Dialogue Guidelines to Deepen Awareness (Part 3)

This is the third of three posts in which I share some insightful guidelines for expanding individual and group consciousness by highlighting certain dynamics during dialogue exercises. For more information and background about this remarkable approach, see the first post in the series. That first post, this post, and Part 2 constitute the whole series.  A pdf of the entire series is available here.


by Jeff Groethe and Tom Atlee

(For full explanatory material see Part 1.)


Several interrelated principles remind us of attitudes we want to sustain in Dialogue:

• Learning (covered in Part 1.)

• Presence (covered in Part 2.)
• Respect (covered in Part 2.)
• Responsibility for Experience (covered in Part 2.)

• Shared Inquiry (covered in this post)
• Non-efforting (covered in this post)
• Wholeness (covered in this post)

The guidelines provided below under Shared Inquiry, Non-efforting and Wholeness give us ways to challenge ourselves to understand and live each principle more fully, especially in formal Dialogue practice. They give shape to our aspiration for mindful, present, authentic shared awareness and communication.

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Principle Five


By shared inquiry we mean maintaining an attitude of collegiality, of belonging to the same team even in the context of different views and feelings, seeing each view as a facet of a complex and evolving whole that we’re all involved in together.

20. Open up attachment to positions

Differences in views and feelings give us the opportunity to recognize if we have invested our identity with those views and feelings. If we have, then we will feel defensive and/or separated from anyone expressing different views. Can we stay together in one inquiry rather than disintegrating into debate – the defense of positions? Differences may then become resources for information and new learning rather than impediments and sources of conflict.

Notice when an inquiry starts to polarize into positions. Feeling defensive, agreeing (including nodding “uh-huh”) or disagreeing (including shaking our heads) or feeling aligned or separated from those of the same or different views all indicate a falling out of shared inquiry. Starting with “but” may also indicate polarization.

21. Move toward shared understanding

With a bias toward shared understanding rather than agreement, Dialogue makes room for a great deal of diversity.

As a speaker, we pay attention to how comprehensible our listeners experience us. As a listener we try to transform lack of understanding into our own inquiry. We describe what we understand, what seems fuzzy and where we jump off into the unknown.

Principle Six


In the ambition and effort to get somewhere, we focus our attention outward and dissociate from present experience. Having left present experience – our source of creativity and new insight – we can only spin our wheels, repeating past patterns.

Being present with what’s arising now within and among us keeps our individual and collective attention in the effortless flow of creativity, novelty, evolution.

22. Noticing effort as a function of awareness

The feeling of effort serves as an important indicator of falling out of present sensing. When noticing effort, come back to present sensing. Here are some helpful hints:

  • Sense into the question rather than efforting to find the answer.
  • Sense the present in the context of a vision rather than efforting to achieve a goal.
  • Sense the meaning that arises rather than trying to follow meaning as if it existed “out there.”
  • Sense the implications of insight rather than trying to apply it.
  • Sense the level of choicelessness rather than efforting to make choices. The conflict of choice indicates some avoidance or dissociation from the level of feeling that would engender the clarity of choicelessness.

If something comes, let it come and be with it. If nothing comes, let nothing come and be with it.

23. Relevation (not revelation)

The physicist David Bohm coined the term “relevate” by putting together the words “elevate” and “relevant.” Can we sense meaning as it arises through relevance, similar to how we sense through our other senses, rather than efforting to try and follow meaning “out there” or trying to put things together or search through memory files “inside”?

Many impulses may relevate. Which ones do you intuitively sense you could travel a great distance with, or in other words deepen with the inquiry? Which ones feel old, familiar, and mechanical – a replaying of dead recordings from the past? Which ones are thoroughly fresh and present?

Are we staying open, with the contents of consciousness available to relevate, or at times are we hiding out in a private world? Can we let meaning “bubble up” and notice it?

24. Creative tension

A great deal of stress comes from efforting to achieve some goal or goals. What if we approached achieving as a creative rather than efforting process? Many of us can recall experiences of working on something and entering into periods of timeless creativity or “flow”. Appropriate insights and actions emerge or relevate naturally in the moment; we become tools of what wants to happen rather than engineers of what comes next.

Entering into timeless creativity feels vastly different than efforting. Efforting implies a focus on the goal and a devaluing of the present. The gap between the present and the goal produces stress and emotional tension.

If we do not devalue the present, but sense with acceptance the present and the goal equally, then the gap between the present and the goal produces creative tension. Creative tension produces something in consciousness analogous to a magnetic field in which energy wants to move in the director of creating the vision or goal. Energy can then move without effort and stress.

Principle Seven


The wholeness of life shows up in diverse realms. Any careful examination of reality – whether close, deep, or broad – reveals the great extent to which diverse phenomena are both densely interconnected and facets or expressions of a seamless whole. Among the many manifestations of this are these:

  • Patterns repeat in diverse realms or at different levels of operation – a phenomenon mathematically explored in the science of fractals, as exemplified by the branching patterns of trees, rivers, and veins.
  • Mystics experience “a world in a grain of sand… and eternity in an hour”, the fundamental unity of the Cosmos, and “that of God in every person”.
  • Field and quantum physicists like David Bohm see the seeming solidity of matter arising from interactions between facets of an underlying unified field.
  • Ecologists study the interdependence of species and the ways they together generate the entire ecosystem that then shapes their lives and behaviors.
  • Lasers aimed through one fragment of a holographic plate form a 3D image that is identical (though less detailed) than the image formed when lasers pass through the whole holographic plate (similar to the way a set of color separations each display most forms contained in the entire picture).
  • Synergy – the fact that a whole is other or greater than the sum of its parts – generates emergent phenomena like the strength of triangles or the liquidity of water at room temperature (water is, after all, “just” hydrogen and oxygen, which are gasses at room temperature).

We can observe such patterns in ourselves and in our Dialogues. We can see our individual and collective fields of meaning structuring the patterns of our actions and experiences just as magnetic fields structure the behavior of iron filings and as gravitational fields structure the behavior of planets and tides. We can observe synergies among our diverse thoughts and feelings – and our access to transpersonal intelligence – generating deeper insights into the nature of life and deeper possibilities for our futures.

In Dialogue we sense into the whole that we form, manifest, and access together. We practice listening to the voice of the whole that is in each of us and to the uniqueness that each of us brings to the whole. We practice speaking from the whole to the whole.

25. Form the inquiry in a way that has relevance to all

To take on (identify with) the inquiry as uniquely “about me” or “about them”, personalizes what is actually shared and universal, feeding a sense of separateness. In virtually every case we can see a personal problem, event, need, gift or limitation as a personal version of something experienced by – or characteristic of – most or even all human beings.

Look deeply enough to sense everything surrendered to the inquiry as transpersonal – as a shared aspect of human experience. In that way, no matter how personal the details, the inquiry has relevance to all of us.

26. Sense our contributions to the inquiry as forming one whole

Our individual experiences and offerings are, in fact, facets of a whole that – if we persist in Dialogue – becomes clearer as we proceed.

Notice the interconnections between the various themes and feelings that come up in the inquiry. If you don’t see how a particular contribution relates, assume that its deeper connection has not yet revealed itself.

27. Invite greater knowledge

We as individuals or as groups form a microcosm of the Whole. If the part contains the whole then self-exploration gives us access to the Infinite. However, just as a larger piece of the holographic plate gives greater resolution of the holographic image, group sensing usually provides fuller access to the Infinite.

Open yourself to the larger meanings that seem to want to emerge among us, and contribute to that impulse for emergence.

28. Sense and co-create a common pool (field) of meaning

No matter what stage our Dialogue is in, we share a common pool of meaning. It may be a shared pool of fragmented meanings, but we share it. Through Dialogue that meaning-filled field can become increasingly coherent – through synergies, relevations, revelations, and deepening into universalities – such that we then share that coherence.

Develop coherence in the field of meaning we form together as a group. Understand our similarities, differences, common ground – and share that understanding with each other. Then let it evolve, participating together in that evolution.

29. Step out of linear time and agency

Dialogue exhibits a strange synchronistic quality in which patterns in our process often illustrate patterns in the content that we are talking about. In noticing that, we step out of linear time and agency. We don’t talk about something so that we can later act; the exploring becomes the acting and the acting becomes exploring. Exploring shifts the field of meaning out of which all action arises and as we explore our actions in a seamless ongoing way, the distinctions between exploring and acting disappear.

Live into the actions that inquiry reveals and into the inquiries that action invites and enter the timeless flow of enlivened learning in the evolving field of meaning.

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Tom Atlee is one of our great, wise, insightful, evolutionary out-of-any-box, transpartisan, creative, thoughtful, challenging, and essential writers in the field of a wiser democracy.

—  John Steiner

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