Thursday, 8 September 2011

The power of really listening


Usually on a Thursday a post appears here featuring the talk from Wednesdays evening service. Last night we had a shorter evening service, to leave time for a gathering after the formal practice. 

A gathering or stone passing is a chance for each person in the Sangha to speak from their heart, and a chance for us all to really listen to one another.

We set out a circle of chairs in the shrine room, with a single candle in the centre. I was holding the stone and explained what was going to happen. The stone is like a talking stick, when you are holding it you speak, and everyone else listens. You only speak when you are holding the stone. When you have finished speaking you pass the stone on and the next person speaks.

A gathering is a space for personal reflection. It is a powerful process and can be scary to enter into. How often do we really have the full attention of a person, or a group of people?

My experience is that holding the stone forces us to be honest with ourselves: it's good to be listened to. Speaking to a group of people who are really listening can reveal truths about ourselves that we weren't properly aware of previously.

My experience is that it's also really good to be the person listening. We develop empathy, begin to see each other as real people with complex personalities, and are reminded that we all have troubles and we all have joys.  Really listening to someone deepens my relationship with that person, and exposes our shared humanity.

Both speaking and listening can be difficult. We resist change and the unfamiliar, and being honest with ourselves can sometimes provoke change. Listening to others does this too - I hear someone speaking about loss and it reminds me of my own un-dealt with griefs, for example.

One of the themes in yesterday's sharing was how rare this space is. It is rare, and precious too. Can you offer your deep listening to someone? Can you offer your honesty?

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