Many of us have in some form or another come across the wisdom that we cannot solve problems with the same thinking that created those problems in the first place. For me, the subsequent question to this is, how do we get to new ways of thinking both in ourselves and with those around us?
The issue with thinking patterns is that they occur rapidly and are often difficult to spot. After all, what we think about the world develops as a natural conglomeration of our experiences and the way our mind interprets and learns from these experiences. In order to really place a finger on our thinking patterns we have to first engage with the systems within us that try to protect those patterns and keep them from being challenged. These systems have been described by some as the "voices" of judgment, cynicism and fear.
Otto Schaerma from MIT's Presencing Institute describes the engagement with these three voices as one of letting go in order to let something else come.
Specifically, it is through learning how to temporarily suspend our voices of judgement, cynicism and fear that we can then notice the thinking patterns that they veil. Suspension allows us to let our minds rest and opens up our hearts so that we experience ourselves and those around us with freshness and innovation. We can imagine that we wear these voices like a jacket. Within this image we can then figuratively take this jacket off, hang it on the chair next to us and become a neutral and open receptor. In this way our usual patterns of thinking are put aside and we allow ourselves to actually notice an issue or interaction as if it was the first time.
This is certainly no easy task. In fact, once we start paying attention we may notice that even when we try to suspend these voices they continuously reappear while we communicate. Reflect on how often in conversation what you hear is filtered by doubts regarding what someone else is saying (voice of judgement), not believing someone else's information (voice of cynicism) or feeling hesitant to really empathize or feel someone else's emotion (voice of fear). By suspending, all we are really doing is placing our intent on noticing these voices every time they appear and letting them go...noticing them again and letting them go....and continuing to notice them and let them go.
The more we practice this the better we get at it. Soon enough we may enter a state where while listening to someone we actually can hear much more of what they are saying, without getting distracted by what we will say next or by our own analysis and meaning-making. In these moments we finally have the possibility to communicate with presence from the heart. Pay attention to your heart and bring focus to asking questions and speaking from this part of the body. Schaerma calls this "generative listening" and is referring to communication in a realm that is greater than both the listener and speaker previously knew were possible. It results from this intent to listen with presence. It allows for new perspectives, ideas and feelings and can produce solutions that would have never been discovered had the old thinking patterns been kept in tact.
After such a generative conversation, it can often be useful to take a few moments of silence to reflect and digest what emerged from the open communication. It is here that if we choose, we can put our “jacket of voices” back on and discover what we have learned through the experience. Whether through meditation, journal writing or taking a walk, this can be a great opportunity to uncover something about ourselves. Here we can assess the usefulness of both maintaining some aspects of our past thinking models and the necessity to change others aspects. Ultimately, suspending allows us to modify and develop our default habits. In turn we enable conscious and engaging processes that bring our hearts into every conversation that we have.