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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.