from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Tuesday, 10 May 2011


Today my sister has picked up another big wilderness trek, solo, in the mountains. I am thinking of this, and thinking about listening – to the many many voices of the world; and to the great non-verbal silence beyond human discourse.

Still trawling through some old blog postings of mine from 2006/7, I find this on listening. It seems to me that one of the best gifts we can give another is simply the practice of listening, with mindfulness (defined in a previous posting of mine courtesy of Jon Kabat-Zinn as 'paying attention in the present moment, on purpose, and without judgement'). And how hard it is to truly receive another with full attention in this way, without needing to respond but with deep attention.

Or rather, perhaps I should say how hard I find it; as of course one always teaches/writes about/practises/focuses on what one needs to learn oneself...


By my phone I have a note in big red letters: LISTEN.

Actually, I'm very good at listening. What I'm not good at is not talking; not reacting or responding; not adding to or interpreting, or sometimes debating, what someone has said. In other words, though I listen, I do not always listen silently (unless in a professional context). So it's allowing space and silence to the listener that I need to learn.

I'm especially not good at not moving to 'hide, fade or fix' another's pain (those are Oriah Mountain Dreamer's words, as you might know). I can do this in my professional role as group facilitator (I did a counselling training), but in my personal or family life it's a different matter.

I've been thinking a lot about such things lately. I belong to a forum of social and environmental activists informed by Buddhist thinking (the Network of Engaged Buddhists), and someone posted this teaching, by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, whose simple words on love and awareness have moved thousands of people. I've adapted it slightly, and I'd like to share it here:

'[May we] practise listening with all our attention and open-heartedness. May we sit and listen without any prejudice. May we sit and listen without judging or reacting. May we sit and listen in order to understand. May we sit and listen so attentively that we will be able to hear what the other person is saying and also what has been left unsaid. We know that just by listening deeply we already alleviate a great deal of pain and suffering in the other person.'

    (Plum Village Practice Manual)

RD who posted this said: 'The longest waiting list on the NHS is for the treatment of deep listening. No targets have been set for its reduction.'

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