Pema Chodron introduces a talking + listening practice activity

Image: young children talk and listen. Susan Michael Barrett, photo credit.

At a meditation retreat, Pema Chodron invited us to practice listening fully and talking genuinely from our heart. 

I'm sharing the activity here because if you're like me, practicing helps me be a better partner, mom, and grandmother. I know the struggle to listen and talk openly and honestly and the effort it takes to quiet my mind in order to hear myself or another.

I believe there are no greater gifts we give than to listen and talk with genuineness. 

It takes tremendous staying power to listen. So I want to practice. 

Pema's activity is meant for groups. This is how it works:

  • A leader invites participants to pair up. 
  • Preferably, choose someone you do not know or do not know well. 
  • Decide who will be the listener to begin. The listener will ask a question and the answerer will answer. 
  • After 4 minutes, stop and switch roles. Now, here is the important part, There's no response from the person listening (which is a good response in itself).
I realize the potential in this exercise. Listening helps us become familiar with habitual responses. I get to practice not fixing another, or composing my own response while another is talking and I'm pretend-listening, or zoning out if what the person says is too hard to bear or hear. 

The goal is to be there and listen. 

When it's my turn to talk, I get to practice talking from my heart (not necessarily disclosing secrets). Genuine talk.

The leader says, "The conversation does not begin until you find a partner and you can see I am skillfully not giving you the question you will talk about yet." She reminds us of our tendency to talk to each other, back and forth. This activity isn't that type of exchange. The listener just listens and doesn't say anything. 

Now that we're ready, here is the question: What are you afraid of?"

Participants begin the practice.

After 4 minutes, a noise to stop is made by the leader and participants shift roles.

There is another 4 minutes of listening and genuine talk practice.

The exercise concludes by offering 3 minutes for both to say whatever needs to be said.

(Note: Writing originally published 10/7/10 after retreat at Omega, 2010.)