Deep Listening and Deep Speaking
Mid-winter holiday time is upon us. Perhaps the coming weeks will be marked by “busy-ness” for you: attending holiday gatherings and celebrations, planning your own events, shopping for those special people in your life. In the face of busy times, even as we connect with more people, we can easily lose sight of deep, authentic connections – lifelines – with one another. We may especially miss small threads of connections: a light touch of support, or gentle smiles of approval, or brief words of endearment from others. While missing such outreach from others can happen at any time of the year, our busy-ness as we move into the darkest time of the year may exacerbate our missing connections with others. Many of us may feel like we are living in a metaphorical blizzard, caught up in busy schedules, in frantic responses to get everything done, perhaps while actual blizzards swirl around us as Mother Nature confirms that indeed we have entered the season of cold weather and snow. In these busy days, it is especially important to take time every day to review and affirm our authentic lifelines with others.
In a sermon a few weeks ago I encouraged habits of deep listening as one important means of affirming lifelines with others. Many of you indicated that reminders of the importance of deep listening struck a chord with you. So let’s re-visit the theme of deep listening, here at the start of the darkest and perhaps the busiest month of the year, at this time of increased personal activity as well as heightened stresses and pressures from news around the world. Engaging in intentional practices of deep listening is critical for sustaining threads of human connections. Perhaps you ask, what’s so special about listening? We listen to people all the time, and because we also talk, others must be listening to us. But do we really listen well to one another, do we listen deeply?
What do you understand as ‘deep listening?’ What does it sound like and look like? Even more important, what does it feel like? Do you practice deep listening when you are with others? How does deep listening create threads and lifelines, between two individuals, and among all the individuals who make up a community or a congregation? It takes particular attention to listen deeply. Deep listening means that we give our undivided attention to the speaker. We don’t have other conversations running through our minds at the same time, we aren’t thinking of all the insightful things we’ll say in response to the speaker, and we surely don’t interrupt the speaker. When we listen deeply, we acknowledge that the other person matters, that our connections matter. When we listen to one another, we grant the speaker a sense of voice. By ‘voice’ I mean not only the vocalizing of words, but also the acknowledgment of the existence of another person. Telling someone that they do not have freedom to speak is parallel to denying their reality, their presence, their existence. When we deeply listen, we have no need to assert our own egos. We openly receive and welcome the speaking of another, confirming our lifeline of welcome. It’s fairly easy to tell when someone we are talking to is not deeply listening to us: through their bodily reaction, the words they use in response, the aura they emote that indicates that our words don’t really matter to them.
When my colleague, Rev. Keith Kron, Director of the Transitions Office of the Unitarian Universalist Association, visited UUFD several weeks ago to lead the workshop Beyond Categorical Thinking, one of his parting stories concerned the important message he imparts to ministers during their Start-Up as interims. He promotes the mantra: “More curiosity, less judgement,” a necessary habit critical to effective shared ministry for both ministers and congregants. One of the most powerful habits to encourage curiosity is deep listening. When we listen deeply, we open ourselves to deep wondering, to deep inquiry into learning more about our conversation partner’s stories. This capacity to “turn to wonder” in the face of the words and ideas of another person whom we either don’t understand or don’t agree with, offers us a moment to pause, take a few deep breaths, and ward off possible judgmental responses. Judgment tends to shut down conversations. Wondering and curiosity keeps the conversation open, inviting the building of trust and collaboration, as each conversation partner learns more about the other.
Forecasting some of our shared ministry in the New Year, you in this congregation will have another opportunity to practice deep listening and deep speaking in our spiritual program “Circles of Trust,” based on the work of the Quaker writer Parker Palmer. I plan to offer a four-session “Circles of Trust” series, called “Habits of the Heart,” based on Palmer’s 2011 book Healing the Heart of Democracy, his application of his core spiritual principles to the public arena. Stay tuned for an announcement about time and dates for this next workshop series. Feel free to contact me beforehand if you have questions or would like to know more about “Circles of Trust.”
As we move further into mid-winter’s darkness, may your capacity for both deep listening and deep speaking remain important lifelines in your connections with others: your family, your friends, and members of the UUFD community of liberal faith.
See you at the fellowship!
In faith and joy,