Many people are interested in mindfulness practice as found in various Buddhist traditions. The existence of this programme is but one example of current interest. Gregory Kramer’s key insight was that there is a deep divide between individual meditation practice and a life lived with others. He devised a way to bring the meditative state to the interpersonal realm to close the divide often felt, even by experienced meditators, between our experience on the cushion and in relationship.

Interestingly, the very experience of individual meditation practice can increase the suffering (dukka) we feel in relationship. We compare the texture of mind we experience in meditation with that of our experience with others; this often leads us to treat ourselves with less than compassion at our inability to transfer what we know from individual practice to our interaction with others. Dukka in itself is something that lends itself to many years of study. Kramer uses the generic ‘stress’ in his translation and contrasts it with Sukha which I like to translate as ‘ease’ but others translate as ‘bliss’ or ‘happiness’.

Kramer’s focus is on the integration of individual practice with interpersonal life. This is not that different from what the Buddha taught, it is simply a difference in foregrounding the inter-personal vis-a-vis the intra-personal.

If we look at the assumptions in ‘The Art of Communication’ by TNH the sense of the everyday is foregrounded in his ideas too. I was interested to read in much of our own dialogue during Week 1 about how everyday work and personal activities where enhanced by following the simple practices the book suggested or just using the Pause. At a structural level, what Kramer suggests with his guidelines and what TNH suggests with his daily practices is not that different. Simple words that can be used as Mantras or cognitive prompts as we interact with our everyday world. TNH is from the Zen tradition and it is often described as the religion of everyday life.

I still remember the first time I did a close reading of the Zen proverb:

“Before enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water. After enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water.”

Poster by M. Funes in
Poster by M. Funes in

I used it in contemplation, in study, in dialogue. Later in my practice life I heard something less lofty but equally meaningful to me wisely used by Jack Kornfield as the title for one of his books ‘After the ecstasy, the laundry!’ that spoke to me about the importance of embedding our practice in the everyday. Yet, I could not find a way to fill the gap between the cushion and interaction.

The gap filled later by insight dialogue was that it gave me a ‘how’ when I already knew the importance of the ‘what’. That is, my individual practice had taught me the value of staying in the moment but I had not yet found a way to transfer this experience to the everyday generally or to the interpersonal in particular.

Gregory Kramer’s methodology turns the interpersonal into a practice, a dojo if you will, where we can master the art of a type of dialogue which embodies the buddhist path of intra-personal meditation with an aspiration to reach interpersonal wisdom. Kramer’s tradition is Theravada and I feel this is relevant as it often tends to foreground the private nature of the path to enlightenment.

Kramer suggests six “guidelines” for those who wish to practice Insight Dialogue and meditate together through dialogue. They are: pause, relax, open, trust emergence, listen deeply, and speak the truth. I have suggested that these can be practiced by all of us as we interact virtually on this course. It is important to note here that the guidelines are seen by Kramer as cumulative, each one builds on the qualities of mind practiced in the previous one. Each is practiced on one’s own, in sitting meditation, and with others. This offers a unification of one’s practice both on and off the cushion.

So what does David Bohm have to do with all this? We know he wrote about dialogue and are starting to read him this week. In this blog post I want to start the process of exploring resonances in Bohm’s ideas with those of TNH and Kramer.

I picked 2 quotes to close read for my nugget post this week:

“The word “dialogue” has many meanings and we are giving it a particular meaning. In this Dialogue we are not trying to make our points prevail or, if we are, we need to look at that. Our challenge is to see when each of us is trying to prevail, because if anybody prevails it means the dialogue has failed.” David Bohm

“This is the crucial point. We may at any moment have to have a purpose, but we are not holding to that purpose. Purpose flows out of significance and value and that’s what we’re exploring. We expect that meaning is going to change through our learning as we go along and therefore purpose changes naturally.” David Bohm

I connect both these quotes with the idea of generating deep listening by having as our purpose ‘to make the other suffer less’ in TNH’s words. As we notice the many ways in which we try to prevail in most of our conversations through the day and how little we think about the other, may be our meaning of who we are and what we control changes as we learn about our limitations and blind spots – can we hold our limitations with compassion in the boat of mindfulness?

David Bohm seems aware of the humanity in all of us ‘ if we are trying to prevail, then we need to look at that’ and ‘we will have a purpose at any given moment’ and as we learn to bracket our preconceptions we can learn that meaning and purpose can always be impermanent if we listen deeply.

Kramer’s guidelines seem tailor made for Bohmian dialogue. Bohm himself talked about the importance of meditation to train the mind and in his work with Krishnamurti explored the missing methodology in his own ideas of dialogue. Finding Krishnamurti’s ideas was life changing for Bohm,

“But then, we went on to consider the general disorder and confusion that pervades the consciousness of mankind. It is here that I encountered what I feel to be Krishnamurti’s major discovery. What he was seriously proposing is that all this disorder, which is the root cause of such widespread sorrow and misery, and which prevents human beings from properly working together, has its root in the fact that we are ignorant of the general nature of our own processes of thought. Or to put it differently it may be said that we do not see what is actually happening, when we are engaged in the activity of thinking.” David Bohm

Meditation training was seen as a way into awareness of what is actually happening and over time as the only thing that would allow an new world order to emerge.

“It is proposed that a form of free dialogue may well be one of the most effective ways of investigating the crisis which faces society, and indeed the whole of human nature and consciousness today. Moreover, it may turn out that such a form of free exchange of ideas and information is of fundamental relevance for transforming culture and freeing it of destructive misinformation, so that creativity can be liberated.” David Bohm

Where TNH focusses on the individual practicing in his day to day and Kramer focusses on the interpersonal, we can say that Bohm sees the use of dialogue practice as certainly extra-personal and affecting society as a whole. But he also talks about liberation and this may be seen as transpersonal. This takes us full circle to buddhism as a path to liberation although social and political change are not its focus.

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