On Tuesday, August 13th, I was joined by master conflict mediator & long-time, dear friend, Diane Musho Hamilton for “What Makes Everything Workable? Exploring the Edge of Human Conflict, Communication and Connection.” Together we took a fresh perspective on conflict at all levels, from personal crisis to the global “mega-crisis.”
We launched our dialog with a summary of Diane’s soon-to-be-released book (her first!) Everything Is Workable: A Zen Approach to Conflict Resolution. The title is from a quote from Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, one her teachers, that “whatever arises in the confused mind is regarded as the path, and everything is workable”. So nothing is unworkable, or outside the realm of practice, including conflict.
Everything Is Workable brings together two areas of lifelong engagement for Diane, meditation and mediation. The words “meditation” and “mediation” have the same root and imply bringing two into one; body and mind into one with meditation and disparate views or agendas with mediation. And while meditation is an interior process and mediation is an exterior, inter-subjective process, the book draws upon and integrates techniques and processes from both.
Diane says that to begin engaging conflict as a spiritual or growth practice, we need to step back and determine our conflict “type”. How do we react when conflict arises? Do we run away from conflict? Go around it? Or do we move toward the “heat”?
The growth happens in conflict when we are able to look with curiosity at our divergent backgrounds, and learn more about each other and our (often unconscious) assumptions. Also, conflict generates “heat” so energy is released as well as life force when we let the conflict percolate, instead of reflexively diffusing it. But this is no mean feat! We need to be able to tolerate the tension in the very wiring of our physical being, ultimately befriending those physical sensations.
I recently wrote a paper for the 3rd annual Integral Theory Conference, Enacting an Integral Revolution: How Can We Have Truly Radical Conversations in a Time of Global Crisis? The paper focused on how human conversations can catalyze a transformative existential confrontation, not just an intellectual discussion. A new kind of radical conversation is needed that transcends, on one hand, apocalyptic fear, and on the other complacent denial. We are the luckiest people who have ever lived, blessed with comfort, mobility, information, a wealth of spiritual practices, personal freedom, and creative possibility; at the same time, we are facing a looming “mega-crisis” composed of multiple simultaneous crises—an enormous natural evolutionary emergency (mass species extinction, global warming, etc.) amidst breakdowns and crises affecting all our human institutions and infrastructures—political, social, economic, educational, healthcare, financial and more.
Diane had read my paper so I asked her to address this idea of a need for another way—of greater seriousness AND greater levity. She responded by saying that in her conflict work, she approaches it as a matter of scale. Working successfully with conflict and crisis on a personal level is a beginning point; we can leverage this success so that it “trickles up” making us grounded and effective in the face of larger crises.
Diane also noted that part of engaging conflict as a spiritual practice is relaxing all sense of dilemma, understanding that in some profound sense, things are going right, because that’s the way that things are going. This doesn’t mean we should sit back and become complacent, but it does offer us intuitive freedom in which the as-yet-unimaginable solution can emerge. The work is to always be available and present so that when the moment arises to take an action we will be ready, attuned and effective.
One of the most dynamic aspects of this dialogue was the counterpoint (you could even call it “creative conflict”) between my passion and Diane’s spaciousness. The two of us showed up expressing very different dispositions, and then found our way to a place of nuanced agreement. But the questioners who showed up pressed us back into that territory, requiring us to revisit and refine it.
After our conversation came to an end, I reflected that we had enacted and refined a creative tension between spaciousness and passion that is profound and fundamental—it’s essential and abiding, and it will only keep enriching the vital conversations we will continue to have. Our crises aren’t going away, and neither is radical okayness. So our conversation dropped me into greater existential depth, a space that can hold both passionate seriousness and spacious humor.
During out dialog we also talked about how there may be two kinds of “higher we” —one characterized by higher intersubjective states, and the other characterized by higher intersubjective structures. (And, as those who know her would expect, Diane also told some very funny stories.) Listen in!