Listening to one another with compassion

1 Meditation = accepting all your experiencing

2 Listening = checking your understandings

3 Compassion = kindness, understanding and tenderness

What is meditation?

“Meditation is awareness without judgment in the whole of your life”.

Meditation has nothing to do with sitting, nothing to do with specific forms of practice. These we might call “meditative practices”.

The most important meditative practices are three:

(1) Mindfulness of actions.
In each thing you do, try not to be in two places at once.
Bring your mind to bear on what you are doing.

(2) Mindfulness of emotions.
When faced with a difficult or painful feeling:
“Look it in the eyes, as I am looking at you now”.

(3) Meditative Listening.
When dealing with other people,
aim to see the world from the other person’s point of view.

Listening is to hear other people with compassion and acceptance, to receive them with empathy.

You can seldom be sure that your empathy is on track, unless you say back the essence of each thing that other people say, allowing them to sense inwardly and to correct you by reference to what comes from the inward place.

Acceptance is to let others have their experience. You do not clutch at the experiences that a person likes. You do not deny those that are painful. Acceptance does not condemn or judge. It does not set out to fix anything. It allows everything to be as it is and to change when it changes.

(Suppose somebody is afraid and ashamed of fear. Then you accept the fear, you accept the shame, and you accept the voice which says, “You ought to be more accepting”.)

Everything that comes in experiencing is held in a vast acceptance like the sky, bigger than all feelings, than all particular experiences.

Empathy is to enter the other person’s world “as if you were that person, but without ever losing the as-if”.

Empathy is to allow people to find their own way: “We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.”

Compassion is a form of understanding. It is not about drowning in the other’s emotions. It is calm, tender and peaceful. It is very kind and loving.

Compassion sees people clutching at good feelings, sharply pushing away bad feelings. It sees people creating intense suffering for themselves.
Compassion and acceptance are conveyed in the background of listening.

Neither compassion nor acceptance can be faked or synthesised. They have to be real, to be an expression of your humanity.

Humanity is your whole experience of life, working in your listening. You are not hidden behind a screen but fully present, alive and responding with all your heart, all your intelligence, all your awareness: aware of your feelings as you listen, letting your feelings show through your listening, and sometimes naming them.

Notice how listening helps the other person.

Listening is awareness without judgement, friendship without control. Listening invites other people to accept themselves, to accept their own lives. It dissolves rejection of self, rejection of others, rejection of life and experiencing. Listening lets other people direct their own lives.

Notice how listening helps the relationship.

Listening builds mutual trust and understanding. Listening dissolves anxiety. It dissolves fear of our feelings, fear of one another, and fear of life. It brings a sense of belonging, a sense of community. Listening is about love.

Notice how listening helps you.

Listening is a spiritual path in its own right. Listening dissolves the isolated self. It brings you into community with other people. Listening opens the gates of compassion. It leads to the spiritual turn. The ordinary person says, “What is in it for me?” After making the spiritual turn, one says, “How can I help you?” There is a fundamental change in motivation.

This is Meditative Listening.


Teaching focusing-and-listening to a Muslim

As always, it is both. I must listen to the students about what they feel they need to learn; and I must listen to myself. We have to reach a place of unity with one another about the process of learning together.

The students need space to reflect on their journey. They need to find ways to bring the different strands of training into some kind of harmony.

And the usual questions come. Are they ready to teach focusing-and-listening? Are they more confident when I am out of hearing? Does my confidence in them put wind in their sails?

And especially with these students: How much are they still in the shadow of a traumatic past?

The Islamic tradition has a lot of the teacher talking and the students listening patiently. When it works, the teacher is continuously feeling the mood and responses of the students, and comes to have a deep knowledge of their inner states and motivations. So there is a surface and an undertow.

I imagine that in a fractured culture, one might learn to imitate the surface and have no intuitive feeling for the undertow.

I really want to fight this word, “reflective”. It suggests that one says things back to have some effect on the focuser. But I say things back to check whether I have understood.

And while doing this, other things are conveyed: tenderness and affection, on the one hand; and my own being and shifting moods, on the other.

How Muslim are these Muslims, I wonder? (It sounds like a koan.) If they understand the tradition, then it would make sense to ask them about the Istikhara prayer, which I often mention to focusers with Islamic connections. In that way, focusing belongs in the heart of traditional Muslim practice.

If not, then some other bridge has to be made. Focusing isn’t something you do to people. It is something you do for yourself, with which other people are then infected, because it is contagious.

Our students have to find some way to embed focusing-and-listening in the mainstream of their culture, which means, in the felt life that was laid down in early childhood and in the social world to which they now give their considered allegiances.


Remembering Akong


Akong is murdered. Of all people. It is hard to take it in.

I met Chöje Akong Tulku Rinpoche on a number of occasions.

I recall him saying, “Do you help with our soup-kitchens?”

I recall him saying, “Meditation has nothing to do with sitting. Meditation is awareness without judgement in the whole of your life”.

I recall him saying, “There may be another view and I may be wrong”.

I recall him saying, “When you experience a difficult emotion, you must look it in the eyes, as I am looking at you now”.

As I looked into his eyes, something changed in my heart.

I was deeply moved by Akong Rinpoche’s kindness and compassion, his wise simplicity, his astonishing stability and quietness of heart.

To talk with him was like talking with a tree. One felt a great stability as if no storm could uproot him. It feels a bitter blow that he is gone.

At the same time, one knows that Akong would not have lost his balance. He would have looked into the situation calmly and kindly , ready “to offer help where help is needed”.

Akong, I love you.

I asked Akong whether teaching the piano was harmful, whether it was part of a culture of distraction, display and competition, whether the arts distract us from the spiritual life. It is an old worry amongst people of many religions and I was feeling uneasy. I don’t quite know what I said. He put my mind at rest with a few encouraging, clear-sighted words.

When I felt very much discouraged about teaching focusing-and-listening, I went to see Akong Rinpoche. I did not know how to describe it to him and would have felt ashamed to use words less simple than his own.

I said, “I teach people to listen to one another with compassion”.

I said that it was not going well and perhaps not doing any good. I said I might give the work up.

He said, “This is good work. You will go on”.

I trusted the Akong Rinpoche. He didn’t mention Buddhism to me or karma or any of that stuff. I don’t think it’s of the essence. I don’t know that he thought so either.

What did Akong see as the essence?

I think three things:

1 to be continually aware of your present experiencing without either clutching at it or pushing it away; and

2 in the light of what that awareness teaches you: to be kind, gentle and understanding with everybody, no matter who they are, including any being that can feel pain, and including yourself; and

3 to bring help where help is needed.

These simple principles are very hard to live (and very easy). Still, they seem better than distraction, on the one hand, or bitterness, on the other.

There is some sense in which the heart is self-healing and needs only awareness and kindness to heal.

Or I seem to have found it so. But then, as I heard Akong say, “There may be another view and I may be wrong”.


How to govern a diverse, widespread community

This is an open letter to my friend, Josiah, about one possible form of government for the focusing community. There might be many possible forms, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. I suggest a way to think about diversity of language and practice.

Dear Josiah,
You say that the focusing community is “truly international”. “Truly international” is an odd phrase and not at all clear. I think you mean that we are international: we are present in many countries and languages. And we are not international: our business is conducted in English by English-speakers. And we agree that this is not good.

​Yes, I think that reflection on Quaker governmental structures would suggest good ways in which our institute and our community might be structured: ways that would open our conversations to people in other places and speaking other languages, and ways that would make it possible to realise the elusive ideal of unity-in-diversity.

I did not mean to imply that Quakers ​have no way to make quick​ decisions. Since the seventeenth century, the day-to-day running of the Quakers in Britain has been in the hands of Meeting for Sufferings, who have been under the oversight of Yearly Meeting, but have had considerable executive freedom. Meeting for Sufferings has often made very rapid responses when these have been needed.

The tradition of Quakers is that there are many “yearly meetings”. The international and central level, though strong, is not a governing level. This seems a good model for us because it means that there can be many “yearly meetings”, each with its own traditions and perspectives. By keeping government at a non-central level, Quakers have safeguarded diversity of practice. I would like us to do the same.

​Yes, our institute needs quick decisions​ now​. ​I believe that we all agree upon that. There needs to be some sort of interim administration. I am not sure how such an administration should be formed, but I guess the responsibility belongs to Gene Gendlin alone.

​Your mention of Quaker​ businesses is puzzling. None of these was run by a “yearly meeting”. They are just businesses that happen to be run by Quakers. If I were to open a chocolate shop, I should not expect The Focusing Institute to interfere in my commercial decisions.

But I think your point is simply that businesses need to be capable of quick responses. On that we agree, of course, and there is no doubt that Quaker administration has been able to give quick and energetic responses (originally in trying to protect individual Quakers from intense persecution by governments in Britain and North America).

​I too have no worry about our Co-ordinators. We have seized all the rich opportunities presented by the freedom which Gene has so patiently protected.

I would be full of regret if some coterie of business people with no lived experience of our traditions were to be brought in at the top. I fear that a business mindset would follow, and that the freedoms and liberties that we value so much would disappear extremely quickly.

My suggestion is that we could have quite a large number of essentially independent “yearly meetings”, each one self-governing.

Above them we could have some kind of international non-governing body (like the Quaker’s “World Committee for Consultation”).

So perhaps (for example) there might be a “children’s focusing yearly meeting”, an “inner relationship focusing yearly meeting”, a “French-language speakers’ yearly meeting”, a “mainland China yearly meeting”. Because these bodies would be local and speak local languages (in many cases) or be specialist and bring together different focusing streams (in other cases) they might answer many of our problems.

There would be (1) diversity of languages;​ (2) diversity of practice;​ (3) ​individual freedom to belong to different schools of practice​; (4) individual freedom to set up a new “yearly meeting”​;​ and so forth.

​I am happy to hear of your experience at the Philadelphia​ ​Quaker meeting and to learn that you too believe it would make sense to ​make a Focusing​-Quaker crossing​ for organizing our stuff.

​As for your questions:

1 How does a Quaker approach work over the internet?

​Yes, our diaspora is a central and lovely characteristic of ​our community. ​In the British Focusing Teachers’ Association ​we have made many decisions (even thorny ones) using the internet.

2 English speaking is excluding most of the world at The Focusing Institute.

​I am not sure what the question is here. I guess it is: “What to do?”

I am strongly committed to people meeting face-to-face, so my instinct would be to have the kind of diverse, broken-up structure that I have outlined above. Amongst other things, this would mean that a person could choose to belong to a group of native-language speakers. Or to start one.

I don’t believe that the internet can replace meeting face-to-face. Nor do my business friends. My friend is sometimes flown from Scotland to Korea for a one or two hour meeting, so that she can be face-to-face with the other people.

Yes, I am committed to an international form of governmental process for the focusing world which works for all our people (Co-ordinators and others). You can relax.

And yes, the more things can be dealt with by local people meeting “in their huts”, the happier I shall be.

The biggest threat to us at the moment is the threat of sudden centralisation in the hands of people who know zilch about focusing-and-listening, and even less (though that seems hardly possible) about governance.

At moments, it seems that some of us want that, but I am sure we don’t. The delicate and diverse web of free practice that has spread focusing all over the world is a deeply precious and beautiful thing.

Now, I worked through your points line by line. I enjoyed them. I hope I now sound less vague. I hope I still sound friendly, to you and all our people.

​With love,



A company or a circle of friends?

We have a Board?

This isn’t satisfactory. Where did the Board come from? Were they delivered on lotus leaves by the angels?

It matters how a government is chosen, as well as how it goes once it has met. I never doubted that our Board was distinguished by patient mutual listening. I never doubted that the meetings were intelligent, compassionate, liberal and full of mutual empathy. Yet so long as we live in the lotus-leaf phase of government, almost everybody is powerless and disenfranchised.

Here is the famous passage by John Dalberg Acton:

I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.

The presumption must always be against the holders of power. This means (amongst other things) that a Board which is delivered on lotus leaves by angels with golden wings must be presumed to be unsafe. If board-government is to be the way (and even the Quakers have Meeting for Sufferings), we need a way to choose a Board that lets people have a significant voice.

For a longer discussion by Acton, you might go to:

Elections are better than oligarchy; and it seems to me that Quaker process is better than either. One might imagine that Quaker process is slow. And yet, how often the Quakers have been ready to act years or even generations before the ambient culture.

On democracy, on the place of women, on freedom of speech, on peace, on regulation of prices, on reform of process in the courts, on good practice in banking, on the abolition of slavery, on prison reform, on individual freedom to initiate innovative projects, and on many other issues, the slow Quaker consensual process has run far ahead of the crowd.

The usual kind of Board is a side-growth from an entrepreneurial business culture. It tends to be power-driven, money-driven, status-driven, oligarchic, anti-democratic and static.

Roughly speaking, the usual Board uses elections to get a mandate for an influential few; brings money under the control of those few; gives those few central prominence within the organisation; enables them to use that prominence to establish themselves as people of status in contexts outside the organisation; enables them to make money out of that status; gathers power into a few hands; enables them to control the democratic process; and is governed (as all closed systems tend to be) by a drift towards static self-preservation and the personal interest of the Board members.

There are outstanding Boards, but the structure is inherently a bad one. We can do better.

I would like our community to build a way of working that is broadly Quaker in inspiration; because a historical analysis strongly suggests that consensual working is effective, innovative, diverse and egalitarian; and because these are qualities that I value.

This kind of working needs good constitutional arrangements. It also needs understanding, so that an ethos can grow up. The development of the ethos is the tricky part.


Empathy is the Essence of our Humanity


Everybody needs empathy.

Everybody needs to receive empathy from others.
Everybody needs self-empathy.
Everybody needs to offer empathy to others.

Without empathy, we are nothing.

Our practice, then, must be quite simple – as simple as possible. All we have to do is sit down quietly and listen to our feelings. There is no practice more certain, more elevated or more human than this.

Little by little, as surface agitations die down, we touch our true feelings. Once we are aware of these deeper feelings, we are able to discern the feelings of others.

When you sit with your own feelings, I call it meditative communion. When you discern the feelings of others, I call it meditative listening.

Meditative listening may happen in many settings: in a listening partnership or a listening circle, at work or in everyday life.


It is easy to ask a friend to be your listening partner.

When you meet, you divide the time equally. For half the time you are the listener. Then your companion listens to you.

When it is your turn to be listened to, the time is for you. You use it however you like. You say whatever you want. You may say a lot or very little or nothing at all. For some things are private. You will not say them now, perhaps not ever.

The listener is always discreet and treats the things you say as confidential.

The listener is careful not to run ahead of you and makes no attempt to penetrate your reserve.

The listener is always on your side and accepts you just as you are.

There is a natural cycle of meditative listening: feeling and conveying, following and receiving – and so back to feeling.

At first you may be silent, closing your eyes, slowly becoming aware of what you are feeling.

You say things as they come to you, conveying small clusters of meaning in words or images, sounds or gestures.

The listener takes in each cluster, sensitive to the wordless feeling behind it.

The listener says the cluster back to you, plainly and accurately, perhaps in your own words. This invites you to turn back to your wordless feeling, to ask inwardly: “Do I feel heard?”

When you feel heard a silence falls.
In that silence more may come.
Often it is something deeper: you can feel it
just now forming at the edge of being.

Sometimes what comes is the next piece of the story.
Sometimes it is a feeling for the whole story.
Sometimes it is like grace, like a breath from another world.

Empathy is like a riverbed, shaped and re-shaped by the stream of listening, and in which it flows.

Listening is as old as the campfire, as old as the well.


It is easy to invite a few friends to form a listening circle.

You tell them that this will be a space for empathy and self-empathy. You agree where to meet and for how long. You will share expenses.

Then the day comes. You meet. And nobody can tell you how to do this. The time belongs to you all equally, to use in your own way.

The Listening Round.

In a listening round the time is divided equally.

One person speaks. The person next on the left or right offers meditative listening responses, exactly as in a listening partnership.

Each listener becomes the next to speak.

The Open Listening Circle.

The open listening circle is more subtle.

When you begin to speak in the open listening circle you may ask anybody present to offer listening responses. You can ask for the listening you need.

Or you can leave it open to anybody present to offer a meditative listening response – whoever feels moved to respond.

The cycle of meditative listening is the same in an open listening circle as in a listening partnership: feeling and conveying, following and receiving – and so back to feeling.

After a while you fall silent, feeling that enough has been said for now. And the circle is silent with you.

Everything depends upon these windows of silence. Silence is what makes this listening meditative.

In silence something heard can be received.
In silence something new can come.
In silence, somebody else prepares to speak.

The listening circle is many things. It is where we learn to be with our own feelings and the feelings of others. It is a place of love and tenderness, of friendship and community.


The practice of empathy can’t stay forever in private. We have to bring empathy and self-empathy into all our situations – to be aware of feelings, not only at special times, but throughout the day.

Very often I pause for a few moments, opening a little window through which I sense my feelings. And maybe something will bubble up which turns out to be just the thing I need.

I offer little bits of listening to others, for very often empathy is welcome.

And I notice that these actions are contagious. What one does, others soon catch on to.

We listen to ourselves in solitude, we listen to our friends, and we listen in everyday life.

We listen for the sake of others and for our own sakes. In the end, there is no difference.

Listening is born in silence, in awareness and acceptance. In coming to accept myself as I am, I come to accept others as they are.

The way of empathy is a way of silence and love.


I sit quietly with my feelings.

Day after day, I clear a little time to be alone, and I notice what I am feeling.

Nobody can tell me how to do this. I do it in my own time, in my own way. It is wholly individual.

What will happen, when I leave the silence free to work, I cannot say.

Little by little a sense of peace may come, a sense of stillness.

Once in a while there may be something more – a breath of healing, a moment of insight, a way forward.

It is like coming home.


Today we are surrounded by voices. Each voice has something to say about the emptiness, unease and uncertainty that fester in our hearts. Each voice urges upon us some road to happiness. Each voice calls us to some path, some answer.

The answers are not in any of this. They are not outside us. The answers lie within.

Yet it is hard to find them alone. Perhaps it can’t be done. And for this reason it may be helpful to find somebody who can offer you spiritual accompaniment.

What do I mean by the word “spiritual”? People use this word in many ways. I mean something like this.

When I join a group or community, taking my lead from its traditions and values, I call this the religious turn.

When I go to a doctor or psychologist, looking for a correct evaluation and for medical or pseudo-medical treatment, I call this the diagnostic turn.

When I look outwards, seeking to act in society or to build a better world, I call this the political turn.

There is value in all these.

But sooner or later it is borne in upon me that I am part of the problem. I begin to look into my heart. I call this the inward turn.

Now I ask hard questions, “Who am I? What am I like? What in myself am I hiding from?” I try to be truthful with myself about my own feelings. Whatever shares that inward truthfulness, I call “spiritual”.

What is spiritual accompaniment?

In spiritual accompaniment, somebody who is familiar with the landscape of feeling keeps somebody else company, whose feelings are clouded, narrowed or lost, who yearns for deeper understanding, struggles with a moral uncertainty, or trembles on the threshold of an unknown path.

Spiritual accompaniment is about listening with empathy and compassion, while somebody turns inwards to wait upon the wisdom of the heart.

Spiritual accompaniment invites us to shed our stories, and to feel directly what life is like.

Spiritual accompaniment frees us from the grip of false standards, and invites us to value the truly precious things in life.

Spiritual accompaniment is about accepting things as they are, and being at peace with change.

Spiritual accompaniment is profoundly relational. We are in this together. We walk side by side. And that is what is so helpful, that we share the inward turn.


Meditative Listening is a project of pure empathy. It sits squarely within the Person-Centred Approach. It is deeply conservative in its loyalty to the classical principles of this school.

Meditative Listening is a form of Focusing. It relies on one’s willingness to let go of yesterday’s news; and instead, turning inwards, to wait upon the promptings of the heart.

Meditative Listening is a form of Experiential Listening. The listener does not only respond to the underlying feeling, but receives one by one each small cluster of feeling and meaning.

Meditative Listening unites Focusing and Experiential Listening in a single, continuous cycle.

Above all, Meditative Listening is idiodynamic. It is founded on the hypothesis that the movements of life in a human being are profoundly individual. Every soul is a unique eco-system.

Not only do people have thoughts and feelings, but in each person the processes of thinking and feeling move forward in their own way.

If we barge in with noise and interference, we will scare all the little animals and birds into hiding. The leaves will wither and the trees will fall. The soil will be blown to the four winds and washed into gullies by the winter rains. And when we have made a desert, perhaps we will call it peace. So we walk quietly and we sit very still.

This idiodynamic principle does not come from psychology or philosophy. It comes from the arts and humanities, from literature and especially from stories. For no story is about a type of person. Every story is about an individual, just this one and no other.

For this reason, Meditative Listening is a “no teaching, no guiding” school.

We do not guide the inner process. Instead, we follow along with sensitive, delicate alacrity. We do not teach this way of being. Instead, we aim to set up conditions in which learning will emerge by itself.

It follows that Meditative Listening is elusive to convey. Yet the living of it is peaceful.

You are here to listen, only to listen. When somebody feels deeply heard, the inner development arises by itself. It does not come from you. So listening is deeply peaceful.

Feeling heard, anybody falls silent. Silent because one thing has been heard. Silent because the next is not yet come. In silence, life moves forward.

What is this moving forward which sounds so mysterious? It is an abandonment of derivative thoughts, conventional emotions and helpless passivity. It is a movement towards independent thought, genuine feeling and free agency.

So this is the immediate lineage of Meditative Listening. It is one way within Focusing and the Person-Centred Approach. It is not the only way.


Knocking at Heaven’s Gate


The stardust rose,
So ancient, glows,
A phosphorescent haze.

Though billions mourn,
You are alone
The sum of all your days.

Both boy and flower
Perfect the hour
In which you briefly bloom,

And soon are gone
Where all are one,
An iridescent womb.


More a mist
Than a voice,
More a glaze
Than a hue,
More a swamp
Than a house,
More a snake
Than a mouse,
More a germ
Than a louse,
Damp and stinking
In my thinking,
Quick to stalk
As I walk,
Lean and harsh,
Like a marsh,
Foul of smell
As in hell:
What escape?
Who can say?
Here is night.
Where is day?


Dear Brian,
With your twinkling, smiling face,
Infused with love, with tenderness and grace,
Here are my thanks for freeing me from shame,
From acid words and evil thoughts of blame.
You gave me hope, you brought me into life,
You breathed that peace that puts an end to strife,
And now as shadows fall upon the scene
I think of you and still remain serene.


I will not leave you comfortless,
A barren waste of emptiness.
I am the life, the truth, the way,
The shepherd of the endless day.
I am your soul, your friend, your love,
I am the Jordan and the dove.


I miss your presence,
I distrust your mind.
I long to love and
Know I am unkind.

I should be patient
And I run with haste.
You wait in silence
And I call it waste.

My anxious fears
Betray your youthful grace.
Forgive me, till I
Moderate my pace.

You gave me everything
For which I live,
And now our love
Is draining through a sieve.

I long to see it
Pool and spread again,
Renewed by floods of
Soft refreshing rain.


Light and peace are met
The silent trees are waiting
Sundown and darkness


What is a faithful life?
A child, a house, a wife?

Do I have one of those?
If so, do you suppose

That this is all we need:
Some comfort, ease and greed,

And safety from the fear
That closes in each year

As age and sickness loom
With shadows of the tomb?

Ah no! There is the thought
Of something dearly bought

In some perplexing way
That turns night into day,

That whispers in my heart
To take the better part,

To hear the song of love
That echoes from above,

Transfiguring our life
And bringing peace from strife,

That says to me and you
This only, You come too!


No doubt it’s very good
(I’d do it if I could)
To find something to do
Attached to me with glue.

Unhappily I find
That nothing comes to mind,
So here I stand and wait,
Knocking at heaven’s gate.

5th – 7th July 2013


Meditative Listening and Meditative Enquiry

Meditative Listening

The known life is no more than a clearing in the forest. There is another life in the shadows, treetops and margins.

This hidden life is rather felt than thought. It is mysterious, fertile, moist and passionate.

Life is a moving edge. Everything flows, nothing remains the same. Since life is so hard to pin down it is natural to feel lost or bewildered.

And it is helpful to talk about your life to a listener who intends only to understand and is sure that you will find your own way forward.

When you sit down quietly and close your eyes, you feel your life all around you. Soon you begin to know what you want to talk about.

For the listener it is like being taken by the hand and led into a new country. The listener is ready to meet you face to face and to hear your words with understanding.

When you feel heard a silence falls. In that silence more may come. Often it is something deeper. You can feel it just now forming at the edge of being.

As the steps go deeper and deeper, you find you have something to steer by.

The Open Listening Circle

We begin in silence. Each thing that is said is first received and then allowed to fall into silence. We end in silence. Silence is all around us. Silence holds us.

As we sit here together in a circle there are four things that you might like to do.

You might like to sit quietly, listening to what other people say
and allowing it to touch your feelings.

You might like to offer one of the speakers a listening response:
saying what you heard in a tentative, empathic way
that invites the speaker to correct you, and
taking great care to add nothing of your own.

When you find some feeling stirring within you,
you might turn inwards to be with it.

And you might want to say something about this feeling you have
that is just now stirring freshly.

When you say something, how much will you say?
When we listen, how long will we listen?

You say only what your feeling leads you to say.
You don’t go beyond your leading.

And the listeners don’t break in. When you fall silent,
we wait to hear if more is coming. In this way,
we help you to say all that you are led to say.

If nobody says anything, we will have a very quiet time together.
Even so, many things will happen in the silence.

Meditative Decision-Making

Like every community, you will need to make decisions. How is this to be done? You will need a form of meeting that makes space for every voice.

Nothing can be done until a clerk has been appointed. Everybody must agree who will be clerk. You may also appoint an assistant clerk to share the work and to help make sure that every voice is heard.

Any member of the community may send an item for the agenda. These items are sent to the clerk before the meeting along with any relevant information.

The meeting begins with a period of silence before the clerk introduces the first item. A further silence follows.

Into this silence each person may speak only once; and after each person has spoken there is a silent pause.

When all have spoken who wish to, the clerk writes and reads out a draft minute, in an attempt to express the spirit of the meeting.

Now each person may speak once more. Nobody is to bring anything new at this point, but people may say that they hope the minute will be accepted, or say what still troubles them. Each speaking is received in silence.

If all accept the minute, it is signed and recorded as the decision of the meeting.

Otherwise the clerk writes and reads out a revised draft, taking account of the responses to the original draft.

But nobody has to accept it. If anybody present is unhappy with the minute, further changes may be made.

After that, if anybody is still unhappy, an open listening circle may be formed in which people offer listening to one another. Then the meeting may be resumed, to see if everybody present can finally agree to record a united minute.

If anybody is still unhappy, the matter is carried over. That is fine. People go away and reflect or talk to one another, and in time a consensus emerges.

Often a difference of views will melt away in a meeting of this kind, as a wider sense of the issue emerges, and a united view forms of what is to be done.

This way of making decisions may seem slow and clumsy, but is secretly fast and elegant, because nobody is left behind.

Meditative Mediation

Sometimes there is bad feeling between members of the community, rather than a difference of views. Mediation is called for, and a formal meeting is a bad place for mediation.

It is better to call together an open listening circle, specially formed for the purpose of mediation. The people who are in conflict come, and a group of people who feel able to stand back from the conflict and to listen in a friendly way, with understanding but without judgement.

In such a circle, the people who are at odds can express their feelings freely. As each one is heard by the people in the circle, little by little their bad feelings unfold and soften.

Now they are ready to hear one another, so that conflict tends to die down and even to melt away.

The Inward Turn

It is all very well having a friend who is happy to listen to you for an hour now and then. But often you are alone. What happens then?

It is hard to say. The world of feeling is individual. Nobody can tell you how to go there. What is needed is not a method that somebody shows you, but patient search for a way that is right for you.

Sometimes you may need to do something vigorous to let out all the energy that is pent up inside you.

Sometimes you may need to be in nature, in the woods or by the sea. Or to lose yourself in activity – gardening, sailing, writing, painting, working, music-making, cooking or whatever. And while you are otherwise engaged, the inner world quietly remakes itself.

Sometimes you may need to be quiet and still. You pray or you meditate. Or just gaze dreamily out of the window.

Sometimes walking may be all these things. You can walk off the burden of strong feeling, soak yourself in the passing scene whilst things go on underground, and at times turn inwards, quiet in spirit while active in body.

Little by little you find ways to be at peace with the inner world.

Meditative Enquiry

Now I will say a few words about my own practice.

Day after day I find time to be alone. I sit down quietly and close
my eyes. Gently, I bring awareness to my feelings, noticing whatever sensations are present in my body.

I ask myself what the feelings are like. What is their quality, their character, their texture, mood or tone?

What is in this pattern of feeling? What in my life stirs up these bodily sensations?

I move freely to and fro between three elements,

feeling as such,
words or symbols which say what the feeling is like, and
my sense of what the feeling is about.

Little by little,

feelings change,
words or images are refined, and
new understandings come, or I see what I have to do.

It is like coming home.

This Life, This Life

Life is short. Each hour is precious. Each day comes only once. Our years are finite but indefinite.

The essence of living well, therefore, is to find a balance-point, neither clutching desperately at time nor squandering our days.

We must make the best use of each hour as it comes. What is the best use? That is for you to say. I can only remind you of certain values which seem to be secure.

In relation to other people:

Friendliness, empathy and sincerity.

In relation to life:

Making the most of each hour, each day, each year.

In relation to yourself:

Friendliness and self-empathy.

When your sense of right and wrong is vague, permissive, complicated, cloudy or relativistic, you are sure to suffer and bring suffering to others.

When your vision is clear, simple and true, happiness follows.

In any situation, one may ask:

What am I feeling?
What are you feeling?
What is between me and being friendly?
And am I wasting my time?

These simple questions will not make life easy, for life is never easy. But they will shed a clear light on many situations.

The Meditative Journey

Finally, I want to say something about the effects of meditative listening. They are of two kinds. 

As you sit with your feelings, your troubles tend to sort themselves out. You see what you have to do and you find you can set about doing it. In this way, you accumulate a fund of clear, open, active energy. 

And little by little, almost imperceptibly, a kind of wisdom grows. You come to have some understanding of your feelings and their slow evolution, some understanding of other people and the world we share. You come to accept your feelings, to accept other people and the world. 

Acceptance and understanding come together in a sense of inner peace. 

This inner peace is not mere tranquillity, since it is rooted in understanding. And it is in its nature that it gives rise to compassion: to a sense of tenderness and care for others, a wish for their happiness and a sensitivity to their suffering. 

So we may say, tentatively, that the practice of meditative listening leads to the emergence of peace and love. 

But the practice is very humble. As time passes, you will be more and more conscious of your failings of peace and love. Conscious, yes – but with tenderness, accepting that you are an ordinary human being, and with a certain wise forbearance.



I tend to feel more and more that the only thing worth hoping for is a kind of inner peace that makes love possible.

Your Projects

Community feeling

Little by little, we come to understand that the whole world is one community. Our community includes everybody.

We have a natural feeling for others. How can we turn our backs on the pain of the poor, the vulnerable and the disenfranchised?

Because of the economic, political and social interwovenness of the modern world, we are all implicated in the causes of poverty, injustice and discrimination.

The wealth and power of the few rests upon systematic subjection of the many.

Because we live in a partly (or partly functioning) democratic society, in a globalised world, we have a direct line of responsibility to all who suffer – equally when they are near and seen, or distant and out of view.

The question we have to ask is:

What am I going to do
about the suffering and oppression of others?

We have a duty to all feeling, sentient creatures – and therefore to the integrity of the web of life as a whole – and therefore to the environment as a whole.

There will be no lasting peace
while there is appalling injustice and poverty.

There will be no genuine security
if the planet is ravaged by climate change.

—Tony Blair

Incredible though it may seem, a few people are still pretending that there is no crisis of the environment. But the evidence is plain.

The way we live is unsustainable. We are too many, we live too well, and it can’t go on. We face species extinctions, environmental degradation, and climate change. Unless we act now, there will certainly be warfare, as people fight over water, land, food and scarce resources. Other civilisations, which seemed secure, have crumbled into dust.

Tacitus says:

When they make a desert,
they call it peace.

We have been making a desert, and calling it wealth.

How are we going to turn things around? How shall we set about leaving behind a world, which is fit for our children to dwell in?

It is time to ask –

What am I going to do
about the destruction of the global environment?

But perhaps you feel helpless?

Whatever you do will be insignificant,
but it is very important that you do it.
You must be the change
that you want to see in the world.


Act anyway. Join with others. Do what you can.

It is never right, to abandon hope.

Art, justice, environment

We come to think of an idealist as one who seeks to realize
what is not in fact realizable.

But, it is necessary to insist,
to have ideals is not the same as to have impracticable ideals,
however often it may be the case that our ideals are impracticable.

—Susan Stebbing

Dance Boatman Dance by Jila Peacock

I very much like to work with a person – using experiential focusing as a source of direction and creativity – when the project on which they are working belongs to one of three kinds. These are projects, which relate to my own deep interests and concerns:

  1. Creative arts projects
  2. Environmental projects
  3. Social justice projects.

Creative arts projects

I am fascinated by the magic of words, sounds, gestures and images, and have many years experience of engaging with creative and artistic projects.

Only through the power of the artist to engage hearts and minds do we become fully human, able to commit ourselves to life, and to take a full part in the life of the world.

The three practices of being in the body, the act of creation, and situational focusing work together to set free the artistic forms and images which are generating in your mind.

Environmental projects

Only when the last tree has withered,
the last fish is caught,
and the last river has been poisoned,
will we realize we cannot eat money.

—Cree Indian tribal saying

I love wild places, and am deeply troubled by what is happening to the environment. It means a great deal to me when I can support an environmental project.

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power.
We have guided missiles and misguided men.

—Martin Luther King

We have to gather our courage now, to face how bad things are – and to act decisively.

We the human race have ruined the earth,
and our own chances,
by greedy exploitation.

It’s almost, but not quite, too late
to take steps – but what steps? – to retrieve the situation.

—David Hughes and Gerry Durrell

Social justice projects

The way of acquiescence leads to moral and spiritual suicide.

The way of violence leads to bitterness in the survivors
and brutality in the destroyers.

But the way of non-violence leads to redemption
and the creation of the beloved community.

—Martin Luther King

I am haunted by the great issues of social justice, equality, peace and human rights.

I want to do whatever I can to help people who are fighting against violence or injustice, alleviating suffering, or working to dissolve tension and build bridges between those who fear and distrust one another.

The time for the healing of the wounds has come.
The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come.
The time to build is upon us.

—Nelson Mandela (speech at Pretoria, 10th May 1994)

It is too easy to look away from the suffering of others, as if it were nothing to us, who can shelter for a little while in some local comfort and security.

Seafarer by Jila Peacock