A couple of weeks ago my lovely yoga/meditation teacher at Morley College, Donna Malcomson, took us (her class) into the nearby Tibetan Buddhist Peace Garden (appropriately, beside the Imperial War Museum, here in central London). She invited us simply to listen to whatever we could hear: traffic, planes overhead, a referee’s whistle at a nearby football match. Now, in this blog, I am telling you what I heard but then we were invited to avoid labelling any of the sounds that our ears picked up, to avoid identifying the sounds but just to listen to them. Doing this I began to relax, to feel more peaceful. I became aware of a deep stillness at the centre of myself.
So at this week’s Beyond Words Contemplative Prayer Group at St. John’s Waterloo, I reminded the group that our core activity, lectio divina, is basically a process of listening, in this case to words from the Bible read aloud in the group. We avoid rushing to a conclusion like, ‘Oh I’ve heard this before. I know what it means!’ in order to leave space for hearing the words afresh, without judgement, allowing them to seep into the synapses of the brain and marinate there in the shared silence.
Introducing this week’s session I spoke of the Marriage Enrichment weekends my wife and I used to run back in the 1970s for couples who wished to deepen their relationship. A highlight of such events was telling 'the story of my marriage’ to one’s partner. The ground rules were that each partner had an equal amount of time to speak while the other one was simply to listen while keeping eye contact, resisting the desire to interrupt by saying, “that’s not how it happened”, or even, “I don’t understand what you’re saying.” As we introduced the session people would almost invariably say, “Don’t you mean the story of our marriage?” “No,” we would reply, “this is an opportunity for each of you as an individual to tell your story and for it to be heard by your partner. It’s a chance for you to be truly listened to.” I was delighted to discover that Thursday’s Times 2 supplement carries an account of similar events based at St. Paul’s Church Kensington in London. See relationshipcentral.org
Meanwhile, on Tuesday at the St. John’s Waterloo meeting of the Isaiah Community, we heard an address from Ruth Scott about reconciliation through story-telling, reminiscent of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
I dug out a short paper hidden away in my files for perhaps 30 years by the Revd Morton R. Kelsey titled simply, 'Listening'. I’ve forgotten who he is or was but he writes:
“The first step in listening is allowing oneself to be with other people and to be silent with them. We are silent not only with our lips but also in our inner response. We listen to them and are silent inside. ..... Real listening is a religious experience. Often, when I have listened deeply to another, I have the same sense of awe as when I am alone in the church at night. I have entered into a holy place and communed with the heart of Being itself.”
Let today be one in which you just ..... listen.