A week ago, I was walking through the Abbotsford convent in Melbourne. I was involved in a conference at the Sophia Mundi Steiner School, and there were lots of great happenings in other parts of the convent precinct as well. As I walked through Rosina courtyard on Saturday, two circles of young people sat cross-legged on the ground listening to each other in a way that inspired me. There was respect, openness, deep listening among them. I lingered just a little soaking up not what they were saying but the way that they spoke and listened to each other. It was simple, it was warm.
I had a case of ‘déjà vu’ the next day. I was surprised to find myself in a circle of the same kind. A group of young people had gathered to explore moral technologies in preparation for a conference to be held next year. I had expected to meet with a couple of the group members, instead there were ten of us. As we sat together in a circle, I watched how they spoke and listened to each other with deep respect, enthusiasm and sparks of difference. It was like sitting round and being warmed by a fire.
One member of this group suggested I join U.lab, a mooc from MIT. In this ‘massive open online course’ they have gathered folk from all around the world in their thousands to study the work of Otto Scharmer and his colleagues who teach and work out of MIT. Their work is centred around the primacy of listening and sensing in moving towards what is emerging in our lives.
I’ve been keen on Scharmer’s work for years. His four levels of listening/conversation (downloading/factual/empathic and generative) formed a basis for analysis in my PhD thesis on listening in conflict. Scharmer writes, teaches and engages with the world on methods of change that incorporate openness of mind and will and especially at the heart level, to enable us to sense beyond the familiar, the habitual and the traditional towards what is longing to emerge in our lives and with others.
And oh gosh, I struggle to practise this depth of listening despite my so-called ‘expertise’! My little ego so longs to be right! To know! To impose on others! I can struggle to find trust and patience. To sit and observe this in myself is challenging. To listen past my habits, my reactivity. Yet I also know the wonder when I open and allow my heart to become engaged. This shift to the heart leads to such simplicity and depth when we open that welcoming space to each other.
I had another confirming experience during the conference. On the first day I tried to ‘over-facilitate’ a conversation group into listening and ended up deadening the conversation. The next day after more than a little shame, guilt and self-flagellation, I observed and then moved past this toxic little habit and opened to what the group wanted to express. And we listened deeply, spaciously, freely. It was simple, it was full of heart.