When I did a marketing course a little while ago, we were told that in a presentation about 93% of communication is non-verbal. People make certain judgments and inferences about you before you open your mouth and regardless what comes out of it irrespective of the slides you may have sweated over in your PowerPoint presentation. There is a fabled practice in the FWBO which I had heard much about but never actually done until last weekend. It is a communication exercise and it was set within the context of spiritual friendship on a retreat entitled ‘Entering the tiger’s cave’. The title refers to a Zen story where human footprints are said be seen leading into the cave but none do seem to come out.
A route into exploring certain aspects of this commitment was afforded through this communication exercise. You work in pairs, ideally with a partner whom you have never met before. The first part of the exercise involves looking in and around each other’s eyes. Then you break off before going back to repeat the exercise this time taking some awareness to being open and letting the other person in and really being willing to enter into this other person’s being. It is striking how much the superficiality of the first encounter is deepened by engagement with these possibilities in the second. Each mini session is about 3 minutes long.
Then one partner chooses a phrase to be repeated and the other partner affirms it by saying ‘Yes’. The phrases on offer (and it is part of the fable that they are usually these) were:
The cow is in the field
Do birds fly?
Water is wet
Flowers grow here
The sky is blue today
Each partner takes it in turn to utter the phrase and to make the affirmation. All the time you are still holding each other with the eyes.
Finally, the phrases are dropped and you go back to just sitting and staring into one another’s eyes.
What is extraordinary is that there is a real sense of knowing this erstwhile stranger that soon builds up as well as a sensitivity to the tone and cadence of the voice. Some affirmations are more gentle or more brusque than others despite the repetition. Something else is communicated beyond the words themselves. It is a stripping bare of communication. It feels as though you have entered the tiger’s cave because you have poured yourself into another being through the pupils and you have let another person in because you opened the door to your own being as wide as possible and you just don't know what will happen. Friendship is thus a risky business and we have to be prepared for anything and for surrendering ourselves completely.