Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.
Watch the turmoil of beings,
but contemplate their return.
Each separate being in the universe
returns to the common source.
Returning to the source is serenity.
If you don’t realize the source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.
When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.
Dao De Jing Chapter 16
I’ve interviewed dozens of people applying for the Monastic Academy. In each call, I go over our informal system of constant, honest feedback. Below, is a long form example of a phone call I might have. It’s much more through and detailed than I normally do. It’s on my mind since we have so many new residents joining us, and I have the discipline role to give the most strict feedback. I’ve probably been involved in or discussed feedback discussions at least ten times in the past week.
Me: “So, there’s a few items I want to check with you. First, we give each other constant feedback. Sometimes, in the monastic setting, the feedback can be very direct. It’s not a discussion, it’s just a correction.
For many new residents, including when me when I started off, this can be really disorienting. Why is this person being so mean? We shift from roommates to practice friends to coworkers in the same day. Usually, these are different people in our lives.
Often, in “polite” society, when you receive this kind of sharp feedback, there’s anger and violence behind the words. But, here, we are just holding you to your highest potential, not one ounce more and not one ounce less. We’re learning how to be assertive without being violent.
We’re having those honest conversations and feedback that roommates, coworkers, and family tip toe around. I know I lived in a lot of houses with wonderful roommates. But, we wouldn’t address underlying tensions like cleaning up your own dishes, and that would cause huge problems down the road. Or, if someone is learning a new skill and doesn’t receive corrections, they’ll acquire bad habits.
Feedback is healthy and good if it’s done without violence. And, we aren’t perfect. We’re still learning. We’re training and learning how to do it with each other. So, we forgive each other and let us the room to learn. Our egos so much want protection, safety, and comfort. We want to believe there’s some perfect system we just need to implement and then everything will be okay. But, that’s not how it really works.
If you don’t give feedback to someone then they’re just left with their perception of things and will continue their bad behavior and habits. Often, we’re scared to give them feedback but it’s actually selfish to hold back a lot of times. Especially spiritual people who tend to care too much that they tolerate being taken advantage of. For example, I don’t want to give feedback because then they’ll be angry at me. Or I might find out I’m actually wrong. Or I don’t want to deal with their reactive emotions. All of that is reasonable. But it’s selfish too if you’re committing to a monastery to transcend and transform ourselves.
And another pattern is witnessing someone else getting hard feedback and then tightening up. The feedback isn’t even directed at you, but you react. The actually receiving person isn’t even bothered, might even be grateful. Know that a lot of times, the feedback is calibrated to the person. I don’t know if everyone does this but I do. Some people I’ve known for over a year, and I know they can handle and want the direct feedback. I don’t do that immediately with new people. Just notice if, like me in the beginning, most of your fears and doubts are around watching others get feedback yet all the feedback you receive is mild.
Finally, ultimately, this is a spiritual path. We aren’t here to master Non-violent Communication or never feel uncomfortable. We run towards discomfort to get past our limitations.
We’re here to train so that we realize that existing nature of unconditional confidence and trust within us that no one or no thing can touch. Not death, not the cold, and definitely not someone’s feedback.
And we come here to become amazing leaders capable of tackling the deepest economic, social, political, and environment injustices in whatever form that shows up for us. The world doesn’t play nice, it doesn’t care about our emotions. We leave our homes and commit to training here so we can be real, so we can show the world a different way of living by our example.
Of course, we care about doing better. Of course, we want better communication. But, we’ve been doing this for years, you aren’t the first one to come up with this.
So, just know you’ll likely be activated by the feedback you see and receive when you first start here. If you witness or receive violence in any shape or form then definitely alert someone. I’m here for you. But, so far in my experience, it’s always just been me overreacting from some deep pattern getting triggered.
Does that make sense?”
At that point, most people say that sounds beautiful and inspiring. I imagine most people think of all the relationships where feedback and communication wasn’t direct, wasn’t open. Always filtered and limited and how many lost opportunities and connections that caused. And, here, we do it for real to whatever extent we are capable and willing to do it.