Beans in our Ears
Most of us have learned the prevailing form of listening in our society. Much of the time we don't really listen. We listen, not to connect deeply with and understand the experience of another, but to reply. Oftentimes, rather than listen deeply, we are thinking of what we are going to say next.
Seeing Our Way Clear
With Practice, we can approach our interpersonal experiences with the same sense of curiosity and wonder that we may find ourselves doing on the meditation cushion in our Sitting Practice.
As Thom Bond, Director of the New York Center for Nonviolent Communication, has written in The Compassion Course, an on-line year long training, "Empathy is the exploration of our human experience... our feelings... our needs... our life energy trying to emerge and guide us. It is the mindful questioning, the wondering and the genuine curiosity about what we or someone else is going through." Empathy is being Present with an Open Heart and Clear Mind, Mindful of the entire gamut of our experience and that of another being.
Oftentimes, what prevents us from being Present in this way are the habitual patterns of thought and feeling that emerge in reaction to what we are experiencing as another person is speaking. In particular, Judgement Mind, that cluster of thoughts and feelings that stem from an our strong views about right/wrong, good/bad, valued/worthless, often dominate our awareness to stifle the kindness and compassion that will naturally emerge when we are truly there for someone. (See Your Courtesy Wake Up Call: Judgment Day).
As Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of the worldwide Nonviolent Communication (NVC) movement pointed out, this judgement mind is actually embedded deeply in the language we use. Our language developed in a world that was based on the authoritarian suppression of most of humanity by the power of the nobility and the church. Our very language reinforces this pattern, and the way most of us have learned to habitually react to the world enhances patterns of control, not of compassion. It is the language we think in and use to communicate with others. It disconnects us from our own feelings and those of others, and prevents a deeper clarity about what human needs are fueling our behaviors and that of others.
Thinking it Through
Unlike Zen and other schools of Buddhism, in the Tibetan tradition, the Practice of analytical meditation is highly valued. As children, young monks are taught to engage in philosophical exploration and debate. Seen as an important tool in the development of Right View, analytical meditation is a practice that involves a deep examination of our own thoughts. Using the logic reason of the discursive mind to explore the patterns of thought, assumptions, and belief structures that often dominate our experience, we can gain a deeper awareness ourselves -- and of reality itself.
Over the years, I've found NVC a be a modern and very useful form of analytical meditation. It encourages us to adopt a way of looking at things that propels us toward a deeper understanding of what motivates ourselves and others, encourages us to be more deeply mindful of what we are feeling, and connects us with deeper compassion. It also propels us to a deeper examination of what ourselves and others may actually want, moment to moment, to enhance our lives. In combination with a mindfulness practice that allows us to be more fully present, moment to moment, to our emotions and feelings and to those of others throughout the day, NVC can be transformational.
Putting it All Together
Being Mindful, with some attention to our body and breath, listening deeply with all of our senses, opening to the emotional energies and intuitions that emerge beneath our habitual thoughts, through choosing to view reality differently, we can be more fully Present to one another with an Open Heart and an Clear Mind.
This, of course, isn't easy. It calls for commitment, effort, and patience -- with ourselves and others. With Ceaseless Practice, we can cultivate empathy and compassion, and respond to our world in a way that enhances our Connection to one another and to our True Nature.
Ultimately, with Practice, we find that this Connection is no more, and no less than, the Heart of Reality.
Presented as 52 weekly lessons, with weekly exercises and the support of on-line forums, a Facebook group, and monthly interactive call-in sessions with the trainers, it is a wonderful support for anyone wishing to cultivate their capacity for greater self-awareness and compassionate communication.
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