On Depth: Where Are You Speaking From?
In this post I am borrowing and blending two frameworks. One is taught at the Authentic Relating Training and the other by Circling Europe. I find that these two frameworks together give a pretty neat perspective on the different levels of depth we can speak from.
The levels I will go through are these:
Informational/conceptual: Facts and stories in time.
Personal: Experiences and feelings in time.
Relational/authentic: Relationships in time and relationships in presence.
Awareness: Emergence, presence and interbeing.
Soul: Mystery in presence.
In this post I write about these as levels of interpersonal communication. I think we all have experiences of all of these levels in our individual lives and that many for example have soul touching experiences in nature. What I am interested in here is however our ability to be in these experiences together and how to share our experiences with others.
It is obviously not a perfect way of categorizing all acts of speech. The boundaries between the categories are certainly not as clear in practice as they are when you write about it. Rather than being a perfect map I think this categorization framework can be useful for thinking about how we approach people in different situations and where we want to speak from. It can also be pretty neat for evaluating the practices that we do and what kind of interactions they afford.
Most people seem to move relatively unconsciously back and forth between the informational, personal and sometimes relational fields. We don’t usually have a clear sense of these being separate ways of communicating. The awareness and soul levels for me seems to be a lot more rare in my interactions and are more often than not the result of doing a particular practice such as Circling and Surrendered Leadership.
At the informational level we share information (“facts”) about the world around us and our stories about it. This is the level where we do most of our planning, make most of our agreements and give people information about our personal stories.
“I am going to the movies tomorrow.”
“The best way of designing bike lanes in Copenhagen is…”
“I grew up with alcoholic parents.”
This is the layer where we can work on the world. We can invent new things, develop new projects, protest existing systems etc. It is also the field in which we perform most of what we call “rational discourse”. The trap of the informational/conceptual is that it is easy to be consumed by the idea that there is something so important to be solved “out there” that we neglect out close relationships and the people around us.
However it also seems true for me that if we are not in connection with the other layers of depth in ourselves and in our communication, we probably cant do much good at the informational/conceptual level. We can probably do as much good working on practicing our communication in the relationships we have as we can trying to transform the external world.
The personal level and beyond are where we can admit to ambiguity and to not-knowing rather than pretending that we are sure about and correct in our beliefs and certainties about the highly complex issues of the world. The deeper levels help us to cultivate curiosity about the beliefs and assumptions we hold.
For me personally, I find that the stories I tell about myself from this level often camouflage the real vulnerability and becomes more like anecdotes from my life. For me there seems to be an important movement from sharing the story as a story and sharing the story from a deeper emotional level in myself. There is a big difference between sharing that I grew up with alcoholic parents with an “I’m fine, its not a problem, we don’t have to talk about it, I don’t need care or support.” energy and sharing that I grew up with alcoholic parents and that there is actually still a lot of pain in that, even though I am now grown up and in control of my own life. This is the bridge to the field of the personal.
At the personal level we share intimate information about ourselves, how we are doing and how we feel about being in the world. We tell stories about ourselves that can feel uncomfortable to bring forth, because they are connected to emotional reactions in ourselves — often connected to shame.
“I still feel sadness about growing up with alcoholic parents. I have this pattern where I always have to take care of myself and it is exhausting for me.”
“I am super angry about what X did last week.”
“When we visited the public meeting I felt quite uncomfortable with the way people responded to our ideas.”
The field of the personal opens space for emotions, but also for discussions, conflicts and negotiations as we can disagree about our perceptions of the world and have conflicting stories about what has happened. In this field of communication, we do however stick to things that are outside of the relationship we are currently in and talk about the world “out there”. In other words we share the “text”, but not the “subtext”.
The curiosity game lives on the border between the personal and the relational. It opens space for being curious about the stories and life of the other, while also bringing the “here and now” relationship into play. This is most clear when the exercise is ended with the 3 sentence stems “my first impression of you was…”, “the time where I felt you the most was…” and “one thing I really get about you is…”
Relational / Authentic
At the relational level we speak into the relationship we are in right now. We share the often uncomfortable withholds that we have with people around us — the things that we have been (and often still are) unwilling to bring. Sharing from this level often requires a lot of trust, because there is fear of being met with rejection or loosing the connection with the other. At this level we share both the “text” and the “subtext”.
“I have a lot of anger towards you, because of what you did.”
“I have felt attracted to you for quite some time and haven’t shared it out of fear of rejection.”
“ I really appreciate our friendship and I feel quite shy about it.”
The field of the relational and beyond are the spaces for participation in our own development (we are not telling the story about who we are as derived from the past, but taking new action to become something new). It is thus also the spaces for individual healing and transformation.
The field of the relational can be a source of great frustration and much pain when we have conflicting stories. When “You have overstepped my boundaries” is received with “we had an agreement that it was of for me to date other women” we have conflicting stories about what is real that can seem impossible to align. It can however also be the source of great relief when we finally reveal our inner truth to someone else. When an old anger is revealed and is received with a “wow. I wasn’t aware of that. I am sorry that I hurt you, even though it happened unconsciously.” It opens space for a transformation in the relationship.
Many Authentic Relating Games are located in this field (although quite a few are at the level of the personal and some bridges into the fields of awareness and soul) as they help us to reveal our stories about each-other and play with what is going on between us in the present..
The shift from the relational/authentic level to the awareness level marks the boundary of known/unknown. At the relational/authentic level we bring forth the things that we are often uncomfortable sharing because we expect some sort of unpleasant reaction from the other. At the awareness level we share what is happening right now (which might still be uncomfortable). We also move from only sharing “text” and “subtext” and go into a field of embodiment.
At the awareness level we share our experience of the connection that is happening right now with a person or a group. The core Circling and Surrendered Leadership question of “what is it like to be you right now” points to this space of sensing into the immediate present experience of myself in the moment. Awareness also means awareness of my own filters and a willingness to take a step back to look at them.
“I feel uncomfortable that we are all sitting so far apart. I have a longing for more closeness.”
“I feel angry towards you and it seems to be connected to a story about you being manipulative”
“something seemed to change in you just then. Is that true?”
The practice of Soul Enquiry, where an important question is “what is being experienced right now” for me seems to border the field of awareness and the field of soul. The shift from awareness to soul, if I am to try to speak into it, for me seems to be about surrendering fully to what my being wants to communicate.
What wants to speak through me? It is impossible for me to give examples of what speaking from a soul level looks like. Firstly because I am not very well acquainted with doing this myself and secondly because speaking from here is an immediately present action and the words aren’t the same if taken out of the context.
I find that my friends who are more founded in movement practices and art has more access to this level than those like myself who are more founded in verbal communication. My only experiences of speaking from this level has come through meditative practices like circling. Where suddenly I am able to speak my truth in a way where it seems to be unquestionably true for the listener(s).
A spectrum of communication
I find that people who mainly move at the informational and personal levels can feel quite distant for me and that I miss them in the connection. And similarly people who mainly move at the awareness and soul levels can feel like they don’t want to be human with me. For me it seems important to be able to move in the full spectrum of communication.