I first met the extraordinary, Prudence Tippins while attending the class, Unleashing the Manuscript with author and teacher, Julie Tallard Johnson. Prudence and her husband Steve were fellow classmates and I immediately felt drawn to Prudence’s gentle and vibrant spirit. Quite simply, she radiated love and joy. Years later, Prudence and I re-connected via Facebook and at the moment I felt drawn to cultivate the creative writer in me, Prudence was offering a poetry workshop at the Calliope Center with fellow poet, E.P. Schultz. I immediately signed up. Since that time, I have worked with Prudence as my mentor and guide to the poet and creative writer within me and am humbled an honored to not only call her teacher and mentor but also friend and spiritual sister. Prudence is a prolific writer and poet and through her gifts, brings magic and joy into our sometimes struggling world. Thank you to Prudence for being part of the writer’s tour. Prudence can be reached through her website: http://www.calliopecenter.com/ The following is a piece written by Prudence on Community and Communication:
Community and Communication
One of the first issues people bring up in any discussion about community is the importance of good communication. The potential for interactions between and among people to end in conflict is so prevalent in our minds that we’ve even created preventive methods (“non-violent communication,” for example).
Both words have their roots in the Latin, “communis,” meaning, “shared by all or many.” But what is it that is shared? Must we have shared opinions, shared values, shared assumptions? A shared sense of what is true? We may form a community with such an underlying expectation, but if we are committed to each other because we share ideas in common, that commitment is likely to be flimsy.
Ideas — thoughts — are based on our past experience; on what we’ve heard from others; on our cultural patterns. We assume our thoughts are true because they come to us that way. We hear our thoughts as the voice of truth. As soon as you get two people together for any length of time, however, it becomes clear that each of us hears our own “truth,” which makes the veracity of any one person’s beliefs questionable.
David Bohm, a physicist who became deeply concerned about human relations through his life, suggests that by the very act of suspending our own versions of “the truth,” we begin to share what is really important: meaning.
If we have a community committed to shared meaning, we go beyond what is right and wrong; what is good or bad; what we should do or should not do. These dualities are limiting in relationships. When our purpose is shared meaning, what arises goes deeper than mental agreement; deeper than persuasion, negotiation, and affirmation.
Think of a time when you and a friend or partner disagreed about something. What did it feel like? Often, when someone counters our point, we feel a surge of heat through the belly. Anger flares. Do we ever stop to consider why that is?
In the name of self-protection, our egos are constantly searching for definitive ways of being. We want to be certain that this particular course of action is going to lead us in a direction that will keep us safe. The ego is like a sentinel, constantly scanning the landscape for potential harm, defined based on past experience, cultural norms, and the urgings of those we trust. For example, if I’m walking down a dark alley at night and I hear footsteps walking quickly behind me, my fear kicks in. Similarly, if I’m pontificating on some point and I hear a contradiction, a similar feeling overtakes me. I feel threatened.
We can all imagine what could happen if I choose to act on my feeling, but what if I stop the process right here? What if I take that surge of feeling as a signal that I have discovered a belief that I’d like to examine? That changes the game. My default reaction is to take some kind of action based on my feeling (lash out, run away, team up with others who believe the same way I do, etc.). That’s the norm: thought-feeling-action.
When I choose to use feeling as a cue for introspection, I have taken the first step toward creating meaning for myself. I no longer accept my thoughts unquestioned. I thank them for the information they are offering and turn my attention to the feeling.
Arnold Mindell (Sitting in the Fire) says that acknowledging the feeling space is necessary for finding shared meaning in conflict. To do this within ourselves, we notice the physical surge of energy, then mentally go to that place and offer it love and compassion. (I like to envision the emotion as a child, because it’s easy for me to offer love and compassion to a little one.) We let the feeling “tell us” all about its terror or outrage or sadness, and we listen with an open heart. We are with the emotion, not in the emotion. What happens? The feeling dissipates. We see beneath the cycle of thought-feeling-action. We begin to understand that our thoughts are not truth but signals pointing to places we need to pay attention.
When a group of people commits to this process — the process of going beneath thought — and shares what they’re learning with one another, they begin to share meaning; to commune at a new level of authenticity. It no longer matters who’s right or wrong, it matters how we support one another as we grow wiser and more whole.
Bohm calls this suspension of assumptions, opinions, and belief, dialogue. How many of our conversations are true dialogues? Where do we engage instead in negotiation or persuasion? When we notice the difference, we can begin to feel what true communion might mean.
Prudence Tippins, founder and director of the Calliope Center for Reflection and Renewal, has a background in education, teaching kindergarten through high school age students and training teachers. As a trainer, her specialty was community collaboration: helping teachers and administrators work with their students’ parents and community leaders to foster resiliency in the youth of the community. A few decades back, Prudence began studying and experiencing wisdom traditions and alternative healing practices. From shamanism to Family Constellations; from the Enneagram to internal family systems work; from Vipassana meditation to various forms of yoga; from Ayurveda to raw food, Prudence has sought insight from practitioners and masters. She is currently earning a doctorate in Transformative Studies, focusing on transformation through community relationships. Throughout, poetry has been a kind of guide, helping her see that we as a species are often different in particulars, yet undeniably one at heart. Opening The Calliope Center for Reflection and Renewal was a way for Prudence to share her enthusiasm for exploration and to find partners in the quest for wholeness.