During the 35 years I was an active member of an India-based spiritual organization, Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), I observed a lot of unnatural behavior.
I did this myself, though not to the degree that I observed in many others. They would put on what they thought was a virtuous demeanor, though from what I could see, it just looked fake, artificial, pretentious.
The RSSB teachings decried the "five deadly sins" of lust, anger, greed, attachment, and egotism. So some members of the group took this to mean that they should look as if they had overcome these supposed character defects, even if in reality they still possessed them.
I came to feel that I'd rather be in the presence of an honest sinner than a hypocritical saint.
It was aggravating to talk with someone who wasn't really there, because their mind was split between attending to our conversation and monitoring whether they were coming across as the exemplary RSSB disciple that they wanted others to see them as.
Today I read the Communication chapter in Shunryu Suzuki's book, "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind." It was a breath of natural fresh air, compared to the often artificial atmosphere I experienced at RSSB gatherings.
Here's excerpts from the chapter.
When you listen to someone, you should give up all your preconceived ideas and your subjective opinions; you should just listen to him, just observe what his way is.
We put very little emphasis on right and wrong or good and bad. We just see things as they are with him, and accept them. This is how we communicate with each other.
Usually when you listen to some statement, you hear it as a kind of echo of yourself. You are actually listening to your own opinion. If it agrees with your opinion, you may accept it, but if it does not, you will reject it or you may not really hear it.
...A mind full of preconceived ideas, subjective intentions, or habits is not open to things as they are. That is why we practice zazen [meditation]: to clear our mind of what is related to something else.
To be quite natural to ourselves, and also to follow what others say or do in the most appropriate way, is quite difficult. If we try to adjust ourselves intentionally in some way, it is impossible to be natural. If you try to adjust yourself in a certain way, you will lose yourself.
So without any intentional, fancy way of adjusting yourself, to express yourself freely as you are is the most important thing to make yourself happy, and to make others happy. You will acquire this kind of ability by practicing zazen.
Zen is not some fancy, special art of living. Our teaching is just to live, always in reality, in its exact sense.
...So we should be concentrated with our full mind and body on what we do; and we should be faithful, subjectively and objectively, to ourselves, and especially to our feelings.
Even when you do not feel so well, it is better to express how you feel without any particular attachment or intention.
So you may say, "Oh, I am sorry, I do not feel well." That is enough. You should not say, "You made me so!" That is too much. You may say, "Oh, I am sorry, I am so angry with you." There is no need to say that you are not angry when you are angry.
You should just say, "I am angry." That is enough. True communication depends upon our being straightforward with one another.