Guidelines for Contemplative Dialog
by Ed Bastian
Contemplative dialog is distinct from normal conversation, intellectual debate and emotional expression.
The primary language of contemplative InterSpiritual dialog and mentoring is shared silence. We support each other through our compassionate listening and minimal words or gestures of respect and gratitude. Compassionate listening and silence are the soothing elixirs that place each spiritual perspective on a neutral, reciprocal ground. In silence we are liberated from our fixed religious or non-religious identities and the words that distinguish one truth from another. We celebrate and welcome the diversity of our respective spiritual views, styles, traditions, racial, gender, and ethnic diversity. Separately and jointly we experience a wordless quality or essence of being that unites us. Our rigid identities soften and become porous to the love, wisdom and contemplative experiences of others.
When I am liberated by silence, when I am no longer involved in
the measurement of life, but in the living of it, I can discover a
form of prayer in which there is effectively no distraction.
— Thomas Merton
When we enter into contemplative conversation with each other it is helpful if we begin with meditation. Then we welcome the silent pauses between sentences and maintain this same gentle and kind quality of being referenced by Thomas Merton. Openness implies vulnerability, therefore we must take great care with our intentions and our words. Opening up to and with each other is rare and delicate occurrence. Therefore we take great care not to cause another person’s shy inner self to recede back into the shadows of their consciousness. We create a safe and supportive container within which this contemplative process can unfold.
Here is a set of guidelines I have learned to help us help each other in contemplative dialog. It is based on many years of work with contemplative teachers from many traditions with the Spiritual Paths Foundation.
- Embrace silence as a common language and the elixir of shared experience.
- Don’t feel compelled to preach. In this process we are not guides or gurus but friends.
- Cultivate the art of the question rather than the urge to provide answers.
- Our job is to help others to discover, honor and harness their spiritual styles and questions for their personal spiritual and contemplative practices.
- Genuinely celebrate and honor the diversity of all spiritual traditions.
- Soften the personal boundaries of fixed identity of your own religion and belief system and open your heart for sincere sharing and learning from the experiences of others.
- Expand your exclusive identity to one that is inclusive and universal.
- Do not respond to a statement by another person with disagreement, agreement, or affirmation. Simply listen compassionately, allowing the statement of another to rest in contemplative reflection and silence. We might offer a word or gesture of respect, ‘I hear you’ and gratitude.
- Refrain from imposing or projecting your personal views on others’ traditions, beliefs, or practices on others.
- If you belong to a specific tradition, speak “from” it rather than “for” it.
- Do not try to speak for another person’s spiritual tradition or practice.
- Refrain from imposing a single universal truth on all religions and spiritual traditions that might not be shared by the traditions themselves or the person with whom you are working.
- Be careful not to misappropriate, or lift out of context, a specific practice from one tradition and graft it onto another tradition or your practice without knowing and honoring its indigenous meaning.
- Engage in compassionate listening to elicit the experience and wisdom within each individual.
- Help mentees to engage in the steps of InterSpiritual Meditation, to honor, harness and harmonize their archetypal styles, to pursue answers to their deepest questions, and to explore one or more spiritual and secular sources for the development a personal spiritual path and contemplative practice.
- Encourage companions to use the online journal their personal process of exploration, discovery and practice. Here, they are offered relevant prompts as a aid to their personal learning and companioning.