Healing Our Communities
An article by Brian Berman published in Listening with the Heart by Carol Hwoschinsky, available through The Compassionate Listening Project.
Do you truly know what is positive and what is negative? Do you have the total picture? There have been many people for whom limitation, failure, loss, illness, or pain in whatever form turned out to be their greatest teacher. It taught them to let go of false self-images and superficial ego-dictated goals and desires. It gave them depth, humility, and compassion. It made them more real. –Eckhart Tolle
After the attacks of 9/11 and the feelings that arose in this country, Brian saw the seeds of global conflict were also present in his dearest friends. He saw that some kind of healing modality was wanted and needed that didn’t yet exist. Brian felt inspired to create a community based listening council to support healing these conflicts.
Brian began to share his vision with some good friends about starting a Listening Council. Many were enthusiastic, feeling the great need in the community for a safe council of peers. So he further investigated what skills would be needed to bring to this new work. Having Leah Green, founder of The Compassionate Listening Project in his community helped a great deal, for he knew of her work with Compassionate Listening and asked for her support which she generously gave. Wanting to have leadership of both genders, he invited a close woman friend, Therese Charvet, who had years of leadership experience in women’s groups, to co-facilitate this work.
The Weekly Practice Group
They drafted a letter (November 2001), citing the ruptures in their community and the tragedy of 9/11 as good reasons to come together for some healing. They invited friends to come learn the helpful skills of Compassionate Listening and begin to heal their community based conflicts as a path toward making the world a safer place to live. Brian then took the Compassionate Listening training and invited those in the training to also partake in this group. From this weekly practice group, Brian envisioned that they would hone our skills and hold specialListening Councils for when it would be needed by community members.
They started with twenty participants and had an average of 14 at each weekly meeting. The participants ranged in age from 18 to 64, usually in an equal number of men and women. The group met on a weekly basis for 10 years.
Overview of each meeting
• Meditation to clear our minds and become more present in the moment. If you are not present, you are not able to listen to others.
• A verbal check-in from each person without cross talk. This non-judgmental listening begins our practice of listening from our hearts.
• A teaching exercise to advance our skill in Compassionate Listening.
• Each participant indicates whether they want to be a speaker or listener; we break into large or small groups to do our Compassionate Listening practice.
• To close we gather together as one group, and wrap up by doing some debriefing about what was experienced and learned in the practice sessions.
Our Tips Sheet “Practice, Practice, Practice”
• Stay Present
• Don’t try to “Fix It”
• Watch your Judgments
• Allow Silence
• Avoid asking Why
• Ask opening type questions
• Listen with your heart and not your head
• Don’t take what you hear as personal
A Circle for Conflict Resolution, Personal Growth and Community Healing
We envision a world where communities provide love, support and compassionate listening to those in conflict and/or personal crisis. We envision a community where everyone feels like an “insider” and everyone’s gifts are seen, valued and contribute to the wholeness and health of the community.
What We Do
When called by someone in conflict or in personal crisis, we create a circle of peers who gather in Council to listen, and create an opportunity for that person to be seen, acknowledged and heard. When the situation involves a conflict with others who are interested in Listening Council as a tool for resolution, we meet with all involved parties separately and then together. The Councils provide a forum for the resolution of conflicts, both inner and outer. Listening Councils offer a safe place to express emotion, an opportunity for the depth of the difficulty to be revealed and accepted, and a way through the suffering into a new freedom where the gifts of the situation can be identified and appreciated.
What it Looks Like
Councils consist of anywhere from 2-10 people, including at least one person trained in Compassionate Listening who acts as facilitator. Sometimes specific listeners are specially invited by the person requesting the Council; other times the call for listeners goes out to our practice group and the Council consists of whoever can show up at the designated time. Peer listeners are motivated because of their personal connection to those in crisis and their desire to give back the support and love they have received during their own challenges and conflicts. Councils may meet only once, or in the case of conflicts with others, several times. Each Council generally lasts 1 to 2 hours.
• To create a new approach to conflict resolution
• To create a healing environment, a safe space where transformation can occur
• To offer Compassionate Listening rather than advice and problem-solving
• To help each person discover his/her own inner wisdom
• To dig deeply into what is underneath conflicts and challenges
• To see what there is to learn in challenges and conflicts; to “find the pearl”
• To identify and release blame and judgment toward oneself and others
• To help speakers to identify and articulate unmet needs
• To catalyze growth, spiritual, and emotional evolution
• To heal the isolation of modern communities
Listening Council is not aligned with any particular religion or brand of spirituality; it is not therapy. It is built on the following universal truths:
• Full hearted listening generates healing, transformative energy
• Challenges and conflicts provide an opportunity for self-discovery
• The outer life is a reflection of the inner life
• A common cause of suffering is personal thought patterns that hold us as “victim”
• Humility, acknowledging how much we do not know, is a key to conflict resolution
• Personal freedom comes from forgiveness and reconciliation
• The heart, not the head, is the place for healing to happen
• Mindfulness is an essential pathway to healing
• Nonjudgmental peer listening models how to be compassionate with ourselves
• Acceptance of “What is” is the key to healing
• We are all both students and teachers in the lessons of life
• Bringing more facilitation into each session: we recognize that without good facilitators the person who is speaking can remain stuck in their story.
• Listeners have varying degrees of Compassionate Listening skills, so we have been occasionally sidetracked by questions or advice-giving that have not helped the speaker.
• We recognize that Listening Council is not therapy and that those in conflict may need professional help in addition. On the other hand, we see the healing value of peers supporting those who they care about within the context of community.
• The amount of time it takes to bring each relationship conflict into a state of reconciliation. When people are in conflict, it requires meeting with each person individually until such time as we sense they are ready to walk in the shoes of the other(s), and then to meet with them together to listen to each other. It is a challenge to stay with the individual when they want to have a face to face with the other and are not yet ready to take full responsibility for their part in the conflict.
We offer skilled leadership and facilitation training for communities that want to start Compassionate Listening practice groups and Listening Councils. Contact us.