One reason: We never learned contemplative collaboration. And here are four reasons why we never learned it:
1. No one ever told us it was a thing. It is: Contemplative Collaboration.
Many years ago, after an intoxicated Rodney King had to be chased at high speeds and forcibly subdued by the LAPD, in the wake of the unfolding drama that became the 1992 LA Riots, King issued a televised plea that went viral: “Can’t we all just get along?” he begged.
Well, the answer is no, no we can’t. French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre offered one reason, “L’enfer c’est les autres.” (Finally, my 7 years of grade school French gets put to use!). “Hell is other people,” Sartre proclaimed. He would get no argument from either Rodney King or the LAPD.
There are many other reasons why we can’t get along, but most of them are related and boil down to a single one – few of us have been trained to masterfully manage our own adrenal glands. Excessive stress hormones short-circuit the thinking brain and close the heart.
Mark Twain once reported: ““I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” Twain’s life was much different than Rodney King’s, but essentially, he’s stating how poor he was with his own adrenal management practice. What makes troubles most troubling are the stress hormones they generate. And the majority of our most troubling troubles are the result of the thoughts our brain secretes about the past or the near or distant future. Those thoughts are often intended to head trouble off at the pass and keep us safe. But excessive stress hormones “close down the thinker.” They were needed in an earlier time, but much less so here in 21st century America. Unless you’re a police officer or someone fleeing from the police. In which case it would likely require saint-level adrenal management to keep things well-directed. Having a sufficient supply of the Corticotropin Releasing Factor, Urocortin-3 can be a help as well.
Contemplative collaboration practice holds the potential for such saintly management.
2. No one ever taught us what to practice.
It takes work to realize areas where we would be well-served to become more skillful. After that “Aha!”the next step is to realize that acquiring skill requires practice. If its piano or golf or kung fu, for starters we can study past masters and learn what they did. We can also find and invite current masters to mentor us, hopefully tailored to our own inherent proclivities. One main benefit mentors can provide is to serve in an external Executive Function capacity – helping us become increasingly disciplined in putting structured time in on the piano bench or the fairways or the mat. Without that internal or external discipliner, our sincere desires to become more skillful end up at the Best Intentions Recycling Center.
Contemplative collaboration practice holds the potential for increasing Executive Function.
3. No one ever taught us how to practice it purposefully.
Purposeful Practice, or Deliberate Practice as it’s also known, emerged out of the research of CASBS Fellow, Anders Ericsson at Florida State University. He studied masters in a variety of different disciplines. His research has been popularized as “The 10000 Hour Rule,” but what his research really discovered is, not only did talented masters practice their craft diligently, but they primarily practiced with the intention to continually improve. In order to actually do that, they had to practice the parts they sucked at. Pianists, for example, had to practice extensively with their non-dominant hands. Golfers had to hit shot after shot out of the rough and the sand traps (Mark Twain once observed that “golf is a good walk spoiled.” This is taking that spoiling to a whole new level).
Contemplative collaboration practice holds the possibility of discovering the joy in purposeful practice.
4. No one ever told us why we might want to practice it.
When you tease the essence out of every authentic spiritual tradition and practice, you discover they are all mostly designed with one purpose in mind, similar to what I mentioned above: to keep your adrenals well-managed in order to keep your heart from becoming closed.
Gene Knudsen Hoffman, founder of The Compassionate Listening Project once observed that “An enemy is someone whose story we haven’t fully heard.” The main reason we haven’t fully heard our enemy’s stories, and why hell so often IS other people, is because we struggle to manage our stress hormones when we are confronted directly with their (and our own) soul-crushing pain and suffering and the unskillful ways they can act it out. No one has ever intimated to us that it’s possible to become a virtuoso in our capacity for being fully present to the pain of our own and each others’ broken hearts.
Contemplative collaboration practice holds the potential to learn how to keep our heart open in a hell populated with other people.
Here are 3 central elements of my own discipline: Contemplative Collaboration Trilogy. I invite you to practice.