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mindfulness

Unlearning everything you know

Unlearning everything you know

Nowadays even a Masters degree doesn’t grant you a round of applause. It seems like the pressure is only increasing to acquire as many degrees, diplomas and certifications as possible in order to stay competitive, sharp and ready for an unknown tomorrow. However, when it comes to heart intelligence what we actually need to start doing is unlearning everything we’ve been taught.
Have you ever noticed what an awareness children have about their bodies from a very young age? Even before being able to speak, children have an incredible capacity to sense through smell, touch, temperature and sound. Their ability to rapidly connect with other children is incredible when compared to the amount of time it can sometimes take adults to connect. As we get older, mainstream schooling focuses our attention more and more on our cognitive capacities, placing emphasis on intellectual intelligence over emotional and somatic intelligence. As a result, we start interpreting the world around us only through facts, judgments and rational thinking. We start losing the capacity to really feel and sense our surroundings through our hearts. In fact, most of us completely shut off our physical sensing capacity and spend time in busy cities, crowded subways and packed elevators trying to pretend that we are completely alone.
Despite the fact that many adults go decades without using their heart’s intelligence to navigate their worlds, this capacity to physically connect remains intact and ready to engage whenever we allow it to. In order to start feeling again, we actually have to unlearn the educated tendency to process everything through our rational minds.
One way to get a sense of how powerful that connection can actually be is to stand on a subway platform and just notice all the people around you. Notice the direction they are facing, how far they are from you, and whether they are sitting, standing or leaning against a post. Also take note of the patterns that groups are forming: are people standing in a straight line, in a circle or clump, individually or in pairs? Who is still and who is moving? While you bring your awareness to all of this notice what feelings arise in your heart. Does your heart automatically respond to some people more than others? Do you feel a tingling in some places or discomfort anywhere? What images and pictures come to you while you take in all that is around you on the platform? This simple but profound experience of extending your awareness beyond your own bubble while simultaneously staying mindful of what it is feeling may give you an incredible sense of how powerfully your heart relates and connects to what is happening around you. While it may not be able to communicate through words, it does express itself through feelings, metaphors, sensations, images and other methods unique to you.
If you bring this subway platform sensitivity with you to other parts of your life -- when driving in a car, when walking down the street, when entering a room full of strangers or when waiting on line while shopping -- you may begin to notice that there is an automatic and natural connection that your heart has to everything going on around it. In fact, your heart is always connected whether you allow yourself to notice this or not. It is the most basic aspect of being human. This connection isn’t something that needs to be improved and practiced. Rather, when we unlearn the habit of rationalizing everything and begin suspending the mind’s constant chatter we start to notice the richness of experience that our physicality can take in and process. With time even the most simple of shapes, gestures or movements from people and beings around us invite us to notice their incredible beauty and the feelings and intelligence they provoke in our hearts. And if we notice our mind trying to jump in and analyze all of that heart intelligence, best is to try settling it down and putting it temporarily on hold. There are already enough other moments in which to process our worlds through our very educated heads.

Listening from your heart

Listening from your heart

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. 

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.

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. 

Is silence the golden rule?

Is silence the golden rule?

Ask any parent of a teenager and they are likely to agree that they often have better conversations with their child sitting next to them while driving a car than across from them at a dinner table. Or how many of us have ever experienced that it's easier to resolve a conflict with our partner when taking a walk together in the woods rather than sitting at home? Why is that? 

According to Arawana Hayashi, Shambhala Buddhist teacher and co-founder of the Presencing Institute, "The eyes are the easiest escape from the body". What she is referring to is our body's natural capacity to be mindful of ourselves and aware of others--in other words connected. The problem is that for many of us, we have completely lost touch with the variety of ways in which we can sense and connect with what is going on in the world around us. As a result we rely heavily, and at times exclusively, on visual stimulus to connect. While the visual world is beautiful, many of us use our eyes to project our inner thoughts onto the world that we then end up seeing, rather than seeing the world for what it is and allowing that to shape our reflections about it. 

We have completely lost touch with the variety of ways in which we can sense and connect with what is going on in the world around us.

The above examples represent situations where other forms of communicating actually allow us a deeper and more meaningful way to relate to and understand another person. These are situations in which side-body and back-body "listening" take priority over exclusively listening through our eyes and ears. In a way, it's almost as if changing our orientation from both facing each other to both facing forward opens a deeper listening capacity within. There is something profoundly basic and beautiful about two people side by side both sharing a common forward view whether sitting in a car, walking amongst nature or staring out at an ocean view. This shared experience has the capacity to unlock additional sensory "antennas" that we can use to actually feel another person during conversation.

Silence...has an amazing power to bring to surface all the somatic feelings that we otherwise miss while remaining attune only to our heads.

But what does that mean to feel another person without physically touching them? Take a moment to reflect on the last time that you felt that someone was standing behind you before you could actually see them, or when you felt a warm rush in your heart while listening to a friends story, or had a strong sense in your gut that someone wasn't telling you the truth: these are some of the ways in which our bodies use felt sense to speak to us. For the most part however, we have completely blocked our body's attempt to communicate with us in all instances except for when we are feeling ill. When sick we become hyper-sensitive to our body's needs and how we are feeling. Yet outside of this situation so much of our communication is interpreted and influenced through thoughts from our mind. And while there is value to the information registered through our brains, there is also a world of body intelligence that many of us are completely ignoring. 

For those interested in reconnecting to their bodies there is a golden "trick" that allows us to rapidly jump from being consumed by our mental chatter to beginning to feel our body's natural sensing: silence. Silence, through meditation or even simply between two people during a conversation, has an amazing power to bring to surface all the somatic feelings that we otherwise miss while remaining attune only to our heads. Although initially silence may make us uncomfortable and provoke even more thoughts, with a bit of practice the conscious use of silence can allow us to let our thoughts go and bring our attention to our feelings. Suddenly we notice different parts of our bodies speaking to us through gentle movements, new sensations and even uncomfortable reactions. If after some silence we then consciously speak and listen from our heart and gut, rather than from our minds, we may find ourselves connecting in ways more meaningful and authentic than we usually do. 

Remember, in the end it's not about one over the other, but rather honoring the beautiful communication between mind and body that we all have the natural capacity to experience. 

Active listening vs. Real listening

Active listening vs. Real listening

With a culture so focused on leadership and public-speaking, much of our Western education model makes sure to offer plenty of opportunity to develop our capacities in these areas. However, very little if any attention is given to counterpart roles of followers and listeners. As a result, we are living in a society where our understanding of good followership is nearly non-existent, and our capacity for listening is mostly summarized under the skill-set of “active” listening while missing the much more profound capacity of “deep” listening.

The most alarming side-effect of active listening is the power of listener to manipulate what a speaker actually talks about.

Active listening often involves a type of participatory, affirming set of techniques that has the listener employing behavior like regular eye-contact to show connection, head-nodding to demonstrate understanding, the use of “uh-huh, mmm, yes” to encourage and support, and the use of lots of supportive questions and paraphrasing to make sure the speaker feels heard. While this approach to listening is great in many circumstances and is a sure-fire way to make a speaker feel heard, there are also unrecognized side-effects. 

The most alarming one resides in the power of listener to manipulate what a speaker actually talks about. Through our use of affirmations, paraphrasing and body gestures, we send strong signals about whether we approve and agree or not, and this can often lead a speaker to continue their course of thought or shift and change to another one, accordingly. Active listening also suggests that a listener must somehow demonstrate their level of participation and engagement, and this often leads to a “thinking about what I’m going to say/ask next” monologue. We often try to jump in with opinions or stories to show how we can relate. The problem here is that while we are busying ourselves with all the effort required of actively listening, we aren’t fully paying attention to the speaker and tends to keep conversation at a relatively generic level. It also often leaves listeners feeling tired at the end of the conversation, suggesting that active listening also requires extra effort and energy. Active listening can be attributed to Level 1 or Level 2 listening, sometimes called downloading or factual, and remains on the level of polite conversation or debate, often producing results by the end of the conversation that could have already predicted by everyone at the onset.

As such, active vs. deep listening is a matter of paying attention to our attention, and practicing and experimenting with the various levels of listening whenever possible so that we can fine-tune or sense of how to best use all 4 levels.

Deep listening on the other hand requires a whole other set of techniques and presence, and allows for Level 3 and 4 listening, when empathic or generative dialogue are sought after. In this case, the goal of the listener is to give full and undivided attention to the speaker in a way that holds space for the speaker’s greatest possible wisdom to emerge and remains curious about essence and source from which the speaker shares. The invitation here is to restrain from any verbal or physical affirmations and simply support the speaker in following their own deep sharing thought-process. In deep dialogue, we often encourage speakers to imagine they are speaking from their gut, rather than their head, and to only share the truth that comes out from there. Many people often notice that the volume of a conversation often decreases when people start speaking more from their bodies than their heads. Additionally, listeners pay attention to their own inner monologue and notice voices that can distract them from deep listening, such as voices of judgement, cynicism, or fear. When the listener notices the voices he/she simply lets them go and returns to giving full attention to the speaker. Lastly, the listener focuses on staying fully mindful and embodied in their own presence, and only asks questions that feel truly in service of the speaker and the generative dialogue. Often the results of these types of interactions are a new understanding and emergence of wisdom on whatever topic is being explored. Results are often different than what participants had expected and energy is notably higher. People note a sense of speaking from the whole rather than from their own individual perspective or needs.

Ultimately, it is the quality of our attention that dictates the outcomes we see and experience . As such, active vs. deep listening is a matter of paying attention to our attention, and practicing and experimenting with the various levels of listening whenever possible so that we can fine-tune or sense of how to best use all 4 levels.

MOVE workshops always use education and practice about deep listening as a foundation for our work with clients. For more information about deep listening you can also check out this fantastic brief article by Alan Seale