The Outer Ring, a Permeable Membrane
Let's begin at the outside.
We live in a holographic universe. The whole is encoded in every part. Maintaining this quality in whatever we endeavor to do, as opposed to cutting away all we would rather not consider as the reductivist's knife would have us do, is a way to keep contact with a deep truth.
Our world encompasses space, and there are countless boundaries between one area or regime and another – and here I'm not talking about political matters but geological and biological facts. These boundaries are not sharp, no matter how distinct they may seem at our accustomed scales of viewing – our own skins and their flourishing biotic communities put a lie to our insistent imagining this personal boundary as somehow inviolate! Transitions take place across gradients, taking us from a certain concentration and lack to another different set of concentrations and lacks. These boundaries also tend to be permeable. That is, elements can, with some ease or difficulty and subject to some sort of "filtering," make it from one side to the other, or at least interact across the boundary.
Our social and psychological spaces have the same properties. What survives of a "public" space, mere vestiges and damaged scraps of what had been rather commonplace not long ago, is a rather hostile and empty space. It treats our vulnerabilities and our sincere seriousness harshly. As a result, we tend to want to protect and hold close our intimate connections. However this might have worked before, at this stage, and within the damaged state of everything and everyone we find ourselves strapped with, this does little more than maintain our isolation and increasing alienation.
An effort to bring about a practice of dialogue must have an attitude and an approach to this harsh outer environment. In a holographic sense, it must incorporate the totality within itself and use that truth to bolster its chances.
That's why it is so powerful to see the outer concentric ring, the spectator ring, for want of a better name, as a permeable membrane in contact with the outer world's ignorance, indifference, and even hostility to what goes on at the center.
In describing the concept of concentric dialogue in conversation yesterday, I was told that this seems to harken back to a very natural form of human interaction. That even in our most sclerotic public fora we still attempt to honor it. There are the "insiders," the "regulars," and the "general public" at every gathering or meeting or institutional event we can think of. What is missing in them all, what leads to their inevitable failings, is not a function of some "inefficiency." It is in the complete lack of awareness of the importance and necessity to leave the realm of negotiation behind and to enter these precincts with an open vulnerability and a sincere seriousness concerning what is at stake.
So, in this case, if we are to have dialogue in this manner, it seems we need a membrane, a "cell-wall," that defends and demarcates what is going on inside while providing access that is based on awareness and attention and not policed to bolster any hierarchy.
Think of the fluid and subtle workings of the edge of a gathering. Everything from physical concentration – a "wall of bodies" might be an exaggeration, but an apt one – to the way one approaching this edge passes through stages of an awakening awareness and then a testing of their desire to focus their attention on what transpires within. There is a welcoming propinquity while at the same time a guarding circle that inhibits a disturbance from reaching its "heart." There is little expected of one arriving there, yet there is nothing to enforce exclusion from a further approach.
In the other direction, someone can always leave from an inner ring and stop or pass out through this permeable membrane. Their decision is visible and can be read by all who attend it. An important aspect of this convention is that all that holds it together is attention, focus, and the continued good-will and presence of those gathered there. At any point and for any reason, people are free to move in or out. Not in the kind of "Anarchy!" that is the straw-man of those addicted to control, but within the, can we call it the social contract that comes into being within the dynamics of the dialogue experience? This will vary as to the mix of participants and their mood. There are no preconditions, no "ideal" to be enforced. Anyone is always free to leave and free to start another node somewhere, anywhere else. In fact that is at the heart of the potential of such a convention.
It may seem quite, or even extremely, rudimentary to be speaking in this way of such obvious and simplistic-sounding elements. Why not get to something clever and exciting!
I'm afraid that unless we do plod our way through examining the obvious with fresh and unjaundiced eyes, we are condemned to rushing off into the simply clever. There is nothing new to be found down that road.
There is an illusion of teaching we are encumbered with. There is no such thing. There is only learning.
At the heart of a concentric dialogue – not fixed in its center but within its very fabric – is an awareness of how learning takes place. No one can or in any way "should" be pushing, coercing, manipulating others to accept their "teachings." If anything is to be truly transmitted from the insight and wisdom of another it only happens when it is met by a willing and open connection that is rooted in the wisdom and insight in the one who is attracted to it.
Dialogue does not seek "empty vessels" to be filled with teachings! It is a catalytic process that can help us, who ever that turns out to be within a dynamic process of self- and mutual-selection, to enter into an environment where a mind beyond the confines of those of its participants can be found. It is a process and a set of attitudes and a practice that has custodians, but no leaders, no teachers. What need be learned as we make our way from a casual periphery to its center is an experience of how it works and of the space and its qualities that it requires and that it fosters.
All of this is a moving target! There can never be a codification of it without destroying it. There can not even be too strict an expectation of what it will look like at any given moment or of how rapidly it might move on to become something we cannot even imagine at this point.
That said, I think there are ways in which we can function within such a space that will maintain its coherence and our ability to recognize and partake of what it offers.