Profound Understanding

“And suddenly this strange rhythm came to me, as if whispered by some kind of deity. I kept vocalizing it and repeating it to myself, I didn’t quite understand it. Until I wrote it down and analyzed it. It was a 13/8 measure, very atypical and exotic. The music followed: first a basis of stacked fifth intervals, then a melody that evolves into counterpoint and then the confirmation of the idea with the djembe drum.”

“El Entendimiento” is Spanish for The Understanding. At the time of writing this piece of music I was thinking a lot about what it means to communicate well, about how to cultivate profound communication that leads to profound understanding and thus to trust between people. In the context of this article, profound understanding is not about being able to understand complex ideas intellectually, it’s about understanding exactly what the other person is trying to convey. Profound understanding in that sense means alignment of cognition rather than processing complexity. In other words, it’s not about understanding profound topics, it’s about understanding any topic profoundly. It has to do more with empathy between any two subjects and less with academic prowess.

When we communicate we try to share our ideas, as we feel and perceive them inside our heads, we try to share our reality from our unique perspective. Our tool for doing this is language, which is much richer than just words. As Terence McKenna rightly points out, words are just „small mouth noises“ pointing to concepts defined in two different dictionaries (that of the speaker and that of the listener), so they alone are still a very primitive tool to attempt to truly understand and be understood by the other. But luckily, language has many more levels, or what I call „channels“ (i.e. written language, word-choice and language style, the information added by intonation in spoken language, posture or body-language, micro facial expressions, energy of engagement, veracity of intent, etc. are all different channels in order of increasing complexity or informational content). The art of communicating becomes more complete when we are able to integrate all communication channels and when we learn to notice the level of synchronicity among these channels, or how aligned they are while conveying the message.

In this way, good communication is not about how well you think you express or articulate yourself. But rather it’s about how well you are ultimately understood by the interlocutor. In other words, it’s about closing the communication loop completely. We do this when we speak consciously by paying attention if the other person is following and then adapting dynamically, and when we listen consciously by observing and listening to the speaker with great attention, instead of being distracted by thinking what we’re going to say next. The amazing thing is that when communicating profoundly, it becomes increasingly difficult to lie. You see, it’s easy to manipulate the written word, by just replacing one for another, in order to deceive. This is basically what we do when we lie. But deception becomes very difficult when we engage all other communication channels available to us, both as sender or as receiver. By this I mean we learn to understand if the words match what the eyes say and what the whole body says, understanding so if there is a clear, wholesome and unified intention being conveyed, no matter in which direction.

When all communication channels are aligned, your message gets “stamped” with an authenticity seal, so to speak, because as listener I can confirm, consciously and unconsciously, that all aspects of the communication: the words, the way the words are told, the emotions that go along, the expression of the eyes, etc, are on the same „wavelength“. This then leads to a virtuous cycle of engagement-trust that unites the communication parties even further, and which leads to even more profound understanding. When I engage in this way to listen to anyone talk, I begin to understand them a lot better, I begin to pick up nuances that I wouldn’t have picked up if some of the communication channels were missing. And why does this matter? Bad communication ends friendships, ruins marriages, compromises progress at work and even creates dangerous tensions among nations, which can even lead to war. We all want to be understood, we all want to be heard and be ultimately seen fully, be acknowledged and appreciated as individuals. But we don’t trust each other, we don’t even listen to each other properly! And our communication skills and tools are degenerating at an alarming rate.

Nowadays, people seem to prefer to interact only through their cellphones not even speaking, but rather texting snippets of incomplete sentences that are easily and often misinterpreted. Fake news dominate the popular communication platforms. Our modern condition seems to devalue the quality of our communication and interactions, while at the same time providing and promoting the conditions for deception to spread unmonitored. This ends up, sadly, in people wanting to deceive and abuse the other, as if by attacking first we would protect ourselves from the imminent attack of the other. This can only lead to a state of collective fear. Blatant deceit is now worryingly commonplace, even (especially?) at the highest spheres of politics and the economy, as exemplified most freshly by the tone of the 2016 US election, or by the recent automotive diesel-scandal, respectively, to name just a few.

If we were to cultivate profound personal interactions that lead to higher levels of trust among us, we could reverse this negative trend and would be much better off as a civilization. Every person has a fundamental need to be authentic. But before you can open up and be transparent to others, you need to learn to trust them. Have no fear whatsoever and trust that they’ll honor you for who you are and that they will trust you back by being themselves, truthful towards you. Trust is thus the gate that separates the primal psychological realm of fear from that of love. And profound communication can then function as a key that opens that gate.

We humans can only interact among us by communicating. And if we want a peaceful and constructive interaction we better learn to communicate properly! Let us communicate fully, using all of our bodies and all of our souls. This will cultivate trust and open the way for empathy and help us traverse from a collective state of fear and deceit to one of love and Profound Understanding.