Practicing Proprioceptive Dialogue

Proprioceptive dialogue (PD) derives from the work of the scientist-philosopher, David Bohm. This kind of dialogue is not primarily a discussion of concepts or a forum for exchanging ideas. It is an experiment in “radical honesty” in which participants relate to one another on the basis of an awareness of and willingness to share their hidden agendas: underlying assumptions and motives, feelings and projections, defensive maneuverings, etc.

PD requires that we relate to each other by moving in the “opposite direction” in which conventional discourse takes place. Rather than moving forward, moving out to you, authoritatively advancing my position on whatever we are discussing by simply and directly presenting it to you, I relate to you in a more circuitous, reflexive way, by going proprioceptively backward into myself, back into that hollow place at the center of my being (see Invitation to Proprioceptive Dialogue). That is to say, in PD, I relate to you through a bodily felt sense of my own open process of relating as it is occurring in the moment. In this way, I am not just presenting an abstract content, a collection of finished thoughts. Instead I am disclosing — to myself and to you — the thinking and feeling and sensing process that lies behind the finished products. If we can encourage each other to relate in this way, it should allow us to “see behind the scenes,” to read the subtext of our discourse, to make transparent underlying motives and hidden agendas that are normally invisible in the defensive posturing of ordinary discourse. Crucial to this process is our ability to suspend or slow down our own thinking to a great enough degree that we can be receptive to ourselves and to each other; to listen deeply out of the hollow core of ourselves, and mirror back to each other “a view of some of the assumptions and unspoken implications of what is being expressed along with that which is being avoided.”[1] Each participant then has an opportunity “to examine the preconceptions, prejudices, and the characteristic patterns that lie behind his or her thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and feelings, along with the roles he or she tends habitually to play.”[2] And there is an “opportunity to share these insights” with the group. By tapping into the dynamic — sometimes formless and chaotic — substrate that lies beneath the fixed positions we customarily hold, PD becomes a “process of creative participation among peers,” a free-flowing exploration in which we can play together in otherwise unconscious, unknown territory.

Note that while PD can be meaningful and rich, it is not necessarily rewarding or entertaining, since it requires that we tolerate uncertainty and ambiguity for extended periods. Rather than obtaining ready rewards, gaining fast closure on specific goals, and receiving food for our egos, we must be willing to stay suspended in that hollow place, that ever-changing, open-ended field of process and flux where the questions far outnumber the answers. This can be frustrating to say the least.

Finally, I note (as Bohm and his co-authors did) that perseverance is needed for effective PD. Even with a clear introduction to the process, “when the group begins to talk [or write] together it will often experience confusion, frustration, and a self-conscious concern as to whether or not it is actually engaging in Dialogue. It would be very optimistic to assume that a Dialogue would begin to flow or move toward any great depth during its first meeting. It is important to point out that perseverance is required”[3]

In conclusion, what seems most crucial to PD is that we be able to “move backward,” self-reflexively engage in proprioception. Just as I can obtain a proprioceptive sense of the muscular activity in my fingers as I write these words, I should also be able to obtain — though not as easily, to be sure — a felt sense of my defensive “reactions, impulses, feelings and opinions.”[4] Seeing them and feeling them in this way, observing them as they are actually taking place within my own embodied psyche, allows me to share them with you, and have them be reflected back to me by you.

By way of shifting from monologue to dialogue, I now invite your participation. You can reach me at: Before responding, please read Bohm’s paper on dialogue. You can then send in your proprioceptive soundings. Feel free to respond through descriptive prose, paradoxical images, dialogically processed dreams, poetry, or any other conceivable vehicles for proprioception.  When you send a contribution, give it a title and provide your name or initials, unless you wish to remain anonymous (in either case, please identify yourself in your initial e-mail). If you are responding to material that has already been posted, identify it by title.

Let the PD proceed!


[2] Ibid.


[4] Ibid.

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