One of the most powerful moments at our November Deep Change conference occurred in the upstairs meeting space about 30 minutes before the conference was set to start. In the midst of our electrical outage, Rachel was working with June to set up a generator to heat our winterized pavilion. Volunteers and interns were registering new arrivals in our warm and toasty Main House (let’s hear it for wood stoves!). And, the planning and facilitation teams dispatched to the meeting room to center and get oriented with each other and the day.
I dove in, taking folks through the agenda to figure out how we would address the current realities of having to move the first two hours of the conference from the pavilion to the main house. Energy was swirling, it was very cold, and people seemed disoriented. I could tell that we weren’t connecting. Something was off.
Then Omisade Burney Scott spoke some truth, naming the challenge of the circumstances and articulating a need – shared by all – to drop down from our heads to our hearts and give us a chance to enter into the new reality we were dealing with, together. “Of course,” I thought. This is deep change. Vivette Jeffries Logan led us in a ritual and invited her son, Uriah, to offer a powerful chant calling in the ancestors. Accompanying himself with a drum he recharged the room, shifted the energy, and allowed us all a palpable release. We could breathe again.
As we went around the circle afterwards in a new and vastly transformed space, we each named intentions we were holding for the day. Mine was “remembering.” Remembering the truth of what I had forgotten in the minutes preceding…that the map is not the territory and that deep change is something that must be experienced, not forced.
We talk too much. This is something I’ve become convinced of in the past month, as I’ve been in spaces –even sacred ones – where thinking and doing have trumped being. By its very definition, talk reinforces separation. It is an externalized mode of thinking. It is about limits and boundaries. With the exception of transcendent talk, i.e. through song, art and poetry, which is designed to bind people together through the heart and gut, everyday talk is generally ruled by the intellect. It tries, but usually fails, to fully encompass the truth that it is pointing to.
I’ve noticed that even those of us who are ardent practitioners of silent or non-verbal practices in the name of transformative justice often go back into our meetings and organizing spaces in traditional, talk-based ways. I was recently in a room full of just such spiritual warriors and wisdom-keepers, and we spent over two hours one morning talking through a situation that in my opinion, one simple, powerful ritual like the one we experienced at Deep Change could have healed just like that. As heartfelt and skillfully expressed as it was, much of the talk was centered around explaining, positioning and justifying. Though it benefitted some, it disconnected others. Healing is about making whole, and I believe that non-verbal expressions are the most potent ways to transcend our separate bodies and individual minds and enter into shared space together.
A deep look into a colleague’s eyes. A gentle touch of understanding. A shared meal. A song. A quiet walk. A ritual. A simple moment of pause. These are but some of the myriad ways we can bring silent or non-verbal practices into our work spaces, ushering in the shifts of consciousness we seek to find in our solo practices. Why not alongside those with whom we are bound in the collective transformation of our communities? Who better to do this with? What better way to connect us than through the visceral reminder that beyond all the misunderstandings and unintentional harm we do to each other lies a common thread of love and unity?
Of course, there are times when words are necessary, sometimes to wake us up, to prevent harm from occurring, to heal or simply to name what is. In my experience of being on both the giving and receiving ends of truth-telling, I’ve noticed that it usually emerges from and returns to the silence, needing very few words to tap into recognition and an intuitive, shared knowledge among those involved.
Language, like religion, social contracts, laws, science and so much else we use to understand this vast, limitless world we inhabit, is a map. Since we can never fully know how another is viewing or interpreting this collective territory (we rarely understand how we ourselves are!), why not practice using silence or non-verbal modes of communication to keep the channels open? In my experience, the concepts, pictures, feelings and words that emerge have the power to invite in understanding, healing and forgiveness. And isn’t that, ultimately, what we’re going for?
I encourage you to find such spaces and opportunities with your families, friends and colleagues, particularly those that challenge you. Enjoy, and please let us know what you discover.