Contemplative Listening: Attuning to Another

Contemplative Listening: Attuning to Another

Discussion date: Thu, Feb 15, 2018 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

“Listening is more than being quiet while the other person speaks until you can say what you want to say.”
– Krista Tippett

Dear Still Water Friends,

In her book, Being Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, professional “listener” Krista Tippett writes about “generous listening.”  This is listening that has at its core a deep respect for another’s experience. It calls for curiosity and vulnerability, “a willingness to be surprised, to let go of assumptions and take in ambiguity.” It asks the listener “to understand the humanity behind the words.”

It is an intimate undertaking, to listen in this way – to listen with another to their meaning and truth, rather than simply to another for how the conversation can meet our needs. It is the kind of listening we do if we want to be a companion to another in their inner explorations. Listening in this way becomes an act of attunement, much like sitting in meditation, relaxing back and opening to the ambient sounds in the room with curiosity, not interpretation. In this way, deep listening is a contemplative practice for me, a way of loosening the hold of my ideas and concepts and entering into another’s understanding to serve their clarity and discernment. In deep listening, I am asked to listen for another’s inner experience with my own inwardness.

When I can listen generously, how I respond to another shifts from offering answers to asking better questions. Questions that, as Tippett writes, “invite honesty, dignity and revelation.” I move from giving help or comfort to noticing and appreciating. This is as daunting to me as walking a path I do not know without a trail guide or sense of direction. I scramble, I get lost, and sometimes there is a clearing where I meet the unfolding life before me as a fellow traveler, with simple wonder.

This Thursday, we will explore what it means to listen “generously” to another. We will practice this together, joining in pairs to share around our response to a short poem by David Whyte (provided below). We will respond to each other in a way that expresses what we noticed or appreciated and inviting the other to tell us more about some aspect of what they have shared. From this experience we can explore these questions: How do we know when we are deeply listening? How do we respond in ways that promote deeper awareness and connection?

Below is a reading from Rachel Naomi Remen to help in our exploration.


Ann Kline

Just Listen
Rachel Naomi Remen, from Kitchen Table Wisdom

I suspect that the most basic and powerful way to connect with another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention. And especially if it is given from the heart. When people are talking, there’s no need to do anything but receive them. Just take them in. Listen to what they’re saying. Care about it. Most times caring about it is even more important than understanding it. …

I have even learned to respond to someone crying by just listening. In the old days I used to reach for the tissues, until I realized that passing a person a tissue may be just another way to shut them down, to take them out of their experience of sadness and grief. Now I just listen When they have cried all they need to cry, they find me there with them.

by David Whyte, from Where Many Rivers Meet

Enough. These few words are enough.

If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to life
we have refused
again and again
until now.

Until now.



in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Feb 15, 2018


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