A mentor once taught me to “be afraid of the conversation you need to have but be absolutely terrified of the conversation you are missing”: The power of a non-existing conversation can leave scars deeper than a conversation that went bad. As Martin A. Ciesielski and his “school of nothing” would say: “The unmeasurable nothing is forming us and our world more than the measurable something.”
For all of us, this phenomenon becomes painfully apparent in our relationships, from intimate ones to other social and professional interactions. If “missing conversations” are not recovered and resolved, we can’t understand what the other means. What pass for “normal” conversations between parties who “miss” each other often end up with misunderstandings and disrespect for each other’s essential belief system and offense, intended or not. Each speaker manifests and justifies their respective attitudes and behaviors, ignoring those which come from the other. We don’t even know what we’re missing.
Everyone remains trapped in their silos, prisoners of their own perceptions, mistaking them with objective facts, unable to become emancipated and sovereign over their own stories, and thus over their lives. Yet without this sovereignty, our individual “pursuit of happiness” will remain a hollow one. It will lead to a dead end.
The four horsemen of the relationship apocalypse
This produces a hallucinated reality from which communication in any private or professional relationship too often follows the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, empirically proven by Dr. John Gottman in more than 20 years of research: defensiveness, criticism, stonewalling and contempt, in that order. Once those grim riders of damaged human relations take over the reins, fear grows in the damp and dark until the most fundamental glue binding human relationships erodes: Trust. And then, without fail, love: love for life, for others, for oneself. In the Christian understanding of the world: the loss of love is when the Devil has won.
But the eclipse of the WHY, the suppression of Meaning, need not be the end of the story. Apocalypse, after all, comes from the Greek apokalypsis, which means uncovering, revelation. We look on the apocalypse as the end of the world. But is that the only possible meaning and outcome of this revelation?
Hoʻoponopono, the practice of reconciliation and forgiveness
Hawaiian culture brought the world Hoʻoponopono, the practice of reconciliation and forgiveness. A student of this practice, Ihaleakala Hew Len, co-authored a book with Joe Vitale called Zero Limits, asserting that its goal was to reach and reveal a “zero state” with no memories and no ego. The state was achieved expressing the mantra: “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.” It was based on taking responsibility for everyone’s actions, not just your own. If you take responsibility for your life, then everything you see, hear, taste, touch, and experience becomes your responsibility because you realize, that it is not merely your individual life but the all-encompassing life you share with every other creature – the universal life you constantly converse it. Entering into this conversation is the gateway to being fully alive and giving a meaningful response to the question: WHY?
As we pause in the wake of the continuing pandemic, our world stopped in its tracks, regarding most of humanity doing the same, what is our takeaway? What is this crisis revealing about ourselves? What is it uncovering in our relations with each other, and with the planet on which we spin? WHY? If we have the courage to seize the reins from the Four Horsemen which destroy relationships, and pursue Meaning ourselves, seeking forgiveness and taking responsibility, we may find that a surprising answer, and an opportunity, awaits.