no judgment

Language of the Heart

By Paul Tingen Out beyond ideas o/wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. /'II meet you there. When the soul lies in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense. Rumi

Imagine for a moment that you're on a peace mission in another country with a few Sangha members, speaking to people who live in the area. Suddenly someone in the audience jumps up and yells at you: "Murderer! Assassin!" Before you know it, most of your audience have joined in, and the situation becomes threatening. How would you feel? What would you do? Breathing and smiling alone may calm you, but may not be enough to calm the anger in the crowd. Most of us would be deeply grateful for a strategy to defuse the situation, and more importantly, to connect with the hearts of the people in the audience. Such a strategy exists, can easily be learnt, and has been proven to work. In the real situation described above, the technique was so effective that the person holding the talk was invited to share a holy meal with the very person who first shouted "murderer!"

A few years ago, peace mediator Marshall Rosenberg experienced this very outburst during a talk in a Palestinian refugee camp. In response, he used Nonviolent Communication (NYC), or Compassionate Communication-a practice of mindful speech and deep listening. NVC is also known as "a language of the heart," or "giraffe language," because giraffes have the largest hearts of any land animal. Giraffes also have long necks with which they can more easily see future consequences of their actions, and pea-sized brains that make it impossible for them to make heady analyses, criticisms, blame, shame, and judgments of their unfortunate counterpart, the jackal. In NVC, the jackal symbolizes habit energies of criticizing, blaming, and shaming that undermine even our best intentions.

Dr. Rosenberg, an American psychologist who studied with Carl Rogers, developed Nonviolent Communication as "a process that strengthens our ability to inspire compassion from others and respond compassionately to others and ourselves." Rosenberg noticed that certain people stay centered and loving in the face of the most challenging circumstances, even in a society that routinely expresses needs through coercive and controlling thinking and  language-blame, criticism, shame, and punishment. According to Rosenberg, this jackal approach is a "life-alienating form of thinking and communication," and the root of the immense suffering and violence that plague our planet. In a similar vein, Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, "If you have a gun, you can kill a dozen people; if you have an ideology and try to enforce it, you can kill millions."

Meditation is one way of quieting the noisy judgments of our rational mind. Thich Nhat Hanh calls meditation our "appointment with ourselves." It is an opportunity to listen to ourselves, to listen to our heart, to practice compassion and deep understanding. Considering Thay's emphasis on relationships, families, communities, and reconciliation, one could call his path "a practice of the heart." My contention is that this "practice of the heart" and NVC's "language of the heart" are delightfully complementary and mutually reinforcing.

Like mindfulness practice, Rosenberg's "giraffe" language is simple and very powerful. In developing this practice, he looked deeply into the nature of the way we habitually think and communicate. The result, NVC, offers a radical and hopeful alternative for communication that fosters understanding. And like Thay's teachings, NVC strongly emphasizes non-duality, not taking sides, and reconciliation. The giraffe-jackal duality that NVC appears to create is illusory, useful only to meet needs for learning and clarity. In the end, there are no jackals, only giraffes with a language problem.

The practice of NVC does away with coercive and controlling language-words like right, wrong, too this or too that, should, ought, and so on. When I first encountered NVC, I realized that during my years of spiritual training, all I'd done was extend the limits of "wrong" behavior that I was willing to look at with compassion and understanding. I still felt that there were right and wrong behaviors, and I still labeled people and their behavior in critical ways. In contrast, NVC recommends eradicating every sense of rightdoing and wrongdoing, encouraging us to go all the way and not even judge murder or the destruction of our environment as wrong. We can immediately sense the enormous ramifications. For most people, this feels like a terrifying leap. How can we protect our freedom and safety, and peace and the beauty and richness of our planet, if we cannot say that cutting down rainforests, murder, or selling weapons is wrong? But by not judging, NVC does not condone these actions. Instead it offers a powerful language with which we can express our likes and dislikes, our values and our needs, in a non-coercive, non-blaming, nonviolent way--one that is likely to be much more effective in creating the understanding and change we seek.

NYC employs three techniques to cultivate powerful, loving speech. First, NVC encourages us to explore how our feelings relate to our needs, and not to events around us, as we may first believe. Secondly, it encourages us to recognize human needs as universal, divine qualities that all human beings share. And thirdly, NYC distinguishes our needs from "specific, doable, here and now requests." From these premises springs a common language of the heart that all human beings share and understand. This "giraffe language" is a way of connecting and communicating with the Buddha nature in ourselves and others.

To explain how NYC works, I need to spell out the fundamentals of giraffe language. It may seem a little bit complicated at first, and as with any new language, we must practice to become fluent. Once we get it, however, giraffe language will feel more natural than the habitual jackal language of blame, shame, and punishment.

Classic giraffe language employs four basic steps: observe, name feelings, identify needs, and make requests.

1) Observe. Identify what we see in purely descriptive language, without evaluation or interpretation. In mindfulness practice, Thay also emphasizes the importance of double-checking our perceptions, urging us to ask, "Am I sure?"

2) Name Feelings. Get in touch with how we feel in the present moment, and name pure feelings. "I feel rejected," or "I feel misunderstood" are feelings mixed with evaluations, and unhelpful. Instead, name heart feelings such as: sad, hurt, frustrated, happy, skeptical, resistant, touched, serene, mindful, intrigued, relaxed, open, scared, or optimistic. Simply naming our feelings without evaluation is also an aspect of our mindfulness practice---one of many practices that are complementary with NVC.

3) Identify Needs. Identify the immediate need causing our feeling. For example, "I feel scared because my safety feels threatened," or "I feel joyful because of the appreciation I'm getting," or "I feel frustrated because I'm not getting respect."

4) Make Requests. Ask for a specific action that is doable right here and now. This offers a practical opportunity for creating heart-connection and making each other's life more wonderful. It is a bridge that connects people.

In real life, the practice may sound something like: "When I hear you screaming, I feel scared, because I'm not getting the safety I want. Please would you lower your voice?" Note that the speaker does not use any judgmental language, such as that the person screaming is "wrong," or "too loud." The speaker simply expresses his or her own feelings and needs, and follows it with a specific, doable request. Or giraffe language could be: "When I see you smile  at me, I feel warm and touched, because it meets my need for being seen and appreciated. Could you tell me how you feel when you hear me say that?" mb28-Language

Note that giraffe grammar always puts "I" with "I" and "you with "you." I feel something because I want something, and you feel things because you want something. A giraffe never believes that her feelings are caused by someone else's actions, or that he can cause someone else's feelings. A giraffe has two choices of expression: honesty, i.e., expressing her own feelings and needs, or empathy, i.e., hearing the other person's feelings and needs regardless of how they are expressed. In contrast, jackal puts "I" in relation to "you," e.g., "I feel scared because you're shouting," or "I feel warm because you're smiling at me."

When Marshall Rosenberg was called a murderer as he addressed the Palestinians in a refugee camp, he responded with empathy. He realized that the speaker's exhortations might have had something to do with his American nationality, and the fact that the night before, tear gas canisters stamped with "Made in the USA" had been shot into the camp. Rosenberg explored the speaker's feelings and needs: "Are you angry because you would like my government to use its resources differently?" The man shouted more angry words in response. Rosenberg remembers, "Our dialogue continued, with him expressing his pain for nearly twenty more minutes, and me listening for the feeling and need behind each statement. I didn't disagree or agree. I received the man's words not as attacks, but as gifts from a fellow human, willing to share his soul and deep vulnerabilities with me. Once the gentleman felt understood, he was able to hear me as I explained my purpose for being at the camp. An hour later, he invited me to his home for Ramadan dinner." Rosenberg was able to practice compassionate listening and loving speech with the angry man because he was able to hear the man's needs, and because he did not immediately try to fix things by suggesting practical solutions.

Separating the expression of needs from the expression of requests for solutions opens up the common ground of our needs-needs for air, food, shelter, sleep, empathy, love, compassion, understanding, connection, community, etc. A request seeks help with solutions, here-and-now action. Arguments and wars do not begin because people  disagree about needs, but rather because of the way people go about getting their needs met. If we can see the universal need of another person, we may begin to recognize his or her humanity. It is sad how often we communicate our needs through a pointing finger, rather than an outstretched hand. NVC does not call this jackal behavior wrong, but points out that blame and judgment are tragic ways of expressing our unmet needs. Someone who uses jackal language is in pain and need. Recognizing this makes compassion and connection with the poor jackal- our own or someone else's-not only possible, but necessary.

NVC, like mindfulness practice, emphasizes focus on present moment feelings and needs. Rosenberg says, "Spend more than five words on the past and the chances that you'll get your present moment needs met diminish with every word." The crucial question for a giraffe is always "What is alive in you or me in this moment?"

Like Thay's teachings, NYC also recommends that we stop when we notice anger arising in us, and wait until we are sure that we can respond from a point of our choosing. It recommends that we use this stopping to watch the "jackal-show" in our head our angry tapes of judgment and blame-and to identify the feelings and needs that underlie our anger. Stopping is the core of our mindfulness practice, and conscious breathing is our wonderful vehicle. We can use this practice to look deeply, and identify our feelings and needs, meditating on the seeds of our anger. Once we have transformed our  anger enough, once we are in touch with our Buddha nature again, we can use giraffe language to express what we see, feel , and want. When we are ready, we communicate our feelings and needs. As Thay has said, our anger melts like snow in the sun when we have true understanding of a situation or a person. NVC makes the same point: When we are able to look deeply and connect with the human suffering that underlies another person's actions, our anger often vanishes. Sometimes, however, my anger does not disappear even when I understand the other person, and now this is a sign for me that I need to look deeply into and express my feelings and needs. Usually I need empathy and understanding.

For me, giraffe language embodies the Fourth Mindfulness Training, and the Eighth and Ninth Mindfulness Trainings of the Order Of Interbeing: "Aware that lack of communication always brings separation and suffering, we are committed to training ourselves in the practice of compassionate listening and loving speech. ... We will make every effort to keep communications open and to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small."

Thay often stresses the importance of engaged Buddhist practice. NVC hands us a language for peaceful engagement. Combining NVC's "language of the heart" with Thay' s "practice of the heart" gives us powerful instruments for transformation of ourselves and our relationships, and enables us to contribute to the well-being of communities and the world.

Paul Tingen, True Artist of The Heart, can be emailed at paul@tingen.co.uk. Marshall Rosenberg has written a book on the practice of NVC: Nonviolent Communication, A Language of Compassion (PuddleDancer Press, ISBN: 1-892005-02-6). More information about NVC is available from the Centrfor Nonviolent Communication website: www.cnvc.org, or by phone: (800) 255-7696.

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A Lifetime of Global Peacemaking

An Interview with Gene Knudsen Hoffman by Barbara Casey Gene, how did you first become familiar with Thich Nhat Hanh?

Gene: I have been a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation since 1950 and we sponsored Thich Nhat Hanh’s speaking tours for peace in the United States and abroad in 1966. I was interested in this young Buddhist who had so much to contribute to peace. In 1985 I went for a month to Plum Village, his center in France. While there, he asked me to organize his first retreat with Vietnam Veterans. It was a wonderful retreat here in Santa Barbara and there are several veterans from that retreat that l still see.

Thay, as we learned to call him, is particularly strong and powerful in h is teachings on reconciliation.  Since that is my field, l learned much from him.  The international program I founded, Compassionate Listening, is based on h is teachings that we must listen to both sides of any conflict before we take action and we must acknowledge the suffering and grievances of both sides without judgement. Ultimately through this process, we bring the two sides together for reconciliation.

When Glasnost came, everyone just stopped, thinking that no more work of reconciliation was needed, but I knew that wasn't true. So l began working in the Middle East and since then I have been going back and forth, working there. On one trip to Israel, I stopped in London and attended a Quaker meeting. I saw a huge sign outside the hall saying, "Meeting for worship for the tortured and the torturers," so l went to that meeting. I had long listened to the tortured, but listening to the torturers I'd never thought of that. So I developed a Compassionate Listening program and wrote many articles about it. Then in 1996 I received a call from Leah Green in Seattle, saying she wanted to use my Compassionate Listening process in her peace delegations to the Middle East. No one else had wanted to work with me because they said I didn't advocate for anything. When you advocate, you pick a side and you have enemies. I didn't take a side. When people asked me who I was advocating for, I told them, "I'm advocating for reconciliation."

Tell us about Compassionate Listening:

Gene: Compassionate Listening is a process for making peace because you listen to the grievances of both sides, you hear the suffering of both sides, and you hear the life stories of the people who represent each side. It is a listening program that does not criticize or advise. The Middle East project has been bringing Israelis and Palestinians together. Now there are more people who are beginning to understand the situation. When l went to Israel the first few times, the Israelis I met said the Palestinians didn't exist and no one would go into the Palestinian Territory except the peacemakers.

Compassionate Listening is people listening to both sides without judging or condemning and being there as nourishing, nurturing people caring for people on both sides. It's amazing.

One of my last visits to Israel included a meeting with the military head of Hamas at that time. He was a very appealing young man. I listened to his life story. He had been arrested and exiled by the Israelis, and made to sit on the border of Lebanon where they were fighting. His story was horrific but he was a loving man. I went up to him afterwards and said, "l might have some ideas on nonviolence for you and I wonder if you would like to hear them?" And he said, "You sound just like my mother." I told him, "I'd like to be your mother!" We hugged and I left. A week after I came home, the newspaper reported that he had participated in nonviolent demonstrations twice. I don't know where he is now but the transforming experience of having a group of people listen to your life story was reflected in the change in this young man.

I was requested by the American Friends Service Committee in Alaska to offer two trainings. They were having problems with indigenous people in Alaska having their food supply threatened. Their program went for a year and a half and then they came together and made seven concessions.

In the listening process, there is a group leader and the same listeners stay with the project. They start out listening to one group and then the other. They don't bring the groups together until they feel they are ready; by that time they have often worked through many of their differences. This is the process that I learned from Thich Nhat Hanh because in his community each person tells their side.

How does a person use compassionate listening skills in their daily life?

Gene: You listen to people; you don't criticize or condemn them and you don't argue with them. You are grateful they told their story. I have one grandson who is a little terror and is defiant of everything he's told to do. One day he came over and he didn't talk to me, but he was being very troublesome. So l said, "Tell me what's going on, are you upset with me. Have I done something?" He said, "I'm mad at my dad!" I said, "Thank you for telling me; tell me about it." He said, "I didn't want to come here, I wanted to stay and play with my friends, but my dad made me come!" That explained everything. Before I understood, his behavior was so awful l was ready to send him home. After I knew the problem, he softened up and his dad was here and we all began talking, and then everything was fine.

I think that you have to ask, is there anything wrong?  Is there anything I've done? Can you tell me how you're feeling? I don't know if it will work, but it works in the home if we can stop our own feelings of aggravation and listen. Just stop and say, "I'm going to listen to you now; tell me whatever it is that's bothering you because it will help me."

At home it's so easy to just start arguing, I think it really helps to set an environment by stating what you're going to do; "I'm going to stop and listen to you now." Stopping and verbalizing your intention helps to create safety.

Gene: If an argument starts, one of the things that I usually do is to say, "I can't talk about this anymore, I have to think about it." Because at the moment the argument is going on I would just fall into it and defend myself. I do what I need to get out of the angry mode because that's the hardest place to listen from.

In the Compassionate Listening project, you have to be able to listen to people you hate, but sometimes a person just cannot listen and they have to stop. I would have a hard time listening to [President] Bush, and I think it would be the best thing for me to go and listen to him. I think I would learn more about whatever it is that arouses me and makes me fear for my nation and for our lives.

How can Compassionate Listening help us in these times?

Gene: I think we should listen to the people who differ from us, either in small groups or one on one. We should listen to what we find is the truth they speak and affirm them in it. That is one of the processes of Compassionate Listening. For example, in the U.S. we can go in pairs, from door to door; and ask three questions: What do you think of the war against evil? Do you see a way other than war for resolving these differences? Would victory resolve our differences? Why or why not? Each person will have an opportunity to look at their own truth and to consider the beliefs behind their words.

We went to Libya and stayed a week doing Compassionate Listening. We met with people in government, politics, law, and academia. We also met with the religious leaders of Islam. I told them that I, as a Quaker, believed the spiritual teachings were evolutionary and asked them if the teachings in the Koran were too. They went into another room to consider my question and when they returned they said, "We interpret Mohammed's teaching in different ways as time goes by." When we asked them about their treatment of gay people, we were relieved when they answered that they don't kill them anymore.

Gene, if you had an opportunity to meet with President Bush, how would you go about listening to him?

Gene: I would go with a small group who had been trained in this process. We would say something like: "We want to know about you as a person and as a President. Tell me the best time you ever had in your childhood." We would not ask adversarial questions. We would say we want to know about your life, we want to know what you believe and what your faith tells you to do. What I would like to find is the good spirit in Bush that can be built upon, where we can build on what he believes, because there is no point in attacking him. I would listen with compassion to him.

How do you think we can bring peace?

Gene: There is no future without forgiveness. We must start going in delegations around the world, acknowledging the harm our country has done, acknowledging our grief over it and asking for forgiveness. I think every country has to do it, but I think that it needs to start here. The goal of compassionate listening is that we will acknowledge the harm that we've done and ask for forgiveness and listen to the other people. All of this bombing and destroying people has never brought peace.  So we have to do something much bigger. That will come in steps and just doing this compassionate listening is an important beginning.  There is a coming together of the two sides.

One of the many things I love about compassionate listening is that it's not at all abstract.  It's something I can do even when I feel completely overwhelmed by the state of things in the world.

Gene: Yes, and I still go back to the one on one. Since 9/11 I've had at least twelve people call me up and just want to come and talk to me, so I've listened.

Compassionate listening seems easy to do but is so difficult. If one aspires to be a compassionate listener, what are the qualities one needs to develop in oneself! Especially to be able to listen to people who have different views?

Gene: In the course I teach, you examine yourself for hatred. All the classes are on the Web, and it's free. Whatever you can't listen to, you don't do. You have to discipline yourself and not react. With my grandson I react all the time, so I am working on that. You have to discern the truth and it's not listening with your human ear, it's listening with your spiritual ear. It's much better to work in a group with a leader, but you can do it by yourself with my booklet.

What is your vision? How do you see Compassionate Listening being used in society?

Gene: I think it is a process that can be used in every experience and l think it's a process that we Americans have to learn. This process is a step in our evolution, a direction that is different from the way we've gone before.  I've never seen so many articles published on listening before; I believe its time has come. We just have to transform ourselves and it's a wonderful thing to do! We have been doing things that are very destructive to human beings for a long time.  We don't know how rich and important it is to go out and do something!

It seems that separation breeds more separation, and compassionate listening breaks down the illusion that we are different, that we are "other." We need to do that on a personal, one on one way, for the seeds of that belief to dissolve.

Gene: That's a great statement. I' m going to use that in my teaching. We can only aspire to the impartiality and balance that's needed to do compassionate listening. But if we're aware of our biases, then we can stay in honesty while listening.

Our nation is in denial about all the harm we've done. '"We're peaceful," we say, while we drop the bomb in Afghanistan and support war all over the world. I don't think we can hope for much until we transform and begin to listen, and then it's going to be a rough road.

What advice do you have to our readers if they want to begin incorporating compassionate listening in their lives?

Gene: l recommend they find other people and practice together. Go to my Website, www.coopcomm.org and you will find my training booklet, "Compassionate Listening: an Exploratory Sourcebook for Conflict Transformation." They should do it together as a team; they could do it in their Sanghas. Try going door to door, as I have suggested, and then come together and share your experiences. It's good to go representing a group, taking a poll or survey. See how you're doing by writing a "love letter" to the person you dislike or hate the most. My sourcebook has many of these kinds of suggestions.

I'm amazed about all the new efforts to listen in our country. I think it's thrilling. It's amazing how effective it is in our personal life as well as our public life. Keep saying no to things you don't believe in, but look for the truth in the invitations. Don't worry about any outcome; go on growing and learning that's the reward.

Gene Knudsen Hoffman is a Quaker peace activist who has pioneered compassionate listening practice for over thirty years. She has become a legend in the peacemaking community through bringing compassionate listening to the heart of the world’s greatest conflicts in Russia and the Middle East. Gene offers a step by step manual on this practice, available on the internet free of charge, at:  www.coopcomm.org

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Compassionate Listening: An Exploratory Sourcebook by Gene K. Hoffman

Excerpts

In Compassionate Listening, we do not seek to change those who share with us, we seek only to love them. The more people are loved, the more freedom they have to respond to their own inner truth which may or may not prompt movement.   The only change we can be assured of is that if we truly listen to our fellow human beings, we ourselves will be changed.

What are the results of Compassionate Listening?

People who are involved with Compassionate Listening projects report them to be transforming experiences usually for both the listeners and speakers. Those in conflict have the chance to learn about one another as human beings and potential friends. Their understanding of the complexities of issues addressed are broadened and deepened. Their preconceptions are often shattered, their abilities to listen and be present are challenged and expanded. They find new understandings of themselves and others. Often listeners remark at what a reciprocal experience they have felt, despite only taking the role of listener.

When not to get involved with Compassionate Listening

You must not try to take on the Compassionate Listening role around an issue where your own experience is too fresh or painful. You will get hurt, and you will l hurt those with whom you set out to build bridges. You may need to rest and come back to the issue later.

"Reconciliation is a great art which requires us to understand both sides of a conflict, but we who are not in the conflict also bear some responsibility. If we had lived in awareness, we could have seen the beginning phases and helped to avoid it. The reconciler is not a judge standing outside the conflict, but becomes an insider who will take his or her responsibility by understanding the suffering of both sides. The participants in the conflict should communicate clearly how they see the suffering endured by the other side. The conflict's resolution should be offered on the basis of benefit to both sides. Our purpose is the realization of understanding and compassion." Thich Nhat Hanh

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Poem: Only See The Face Before You

mb39-Only1To see the face before you, To only see this face, And nothing more, And not to be in a dream, Or drowning in an ocean Of thinking and thoughts, Or in your rivers of feelings, desires, perceptions; To see clearly with all the senses, To have pure recognition, Pure awareness of what is And nothing more---is to meditate Each time you see with pure awareness The more you see the wonders of life And they become you; And the more deeply you connect with life, You vibrate with all its wonderfulness. You just hear, see, taste, smell.

You see the unclear mind too With its likes and dislikes, Attachments, aversions, Analyses, plans, judgments, criticisms. All its imaginations, illusions, Which block and suffocate understanding, Compassion and love.

Just see your feelings, desires, perceptions, Both good and not-good. Just see their face and nothing more. So you are not tricked and deceived, Becoming identified with them, Caught and imprisoned in them. Just let these rivers flow by themselves.

Do not add or take away anything, But simply see things as they are With interest and wonder, And a smile.

—By Bill Menza

Dharma teacher Bill Menza was inspired to write this poem from a Dharma talk by Thay Phap Dang.

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Healing Through Listening

by Margaret Kirschner If we feel there is someone we cannot help, it is only because we have not yet looked deeply enough into his or her circumstances. —Thich Nhat Hanh(1)

mb38-Healing1I was feeling a deep and discouraging helplessness about the suffering of a loved one when a dear Sangha friend, Mary, was able to hear my despair Her calm nonjudgmental listening opened the door for me to pour out my helplessness, and I had the strange sensation that I was pouring out my loved one’s pain as well. Through this experience, I gained a new understanding of how to listen. Always before, I had tried to deepen my listening skills by being the listener. This time, I was given a better understanding of what one needs in a listener by truly being heard.

My experience that day was that Mary stepped aside and let me solve my own problems. Her eyes held my pain and soothed me like a gentle mother. They gave me space to acknowledge my mistakes and to find solutions. Here are some things I noticed:

  • It was helpful that she didn’t say “I understand” when I didn’t understand
  • It was helpful that she gave no advice so that I could discover my own
  • It was helpful that she said little, permitting my thoughts to flow without
  • It was helpful that she remained calm in the midst of my chaos, offering an environment in which I could
  • It was helpful that she didn’t give the impression that she knew the answers that I didn’t know

In that listening I began to remember the times when I had not felt helpless, the times when my loved one and the many others who sought my counsel, responded positively. They were the times I kept my balance, when I maintained the nourishment of my positive seeds. As my breathing calmed with my recall, I stopped crying and returned to mindfulness. I began to feel the stability gained through my own suffering. I could recall the Buddha’s trust in our inner awareness and joy, no matter how much pain hides it. I now understand that it is necessary for me to maintain that same trust whenever I am listening deeply. I wrote the following in tribute to Mary:

Listening is what I need when my thoughts are so tangled they have no beginning nor end.

Listening is what I need when my heart despairs into molten tar.

Listening, your silence tells me what I need to know. Listening, your eyes show me I am loved. Listening, your hugs free me from my own judgment.

You listen and awareness untangles my thoughts You listen and a peaceful path beckons to me You listen and your compassion overflows my heart.

Thay teaches us to listen with only one purpose: to offer someone an opportunity to empty his or her own heart. If you are able to keep awareness and compassion alive in you, then you can listen even if what the other person says contains a lot of wrong perceptions, condemnations, and bitterness. You can continue to listen because you are already protected by the nectar of compassion in your heart.

With our listening we offer confidence that the suffering person can find his or her way through. Thay suggests that at some later time we might give a word or two to suggest a better way, warning that “Truth heals, but it should be released in small doses over time, like a medicine. If you force the other person to drink all the medicine at one time, he will die.”(2) The nonjudgmental attitude that allows people to be where they are and the freedom to understand in their own time is essential. The trust in each person’s inner awareness without judgment and often without our understanding is why Buddhist psychology is the most effective approach I’ve found to a happy, healthy life.

My heart expanded with joy the day that Mary listened to me. And I know hers did too.

Margaret Kirschner, True Silent Sound, lives and practices in Portland, Oregon.

  1. Thich Nhat Hanh, Transformation at the Base, Berkeley, CA, Parallax Press, 2001, p. 41
  2. Thich Nhat Hanh, “Cultivating Compassion, Responding to Violence,” Mindfulness Bell, (September 13, 2001) p. 8

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