In the following article, Rob Foxcroft describes the practice of Meditative Listening.
(1) Meditative Listening is founded on one central insight: that the act of listening is transformative for the listener.
Listening enlarges the listener.
Yes, it is transformative to be heard. Of course. It is transformative when we hear ourselves when our inner truth drains the swamps of Inner Fake News (if I may put it that way). But as much as either of those – perhaps even more – we are transformed in the act of listening to others. Empathy transforms the one who offers empathy. I don’t hear this said so often, but then, I don’t get around a lot.
(2) Meditative Listening is moved by a going-back, by searching for a way to be faithful to the roots of focusing-and-listening in the person-centered approach; and the roots of the later person-centered approach in the nondirective innovations of the pre-encounter years. Two depths of digging for roots, then.
(3) Meditative Listening (if I may be forgiven the phrase) is about ‘outer relationship focusing’. It takes it as a given that life-forward steps come in the context of human relationships.
(4) However, Meditative Listening is also centrally concerned with the many, many things which come between the listener and the act of listening truly. Half my book is about ‘the mind of the listener’.
(5) Meditative Listening is much warier than other focusing approaches are when it comes to guiding the focuser. Those approaches have their place, of course, but I do think there is room for an approach that is extremely circumspect about being directive and aims to respect the focuser’s ownership of the encounter in a truly radical way.
(6) The most gorgeous of all the wonderful focusing workshops I ever attended was given by a group of three Japanese women at the International Focusing Conference in the Netherlands. The year was 2006, and the conference took place only a week or two after my father died. I wish I knew who they were. If anybody knows, I hope you will tell me.
The workshop was called ‘Focusing in Everyday Life’: and the presenters introduced a wide variety of everyday activities into which a focusing moment might be introduced. It was all done with the utmost grace and delicacy, with a flawless sense of timing and an effortless lightness of touch. In the course of this generous workshop, the presenters showed me how my raw and recent grief could be sensitively held in the moment-to-moment flow of everyday life. I have never lost contact with this beautiful lesson or ceased to feel thankful for it.
Meditative Listening is about bringing moments of focusing-and-listening into the texture of everyday life: always as a single, pre-separated unity, always as focusing-and-listening together.
(7) Finally, Meditative Listening is disquieted by any sense of the provincial. It doesn’t belong to the Mid-West or (as it were) to ‘the Vietnam moment after the Tet Offensive amongst middle-class university students in the middle United States’. And of course, nobody’s focusing is provincial in quite that way. I’m exaggerating something to make a point…
…which is that Meditative Listening makes a very active effort to learn from other times and places: from Augustine in North Africa, from Mahavira in India, from Shinran Shonin in Japan, from (it might be) the Pitjantjatjara Ananga around Uluru, from the shaman in the Arctic and the kid in the nursery; equally from present and living voices in (let us say) Afghanistan or Argentina or wherever.
Meditative Listening is very much a project of learning from human experience everywhere: a modest (and surely very limited) foray into a transnational, transtemporal humanism.
Rob Foxcroft: “I’ve been a classical musician all my life and have been teaching piano-playing for many years. Almost from the beginning, I found that listening to other people did more for my life than anything else could do. In March 1988 I went to Chicago to learn focusing-and-listening from Gene Gendlin. Later I studied the person-centered approach with Brian Thorne. I write poems and essays. I used to build drystone walls and have loved creating a garden. I like to be in the hills, by the sea or quietly at home with my family. I recently brought out a book about empathy, self-empathy and the act of listening. It is called: Feeling Heard, Hearing Others.”
Photo: Callum T / Unsplash