A core part of my work is to listen people in this community into their greatness. I listen as the stories of their personal experience pour forth. Sometimes I ask a question or two, but mostly I listen. Another key aspect of my work is to help people remember what they already know. We all know what it means to be in right relationship with each other and this small planet. We know what it feels like when we receive and give respect. We know what it is like to have courage and what it is like to be afraid. We know that place where right action springs forth in an instant because of a deep alignment between our heart, spirit and mind. We know what it is like to be listened to.
Words, of course, continue to be important. I keep searching for those words which will, when spoken, make everything clear. As a sometimes writer, I think that if I put those words on paper, then more people will share my clarity. But I have begun to understand that when I compact experience into words and then compact spoken words even further into writing, the meaning that was clear to me doesn’t say the same thing to others. Indeed, my truth can’t replace their truth and my words are often a distant echo or a distraction from what they actually believe. Words of wisdom are, perhaps, better used sparsely.
When I have a problem or issue that won’t go away, I don’t usually look to someone who will give me advice. I look for someone who will give me listening. Ten years ago, I organized a healing group when my friend Robert Theobald was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. I thought I was organizing the healing group for Robert, but I soon realized it was for all of us. Robert left us eight years ago and our healing group continues to meet. For many years, we met once a week for two hours; our time together now is less frequent and goes deeper. Basically, what we do is listen to each other. No fixing. No advising. Just listening.
In this healing group, I cultivated my practice of the language of listening. I begin by reaching inside myself to find my own deep well of curiosity which I then combine with deep respect for those I’m listening to. Physically and energetically, I create a safe and quiet space where I have no need to judge or categorize the things others say. I remind myself to treasure the silence and the space between the words and to ask people to go deeper and deeper into their story.
I have learned that this practice works in any situation, whether it’s a healing group, a conversation with a thirteen-year-old girl, or a global learning community. But I also know that listening isn’t enough. Language is needed to share technical learning—the best way to build composting toilets, make bicycle-powered washing machines, grow plants that nourish health. Concepts are needed for understanding different ways of reflecting and learning. Theories are useful to get a sense of right direction. All of these require words and languages.
Working in a community with many languages present, I am also aware that different meanings are carried in different languages. There is no word in English that holds the depth of itadakimasu, the phrase spoken at the beginning of meals in Japan. That one word expresses gratitude to those who grew, harvested, prepared and served the food as well as to the rain and sun and soil that went into the making. There is no word in English that conveys the depth of sano and insano in Spanish, meaning whole or healthy and then its opposite.