Saturday, April 9, 2011

Day 2: Conflict, the Unsayable, Neutrality, and Love

I am not even pretending to be as insightful and funny as Linda, or as amusing and aware as Dianne. I will just report the facts (as I see them). Also please remember my check in – I was a complete wreck. So here it goes…..

Homework discussion
After check-in Roger ask about our homework. He had questions about the process of journaling (as this was part of the homework). Did we censor our journals for the person we imagine might one day read it (Roger said he had compassion for that person – reading the boring entries)? He encouraged us to not necessarily stop censoring (if we were), but to notice, put attention on the experience. This meta-cognition is a theme through today’s workshop (maybe all of Roger’s workshops).

Roger asked for reports on how the homework went. Someone reported that she had identified a project (conflict to work on) for the quarter, and then promptly resolved the conflict within a few days. She now is left without a project. Roger volunteered that she probably could very easily recreate the conflict if she liked.

Roger also said that this is not unusual, that even observing something (placing attention on it) is a kind of intervention. Things might change just by looking at them. This should be a warning (be careful what you look at).
He also encouraged us to go one step further in this observation and look for patterns in conflict. Look for similarities between one conflict and the next. Look for the common themes. Here he gave us a hint: the common theme is YOU….all your conflicts involve you.

The Unsayable and the structure
We continued to explore conflict. Sometimes if we feel we are in a conflict, yet don’t feel we can say what we need to, it might be useful to ask the following question: What needs to shift in this relationship in order for me to say the “unsayable?” This is NOT indicating that you should say this “unsayable,” only that you may want to wonder about this question…as a method of inquiry into the structure (again meta-cognition). As an example Roger suggested that there might be someone who is loudmouth and obnoxious. You wish you could say something so you ask yourself, “What needs to be present in order for me to say this?” We tried to answer this question. People had many ideas: One has to hold their view as just a view and not the holy truth of "he is loud and obnoxious,”or maybe you need to be in a trusting loving relationship with him. Roger also suggested that we might be managing something for ourselves by not saying the unsayable. We may be defending a place of vulnerability. Roger mentioned if we are not saying the unsayable in order to be “considerate,” it is very difficult to parse when you are being kind and when you are protecting yourself from some imagined reaction. This might actually be a kind of manipulation. The question again might be “what would the relationship need to be in order for me to say something?” To be clear Roger is not advocating a religion of transparency, where we say everything that we are attributing to others. He is just saying to inquire into the structure.

Roger drew a model (to the right), I didn’t catch who’s it is (except it is a version of Argyris’s Ladder of Inference), that seems very useful. An event occurs in the bottom quadrant and we have thoughts and feelings about that, which leads to conclusions. Most of us actually have a “superhighway” that runs between the event and the conclusions, without much inquiry in to how the conclusion came about. Once we have firmly established a conclusion we use that conclusion to create a frame from which we interpret future events. This then becomes habituated and automatic, without inquiry. In order to understand this structure, we may want to be explicit about how the event makes us feel and how we think about it. This then can lead to a more purposeful conclusion (possibly).

Someone observed a pattern of conflict that had to do with people taking opposite positions because the structure of the organization required that. Roger said that one purpose of conflict to illuminate the structure. Roger said the conflict is like the mist on beams of light. Once the structure is apparent we can then address the larger structure and contemplate it.

Someone else had an interesting question about the container for transparency. Her story captured us all for quite a while. She mentioned a dinner she had with a woman she didn’t know very well. This woman was able to speak to her about things in her life that others (even her partner) could not. She was wondering why a “stranger” could speak these things when someone close and loving could not? A few of us had ideas about this: Maybe there are people who can ”see” or sense things others can’t. Karl Jung reportedly had that ability. Maybe it is a kind of love. Maybe she was just open to the comments. Someone inquired if everyone had been drinking!

Roger pointed to the real question: How could a stranger speak into her life about some issues while her loving partner could not? Roger did not have any answers, as always, but was just interested in the inquiry around this. In his comments he was not referring to this particular relationship, but to all relationships. He mentioned that some partners have a history of role lock. Maybe it would be useful to ask the “unsayable” question: What would have to happen in this relationship for this communication to take place?

Roger segued, somehow, into the concept of “neutrality.” He asked about the point of view of a neutral third party. He inquired as to what is necessary for a person to be neutral. Several had ideas, but in the end Roger convinced us (maybe only me) that it is nearly impossible to be neutral. The logic goes something like this: our ego limits our perception of reality for functionality. Because of this we (the ego) have something at stake in the generated perception. So we can never be truly Neutral. (I am pretty sure I did not capture this correctly!)

I missed this…..
So this next part in the workshop was over my head. I want to blame my lack of understanding on my wrecked state, but I am not sure even with my full capacities I could grasp what was said (I apologize for my inadequacy here). It was something like: We talked about love and the different types of love: Service based, devotional, (maybe) ego dissolving. Roger said something about the fundamental question being “Is there a duality or a non-duality?” Roger talked about the mediations he participated in and how some Harvard MBA’s were very annoyed with the length of these mediations because they felt they could see the answer and would have acted on it much more quickly. So sorry for missing this…I am sure it was really good.

Love and dependency
Then Roger did talk about something I understood: The mixing of love and dependency. Love is a prior state. It exists before the one we love, but what happens is we conflate the idea of love and dependency. This is very common. We know love and we even may know it as a prior state, from this prior state a form grows. We become attached to the form and mistake it for love itself. Then what we do is hold on to the form and it becomes a necessity. Sometimes we even try to make love come out of a form as if the form makes the love instead of visa versa. This is where love and dependency are mixed up. We think love is the form. Well….maybe I don’t completely understand it.

The seven blind men and the elephant
Ok. I lost some of the conversation here again….Then Rick brought up the 7 blind men and the elephant story. In this story each men is feeling a different part of the elephant and sure that that is the way the entire elephant is. The one touching the tail thinks it is a rope. The one at the leg thinks it is a tree trunk. They start to fight about it. The thing we all noticed about this story is that we all do this. Walk around thinking we know how it is, but in reality we only know a little piece of the truth.

Practice, when it feels safe, with the counter-to-fact experience of either neutrality, Unconditional positive regard or even love. Roger suggested that we manage our attention about this. Nothing else. For instance, if you are trying to practice neutrality in some situation, think about what it would be like to wear the glasses of neutrality instead of glasses of an expert or righteousness. Only notice when we are neutral and when we are not. Don’t try to force it, just be aware.


  1. Thanks Liz, this is really a helpful account!

  2. Yes, Liz, an excellent summarization. Thank you!

    After you left, the conversation continued and Roger asked me to add a comment to the post regarding what was said. It's a bit foggy now in my brain but I'll take a stab at it:

    Someone in the group mentioned that they believe that conflict only becomes conflict when it becomes "personal" or when it is apparent that one or both of the parties are being disrespectful. She said that she was raised in a household with parents who were experts at debate but held beliefs from completely different ends of the political spectrum. They would engage in long debates on various topics and as a child she didn't view this as conflict because they didn't let it become personal or speak/act disrespectfully. Even to this day, as an adult, she doesn't view opposing viewpoints as necessarily conflictive.

    Someone else said that their parents did not show any opposing viewpoints in public so now as an adult, they view almost any difference in opinion as somewhat conflict. This caused some reflection among those of us who remained after class about how our upbringing affects our views of what conflict is.