Building the container in the practice of Bohm Dialogue (IV)

by Marie-Eve Marchand, Ph.D., Montreal Canada, June 2023, Author of The Spirit of Dialogue in a Digital Age (2019)

When I started to practice Bohm dialogue in the 1990’s, many aspects of this way of communicating appeared rather mysterious to me. One of the concepts that I struggled with was “the container”. I had this image of us being trapped together in a sort of shipping container– a rather rigid form that would protect us while keeping us prisoners. That was not an appealing image for me. When I came to understand that the container refers to an invisible structure of values and aspirations, I saw the importance of creating a container that is safe and yet not so safe that all fall asleep in the comfort of a warm place where every idea or way of being is accepted, unchallenged. I also understood that the job of building the container is an on-going process.

A person who joins a dialogue group of the type inspired by David Bohm, has usually some idea of what it is all about through readings and conversations with those who already practice this form of communication. Typically, the method attracts people who have in common some values concerning the importance of listening, of examining assumptions and of speaking one’s truth. Aspiring practitioners tend to share beliefs in the interconnectedness of all beings and in the creative power of a group that meets with respect and authenticity.

Even with such a common base to start with, at the beginning, the container is fragile because it is made of personal representations of these values and of individual preferences regarding their manifestation. These may differ greatly. We rarely disagree on ultimate values but often on values related to how they ought to be embodied. For instance, not all persons have the same sensitivity to their viewpoint being questioned in a group process.

What a person would call authentic, another would call brutal even if both agree that we have to leave our egos at the door when we come to a dialogue. Questions related to intimacy versus “impersonal fellowship” are often revisited as well as the group evolves. 

In a group dialogue that is fully alive, we build the container the best we can with the materials available to our consciousness at different moments. It is never a finished task. As we grow together, we become more and more agile in picking up subtle differences and voice them for examination.

Over the past 20 years, I have trained hundreds of people in the practice of Bohm dialogue and created a number of on-going dialogue groups. I ask those who are interested in the practice to participate in a two-day training session where they learn the essential elements of this type of dialogue. In that learning context, we start practicing dialogue and building the container that will evolve as we ourselves evolve.

Marie-Eve Marchand, Canada: ervaren dialoogbegeleider/trainer op gebied van Bohmiaanse dialoog, leidde veel mensen op, schreef het boek ”The Spirit of Dialogue in a Digital Age”. Het collectief Dialègs heeft haar werk voortgezet, nu ze het rustiger aan doet.