This blog is an overview in response to a few different questions I was asked recently.
Depending on the context, this experience could also be called 'Conscious Relating', 'Communicating in Integrity', 'Authentic Expression', or even a variant of 'Radical Honesty'. It's basically the life-practice of doing your best to express, and relate to, what's true in the moment. Appropriately and without looking to shame/blame. By moving beyond common culturally conditioned habits such as disconnection from feelings, suppressed self-awareness, fear of vulnerability, and habitual non-disclosure.
Why try to Relate Authentically?
In my experience, and what I've heard from many others, interacting this way creates deeper and more 'satisfyingly real' relational experiences. The more you connect to, and express the essence of, who you truly are (as much as one ever can), the more deeply you can be felt and related to. The more you live your truth the more you connect to authentic personal power. For many, the greatest rewards in life, that a lot of us hunger to find, can be broadly defined as 'more fulfilling human engagements'. Intimate connections, friendships, working with clients... Basically, the more authentic you are, the more powerful, satisfying, substantial and rewarding all relational experiences will be.
Some people have a huge fear around being more honest, vulnerable and visible. That terror is another massive topic that can't be addressed fully here. Very basically, as long as you're doing your best (in a realistic non-perfectionist way) to be authentic this fear largely proves unfounded. There's nothing wrong with being a mystery to some extent – we are complex individuals after all. Just bring consciousness, empathy and integrity to the decisions you make around what to share and what to keep to yourself.
Verbal & Non-Verbal Communication
Most conscious human communication is verbal. Authentic Relating addresses the 'whole-being experience'. We communicate a heck of a lot more through what's generally termed 'body language' than we ever can in words. (In ways that are a lot more diverse than most realise: Posture, subtle emotional changes, eye-movement, pupil size, body heat, minute physiological tensions/movements, voice tone, breathing patterns...) It's very common to be saying one thing at the same time as communicating something very different - or at least a lot more complex than you realise. (How well other people pick-up on the other layers of communication is another question that depends on many factors.)
One sadly common example of inauthentic (contradictory) communication is when one 'monogamous' partner asks another: 'Have you had sex with someone else?' and the 'accused' partner says 'No' when in fact they have. Both people know unconsciously that this is a lie, and so the dishonest person is being (even if unintentionally) abusive - contributing to potentially damaging psychological/emotional dissonance in their partner. I believe there's a website based in the USA that specifically assists people to organise affairs. If so, it is effectively promoting emotional/psychological abuse. (To be clear, it's not polyamory I have a problem with by definition, but the hypocrisy and lies inherent in many people's lived definitions of monogamy.)
Learning Authentic Relating
First of all, beware of the 'perfectionist myth'. Just continuing to do your best is the real goal to aim for. It's very easy to use the 'It's All Too Difficult' excuse and not even bother to step onto the path. I've been exploring this for years so I'm reasonably fluent in some aspects (simply due to hard work and practice), yet I still struggle in others. That's the human journey. Start from where you are, hold strong intents to improve and to move out of your comfort zone. Then explore bravely from there.
A good first reference is Brad Blanton's pioneering book 'Radical Honesty'. I'm not 100% behind everything he recommends. His approach stresses full and complete disclosure in every moment. In my opinion in some instances taking that approach will only lead to pain - with no benefit to anyone whatsoever. (Blowing out people's capacity to process emotionally, and destroying any chance of resolution.) Mind you, deciding 'it would only hurt someone' is also one of the most common ways of 'chickening out' from being honest. Through covering up straightforward selfishness and fear of abandonment in cases where the pain and challenge would be short term, and the gains substantial and long-term. In the end you have to work this out in every unique context.
It can be difficult to learn something new without actual experience. Fortunately various workshops and trainings in Melbourne provide lived opportunities to learn new habits, often in fun and interesting social environments. For instance, Spiral Events offers 'Conscious Speed Dating'. One 'positive hidden agenda' of CSD is to teach participants how to access more bodily wisdom and a greater repertoire of non-verbal expression. Plus how to engage with others doing the same. The 'speed dates' are fun and interesting non-verbal exercises, closing with talking together about your experiences in the exercise. Talking about the experience (rather than just random chatter) opens up communication at a more expansive level. (There are no formal opportunities to just chat randomly until the end of the event.)
More specific Authentic Relating practices and games are available in 'Masks & Mirrors'. This event is designed as a fascinating and entertaining exploration with others, rather than being some kind of hideous 'Integrity Bootcamp'. Nobody 'has' to say anything that they would prefer to keep confidential. Nonetheless it's specifically about self-development. Then there's also Meisner Melbourne's 'Foundations' course, where participants learn a deep grounding in the incredible Repetitions/Reflections Dyads.
(Behaviors to gently watch out for on the path of learning Authentic Relating).
- Not communicating your feelings, because of not wanting to be seen as overly-sensitive or because of feeling awkward and unfamiliar with how to do so. (It's fine to feel awkward, and can often help just to verbally acknowledge that you do);
- Not communicating your feelings, because of having been told/taught that it's not OK to, and having unconsciously accepted that as the truth (even though it isn't);
- Over-communicating your feelings in a huge 'dump' without engaging with the other person in the conversation;
- Not speaking up for what you feel is true/right, due to the concern that doing so may cause others (or yourself) to feel awkward. (Terror of awkwardness is often out of all proportion to its actual significance);
- Enabling someone powerful, charming or popular to continue acting out of integrity by being too nervous to challenge them. Or due to a fear/reluctance to confront an unconscious group agreement not to name that person's lack of integrity. (Breaking unspoken group consensus by shining a light on such things can be incredibly potent in the beneficial effects for many people in that group);
- Not saying 'No' to something we don't want because of deep unconscious social conditioning that it's not OK to disappoint someone, or (more insidiously) because of the imprinted cultural belief that it's never OK to say No to an authority figure;
- Not speaking the truth of what you feel or what's happening due to a strong (perceived or actual) chance that means we won't get what we want. (Terror of lack/scarcity/abandonment is a massive unconscious motivation to not be in integrity);
- Living a life based on selfishness, greed, obsession with power, and a buried terror of scarcity and inadequacy that's being covered up by a massive phoney personality (*cough* politics)
- Blurting things out without considering how to best express what you most want to communicate. Just because you notice something out of integrity doesn't automatically mean the 'guilty party' is conscious of what they're doing. Plus, it can be way more effective to address something with respectful strength if the result you are hoping for is change/evolution. Verbal attack or public shaming tends to lead to tension, resistance or severe antagonism. At a social level, honest and respectful persistence will usually be much more effective at engaging someone and opening possibilities for change. (How would you want someone to engage with you if they felt you were being extremely inauthentic?)
- Own your own shadow. It is NOT the case that everything that triggers you in someone else is exactly represented in you. Sometimes it might be (either directly or in reflection). At other times it's more of a reference to a different, or former, personal challenge. However, we all have inauthentic edges. Drop any sense of being 'holier than tho' as you start to become more fluent in authentic relating.
Arven (5th Oct, 2016) [www.SpiralEvents.weebly.com]