Tag Archives: Communication

Participation and communication pt. two: the stages of community building

The main reason for communities to break apart is conflict; conflict mostly caused through a lack of communication. When people get together and discover their freedom, they feel like there is new meaning in their collective but also individual lives. They mostly experience some kind of deep harmony. Scott Peck in his book ‘A different drum’ names this the first stage of community building, where we discover and live our similarities and common interests and goals. He calls this stage however ‘pseudo-harmony’ because during the phase of discovering new individual and collective meaning we tend to oversee each other’s vices.

Therefore the stage of ‘pseudo-harmony’ is mostly followed by the second stage, the stage of chaos and conflict. Most of us probably know this from relationships that seem so perfect in the beginning; often only until we start discovering each other’s differences. When conflict arises however, community often falls apart, because peaceful communication based on understanding and compassion is not something we’ve learnt or are acquainted with and therefore fails. This ends up in disappointment, defensive talking, assumptions, accusations which in turn end up in a lot of the early ideals losing their meaning.

So what is it that makes communities succeed when others fail?

According to Peck, the second stage should be followed by a third one: the stage of emptiness, introspection and self-reflection, trying to understand the other side as well as looking for the fault within ourselves. It is here that we realise the dimensions and the depth of the levels on which we have to work together. In conflict resolution, communication and self-observation are put to the test. If self-reflection is not achieved in a way that encourages participation, social sustainability is not achieved. Often parts of a community fall into a false acceptance, letting decisions just happen, not complaining to avoid further conflict; however with parts of the group staying emotionally unsatisfied.

The ideal of equality and the potential of collective wisdom are both lost through a lack of communication. Little communities that were looking to make a change in society end up mirroring that society that they wanted to change; structural hierarchy, authoritarian organisation, majority vote – structures that put one on top of the other and create winners and losers in a system of inequality.

If a couple, group or community reaches over that third stage of emptiness and goes towards an integrated harmony as a forth stage, they have completed the cycle, effectively dealing with conflict and setting up an organisational structure that is free and dynamic enough to be successful, sustainable while engaging every member in participation and fulfilling its up to highest potential. Any day, it might start the cycle anew.


‘A Rose is not a Rose’

The Buddha said to Subhuti: “In a place where there is something that can be distinguished by signs, in that place there is deception. If you can see the signless nature of signs, then you can see the Tathagata.” – Sutra 5, Prajnaparamita Diamond Sutra

The other night, full moon on the Thai island Samui, my family and I saw a more or less informal fireshow. Afterwards, we sat with the artist who turned out to be a slide of hand magician. The morning after, I woke up, realising I dreamt that I was present in a Sufi prayer ceremony; something I had never (at least not knowingly) witnessed before.

I don’t know how the slide-off-hand magician and the Sufi ceremony are interrelated, but yet the two incidences have something in common: they are both showing aspects of our minds; limitations and creativity resp.

The slide of hand magician uses his finesse to deceive our perception of reality, bringing us out of our usual thinking patterns: our minds, conditioned in a particular way is unable to classify these new experiences into one of its pockets and leaves us marvelling with wonder. Once we realise what is actually happening it feels like a leap in consciousness when in reality it is a simple insight, a quick restructuring of the patterns. In the dream I must have found refuge in a part of myself that hides in the subconscious and is far more creative and sophisticated than my mind in the waking state; still, in the end it must have been my mind that reorganised, restructured, or reinvented available patterns to reconstruct a conception of an already existing perception.

The Buddha in this little verse from the Diamond Sutra talks about the ‘signless nature of signs’. What he mentions is the emptiness of our preconceived concepts and ideas (signless nature) in the perception of objects, people or experiences (signs). Only by seeing this emptiness in all things, we ‘can see the Tathagata’ (‘coming from nowhere and going nowhere’). Our mind however is used to categorise all different perceptions according to previous experiences. The language that is used verbally or by the thinking mind is a static one, simple, insufficiently sophisticated to describe an ever-changing world of process, complexity and interrelations. (Rosenberg 2003)

In different situations, we call people lazy, stupid, bad or good; all judgements that say very little about who the persons really are and have little relation to the situation that made us cast this judgemental evaluation. In the same way we call people cooks, maids, diplomats or policemen; some of these generalisations like the latter one are often connoted with negative judgements that don’t need to be said, but are often heard. What these static labels, or the expression of these apparent signs don’t do, however, is express the totality of another person’s being. (Rosenberg 2003) In this regard, Thich Nhat Hanh describes, in his commentary on the Diamond Sutra, our perception based on signs as inaccurate and erroneous. The reason why they lead us into deception is the conceptualisation that takes away from reality and fails to describe the interrelations, the interbeing of everything. When we evaluate our observations or our perceptions, people tend to hear criticism instead of the intended message because they don’t feel sufficiently or rightly represented in our expression. (Rosenberg 2003)

Looking deeply into another person, we see that he/she is not self-existing. He/She is the environment, the culture, education and heredity that he/she was born in. There is an uncountable number of things that contribute to someone’s being. Only when we are able to see all of these interconnections we can say that we truly know a person. (Nhat Hanh 1992)

When we observe what we see, hear, or touch in the spirit of signlessness we are able to confront people and situations without evaluation them; then we can express clearly what affects us in a descriptive way based on time and context; say what actually happened instead of deliberately labelling perceptions; we can protect and cultivate the good qualities in us and in others. The slight of hand magician can leave us in wonder but not deceive us and the reality in the dream becomes the wonder of reality.

‘When the Buddha sees a rose, does he recognise it as a rose in the same way that we do? Of course he does. But before he says the rose is a rose, the Buddha has seen that the rose is not a rose. He has seen that it is made of non-rose elements, with no clear demarcation between the rose and those elements that are not the rose. When we perceive things, we generally use the sword of conceptualisation to cut reality into pieces, saying, “This piece is A, and A cannot be B, C, or D.” But when A is looked at in the light of dependent co-arising, we see that A is comprised of B, C, D and everything else in the universe. “A” can never exist by itself alone. When we look deeply into A, we see B, C, D, and so on. Once we understand that A is not just A, we understand the true nature of A and are qualified to say “A is A,” or “A is not A.” But until then, the A we see is just an illusion of the true A.’ – Thich Nhat Hanh, The Diamond that cuts through illusion – Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Diamond


Facing North, I’m calling the element Earth into the circle, asking for groundedness in the forces of nature, the foundation of our being. I’m thankful for the wisdom of the elders incorporated in everything around us and am asking for its revelation to us. May abundance and growth, understanding and expression be with us on our paths.

Finding a few minutes every day to silently observe the surroundings creates new strings of connection with elements, energies, plants and animals. You start building new reletionships that open up new worlds.

Choosing the same place to observe nature everyday, by nature awareness practitioners and teachers called sit-spot, allows you to observe a space over time, through seasons and to become familiar with it. As you become familiar with your spot, the spot becomes familiar with you as well and will accept you. Animals start appearing more frequently as they see you as a peaceful part of the space; every here and there details appear in the patterns and patterns in the detail; energy flows, systems, guilds, connections, relationships, sequences, all will slowely reveal themselves to you.

You can play observation games in changing your perspective every other day. Looking through the eyes of a child and asking yourself with curiosity the most simple questions: Why is this plant climbing up the tree? Does it hort the tree?How come that the ground vegetation is more on the edge of the forest than inside? I wonder how those patterns got on that rock and why the river never runs empty? Where is it coming from and where is it going? You might chose to be an electric engeneer and observe the energy flows within the system: What makes plants grow? Where do they go when they die? Why? Where is the sunlight blocked and what effect does it have? What creates the flow of the river, the hum of the bee? There are many questions – asking questions is part of the observation while the answers will reveal themselves after time. You can observe detail, patterns, light, relationships, edges; you can use eyes, ears, nose, or touch; you can be a scientist, a turtle, a rock, a painter or a tree; doing these exercises will increase your awareness and sharing your experiences with others will open up new ways of seeing and understanding.

In some old earth based traditions people have a much deeper connection and communication with their environment. When they observe, they dive into, become one with; they realise the earth as their larger body and as an integral part of themselves. As we build up new relationships we become part of something bigger.