 

Here are some questions that might help as we seek to stop, step-back and reflect.  What just happened?  What did I learn from what just happened?  In what ways did I grow as a result of what just happened?  What growth opportunities did I miss or ignore? Given this, what is next?  How did this impact others – directly – and how might it impact others – indirectly?  How does this ‘happening,’ fit patterns in my life?  How did I respond to what just happened – was it rooted in my being response-able or in my being reactive?  How will I share my learning with another?

Taking time to reflect upon, hold and respond to several of these questions opens for us the pathway to deeper listening.  In order to take the time to respond to several of these questions we must ‘choose’ to do so; we must give ourselves ‘permission’ to do so.  We need to honor ourselves by giving ourselves this gift of reflection.  The waves will continue to break upon us so in one sense we don’t lose by giving ourselves the gifts of reflective listening and reflective responding.   We can become more than wave-bracers if we choose to do so; we can become wave-embracers.

Here is a poem that emerged into my consciousness many years ago as I was reflecting upon my being a ‘wave-bracer.’


The waves of change
break against me.

Their power overwhelms me.
I become fearful.
I anchor myself.
I brace myself.
I wait
for the next wave.

This is what I do.

even when the water
is calm,
I remain
anchored and braced.

This is what I do.

I become a wave-bracer.

This is who I am.      –Richard W Smith,  20September, 1995

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Our nature lies in movement; complete rest is death. –Pascal

The great French philosopher, Pascal, offered us this observation.  The difference causes me to pause; to stop in mid-stream if you will.  It is nothing short of astounding.  Consider for example the difference between a river and a swamp.  A swamp is, for the most part, motionless, a mass of water that is often stagnant and inhospitable for many living things.  True, there is a delicate ecosystem that thrives in swamps AND they are not much suited to a human’s well-being.

Then there is the river.  What a difference movement makes.  A river flows, moves and purifies itself as it washes over rocks, pebbles and sand.  A river is a source of life and power; we seek to capture and use this power in our dams and turbines.  A river provides us life through its fresh water (or ‘sweet water’ as the ancients remind us) and a river renews all that it touches (anyone who has seen the life-giving power of the Nile River knows of what I speak); just beyond the reach of the Nile River, on both sides of its banks, lies what is not nourished by the river; there lies the desert.

We humans, like the river, must move; we are beings where movement is in our nature.  We move physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.  We are moved by our dreams and our passions.  We are moved by our life’s purpose, our life’s mission – by our call.  We are moved by the plans we make, the goals we set, and the achievements we seek to live into and out of.

We also know that we can easily become like swamps.  We appear to have life but we are actually more dead than alive.  We walk around, we breathe, we engage in activities but we are in a real sense life-less – we lack direction, we lack purpose, we are devoid of meaning, we are hopeless and some are full of despair or worse, apathy.  To mix my metaphor, the fire within is flickering if not extinguished and we are full of smoke; we are choking from within.

For some this is situational.  I remember being invited by the president of a company to come and help him discern why ‘morale’ was so low.  What I found were people who were ‘life-less.’  In observing them for a few days I noticed that when they left the building a miracle occurred.  As they approached their cars they crossed an imaginary line and went from being like a walking-dead Lazarus to being resurrected.  They came to life.  They laughed.  Their eyes lit up.  To keep our metaphor, they moved from the swamp to the river (when they came to work they moved from the river to the swamp).

 How am I like the river?  How am I like the swamp?  Why do I choose to be swamp-like (for at times I do so choose)?  What enables me to become ‘Lazarus-like’ – dead to my world?  What motivates me and what enables me to be like Lazarus – to be resurrected?  

Many people are alive but don’t touch the miracle of being alive. –Thich Nhat Hanh

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When I speak how will that improve on the silence? –Robert K. Greenleaf

Upon waking each morning I seek inner silence.  This morning I realized that during these past weeks I have been whelmed over with internal noise-distraction; experiencing inner silence has been more than a challenge for me.  Sitting here in my favorite reading chair I am reminded of the discomfort our culture has with silence.  As I reflect I become aware that even seconds of silence are not tolerated.

I recall the discomfort of people who are in meetings together; the discomfort that surfaces when silence appears and is quickly ushered off of the stage.  It seems that in public gatherings (two or more people) that silence will be tolerated for about 15 seconds, then discomfort sets in and words quickly follow (paradoxically, the opposite seems to happen on elevators when the outward silence dominates and tension builds and people exhale in great relief when the doors open and they get to leave the elevator).

It appears as if we have an unwritten rule in our culture – whenever there is a few seconds of silence then someone must speak; the vacuum must be filled with words, or is it ‘noise’?   We are, it seems, a culture of speakers not listeners; we are a culture of noise makers not silence holders.

Silence provides us gifts: a slower pace so we can reflect, breathing room so we can relax, time to think and then respond rather than shoot from the lip.  Silence can help us alter our perceptions – perhaps to see more clearly what is truly emerging or transpiring.

Silence helps us pause before we hit the ‘send button.’  Silence provides us the opportunity for clarity amidst inner chaos and outer demands.  I am now thinking of the example of Jesus – an example that can be helpful to each of us no matter our belief system.

Jesus had just finished talking about compassion and forgiveness.  A noisy crowd approaches and throws a woman at his feet.  A member of the crowd reminded Jesus what he had just spoken about and also reminded him of the law.  The law said the woman must be stoned for her sin.  Jesus did not expound upon the law and compassion.  He silently wrote in the dirt and then offered the key response: ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.’  Brilliant!  A response that could only come from silence.  It appears as if Jesus took time in silence to become ‘centered,’ and to reflect and only then to respond.  This is a gift to all of us who are buffeted about by external demands.

Each of us can, even if for a brief time, enter into silence, reflect and then respond.  We can also practice breathing slowly and deeply during this process for this helps us slow down – our heart rate slows and our blood pressure lowers and more blood is sent to our brain so we can think more clearly.

Sometimes when I am driving I drive in silence.  I breathe slowly and deeply.  I notice what emerges and I don’t dwell on what emerges.  I simply practice.  Frequently I become aware of the all the external noise and internal noise that surrounds me and permeates me from within.  The discipline and the practice are important to me not the achieving of silence (another paradox for me).

Silence allows me to slow down and to become more aware and to provide me space and time for reflection; it also provides me the environment to hear the soft whispers of the spirit that guides me – my inner teacher if you will.  Silence also helps me be grounded and centered; it helps me keep my heart open so that I may offer care, love and compassion; it helps me discern how I might serve both my and the other’s highest priority needs.  I am now thinking of a quotation and, so, in closing I offer us these words to hold in silence.

These things will destroy the human race: politics without principle, progress without compassion, wealth without work, learning without silence, religion without fearlessness and worship without awareness. –Reinhold Niebuhr

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Good morning Gentle Reader.  During these past months of self-isolation I have been, among other things, reflecting upon my life’s journey.  I have been amazed at the number of opportunities I have had – opportunities that were also gifts and blessings.  I have experienced sadness when I reflected upon decisions that I have made – especially those that resulted in others experiencing pain, frustration or anger.  During my reflections early this morning a poem and a prose excerpt entered into my consciousness.  This morning, Gentle Reader, I offer you both as a gift and perhaps as a pathway to your own reflection upon your life’s journey.  The first is a poem by Mary Oliver and the second is a passage from a longer piece by George Bernard Shaw.

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
Though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save. –The Journey by Mary Oliver

This is the true joy of Life, the
being used up for a purpose
recognized as a mighty one;
being a force of nature instead
of a feverish, selfish little clod
of ailments and grievances,
complaining that the world will
not devote itself to making you
happy.  I am of the opinion
that my life belongs to the
community, and as long as I
live, it is my privilege to do for
it whatever I can.  I want to be
thoroughly used up when I die,
for the harder I work, the more I live.  
Life is no “brief candle”
to me.  It is a sort of splendid
torch which I have got hold of
for a moment, and I want to
make it burn as bright as possible
before handing it on to future
generations.    — George Bernard Shaw


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