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. Rather than listen to connect deeply with the experience of another, we listen to reply. Rather than listen with undivided attention, we are often thinking of what we are going to say next.
As a matter of habit, we automatically analyze, compare, judge, often immediately relating it to an associated personal experience. On automatic pilot, we seek to advise, counsel, or otherwise react without a deep awareness of what is really going on -- either inside ourselves or the other person. As a result, whole realms of emotional and intuitive energies remain beneath the level of our awareness. Rather than really connect, we often end up bouncing of one another.
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.
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, like/dislike, 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 oppression of most of humanity by the power of the nobility and the church. Our very language reinforces this pattern. The way most of us have learned to habitually react to the world enhances our patterns of control, not of compassion. The language we think in, and communicate with, 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
Yet, we can use our thinking mind to move beyond itself. Analytical meditation can help us
explore the patterns of thought, assumptions, and belief structures that so often dominate our experience and give us a deeper awareness of ourselves -- and of reality itself. (Tibetan Buddhist monks are taught how to debate logically as children.)
Over the years, I've found Nonviolent Communication to be a modern and very useful form of analytical meditation.
NVC encourages us to adopt a way of looking at things that propels us toward a deeper understanding of what motivates ourselves and others. It encourages us to be more deeply mindful of what we are feeling, and connects us with a 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 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, we can be more fully Present to one another with an open heart and a 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.
The Price? Although the charge for this year long course is YOU choose!