Dialog as Artistry

Dialog as Artistry — dialogue, properly done, is a way to open up the truth of ourselves, and to free ourselves from our fears of self and world

In This Moment

Darbella’s away this week, at grade 7 camp. I’m taking time to catch up on reading, and to start a couple of paintings. Trusting she’s not getting too bug-bitten — I know she’s happy — there are kayaks!


We all fear death and question our place in the universe. The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote to the emptiness of existence.” — from Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris”

I mentioned last week that dialogue was essential for figuring ourselves out — dialogue that is at once expressive, grounding, and clear. We’ve suggested that (in Haven-speak) Intimacy Projects are one way of establishing the parameters of such dialogue.

I watched “Midnight in Paris” a month or so ago, and was impressed with the above quote. The movie is about time travel, and the travel is based upon the premise that the “good old days” were “better” than Now. The irony comes when characters go back in time, only to meet people who fervently wish they could go back in time… to the “good OLDER days.”

Now, about the quote.

We’ve talked about angst, about existentialism, and how this fear of death (and fear of meaninglessness) leads to all kinds of games and evasions. My clients, no matter what they think they are talking about, are really simply telling me about how they distract themselves from this reality.

No matter what the proposed issue, the real issue is alienation, despair, fear, and loneliness.


Life really is like what Stephen King describes in his novels — there’s something slightly off, just beneath the surface. We get a whiff of it, and want to escape, or to “succumb to despair.” The other option is to embrace life as it is, and work from there. Often, it is the artist that frames this “antidote,” through writing, painting, whatever.

Here’s the thing: an antidote does not eliminate the root problem — an antidote for snake venom works on a case-by-case basis. It does not eliminate poisonous snakes, nor does it guarantee that no one, or even you, will not be bitten again.

An antidote, then, is something time bound and specific. In Zen, we call this being present for what is right in front of us.

Most prefer the fantasy world of “no snakes.”

To stand strong in the face of the undercurrent of reality takes perseverance and courage. It means, as I often say, putting brush to canvas, and letting the painting out.

A friend, who gets herself in a state over exams, wrote:

Am letting myself feel my fear and continue working, even though I have physical discomfort… didn’t start studying until later today, and am getting away from the guilt I’d normally be experiencing right now for not having started sooner… *Breathing*


Fighting demons right now … feel like I’m running out of time; telling myself shit stuff. … That’s crap.

I managed to avoid my urge to say the obvious: of course shit stuff is crap… 😉

What I did write was:

Nothing worth fighting — especially when studying is more fun than demon creating. It’s not life threatening — it’s just a test.
Perhaps you need a vibrator break… 😛

Now, you might think that was a bit flip.

Perhaps. But also very me. I tend to not bite on the stories, the dramas, and the games we all play (I obviously do most of my work on myself, avoiding getting trapped in my most elegant stories.) I offer Intimacy Projects to anyone who wants to play. In this case, we both know she’s going to make drama about tests (despite being an “A” student.) It’s not that she doesn’t know how to study, it’s that she scares herself. I want her to know that I’m right here, available, and willing to laugh when she scares herself.

Now, you might think THAT was a bit flip.

Perhaps. But also very me.

In a sense, I “get” that I am an artist, and the work I do — my job — is to pull the curtain off of reality. No games, no stories, just the facts. And the facts are that we all fear stuff, the world has it’s dangers, and no one is going to ride to your rescue. There are nut-bars galore all around us, and some of them might even mean us harm. And ultimately, no matter who you are, no one will care who you are and what you did 100 years from now.

So, you might as well stop pretending the world is other than it is, and seek the antidote to the emptiness of existence.




Sort of.

The solution is intimacy, passion, and learning to dance well with others. Not hiding. Not shutting down. Not whining and despairing. Making art out of your life. Because, at base, we are all artists.

There is just as much artistry involved in crafting an elegant dialogue as there is in mixing paint and slapping it on a canvas. Perhaps more, because the canvas seldom talks back. Elegant dialogue is all about learning to express the essence of who you are, clearly, concisely, and with joy.

This as opposed to talking to hear yourself speak, to blame, or to distract.

Dialogue works best as an invitation to share. By digging deeply into my own stuff, and then rigorously speaking only for myself, I bring myself to the dance. To do so, much like with real dancing, both feet show up. In other words, it isn’t intimate dialogue is I’m trying to cover anything up. Intimacy, like the movie title, is about “the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

Intimate conversation is most of all honest.

Which is why it’s done using “I” language. The only thing I can communicate is what is happening to me… in other words, my experience of life and living. In Zen we talk about the world and experience being neutral. This does not mean that bad stuff doesn’t happen. It means that events, externals, are devoid of intrinsic meaning. Events, even horrific ones, have to be dealt with, in some form, by me.

So, I describe my reaction and my response using “I” language.

Each of us responds differently to the ongoing dramas and boredoms of life. I never had problems taking exams, as 2 Masters Degrees demonstrates. My friend above does. So, is the issue that exams are hard, and worthy of a melt-down? Of course not. Exams are exams, and the difficulty I experience with one is all about me.

So, I can simply state that. “Here I am, making a mess for myself, again.”

For most, this doesn’t happen all that often. We don’t want to admit that the muddy hole we’re sitting in was dug by our own mouths, a mouth full at a time. We want to blame, to make it about genetics, or “them.” We want to blame the other party, to blame work, or to blame no work. To simply sit in our hole, shake our head and whine, “Welcome to my pit. I dug it; now, can you dig it?”

Here’s the major problem with life. With 6.5 billion of us, there’s always someone to blame. And if that doesn’t work, we blame ourselves.

Intimate communication is about stating clearly our propensity for hole digging, and then to open the floor for discussions regarding alternatives. The reason we want to do this with a dialogue partner is that we are so good at bull shitting ourselves. We have endless defenses against taking responsibility for our lives, and talking with others can go a long way toward cutting through that.

But we need to be selective about who we dialogue with.


1. If the person you’re talking with is blaming you for his messes, point it out.

See what I just wrote. You are not responsible for the choices of others, and they are not responsible for your choices. 100% true, 100% of the time. There’s no point being in an intimate relationship with someone who has elected you as their favourite target. Invite dialogue, drop blaming yourself, give it 30 days of elegant communication FROM YOUR SIDE, and if the blame game is still happening, walk away.

2. You’re looking for dialogue, not a lecture.

I used to be “bad” about offering Darbella unsolicited advice. She’d stop me pretty quickly. I finally decided to begin asking, “Do you want me to listen, to listen and ask questions, or listen and offer advice?” Guess which one she picks most times?

Yup. Our dialogue is really a sounding board. If I don’t jump in with advice, Dar listens to herself and pretty much comes up with an elegant solution. On those rare occasions when she’s stuck, she asks.

I can’t tell you how many relationships I know that are built on one person (or both of them,) trying to get the other person to change. “This is not how it’s done in my family!” Annoyed that the person they are with is not who they want her to be, the lectures start.

Follow the above pattern. Ask for a 30 day cease-fire.

3. Partial acceptance is no acceptance at all.

I don’t get a vote about which parts of Darbella to accept. For 30 years, I’ve noticed that Dar is Dar, and Wayne is Wayne. I don’t get to pick and choose, and demand she change so I don’t make myself uncomfortable.

One of my clients is in a relationship with a guy who thinks he has his act together. He calls her “Dr. Jekyll, and Mr. Hyde.” He approves of one side of her and castigates her for the other. For a year now, she’s tried to repress the parts he doesn’t like, and oddly, not much changes. He can always find a part of her he doesn’t like.

Clearly, he does this because parts of her make him uncomfortable, and he has no intention on exploring THAT – exploring how he makes himself uncomfortable. He simply demands that she, and the world, do things differently.

Usually, this is lumped together with the “If you loved me you’d take my feelings into consideration.” The unsaid part, “And only do stuff I approve of.” Well, phooey.

We all have stuff we’re working on, and that’s the way it is. This stuff doesn’t go anywhere. We just get better and better at making more elegant choices about what we do. This is NOT about doing it for someone else. Haven’t you noticed, if you try to change in accordance with the demands of another, the list never ends?

Follow the plan, above.

Dialogue is a place for playing around at the edge

Another friend, quite quickly, decided she doesn’t want a typical relationship. She wants several. She likes variety, and she likes sex, and she likes solitude, and work, and just hanging out. (She also likes Bodywork, but that’s another story.) Trying to cram herself into a “typical” relationship isn’t going to work. In dialogue with me and with Dar and me, she’s seen some of the aspects of what she wants, and is now working on finding others to work on it with.

This is what happens in true, artistic dialogue. You get to try out thoughts and behaviours, activities, and growing edges, in an atmosphere that is free of judgement and repression. Once you see the value of this kind of artistry — artistry that laughs in the face of the absurdity of life, you find a dance partner, (or partners) and never stop creating.

We cultivate that in our Intimate Relationships, and teach it to our clients through actually doing it with them.

What do you want to learn about yourself? Are you willing to open up, be honest and vulnerable? Do you want some guidance on how to play this out, or someone to practice with? Look around, be clear, and ask.

And feel free to drop us a line for guidance, encouragement, or practice! We even work on skype!!!

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

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