What plants teach us about communication

Physician, Assistant Professor of Cardiology at The University of Tokyo Hospital, M.D / True Colors ACADEMY “How To Use The Body” lecturer

Toshiro Inaba

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August 11, 2020

Whether it’s the universe, nature, or the human body, every existence depends on its being as a “whole.” In order to make the “whole” take form, things have been divided into numerous parts. For example at workplaces, we try to accomplish the whole work by dividing it into various types of businesses and professions since we can’t do everything by ourselves. And the separation of powers was also one of the ways of wisdom and ingenuity to establish democracy by dividing it into three elements. However, nowadays, there are so many parts that I think we’re having trouble understanding the relationship between the parts and the whole, including the relationship between each part, the reason to dividing the parts, the original wholeness, and the connection between each part. It’s the same with the relationship between “myself” and “others.” There are “myself” and “others” as parts of human society, and “I” can’t even get food without the relationship with “others” in the first place.

To regain that lost relationship, you can’t just sit around and wait for it to happen. You need to be the one who goes out and connects with the relationship. It’ll take just a small commitment, such as taking a slight interest in others, nature, and the surrounding, or by trying to get involved in some way. My participation at True Colors ACADEMY was also motivated by the sense of crisis, that medicine seems to be separated from society as a whole and that medicine has become too distant from our daily lives and living activities. As a physician, I hoped that my taking part would create new relationships with society.
Communicating with others is all too common, but no one has ever been taught properly and many are just imitating what they’ve seen. When we do this, we may be reinforcing the wrong way of communication. The important thing in communication is to respect the other person, to acknowledge that they have their own agenda and theme just like you have yours. I guess in Adler’s words, the separation of tasks. Acknowledging our differences leads to respecting the other person, which starts from respecting ourselves that eventually spreads to the other person. I think this is a prerequisite for a good relationship with others. We’re not all riding the same wave. Each of us is riding the waves of our own lives, and at the intersection of these various waves, encounters will occur. At these intersections of life, resonance is bound to happen, but we don’t continue to ride the same wave and are carried on with our own waves of life. That’s why meeting others is amusing, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime encounter. It’s not respectful of someone to drag the other person out of their comfort zone. I think it’s important to acknowledge and respect that every life is connected to their individual past.

I used waves as a metaphor for encounters, but to begin with, the natural world is full of such once-in-a-lifetime encounters. Take a forest for an example; there are tall trees, low trees, bushes, grasses, the ground, and all sorts of ecosystems existing according to the amount of sunlight, and they establish the forest as a whole. Another example; the four seasons which has a series of subtle deviations and fine phases that are connected in succession, which in Japan is called “Niju-shi Sekki” ― 24 divisions of the solar year to denote the changing seasons ― and each division has a haiku that describes the unique time of year. Bamboo flowers are known to bloom and die all at once in a cyclical manner and Madake, a species of bamboo, is said to have a cycle of about 120 years. There are many other species of bamboo flowers which cycles are not identified. Each flowering cycle is different and there isn’t hyponymy or superiority to it. It’s like they each live in their own unique time. The natural world is where these different organisms co-exist and resonate with each other. I believe that we can learn much more, much deeper things from nature.

The trees and flowers outside aren’t the only nature. Even our bodies are nature that’s within. If you close your eyes, doesn’t the boundary between you and the outside world become blurred? As we did in the “True Colors ACADEMY” workshop, when we close our eyes, forget our bodies, and become the mind alone, it’s not bizarre to feel connected to the micro-world and the macro-world, or even to the farthest reaches of the universe in the extreme. Since we’re influenced by our vision, we tend to perceive the relationship between ourselves and others in terms of what we can see, but I think it’s important for us to rethink how we can form new relationships in the wider and deeper world.
I believe medical science is also a way for us to feel this concept directly with our bodies, not just through logic. I hope we’ll have more opportunities to experience this feeling.

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True Colors ACADEMY “How To Use The Body”

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