Insight Dialogue is a way of bringing the tranquility and insight attained in meditation directly into your interactions with other people. It’s a practice that involves interacting with a partner in a retreat setting or on your own, as a way of accessing a profound kind of insight. Then, you take that insight on into the grind of everyday human interactions. Gregory Kramer has been teaching the practice (which he originated) for more than a decade in retreats around the world. It’s something strikingly new in the world of Buddhist practice—yet it’s completely grounded in traditional Buddhist teaching.
Kramer begins with a detailed presentation of the central Buddhist teaching of the Four Noble Truths seen through an interpersonal lens. Because dukkha (suffering or unsatisfactoriness) is often most forcefully felt in our relations with others, interpersonal relationships are a wonderfully useful place to practice. He breaks the Noble Truths down into component parts to observe how they manifest particularly in relationship to others, using examples from his own life and practice, as well as from his students’. He then goes on to present the practice as it’s taught in his workshops and retreats. There are a few basic steps to the practice, deceptively simple to describe: (1) pause, (2) relax, (3) open, (4) trust emergence, (5) listen deeply, and (6) speak the truth.
The sequence begins following a period of meditation, and includes periods of speaking, listening, and mutual silence. Kramer includes numerous examples of people’s experience with the practice from his retreats, and shows how the insight gained from the techniques can be brought into real life. More than just testimonials for how well the practice "works," the personal stories demonstrate the problems that arise, the different routes the practice can follow, and the sometimes surprising insights that are gained.
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One of the biggest insights here is that we can achieve just as much calm, compassion and honesty - if not more - meditating with others as we can meditating alone. In fact, we can practice mindfulness in any situation. The compassion and patience we show ourselves reinforces the compassion and patience we show others. Then it comes back to us. Gregory Kramer's book wisely integrates the Buddhist emphasis on non-clinging, on our constant constructs to need things in our lives - pleasure, the desire to be seen and appreciated and the desire to be left alone. Just on the basis of writing style, the book does a nice job of avoiding difficult-to-pronounce, sometimes difficult-to-grasp foreign words and phrases. The seven basic steps of mindfulness described here - pause/relax/open, trust emergence and listen deeply/speak the truth - are therefore easy to understand, can be applied in order, on their own or joined with any other step as applicable to each different situation and person. The author's use of language is beautiful and his calls for honesty and being real to each moment struck a deep chord in my heart. I felt regret, pain, sadness and anger drift into the realm of compassion, to seeing myself in others and their suffering and happiness in me. I begin to feel a deep sense of freedom when the constraints of urgency and expectation don't crowd my thoughts, when my past experiences have less control over how I think or feel about a current moment, which will be more fruitful with spontaneity, humor and gentleness. I throw away images of what my friendships and relationship should be, what my work situation should be, and how the world should be, and see them more for how they actually are. In this acceptance of the world, I can accept my own mistakes, selfishness and fear, and embark on new endeavors. It's hard to not give a book this important five stars. The language is repetitive and many paragraphs too long. This took away a lot of directness and intimacy from reading the book, and would just seem to benefit the literary-type learner vs. someone who may learn from more charts, bullet points and pictures/diagrams. This issue came to a humorous head at the start of the chapter on Speak the Truth when the author writes " ...we don't say what is not useful. There is economy about our speech. We say what is appropriate, not more." Three sentences that say the same thing - be brief! The book also emphasizes the week-long Insight Dialogue retreats a little too much. These are incredibly important endeavors, but the author's incessant mention of them made the book feel a little too much like a commercial and also took valuable space away from having more complete and specific explanations of how to incorporate Insight Dialogue techniques into daily life. On the whole, these are minor complaints. As Gregory Kramer beautifully states in the last chapter, "Simply Human": "Truth is revealed at the kitchen table and in the meditation hall. Special practices, clear awareness, careful attention: these all contribute to our capacity to do our best. So does sharing a meal, asking our children how their day was, and listening to their answers with a heart that knows the world is harrowed with pain and aware that this moment of their reply is nevertheless unique."