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The art of communication

The Huichol Indians have a beautiful ceremony to restore harmony into their
community. Every year, all of the members of the tribe come together. They
form a circle and build a bonfire in the center. Then, one by one, they go
around the circle, facing each community member. The one going around the
circle tells the one who he is facing all of the wrongs that he caused him
during that year. The other one listens in silence.

For each wrong brought into the open, the healer of the tribe makes a knot
on a rope. The ceremony is complete when the last member completes his
circle. Then, all of them take the rope and throw it to the fire. With the
sunrise, a new day begins. Each heart is clean; the whole community is
renewed.

The process of community-building is a challenge to anyone working with
others, for it not only requires an ongoing awareness of the inner-world,
but also openness and vulnerability to others. And yet, it is in this
relation to others that one finds communion, the answer to humanity's
primordial longing -- for we are beings of community, and it is in the
process of building community that we also unfold our true selves.

Communication is at the center of community-building. Without
communication, there is no community.

For us to communicate, we first of all must be "present." If we are not
present in the process of communication all interaction is frivolous. In
the talking circle of American Indians, special emphasis is placed in
speaking from the heart. It is not about who is in control, or who is right
or wrong. It is a matter of honesty, of being present.

Our elders tell us that who we are is far more important than what we do.

By this they mean that in the ever-changing nature of life, what we do goes
on changing while who we are remains the same. Therefore, if you lost your
job, if you do not have the social or financial power that you once had,
such change in status has no bearing in our relation. The skills that you
have developed are with you. They go wherever you go.

It may happen that you took a job elsewhere. You are no longer in the
clinic, or the school. Still, community members come to see you and ask for
your expertise, for your expertise did not stop when you left. It is still
there with you.

Throughout the years I have seen people lose their jobs. It is amazing the
wide range of responses to this challenge. Farmworkers get in their cars,
pack up and hit the road. In contrast, I have seen many wealthy young men
from Silicon Valley, become depressed, contemplating suicide, when their
organization was downsized. For them, what they did was the center of their
being and when they lost their job, their whole sense of self was
shattered.

In a changing world it makes sense to develop an inner sense of self,
rather than one based on external factors or circumstances, for, as the
popular saying goes, "change is the only constant in life."

Indian wisdom tells us that the spirit that we bring to our activity is
more important than the activity itself. It is our energy in the way of
intention and attitude that infuse our activities with power. Money is
basically an amplifier. It gives us the opportunity to do more of what we
are doing. If what we are doing is meaningful, the money will serve this
meaning. But if what we are doing is useless, or unsubstantial, then no
amount of money will bring meaning to our work.

Our elders have told us that our spirit is essential for
community-building, and no amount of money can compensate for its absence.

Since we are not just a mind, but also a body, a heart and a soul, all of
these dimensions of our being will be affected in our life and in our work.
To build community, I must bring all of my being into the process. Much
dissatisfaction and misery is born out of denying the self in modern
organizations, of denying our hearts while working, of going against our
consciousness as we make a living.

There is no soul-nurturing in unhealthy organizations. They suck your
energy and constantly deprive you of your being. It is the opposite of
self-realization: it is self-destruction.

In community-building, your life is enhanced. You are constantly growing as
a person. Your life has meaning.

You can see how you are of service to others, how their lives are better
because you are part of them. You are not in isolation. You have a place in
the circle of life.

The good that you do generates a feeling of well-being. And your openness
to the world of others, to their suffering and pain, moves you to
compassion and to pledge your life to theirs.

It is clear that community-building is constantly taking you beyond your
own self. This awareness and caring toward others prevents serious mental
health complications that have plagued many modern individuals who cannot
get out of their self.

In our process of community building, we know that each participant is a
being of experience. No one knows everything, and no one ignores
everything. We can therefore learn from each other. Now, if we want to have
the benefit of experience, then we are going to do our best to make sense
out of it, to learn from it.

The ancient Aztecs referred to the spoken word as nahuatl, or "spirit."
They believed that our power to communicate was a loan from the spirit.
Like the air that sustains our body, our communication with each other
sustains our community. Each and every one of us can be a sustainer or a
destroyer of our community. It depends on the way we choose to use our
word.

And here is our main task: to use our word for growth, life, and
community-making.

Roberto Dansie is a clinical psychologist. This year he was awarded the
Humanitarian of the Year award from the International Center for
Psychosocial Trauma at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of
Medicine and in 1997 he received the golden medallion from the National
Indian Health Board for his contributions to health in Indian country. He
lives in northern California and his Web site is www.roberto-dansie.com.