What is the ultimate meaning of art? Or Can you take “I can’t believe you can be so empty!” as a compliment?

Submitted by berlin on Mon, 02/13/2006 - 19:40.

I was listening to the tape of the Dalai Lama presentation on compassion. Initially the organizers wanted him to do the presentation about emptiness, which is one of the central concepts in Buddhism, but then they decided that it would be a very complicated topic. I spent some time thinking, why it is important to reach emptiness.

The meaning of emptiness became clearer to me after the recent talk with my former theater professor from Russia (I quit theater because it seemed too artificial to me compared with real life). After a long conversation about why I left theater and why he stayed there, he told me that he could not believe how a person could reach this emptiness without theater. I felt very appreciative and thanked him. He was not sure how I understood what he meant and asked if I could explain. I told him: “When we talked, I guess you sensed that in spite of our differences I was capable of connecting at a deeper level where our differences complimented each other. To be able to endure the tension of opposites requires a capacity of empting yourself in order to really hear another person. I guess that’s where you saw the similarity with theater, because in theater the actor aims to reach emptiness in order to channel the different characters”.

Think about the possibility of how much you can embody if you let go of your ego. One person? Two people?  How about the world? Albert Einstein wrote: “To understand the world one must not be worrying about one’s self”. I see art as a tool that allows “not be worrying about one’s self” to happen. Thomas Merton said: “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” Maybe the ultimate goal of art is helping to move from seeing the glimpses of higher self to being in the state of constant connection to higher self.  This means to see the beauty everywhere.  To see the beauty in the sunrise is easy from me, but to do the same with somebody who calls me a loser would be truly artistic expression. Maybe that is what Vincent van Gogh meant when he said “I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people”. And you usually don’t get world recognition for quieting your ego in order to see the beauty in people, especially when they engage in name calling. But would not you call being fully present for others is the greatest gift one person can give to another?

For me, to be an artist means to be able to see through the illusion of separateness: perceiving the difference as opportunity to realize deeper oneness. If you are able to see beyond the tension of opposites instead of resist it you will appreciate that it holds the potential for unlimited possibilities. And I guess this is true whether we talk about art, sex, or physics. Talking about physics, Albert Einstein said: “A person experiences life as something separated form the rest – a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. Our task must be to free ourselves from this self-imposed prison, and through compassion, to find the reality of Oneness”.

I see the art of compassion as a key to freedom from the prison of separateness.   I feel so passionate about it, that sometimes I call myself “Marshall” Artist, because Marshall Rosenberg is the name of the person, who for many years has been teaching people how to see beyond the separateness through compassionate communication.



hi there

my congrats)

I agree - find the reality of Oneness

I've read your posting several times and agree.


I know you are interested to help people understand this better. So explain more about what this means to me... compassionate communication

Thank you for asking the

Thank you for asking the question.

I will try to answer it with a recent example from my life. I attended a workshop on foundations of networking for students and alumni and the recurring theme was about how important is to be sincere. I asked the leader if there is a place where people can learn to stay sincere in a networking situation. He was surprised by my question so I described the struggle I had had when I graduated with my MBA. I was torn between trying to be sincere during my networking and very much wanting a job at the same time. This created an enormous tension within me. About a year and a half ago I found a way of relieving this tension through the Buddhist principle of detaching from the outcome. More concretely, it is hard to be sincere when you know that you want something from another person. To resolve this contradiction: you need to tell the person what is alive in you and then try to find out what is alive in that other person and have the trust  that the answer will appear to address the  needs of both people. From my experience, people need to learn how to develop this trust instead of putting goal oriented pressure on themselves and other people. That is why I want to create some place where people can go to get support with this trust. This is what the process of Compassionate Communication is all about.

If you want to know more, I copied the extract from the Compassionate Communication website: it is also called Nonviolent Communication (NVC). It was named after Gandhi’s philosophy that allowed him to make peaceful change:

Its purpose is to strengthen our ability to inspire compassion from others and to respond compassionately to others and to ourselves. NVC guides us to reframe how we express ourselves and hear others by focusing our consciousness on what we are observing, feeling, needing, and requesting.

We are trained to make careful observations free of evaluation, and to specify behaviors and conditions that are affecting us. We learn to hear our own deeper needs and those of others, and to identify and clearly articulate what we are wanting in a given moment. When we focus on clarifying what is being observed, felt, and needed, rather than on diagnosing and judging, we discover the depth of our own compassion. Through its emphasis on deep listening—to ourselves as well as others—NVC fosters respect, attentiveness and empathy, and engenders a mutual desire to give from the heart. The form is simple, yet powerfully transformative.

While it is taught through the use of a concrete model, and is referred to as “a process of communication” or a “language of compassion,” Nonviolent Communication is more than a process or a language. As our cultural conditioning often leads our attention in directions unlikely to get us what we want, NVC serves as an ongoing reminder to focus our attention on places that have the potential to yield what we are seeking—a flow between ourselves and others based on a mutual giving from the heart.

Founded on language and communication skills that enable us to remain human, even under trying conditions, Nonviolent Communication contains nothing new: all that has been integrated into NVC has been known for centuries. The intent is to remind us about what we already know—about how we humans were meant to relate to one another—and to assist us in living in a way that concretely manifests this knowledge.

The use of NVC does not require that the persons with whom we are communicating be literate in NVC or even motivated to relate to us compassionately. If we stay with the principles of NVC, with the sole intention to give and receive compassionately, and do everything we can to let others know this is our only motive, they will join us in the process and eventually we will be able to respond compassionately to one another. While this may not happen quickly, it is our experience that compassion inevitably blossoms when we stay true to the principles and process of Nonviolent Communication.

Compassion, trust and collaboration

Berlin - this posting fits well with a forum William just posted on collaboration. He starts by observing the importance of dialog and inclusion - I added the need to know and love/trust each other. I'd love your thoughts on this forum - see http://realneo.us/forum/collaboration


It occurs to me what you are interested to do could be positioned to help enable collaboration in new ways that have clear economic development benefits for the community. I've always said one of the services the community should provide area entrepreneurs is psychiatric support - your approach may do the trick. If we can all learn how to work together better through NVC, that will benefit the economy. Let me know what you think.



Appreciative Inquiry by a different name.


 Many participants in tues@REI and in I-OPEN and in Realneo.us and all through the local civic space are driven as Jack Ricciuto and Berlin seem to be by simply wanting to be decent and civil in their interactions with others - without all the scheming, hidden agendas, corruption, and BS which is usual in politics, business, commerce, and modern life in general – just think of all the trick credit card and telephone sign up junk mail everyone gets!


While some look to varieties of religion to hope to find this simplicity and straight forwardness, I believe that participants in the above fora see their time and efforts spent with tues@REI, I-OPEN, Realneo, Brewed Fresh Daily, and a host of other web and real meeting places as a struggle to develop a new GOVERNMENT.   Interestingly, and of critical importance, religion has not been a topic in evidence at these meeting places.


Think about it, most of the discussion among participants at these meeting places concerns topics which have traditionally been the purview and responsibility of government.  That we are having these conversations tells us a few things: 1. we think our government isn’t working to our satisfaction, 2.        we are searching for new models. 


I am convinced that the web will enable improved governing.  En guard!




Building new villages and governments

I love seeing these discussions go beyond how we do things to why, and what works, and what doesn't, and what must change. I think your assessment is excellent. I think of these networks and collaborations as villages, and for a village to be effective it must go beyond the known... we're all human and collaboration is a sharing of human experiences and vulnerabilities, and that is what makes the process personally rewarding. Otherwise, we're talking about work.


Villages have governments ("administration or management of an organization, business, or institution") and the new governments we are forming represent authentic people and their individual and collective interests. People are slipping into new forms of collaborations and governments, and abandoning support of others they once held dear - e.g. religion, neighborhood or country. What is most interesting is the interactions of these governments in NEO - new and old. We need to work on that.

Bringing the discussion to the deeper level

I really liked how Norm said “love seeing these discussions go beyond how we do things to why”, because for me it means bringing the discussion to the deeper level.  Einstein said that the problem cannot be solved on the level it was created. How and where to find this deeper level? There is this saying that the longest journey is from the head to the heart. I believe you cannot go any deeper than the heart. If you take this journey you will reach the level where the answers lie. But who will bother to take this exasperating journey with a lot of ups and downs? Probably, someone who is really determined to find answers and to make life better for oneself and others.

Gandhi said that words have power when they are coming from the heart”. So, what is all this heart business, what does it mean in more concrete terms? The way I understand it:  to influence other people with your idea you need to go deep inside yourself and say why this idea is so important to you. For example, when I hear: “Let’s promote art because everybody knows that art makes life better”, it does not sound to me like coming from the heart. However, I feel connection to the heart when I hear: “I feel alone and isolated very often and art helps me to feel as a part of something larger, I want to share art experience with people with hope that it will help to overcome loneliness for them also”.

Carl Rogers said that the most personal things are the most universal. Can you believe it? It means to me that if I share why things are important to me, it will create common ground with other people, because heart focuses on unity while head separates and focuses on the differences. Is it great or what? Then why not to speak more from the heart? Because it is easier said that done.  It takes courage to be open and vulnerable because you can run the risk of being misunderstood by people who don’t dare to go to the heart level. And I can really appreciate the struggle from both sides. That is why I want to create a space where people, who dare to speak from the heart, can get support and this is the reason that I am so exited about Compassionate Communication, because it is the tool that can help bring the discussions on the deeper level. Level of love? I see love as a two way process. To tell openly what is alive in you and to be vulnerable is just one part of the process. Another part is to be able to listen to people with empathy even if they criticize you or doing something which is not in harmony with your values. That is why love is heavy duty staff for me and taught me to appreciate silence, because sometimes I want to say something, but I am not sure if I am able to empathize with another person when she or he responds from the head. Actually, it is not so bad with people who are not very close to you. I heard that Ram Dass said that if you want to check how enlightened you are, go and spend a week with your parents.