The 3 ways we listen in dialogue

In dialogue we are practising listening three ways, which can seem quite hard at first, but with awareness and practice becomes possible.

 
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Listening to Self

Firstly we need to tune into and listen to ourselves. This includes sensing any emotional responses to what is said in our bodies; Our emotions are felt before they are thought and it is often something that is overlooked. Our bodies give us the first sign of how we feel about something; do we have a tight nervous sensation in our stomachs, do we feel nauseous, has our heart started beating faster, do we feel tense? Once we begin to notice these physical sensations we can start to learn the language of feelings to name them. This takes some practice; sometimes we don’t feel anything. We can use our breath to connect us to our bodies, searching within for subtle signs and exploring them. Perhaps what we thought was anger is actually pain. Don’t forget that it is also possible to conjure up emotional sensations by recalling past experiences and feelings so, whilst it is important that we notice these too, we can bring awareness to whether it is something felt in the present moment or a consequence of some past thought or feeling.

Once we have become more in tune with our emotional and physical responses we can bring our attention to our minds. Can we inquire into why it might be that what is being said or happening right now is causing these sensations. Can we trace our thinking back to similar past events or words. Or bring understanding to past experiences that may have developed certain learnt behaviour or habitual thought patterns. What is the tone of the voice inside our heads? Is it our inner critic putting us down or a more compassionate, kind and understanding voice. Often we don’t notice our inner narrative; there are many voices in there, as there are many facets to ourselves. It can be helpful to name them and make friends with them; you don’t need to cast your self-doubt aside but perhaps give him or her a hug. Once we give light to all the elements of ourselves we can better see what lessons they have to teach us, or what needs they might have to become a better version of themselves.

 
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Learning to listen to ourselves can be one of the hardest elements of a listening practice; sometimes we don’t want to listen to the chatter in our heads; we find constant distractions to keep us from those voices; the what ifs, the buts, and the if onlys. We don’t need to tackle them all at once, you are on a lifelong journey, and one that is flowing in constant change, so be gentle and take steps towards knowing yourself a bit better each day. There are many ways to explore ourselves but noticing is a good start. Notice what makes you happy, what makes you feel most alive, or what makes you sad or angry. All feelings are welcome, and are in direct relation to our needs, whether they are met or unmet needs. Learn to pause, take time and reflect. Notice what you are feeling moment to moment; emotions are fleeting so give them space and as you come to observe them they will start to change: no one can stay angry forever, and we all know happiness is fleeting. All emotions are an expression of life, so we don’t need to judge them as good or bad, just accept that they are there, and learn to be with them. If we don’t allow the flow of emotions they will find somewhere to settle in our bodies, festering, ready to surface at the most inopportune moments, where we still might not understand them.

Listening to others

When we think about listening to others there are a few things to consider first. What is our intention for listening? This might sound strange but actually why is it that you want to listen to this person? Do you even want to listen to this person? Do you think they have something of value to say? Do you need something from them? Do you think they should be listening to you but you don’t need to listen to them? Or do you simply want to honour and respect them as a fellow human being and listen with the intent to understand and connect with them. Once we have given some thought to our personal intention we also need to give thought to what the person or group we are listening to needs. Do they just need to make sense of their own thoughts by speaking them out loud. People speaking their problems do not always need a answer, advice or solution from us, in fact, sometimes that is the least helpful thing we can offer them. Maybe they just need the silent acceptance of another human being to hear them and see them for who they are and what they are experiencing in the moment. This of course requires that we are able to suspend our judgement of whatever it is that person is saying, so that they feel open and secure to really speak what is true to them.

 
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Practising non-judgement is an essential part of listening to understand, both for ourselves, as we are often our harshest critics, but also for other people. If you have ever been listened to fully, without judgement, you will know that it is a beautiful, liberating feeling. Listening without judgement does not mean that we will never get to a point that we make a judgement, but it means that we are able to hold that judgement lightly, and really inquire into what is being said, with curiosity and empathy. There is a dance that plays between us when we speak; someone says something we don’t like and we feel our defences raising, ready to jump into action; to attack or defend. Can we stop to notice and inquire into what has caused this reaction? Or perhaps what the person is saying has got us all excited, we can’t wait to jump in, interrupt and say our part. Either way, it is essential that we practice a slow form of communication; one that gives spaces for these feelings to settle and the causes to emerge, to strengthen our understanding of ourselves within the context. There are of course other reasons why someone may need us to listen to them. Perhaps they do indeed need something from us, maybe they need us to mirror back to them what it is we have heard; so they can feel listened to and understood. Or maybe we have some vital knowledge that they need, in which case, have we given them enough time and space to ask the vital questions. Are we delivering knowledge or are we exchanging it? It is also important that we take into considerations the conditions in which we listen, both in ourselves and our environments. Do we listen well when we are stressed, hungry or in a rush? Do we listen well in a noisy room full of distractions? Can we make an assessment on how these might affect the levels of listening required and suggest we move to a different location or speak at another time.

Listening to the group

Finally there is listening to the group. This means listening to the flow of meaning that is emerging from our collectives voices and thinking. When we are in a successful dialogue, this flows naturally from one voice to another, building or reflecting on what is being said until we start to build a picture of what the group thinks and feels on a particular topic. As each voice, experience and insight is added, we start to see things with fresh eyes and new perspectives. We start to transform. When we are speaking and listening to the group there is no real need to speak at or to one another, because we are speaking together, speaking to the meaning that is forming at the centre of the circle. A collective intelligence begins to form in the circle, and it is this intelligence that can give us insight and understanding to complex problems, can answer questions that seemingly had no answers, and can provide direction for taking next steps.

 
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That is not to say that when communicating together this way we will not experience or feel disturbance. What is being said may create emotions that conflict with our feelings and beliefs. It is important in a dialogue to accept that our opinions and beliefs are assumptions, based on our experiences, and that we each have a unique set of experiences that have shaped us. There is value in all our experiences if we can share them with the spirit of fellowship and trust. We can learn to live with our differences because we have come together in our humanness. We can discover understanding, where previously there may have been anger, indifference or frustration. We begin to realise what is lost when we lead from the instant judgements of someone; that person doesn’t look like me, doesn’t sound like me; couldn’t possibly relate to me. What we gain from communicating with each other in this way is a feeling of connection and a sense of what it means to be truly human. We don’t necessarily all have to be convinced to have the same view but we can come to a coherence and shared meaning of our collective views.We are a reflection of Mother Nature; with the vastness of her diversity, we are also diverse in our beliefs, likes, dislikes, cultures. Mother Nature is an ecosystem-each plant and animal has their role to play to maintain balance and harmony. So when listening as a group we can take inspiration from Mother Nature, tune into our intuition, listen deeply from our bodies, hearts and minds and allow our collective intelligence to emerge from the centre.

 
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UK Values Alliance Dialogue - Values & Others

Last night was the second in the series of four dialogues I am facilitating for the UK Values Alliance. Following on from the first dialogue exploring Values & The Self, last night we met and took time to consider Values & Others.

After a brief check-in and mindfulness exercise I asked the participants to find a pair for the paper tear exercise. After silently taking turns to tear the paper, I gave them two minutes to write values that are important to them on the pieces of paper, and once again place them down in front of their partner. A lively ten minute discussion followed, as the pairs discussed why they had chosen those values and compared meaning of any shared values.

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After this quick warm-up we entered into the dialogue. Following on from the exercise people commented on how they found that even if they had the same word as their partner, they did not necessarily share the same meaning of that word. This highlights the sometimes limiting nature of human language to express and put into words something that is often felt and sensed in our bodies before it is 'thought' in our minds. The value of beauty was an example of varied meanings from the group; from nature, to mathematical equations, to chaos, to every human being as beautiful. 

This led on to an exploration of whether we act out our values unconsciously, or consciously. If we take time to consciously consider our values and become more aware of them, might this in turn affect our consideration of other people's values. This also requires an understanding of how conscious we are of our thought patterns, and the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. It may be that we have different values or different meanings of the same value because we are all shaped by our experiences, and our experiences can create habitual thought patterns and learnt behaviour that can cloud our ability to meet people and situations with fresh thinking and non-judgement. Equally we all have an internal hierarchy of values, we all have different values and we prioritise them differently.

The example of litter was given as behaviour of others that is hard to understand and tolerate. Why would someone choose to litter our shared environment, and equally what drives others to pick it up when it is not theirs. This proved a very good example and raised two further points around the values of acceptance and understanding. Some felt that acceptance of the person who had littered was part of understanding the human condition; we are all doing the best we can, with what we have. Others raised concern that an acceptance of people dropping litter was parallel to doing nothing and becoming apathetic. For some acceptance means non-action, for others acceptance leads to action; for is it possible to encourage the person that litters to stop littering if we show them anger and aggression or if we meet them with acceptance and love.

This part of the dialogue was neatly summarised in the check-out by Alan, who discovered the need for understanding to understand what is driving the other person to litter.

'There can't be understanding, without understanding.' 

The dialogue flowed to and from what it means to be human; are we inherently 'good' or 'bad'. What assumptions do we have about human nature and how that drives and shapes our different engagement with values both intellectually and emotionally. Does a more conscious awareness of our values give us the ability to see 'you in me' - what is in you in also in me, the equal capacity for 'good' and 'bad.'

One beautiful example was given of the sun that shines within all of us, covered by clouds that we put there through social conditioning and experience. Our values are the rays of sun shining out through the clouds, connecting us to each other, to our common nature and to the values within all of us that we all share.

'...the exercise, being in the present the power of the group,the support really makes it possible to go deeper and to connect, (with) what I still believe is common, all these values are common to all of us, they don't always get expressed, but they're there, available.'

We were given profound stories of forgiveness and empathy; to be able to pray for forgiveness of enemies, see the suffering in those that harm us and look past all the problems, listen without judgement but with love and ask the most relevant questions.

We also touched on the difference between community values and individual values. We had mostly spoken from the perspective of our individual values and how we use these to relate to and understand others and their values, but we did not explore the values that a community can share and act on together. The same applies to organisations looking to embody their company values. 

Perhaps we find it harder to extend our thinking to community values because we give such little time and space to coming together to reflect, share and think. Being in dialogue with groups demonstrates how if we take time to pause, create stillness and space, we can begin to understand each others values, and the thinking and feelings behind them. For me it felt like we were sharing a dance of values and left me with the question of how we become more in rhythm with each other, the flow of life and our values in it.

'The part that I found most useful was in a group the way we are, there is a real openness, and that has allowed people to speak more from the heart not just the intellectual part. 

Exploring Freedom at Cumberland Lodge

Just before the Christmas break I was lucky enough to be invited to the majestic Cumberland Lodge to run a session for the International Student Christmas Retreat on the theme of Freedom.

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Cumberland Lodge is an educational charity that seeks more peaceful, open and inclusive societies. We tackle social divisions by equipping and inspiring people to engage in constructive dialogue.
— cumberlandlodge.ac.uk
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Every year Cumberland Lodge invite international students studying in the UK, who are not able to be with their families over the Christmas break to take part in festive celebrations and some thought-provoking sessions. 

I was tasked with running the first session of the day, with over 50 students to engage at 9am in the morning! I started by asking them to sit on the floor in two circles, easier said than done, for a group check-in, with the question, 'what have you been most grateful for in 2017.' People and opportunities seemed to be the most popular answers, demonstrating that relationships and fulfilling our potentials come high on our list of meaningful things to be grateful for. Then after a short mindfulness exercise we moved to the next room for a paper tear exercise. I love this exercise to start off a session as it helps build relationships, relaxes the group, whilst also showing individuals how they relate to others and to tasks given. It is natural that some embrace their creative and playful sides, whilst other more task-focused individuals rush to 'get the job done.' After the first part of the exercise I challenged the students to write as many words that they associate with freedom or feeling free on the paper. Below are some of the results.

After the pairs had discussed their differences and similarities on the topics of freedom and feeling free we went into a Knowledge Cafe style discussion, with three rounds of conversation building on what had emerged in the first exercise. I introduced this by sharing with the students the root meaning of the word free, a meaning that surprised me when I was researching for the workshop.

 Source: etymonline.com

Source: etymonline.com

To frame the further discussion on the topic of free with the idea that it originated with the words love and friendship, among others gave a new energy to the room. I also shared an excerpt from David Bohm's book On Creativity

The tendency to “fall asleep” is sustained by an enormous number of habitually applied preconceptions and prejudices, most of which are absorbed at a very early age, in a tacit rather than explicit form. Therefore, whoever is really interested in what it really means to be original and creative will have, above all, to pay careful and continual attention to how these are always tending to condition his thoughts, feelings, and overall behaviour. After a while, such a person will begin to notice that almost all that is done by the individual and by society is in fact rather strictly limited by such largely tacit and essentially mechanical constraints. But as he becomes sensitively aware of how the whole process works, in himself and in others, he is likely to discover that the mind is beginning to come to a more natural state of freedom, in which all this conditioning is seen to be the triviality that it really is.
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After a very lively Knowledge Cafe we met again in our circles to check-out with our reflections and thoughts on what had arisen in the conversations, and any new perspectives that were discovered. It was a rich session and we created much new thinking in a short space of time. Thanks for having me Cumberland Lodge!

 

 

 

The Value(s) of Dialogue

Here is my second blog post for World Values Day

“A society is a link in relationships among people and institutions, so that we can live together. But it only works if we have a culture-which implies we share meaning; i.e. significance, purpose and values. Otherwise it falls apart. - David Bohm
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David Bohm was a quantum physicist, a contemporary of Einstein, whose work focused on his theory of Wholeness and the Implicate Order; believing that our reality and consciousness form a coherent whole. In his later life he developed a friendship with Indian philosopher, Krishnamurti, and during this time developed his theory of Dialogue; a form of group communication that has the potential to create new ways of thinking by sharing meaning together in a non-judgemental and free-flowing space.

“At the heart of the art of thinking together is an exploration of the underlying motives and intentions of the people concerned.” -William Isaacs

Bohm believed that one of the main causing factors of the challenges we face in the world is fragmentation: fragmentation of our societies, organisations and even ourselves. Dialogue in fact, starts with the self; ‘how successful am I at listening to and speaking with myself?’ Listening is the first principle and a leading value of dialogue. First we must set the intention to listen to others with respect and the intention to understand; secondly we must listen to ourselves, to the resistance, defenses and patterns of thought that occur within us when listening to other people; and thirdly we must listen to the group, for the shared meaning and collective themes that are unfolding as the dialogue flows. Non-judgement is the second principle of dialogue. It requires an openness and honesty that allows us to share our truths with the spirit of fellowship and trust. To listen from a point of non-judgement it is important that we accept that our opinions are assumptions, based on our previous experience. In a dialogue it is not necessary that everyone be of the same opinion, what is important is that we share our opinions and experiences and are able to suspend any judgements that may arise, long enough for the group to be able to inquire into them and create new knowledge from the sharing of meaning.

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“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weaknesses.” - Brene Brown

Bohm was concerned with the thinking process and the awareness that allows us to notice what is happening from moment to moment. For many of us we rely on habitual patterns of ‘thoughts’ that rush into our minds when we are faced with familiar or challenging situations. In dialogue, if we are able to suspend and become aware of our thoughts and judgements, we will be able to create space for new ‘thinking’ to form. Discomfort can arise from this space as we have the time to reflect on why it is we think a certain way, the root causes of this thinking and how it may relate to our sense of self. To engage in dialogue therefore, requires both vulnerability and courage.

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“It is our values and attitudes that drive how we speak and listen” -Linda Ellinor and Glenna Gerard

A key value of dialogue is the principle of participation, a desire to work with the collective intelligence of the group. To be open to the energy of the group, that allows for individual freedom, coupled with shared responsibility. Through dialogue we are able to see complex inter-relationships and form new ways of thinking together about how the world works. The guiding values for a successful dialogue can be felt and experienced as  listening, trust, openness, respect, honesty, awareness, courage, vulnerability, participation, inclusion and creativity. However, we each bring our own leading values to a dialogue, which will inform how we participate, and may even shift within or after the dialogue as we open ourselves to new perspectives, possibilities and the experience of relating well to each  other.  For the ultimate goal of dialogue is creative motion, to recognise that we are dynamic free-flowing beings, interrelated and interdependent.

“We voluntarily change our minds and our behaviour in response to our own internalisation of new values and thinking. This is much more likely to occur in an environment that supports exploration of new thinking and behaviours.” -Linda Ellinor and Glenna Gerard
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This article originally appeared on the World Values Day website here.

Values: A Foundation for Sustainable Thinking

As a member of the UK Values Alliance and in celebration of World Values Day I was asked to write about values and why they are important to me and my work. Here is the first of two blogs.

Disposable fashion - disposable values
As World Values Day approaches I am considering my own personal journey to spending more time considering and living by my values. I first began thinking deeply about values when I was tasked with writing a research essay during my masters course; Fashion & The Environment. The fashion and clothing market has changed dramatically over the last 20 years, and is now the second largest polluting industry globally. Currently three quarters of UK consumers admit to throwing away clothes, rather than recycling or donating them. This results in 235m items of unwanted clothing ending up in UK landfill per year. For something to be thrown away so easily, it is often because we deem it to have little or no value. With disposable fast fashion clothing, we have been conditioned to perceive the value in the low cost price, with little consideration to the person who made the garment, the impact of its production on the environment, the quality, longevity and emotional durability in our wardrobes and what happens with it once we have tired of it. Our society has changed from values of make-do- and-mend to that of instant gratification and disposability.
With the realisation that without a strong foundation of value based thinking and behaviour, this value-less, throw-away consumption is likely to continue, I began to consider how it is we form our values and how in turn these chosen values affect our identity and actions.

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Challenging Our Value Systems

In a bid to look at ways that we can make sustainability issues more engaging and relevant to people’s lives, I began to design and test a series of workshops exploring emotional sustainability. On realising that until we increase the discourse on values, we will struggle to increase the discourse on sustainability, I naturally started with a workshop helping people to explore their personal and shared values. Acknowledging that values are not something that is frequently considered amongst many people, I chose to begin with a simpler question: what is it that you need to survive, and what do you need to thrive? This became a powerful pair of questions and ones that I have returned to again and again. Not only does it help participants consider whether their basic needs are being met, and what they can do to empower themselves to reach their potential. It also highlights our differences and similarities, and the reasons for these. And finally it often shows that we take for granted the basic gifts of the earth and mother nature: water, sunlight, air, earth-things that are increasingly compromised by pollution and climate change. From the conversations that arise in dialogue from this exercise, it becomes a natural progression to speak about values and begin to understand what is important to us and why.

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As part of my research I also conducted a small questionnaire on sustainability and behaviour change. On asking those surveyed, what bought most meaning to their life, the overwhelming majority of answers were: spending time with family and friends, doing something creative and spending time in nature. Answers not linked to material value but the the value of time spent doing things we love, with fellow human beings and our environment. It is true that there is often a value-action gap in what we say is important to us and how we act. In the same survey I asked people what they thought were the biggest barriers to sustainable living, the majority answered: time, convenience and cost. So what happens between the restraints of time and
cost, and that which brings meaning to our lives? When it comes to living more sustainable choices, there are some small changes that are simple; like carrying a reusable shopping bag and reusable water bottle to reduce our plastic consumption. But how many of us have given up our smart phones due to knowledge that the raw earth minerals inside could have be mined by children? Where does our responsibility as consumers end and the designers and manufacturers responsibility begin? And what about our joint responsibility as global citizens on a shared planet? If we consider these questions using our personal and shared values as a starting place, we can move from a position of guilt for not doing enough and feeling powerless, to one of empowerment through the knowledge that we know how we want to live our lives and what kind of world we want to live in together.

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This article was originally featured on the World Values Day website here.

Vulnerability & Play

I have been lucky enough to meet Play Expert Yesim Kunter and together we are developing ideas for a Vulnerability & Play workshop at monthly playdates.

Here is a short video of some work in progress.  In this exercise we are looking at shedding negative labels and limiting beliefs, to reveal hopes and dreams.

Welfare and the World | School of Economic Science

I was invited to speak at the School of Economic Science as part of their latest Inspiration Day - Welfare of the World.  I spoke about Emotional Sustainability in Practice and why I think creativity and dialogue are such important tools as agents for change and how I use them in my work and projects.

I was one of eight speakers, all of whom were very inspiring and insightful.  It was a great day and I am very grateful to have been a part of it.

As requested by some of the attendees I am posting my presentation slides.

Poetry Workshop at Lights of Soho

On Saturday I co-hosted a poetry workshop with Danielle Allen from Indigo Poetry at the gallery and members bar, Lights of Soho.

Our theme was The Feminine Principle, an area we had chosen to explore with both genders to create a dialogue on the feminine and masculine energies that we all naturally possess and the qualities that reflect these energies.  

 Source: cherieroedirksen.com

Source: cherieroedirksen.com

“We are beginning to become aware that what it means to live as a woman does not mean to be lock-stepped into a culturally-defined gender role that embodies and ensouls feminine attributes, and that to live meaningfully as a man does not mean that he must submit to a stereotyped ideal of masculine qualities. The emerging level of our current collective consciousness, regarding this issue, recognizes that each individual’s creative and unique soul-making process is an ever-evolving dance of change and renewal between yin and yang, masculine and feminine, male and female.”
— - Carol Wolf Winters, Ph.D

We had seven participants at the workshop, five female and two male.  We began by introducing the Dialogue Guidelines in accordance with David Bohm's theory.  Our first exercise was constructed poems.  Each participant was given a text relating to the feminine principle and a poem reflecting a feminine quality, and asked to construct a poem with alternate lines from the article and poem.

The results were very interesting and the text and poems provoked different reactions in the participants.

After we performed the poems to each other and had a short break, followed by an energising movement exercise we started the next exercise.  We asked participants to select three words that we provided, either two masculine qualities and one feminine or two feminine and one masculine and write a haiku with each word in one line.  Some found this exercise more challenging but there were some great results and we discussed our reactions to the words, whether we thought they truly were 'feminine' or 'masculine' and any other feelings they provoked in us.

'my own awareness,
penetrating your structure,
becomes protective.'

Our last exercise was to ask the participants to select a natural object that we provided a write a love poem or ode to it.  This exercise produced some incredible results, reflecting the power and beauty of nature and our relationship and connection to it, and what we can learn when we take the time to stop and give our full attention to something we previously did not consider or thought to be insignificant.

'The most important reason why we are out of balance with Nature is the fact that we have lost complete sight of this unifying aspect and have made the feminine principle as well as Life and our Earth our enemy'
-The Whole Elephant Revealed, Marja de Vries.

Some participants feedback...

What did you find most interesting about this workshop?
"Uncovering my own potential to write poetry! The exercises and prompts were very good at easing us into it."

What did you enjoy most about this workshop?
"A chance to write with other people rather than in isolation.  Poetry can be a lonely activity."

"Sharing our thoughts that came from the exercises in a 'dialogue'"

Did anything we discussed during the workshop change your thinking in any way or particularly resonant?
"Feminine, masculine principles; a big debate.  Pleased that the event was open to all genders."

"Creativity, relinquishing control."

"The idea of principles and exploring that."

Any other comments?
"It felt like a hug from the universe."

"So good.  I am less of a cynic now."