Most weekdays, my wife and I join a fifteen-minute online meditation offered by teachers at the Insight Meditation Society. The other day, teacher Matthew Hepburn introduced a dharma practice of meditating, not on one’s breath or body sensations, but on another person. As Matthew talked, I realized that I experience good facilitation listening as a meditation.
When I’m listening well, I’m practicing a form of meditation where I focus my awareness on the person who is speaking. Not just what they are saying but the totality of their being in the moment.
I believe that being truly heard and seen at meetings is a gift, because “someone to tell it to is one of the fundamental needs of human beings”.
Giving the gift of listening is hard work—until it isn’t. Sometimes, facilitative listening is simple because it’s all that’s going on. The speaker has my full attention. That’s it.
At other times, unfortunately, I’m feeling hungry, wondering if we’re on schedule, noticing that the carpet is ugly, etc. A myriad of possible distractions seduce me from full attention, and I succumb to them over and over again.
This is just like meditation.
In doing either, there are moments when you’re just here, and then all the moments when your attention wanders. Facilitators and meditators do the same thing: we notice that our attention has wandered and then bring it back to the object of attention. Over and over again.
Of course, facilitators don’t have the luxury of devoting their entire allotted time to meditative listening. We have other responsibilities: bringing sharing to a close, breaking on time for lunch, and framing the next segment of our work, to name just a few. Preparing for these transitions requires us to leave listening as a meditation.
But when we’re listening to people, treating such time as a meditation with the speaker as the sole object of our attention is a great practice to practice.
If you’re a facilitator, do you experience facilitative listening as a meditation? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.