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Women's Empowerment Stories ...

Hearing Into Being

Explore a way of fostering true communication between a speaker and listener.

How many times, over the years, have I felt frustrated at the limitations of verbal communication, whether it be oral or written, intimate or broadcast, personal and/or political. The more subtle and precious the thought, feeling or experience, the more danger there is of completely annihilating it the moment I try to put words to it. But, I love words, and want to experience other realities through them. Sometimes I also want, deeply, to be fully heard and understood.

Here are some of the questions I have pondered for a long time. I don`t have answers-maybe you do. Please, do share your insights!

  • Why is the speaker/writer given more power than the hearer/reader?

  • How can I recognize that each listening/reading is also a creative act?

  • How do I stay true to myself in everyday conversation?

  • How do I avoid influencing others with my own unclear, unworked out stuff? How do I stay clear from this influence coming from others?

  • Can I be in touch with my quiet deep mind while the words are flying?

  • Is much of what I say really code for something simpler -- e.g. pay attention to me, hear my pain, love me?

  • Are these questions universal, or are they only applicable in my (white, anglo, western) culture? In what ways might they be different for males in my culture?

Ten years or so ago, I found a method of communicating among Sonia Johnson's writings. I love to read Sonia-she pushes 'safe' boundaries further than most! Her intention in describing this method, which she calls 'Hearing Into Being,' was to bring forth into the world a body of women's consciousness by creating a space where "listeners and talkers must break their addiction to response and evaluation."

I have practised Hearing Into Being with many people since then-it's a method which brings great rewards. Over time I have found that I am using it in a more personal, less political way. That's not surprising, considering that my whole being is making a shift in that direction.

Sonia Johnson describes the process with wit and clarity. I prefer to give you an example:

I sit with my friend on the hillside, in the warm sunshine. We've chosen a spot by a tree so she can be in full sun and I can be in partial shade. We make ourselves as comfortable and as physically blissful as we can for this time-we want to treat ourselves well.

We see each other once a year, she and I. We work together in a variety of ways. Sometimes we are on different continents, and sometimes in the same room. We deeply respect each other and the paths we have chosen, and we love to hear about the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual adventures we have had since we last met. We are also capable of driving each other nuts. We have very different personalities; sometimes our separate priorities don't mesh; communication breaks down, important tasks don't get done. So, there is always much to talk about.

We decide who will speak first. When I am the speaker, I clear my mind of clutter and search for an entry point into what I want to say. It's important not to have very much of a preconceived idea. Often I find that if I close my eyes and check out my body for a prevalent sensation, or my imagination for a powerful image, I will find something which calls for my attention. Then I start to talk from that point, and I talk till I have nothing else which needs to be said. I pay no attention to my friend. I am safe in the knowledge that she has agreed to give no feedback of any kind while I am speaking, so I don't look or listen for it.

When I am the hearer, I do absolutely nothing, except hear. I make no sound, I try not to move, I certainly don't smile or frown or use any approving or disapproving body language. If my friend agrees, I will probably close my eyes, to focus more strongly on her voice. We may have agreed to touch-hold hands, perhaps, or I will hold her foot-a bridge across the loneliness-but any part of me which is touching her must stay absolutely still. When we have both finished speaking, then we can move, look, touch, hug, laugh, cry-discuss what was said in all the 'normal' ways, feast on our love for ourselves and each other.

Why all the structure? The purpose is to minimize all the little ways in which, during normal conversation, the listener can control the speaker and encourage her to veer from the path she might have chosen. As speakers, we are so used to watching for signals-a smile, a nod, or an approving sound, and we'll expand on what brought it on, and we will likely abandon that train of thought and take another path.

Often the first time a person tries this method, she becomes very confused in speaking. What to do without the usual, culturally approved signals? A common reaction is, "I thought you were angry with me." Sonia says "we feel as if a right is being denied us, even that we are being deliberately humiliated by being made to function without the usual social lubrication." But after she has repeated the process a few times, she will begin to relax into the vastness of complete acceptance and understand that what she wants and needs to say matters. It is very powerful to be received in this total way.

Sonia says, "When we first try to listen passively to others, some of us feel like traitors ... as if we're doing something illegal." Nowadays, however, when I am the 'hearer' I am always amazed at how quickly I get past judgment into deep respect and unconditional love; touched that my friend trusts me this much with her whole self's expression.

~ Mair Smith

Women's circles often support the same principles of complete presence, speaking our personal truth and active listening. Click here to learn how to create a circle.

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