A sense of belonging is both a constant desire and a powerful impetus to act. “The creation of ourself in the image of awakening is not a subjective but an intersubjective process. We cannot choose whether to engage with the world, only how to.” (Batchelor, p. 106, Buddhism Without Beliefs)
Ponder for a moment the static-living inspired by ostracism, the insular feelings feeding on one another in a spiral of self-destruction. Think on the outcast who mutters to himself, the social pariah who drowns in a sea of her own grief. On the opposite side, consider the sense of connection when news breaks of a disaster and the images of people suffering become an extension of our family. Feel the pull of the sight of starving children or the internal anxiety when a baby is heard crying. This community sense pervades our emotional lives, fed as it is each and every time we engage in communication of any sort.
From advertisers to preachers, actors to used car salespeople, the extraordinary variability in what emerges through communication is the root cause of sales techniques to selective phrasing in giving speeches. Were communication an issue of a linear, one-way, relationship, where a receiver decodes exactly what is presented, there’d be no concern over mis-speaking or failing to make a point in such a way that it is actually heard. What communication is, is communal-creation. Communication is not just an act, but a principle of living.
Communication is not two separate and context-free individual entities lobbing words at each other, it is an interplay of energy and information within the vastness of a context-full reality. That person you didn’t know anything about, standing in a corner, relates to you only in the sense of a shared presence and common humanity. Dialogue strengthens those bonds but it also allows for the emergence of something else: community. What was before not bonded with becomes indelibly linked, what didn’t exist in one form of relationship begins carrying a greater weight with the emergence of another form.
In each and every new emergent relationship, is the incredible nature and power of communication, where the interchange of information is combined with the flow of energy between two or more people in an existential union. When engaged in communication you are joined in an evolving world, the making of which is a product of both the means of interacting with the information at hand and the energy patterns associated with the history of experiences and their recall for everyone involved. Daniel Siegel describes the individual in the tri-part way of an interaction between mind/body/relationship, that interaction manifesting as the energy flowing through it all. Expanding on Siegel, those relationships are both internal, in the sense of all the selves we embody, and the so-called external social connections.
Notice how when meeting someone new, the nature of the social interaction makes some topics easy and others not. For that matter, the whole feeling of whether one is “clicking” with someone or not is a testament to the ebb and flow of relational energy being processed. Psychologically we look at this through the lens of priming and mental heuristics where a person’s dress, smell, cosmetic look, phrasing, etc. are all distilled through how we were raised and culturally taught, to look at people and judge well before a single word is spoken.
Whatever the form of communication, the process provides a place for an emergent relationship, one that is not a thing in itself, but an amalgamation of all that is being brought in. Seeking to understand it is the journey of a life-time. Ever wondered how some people, whether they’ve been around each other a long time or not, can finish the other person’s sentences? Ever question how you or someone else simply knows what another person is feeling before they open their mouth? Those feelings of uncertainty when you walk into a room letting you know you’re not wanted, or the opposite feeling of being utterly held, both are properties of the communal creation of communication, the interactive existential bond of our shared humanity.
The importance of this principle can be realized in every misspoken word, every misunderstanding, every response to being “seen” or rejected. We are not billiard balls bouncing off one another in straight trajectories of hoped-for intention. We reside in a soup of constantly evolving, emerging relationships, with every uttered word and shift of body projectively making the potentialities residing between us all more and more possible until something happens in perception.
Our world is a maelstrom of interacting variables, of which we are but one. Our greatest hubris is to believe that because we feel ourselves creating our stories, the essence of being conscious, that we are somehow the progenitor of our lives, the key ingredient without which nothing would happen. The reality is so very much grander than that, though it does nothing to assuage our egos. “Courage consists in being reliant on oneself and others to the extent that, irrespective of differences in physical and social circumstance, all manifest in their behavior and their relationships that very same spark which makes us recognize them, which makes us crave their assent or their criticism, the spark which means we share a common fate.” (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, World of Perception, p. 88)
© David Teachout
References: “Buddhism Without Beliefs“