Our Bloggers

Christian Meier

Successful Miscommunication. Another source of inspiration.

Ah, yes, I understand! Ah, yes, I understand!

I work in an environment, where there has to be a lot of interpersonal and group communication. In fact, the whole aim of our work is to communicate FOR our clients. So one would assume that me and my colleagues are kind of masters in communication – whether in written or spoken word, by visual or auditory means or whatsoever. Nevertheless it is fascinating to be witness of how rarely communication works, even in the most basic daily business.

Not long ago, for example, I gathered two or three of my people in my room, it was supposed to be a briefing for an advertisement. As I was already very aware of the fact that people can think of all kinds of things when I only use words, we all looked at a screen. The screen showed a) a rough scribble of how our client suggested the ad and b) an empty white page. I explained that the design of the ad should fill the whole page. We discussed several things, agreed on everything and went off to do our stuff.
About a day later I received the first layouts. They showed a page with quite some white space all around, an outlined box in the centre, and the ad filling the box. When asking, why the ad was only filling the box and not the whole page, the answer was: “Well, we ALWAYS had ads in boxes! How could we possibly have known that this time, you don’t want us to have a box?!”
This amazed me quite a lot, and when my anger had calmed down (of course there was anger towards the people not LISTENING to me, but also towards myself not being able to EXPLAIN appropriately) it slowly became clear to me that this little example, unfortunately, shows the very nature of ALL our communication. Or, let’s better say, our attempts to communicate. (And I assume all of us could fill at least little booklets with similar stories.)
Reflecting on these daily experiences, it became obvious, that, first of all, we have so much stuff in our mostly confused and distracted minds that it is hardly possible for us to listen to what another person actually SAYS. IF we can listen, the words are immediately processed by tons of past memories and all kinds of hopes, fears and expectations. Distorted like this, they are put in our pre-defined concept-boxes, cutting off everything that could be in between. Once they are in there, we feel satisfied having “understood” and forget the rest.
If this is the case even with regards to these really banal things, how much more must it apply to more complex, “unsubstantial” topics? To “things” like love, joy, subtle levels of intimacy, feelings of inspiration? No chance, I guess. Or, even worse, to “very uncommon topics of inner experience” like devotion, compassion or stages of so-called realisation?? Any attempt must be a complete joke.
At this point I remembered the words of my teacher saying (in a very rough paraphrase): ‘Here in samsara (which means in our confused state) there is no successful communication. The communication of samsara is miscommunication. And when we think it works, it is just unsuccessful miscommunication.’ The first time I heard this, I couldn’t quite understand. Now it makes a lot of sense.
Now, the advice that my teacher gives us to deal with this chaotic state, includes first of all emptying our minds of all the unnecessary stuff, step by step, making us able to PERCEIVE more clearly. Then, of course, practising mindfulness and awareness – not only during our meditation sessions but especially OUTSIDE our formal meditation sessions. And, on a very practical level, reassuring our communication with others and installing “safety mechanisms” like involving several people when passing on an information.
But for me, what brings the greatest “relieve” at the moment, is to first of all ACCEPT it the way it is and to relax in it. And to become familiar with the fact that the clearest and most direct communication does not happen on a “logical” level by using the intellectually most precise words, but on an EXPERIENTIAL level, using my sense of direct knowing. This is, of course, at the moment not very well developed, but I already have some glimpses, most of them in the presence of my teacher, when it sometimes feels like “pure knowing” pouring into me, without any effort.
I find it very alleviating that beyond my “German tendency” towards precision and efficiency (which I still find very useful in many ways), a whole world of “undefineable” but nevertheless much profounder and in many ways more precise communication opens up. A direct understanding that can be captured more clearly, let’s say, by a very short Haiku than by a whole scientific essay.
Like these ones from Basho that I collected randomly:
Wrapping dumplings in bamboo leaves
with one hand
she fingers back her hair
piercing the rocks
cicada's shrill
Taking a nap,
feet planted
against a cool wall.

Previous post: Moving Beyond Fear
Next post: Are you dead yet?