We take in lots of information through our senses, and our brains process this information in ways we cannot fathom! We can open ourselves to take in this information, allow our bodies to be impacted by it, connect with sensations in the body, and practice articulating what we sense. Through this practice we can see things and connect with people in ways that seem like magic and, in my experience, satisfy a deep need for connection and understanding. This is what I practice when I circle. If you read nothing more of this article I think you’ve got the essence of what I’m writing here.
I see examples of what we are capable of in many places. But the first example I want to share is my dog. She cannot speak. She does not understand language. Yet, my dog and I communicate… quite effectively. I find myself asking the question regularly, “How did you know we were going to …?” or “How did you know I was going to …?” So I’ve paid close attention to my subtle movements, intonation of voice, patterns of behavior, and anything else I could notice about me that might betray my intentions.
There’s no hiding. There’s no such thing as a secret. All we can do is not put something into words.
Maggie, my dog, will anticipate my commands when we are training or practicing. I have maybe a dozen or more “tricks” or “useful behaviors” that I’ve trained her to do. Some of them are complex and others are simple. In order for her to remember them and execute them well, we need to practice. During practice I intentionally try to randomize the order of the commands, reduce unnecessary movements and sounds coming from me, and exercise them repeatedly. Often when we’re having one of these practice sessions she’ll do a trick before I even start to voice the command… and it’s the right trick!! I haven’t done any controlled study to see if perhaps she’s just randomly trying things and I’m only remembering the times where she succeeds. But if I pause for a moment and consider… it’s not so important whether I have a memory bias here. She’s trying to read me and anticipate and at least sometimes she succeeds.
I have experimented with sending small signals to see if she’s noticing or paying attention; like moving a single finger a little to one side on the hand that’s by my side while she’s looking at my face. To be clear, she’s sitting in front of me looking at my face, my hand is in her peripheral vision, and I am making a small adjustment. Sure enough, she’ll do something in response to that movement. Maybe she just glances at the hand to see if it will do something more. Or maybe she’ll lie down. Or even turn around.
I am convinced through my relationship with her that she is paying attention to lots of subtle cues. She’s taking in lots of information about where I am, how I’m positioned, how I’m moving, how I’m sounding, and where I’m looking.
I’ve also experienced this in dancing. I often have these experiences in social partner dances where my partner does things in alignment with my intended movement as a lead but before I really led the thing. I notice this most when I change my mind just before I execute the lead and my partner does the first thing I thought of and not the thing that I actually tried to lead. Often, my partner will apologize to which I reply, “actually, that’s what I wanted you to do and then I changed my mind, so my apology for changing something on you with short notice”.
There’s also those moments in partner dancing where my partner and I move together as one and it’s unclear where the movements are coming from, yet we continue to be in sync and together in our movements. What I’ve come to believe is going on here is a tuned listening to each other’s bodies and movements that’s so precise and so deep that we are actually able to sense each other’s intentions. Combine that with willingness and ease of changing my own intentions, my partner’s willingness and ease of changing hers, and a shared intention to align our intentions; and we get movement as one.
Back to circling.
This applies in conversation, too, but I think it is exceptionally difficult in conversation because we are usually paying close attention to the words and thoughts of the other… or perhaps just our own thoughts in response to the words of the other… or sometimes just our own thoughts… period. What I want in circling and in conversation is to feel connected and to see the other person. I want them to see me, too. I think this happens best when we bring in the lessons from Maggie and social dancing: listen to everything, not just the words. In fact, it’s fair to say we can just ignore the words all together in most situations and get the basic communication; which is not what’s being said by the way.
I feel called to move into sharing the process that’s happening for me in more detail without giving more examples, support, and explanations of the situations.
The process is perceiving, feeling, processing, translating, and articulating. It starts with perceiving sights, sounds and movements in the form of words, intonation, facial expressions, gestures, direction of gaze, body posture, and anything else that can be perceived. When we take all that in, feelings and sensations are created in our bodies. These feelings and sensations inform us on a subtle level what is going on. They’re like an impression from a foot in the sand. Our brains and bodies process this information… in fact, they are built to process this information in incredible ways! From a footprint in the sand (to extend the analogy) we may know the weight and approximate height of the person who left it as well as the way they walk and what part of their foot strikes the ground first and much more. Our brains are built for this. But. The signals aren’t in words. The brain and body work in primal ancient ways that came way before words. So we connect with those primal signals by being aware of our sensations and feelings. Then we can try to translate what we feel and articulate our translation with words.
There are many places where this can go wrong. We may not be paying any attention to what we are perceiving. We may not see things, hear things, or notice things that are going on for the other person. As our first step, we bring awareness to all that is happening (not just the words). Once we are perceiving everything, we must open our bodies to be impacted by what we perceive. I know my body tends to close to what I perceive. Something in me does not want to be impacted because I’m afraid, on a deep intuitive level, of the impact being unpleasant or distracting. In the second step, we practice relaxing and opening our bodies to feel what we feel when we perceive fully what is happening. Now that we are perceiving and feeling our body-mind will process automatically, but we still need to connect to those feelings consciously. Without a conscious connection the processing remains… well… unconscious. It still works in us and impacts us and affects us, but we are unaware of it and may be controlled by it. In the third step, we connect with our bodies and the impact. Now that we’re connected, we have conscious awareness of what’s going on inside us, but this inner activity has no words. It is pre-language. In the fourth step, we translate it. This translation skill is not one we are gifted with naturally, it is one that must be practiced and learned. There is yet a fifth potential block for this process: the inadequacy of language. There is no easy way to get around this block. We simply do not have words for some things. Anyone who’s done a serious study of multiple languages will recognize that in one language there are words that have no equivalent in the other language. So we must practice putting words on things we have no words for. This is also a skill, and a very difficult one, to practice and learn.
I want to take a moment to elucidate that last concept even more. Imagine there is no word “table”. Now imagine that no one has ever even talked about tables. Yet, we use them every day to set our plates of food on, to sit at and study or read while sipping tea, and many other activities. But we never talk about them. Imagine, now, we’re all sitting in a room that has no tables and you’re having a desire or need related tables. Say you are holding a book and want the book to be put back on your table in your bedroom. If we had the word for table you could just say, “Will you put this book on the table in my bedroom?” But in your bedroom is a table, a nightstand, a desk, a dresser, and… wait for it… a bookshelf. All of which are suitable for placing a book, and one is particularly calling for the book: the bookshelf. Now you must describe to the others what you want them to do. What would you say? “Will you put this book on the thing in my room that isn’t the dresser, the night stand, the desk, or the bookshelf?” The person returns after putting the book on the thing in your room. You later go check and find they placed it on the bed! Ooops! Forget to mention the bed. Sure, you could add “bed to the list of things” and the book might end up on the floor. So you could say, “On the thing that has four legs and a flat top.” And then you find they placed the book on the wooden chair! I think you may begin to see how hard it is to put words on something that has no words, but this example is actually quite easy, in my experience, compared to the translation of the inner ineffable experience I have of the impact of other people’s words.
Yet, I have managed to find words for many experiences that land for the other person. With this, I want to say, it is possible to do the translation. And often, the translation is simpler than I am making it appear with my example above. I find often the translation is “You’re sad” or “You feel hurt” or “you’re afraid of what so-and-so will do” or “you’re excited” or “you’re in love” or something like this.
I could spend a lot more time on this translation step, but I want to wrap up this article because the main point is in the overall process and the basic blocks that we may encounter along the way.
For easy reference they are
- perceive – perceive everything; block: not actually paying attention to what’s going on or just paying attention to words.
- be open to impact – allow our bodies to feel what they feel; block: fear of impact and/or bodies are closed to feeling.
- process the information – this part is automatic and is the builtin intelligence of our body-mind; block: we don’t bring awareness to the processing and the body sensations such that everything remains unconscious.
- translate – take the information and put words and a thought to it; block: the block here is simply that we don’t try and haven’t practiced and therefore don’t have the skill.
- articulate – find the right words to concisely express what we have noticed; block: language is an inherent block here and there are often no words or not the right words, so again we need to practice our language skills.
I wish for you mastery of this process and an experience of what it is like to connect with someone when you use this method of observation and communication. It really can seem like telepathy at times. Like magic. And like magic we can be in awe and amazement with each other and by each other. Delightfully surprised. Connected.