Emergent Dialogue & Focusing

About Emergence

Emergent Dialogue

What is Emergence?

Emergence is how life arises and is experienced in the moment before we begin to analyze the experience, and includes various experiential domains like an observation of what was seen or heard, emotions/sensations, the felt sense, and images. Emergent Dialogue (Em-D) is a way of recognizing and speaking in terms of these experiential domains, or supporting another person to do so. The dialogue can be with ourselves, with another, within a group, or with Nature. We often get confused and stuck because we lump these domains together with judgments and strategies, like "you make me so angry!" when actually it would be more accurate to say "something you did stimulated anger in me which is arising from an unmet need for safety, which might have nothing to do with you". Emergent Dialogue quickly awakens us to how we are conflating our experience and not seeing clearly. These skills of clarifying our experience are mostly taught through Nonviolent Communication (NVC). Complimentarily, Focusing teaches us to root ourselves in our Life energy moving forward, to recognize and allow the different parts of ourselves, and to let our imagination help us companion our experience.

Other experiential domains include the needs or values underlying a feeling, memories, gestures, insights, word-symbols, the filters (views) we look through, habitual impulses and behaviors, aversion, grasping, and various qualities of wholeness inherent in the natural mind. By becoming clear about our experience, we develop emotional intelligence.

In contrast, our usual way of seeing and speaking is evaluative rather than emergent, and includes opinions, theories, moral judgments, advice, diagnosis, and problem solving. I call this way of modeling and speaking Evaluative Dialogue. It is very useful, especially for describing the outside world and coordinating our activities ("Joe came in 5 minutes late this morning!") But Evaluative dialogue often includes blame and projection ("Joe isn't a team player.") This conditioned way of thinking and speaking tends to block the process of Emergence and puts us on the defense, often to avoid vulnerability. Because evaluative conditioning is so strong, we have to go through a period of practicing 'Emergence-first' in order to develop embodied sensitivity, various skills, and a trust in the vulnerable practices of Emergence, which will bring us into greater intimacy with self and other.

Emergent Dialogue (Em-D) can be thought of as a teachable mindfulness practice in relating to self and other. We learn to own and revere the whole of our experience, and thereby untangle our natural bodymind from our habit bodymind. We can help others to experience that reverence too, in a mutual practice. Emergent inquiry generates empathy, insight, and transformation. Focusing and Nonviolent Communication teach us to develop friendliness and patience toward what's arising in us, and to individuate and have good boundaries. We still have access to our models of the world, and to discernment, but we can get stuck in repetitive patterns or conflict if we stay purely in Evaluative mode.

Teachable Mindfulness

Many schools and teachers speak of the benefits of Mindfulness (e.g. "stress reduction", "less reactivity"). Teachers also speak of the aspirations of Mindfulness (e.g. "to maintain a moment by moment awareness"). But few teach you perceptual and communication practices for becoming mindful, beyond meditation and 'trying hard'. Fortunately, practices such as Focusing and NVC build awareness of particular patterns of the mind, which can then be recognized while practicing mindfulness. Also, Focusing and NVC often involve social interaction and speaking/writing, which further embodies your learning. For example, Focusing builds equanimity as we learn to accompany difficult parts of ourselves. And NVC helps us recognize the needs or values behind a difficult feeling, opening us up to more curiosity.

Council Practice

Taken from the wisdom traditions of indigenous cultures, the "Way of Council" described by Zimmerman and Coyle is a kind of listening circle for exploring conflict, collectively forming a vision, or making group decisions. It can be very healing for a group experiencing division around a community issue. Usually, a talking stick is passed around and only the one holding the stick may speak. The primary agreements are:

  • Speak from the heart.
  • Listen from the heart.
  • Be of "lean expression".
  • Be spontaneous.