Listening Deeply & Speaking the Truth

It is clear from our body language when we are really present for each other. Photo by Jeff Klein.

All the Insight Dialogue guidelines are fundamental to establishing the meditative qualities for Insight Dialogue relational practice. Without first Pausing, Relaxing, Opening and Attuning to Emergence, I do not know how it would be possible to Listen Deeply and Speak the Truth. In that spirit, during a recent Insight Dialogue practice that I co-facilitated with my guide and mentor, Jan Surrey (bio below), I paused and directed attention both inward and outward, and then called on all of those guidelines to discern what might want to be spoken in that moment.  I heard myself saying that not only people but all of nature listens and speaks and that I always come back to gratitude.

Listening Deeply makes use of the amazing receptive capacity of our sensitive body-heart-minds. We can harness energy and mindfulness to direct attention both outward and inward at the same time. There is deep beauty in opening to the internal and external flow of all that we can sense. That can provide access to wisdom and compassion in that moment, the moment we are alive. Still, I sometimes get lost in my own responses. When that happens, I gently return to mindfulness with kindness and compassion. There is a lot going on at the same time. We take in words and match those with meanings and associations. We take in tones of voice, and changing facial expressions. We participate in the flowing “music” arising between us. Deep listening as meditative practice means allowing oneself to be touched by the unexpected, to open to whatever arises. Awe is possible, so is learning to welcome being influenced.  

Speaking the Truth involves listening internally, discerning, and then speaking emerging truth in relation to a specific contemplation. Not stating what we think is true about the topic. Not sharing theoretical, or scientific truth. We use the support of the Insight Dialogue guidelines Pause, Relax, Open, Attune to Emergence, and Listen Deeply in relation to the contemplation. We draw on the whole body-heart-mind in investigating and speaking with an intention to adopt the teachings on wise speech: to speak what is true and not false; to speak what is beneficial and timely – is it appropriate to say that now? We attempt to speak in a way that is gentle, nonviolent and kind, and finally, to speak from compassion with an intention to liberate from suffering. We take care, knowing that speaking like listening, can influence us and others in ways that matter.

Listening and speaker inter are and work together. The wisdom of bringing attentive care to listening and speaking is clear from many Buddhist teachings: 

Right View (Anguttara Nikaya): “there are these two conditions for the the arising of right view, Which two? The voice of another and appropriate (or wise) attention.”

The Holy Life (Kalyanamittata): Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life.”

Right Speech (Samma Vaca) One tries to abandon wrong speech & to enter into right speech: This is one’s right effort. One is mindful to abandon wrong speech & to enter & remain in right speech: This is one’s right mindfulness. Thus these three qualities — right view, right effort & right mindfulness  & run & circle around right speech.”

 When listening deeply and speaking the truth something quite remarkable can happen – a working toward and aligning with what is true now. That creates an opening to release and ease that comes from a place beyond the personal. It is also a means to cultivate wisdom and compassion that bring with them a greater capacity for peace, happiness and wise action. In so many small and large ways, we really do practice Listening Deeply and Speaking the Truth for the benefit of all beings.

Instructions for dyad dialogue practice:

I invite you to Pause, Relax, Open, and Attune to Emergence as you explore how Listening Deeply & Speaking the Truth work together.

      Structure: – 20 minutes: S1, L1, (switch roles) S2, L2, Open 

S1 – Speaker 1 speaks for 4 minutes while Listener 1 listens. Pause

L1 -Listener 1  reflects for 4 minutes on the process of listening. Pause

          The Partners switch roles (Listener 1 becomes Speaker 2)

S2 – Speaker 2 speaks for 4 minutes while Listener 2 listens. Pause

L2 – Listener 2 reflects for 4 minutes on the process of listening. Pause  

Open – 4 minutes of open exchange with no formal speaker or listener roles.

Note:  At the start of dialogue practice, participants take a minute to introduce themselves and determine who will speak first.  At the end, participants thank their partners for the opportunity to practice together.

Contemplations for dialogue practice:

When speaking: What do you notice about how your partner’s practice of listening affects you as you Speak the Truth?

When listening: What did you notice about how your partner’s practice of speaking affected you as you Listened Deeply?

During Open Dialogue: What is it like speaking and listening with formal roles dropped?

It Might Sound Like This:

As Speaker: I notice I am pausing to see what is here. There is anxiety about not knowing what to say. Sensing you watching me, I feel a bit self-conscious. Noticing your smile, I feel myself relax. As I pause and settle, I can sense you are not judging me. That is encouraging.

As Listener: I noticed that you really took your time figuring out what to share. That helped me pause and relax. When you tilted your head, I felt welcome. When your tone of voice softened, that affected how I understood your words. I could feel myself bringing in energy, becoming really interested in what you had to say.

 I invite you to draw on the support of all the guidelines and make good use of the Pause before, during, and after speaking.  

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With deep gratitude for all the support and guidance from my Insight Dialogue Teacher, Janet Surrey, who teaches Insight Dialogue retreats worldwide as well as leading a monthly practice group in the Boston area. She serves on the Teachers Council for the Insight Dialogue Community. Starting in 2007, she has been working with Gregory Kramer, founding teacher of Insight Dialogue meditation, a relational meditation practice within the Theravādan Buddhist tradition. She is a practicing clinical psychologist and a founding scholar of the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at Wellesley College. She is also on the board of the Institute for Meditation and Psychology.

Cultivating Authentic Connection

Sharing tea during tea and dialogue practice (photo by Jeff Klein)

Convinced there is great need to create opportunities for authentic connection, I started working on a new mindfulness practice that involves respectfully sharing tea and dialogue. While technology has numerous practical advantages, many of us engage much less in the kind of trusting face-to-face interaction that helps our social species thrive. Loneliness and social isolation, which have been found to be as bad for us as smoking, were on the rise even before the pandemic.

This post explains why I chose to take elements from two very different relational practices to create what I hoped would prove to be an accessible and adaptable new secular “tea and dialogue” practice.

At first glance, Japanese tea ceremony’s largely silent formal sharing of a bowl of tea might seem worlds away from the in-the-moment candid verbal sharing of Insight Dialogue. But both practices provide the safety and support needed to bring sustained attention to social interaction that deeply taps the wellbeing of felt connection. And both can open the door to life-transforming insight.

Japanese tea ceremony is a performance art that takes place in a tranquil setting apart from everyday worries. Water is whisked into a bowl containing a mound of powdered green tea and bowls of tea are shared with a few guests. After much practice, body learning makes it possible to carry out the detailed prescribed procedures with artless ease. Time slows down. Sustained embodied awareness opens one to the deeper beauty that can be found in imperfect objects, in nature, in all those gathered in the tea room, and in each moment. Sharing tea with many different guests over the years always left me feeling centered and at peace regardless of what else was going on in my life. Japanese tea ceremony began to feel like a time capsule of wisdom that was badly needed in these particularly stressful times.

Insight Dialogue is a practice with three elements; meditative awareness, investigation of a topic capable of imparting wisdom, and human relating. Participants form into pairs or small groups and take turns for timed intervals sharing what arises in the moment on the designated contemplation topic. That all listen without commenting creates safety, while the practice’s guidelines – Pause, Relax, Open, Attune to Emergence, Listen Deeply and Speak the Truth – provide powerful support. The subjective impressions that are shared tend to be intrinsically interesting. They are often wise and moving; more like poetry than everyday speech. Being truly heard is rare. Listening carefully is a natural way to encourage others to continue returning that precious favor. After a time, I found myself bringing the same nonjudgmental supportive energy to everyday conversations, even stressful ones, and that transformed my life.

Bringing sustained embodied awareness to authentic sharing amplifies the wellbeing and resilience that generosity and gratitude provide for our species. That compassion is warranted becomes clear (given how much each of us has to contend with), but so are joy and gratitude (given how much we are able to give and receive from each other).

Posts describing variations of the new practice combining elements of Japanese tea ceremony with meditative verbal sharing are available by clicking on the Tea & Dialogue category to the right and scrolling down. Whether with dear friends or with someone new, it is well worth remembering how much we benefit from authentic connection.

Object Lessons

I recently acquired a tiny (4 cm tall) copper “Three Wise Monkeys” statue. Finding a ceramic version confirmed my suspicions that the three monkeys statue was a futaoki (lid rest in Japanese) used to support the kettle lid when hot water is poured into tea bowls. But associations with manmade objects can be complex and change over time. I wanted to learn more.

An article about the symbolism of the three monkeys noted, “During the Warring States period of China, around 475 to 221 BCE, the Analects of Confucius included the proverb of looking not at what’s contrary to being right; listening not to what’s contrary to being right; making no movement which is contrary to being right.”

I was glad to learn from this article that the monkeys were present in Japan at the time tea ceremony was gaining popularity; “By the time of the Tokugawa period, also known as the Edo period, which lasted from 1603 to 1867, the three monkeys were portrayed in Buddhist sculptures. At the Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, Japan, an eight panel sculpture represents the Code of Conduct developed by Confucius. One of the panels is the Three Wise Monkeys, symbolizing the principle of not seeing, not hearing and not saying anything evil…The message is that we should protect ourselves by not letting evil enter our sight, not allowing evil words to enter our hearing, and finally to not speak and engage in evil words and thoughts.”

The meaning ascribed to the three monkeys changed as they spread to new lands; later in Europe, the monkeys provided a reminder of the need to be blind, deaf and dumb in order to live in peace. Now with technology making it possible for fake news to travel faster than real news and the increasingly subtle ways evil doers are finding to manipulate our harmful human mind tendencies, the monkeys’ warning is taking on new poignancy.

They are also used as emojis – the hear no evil monkey to suggest hearing something one did not wish to “hear,” and speak no evil, when a comment seemed inappropriate for the topic under discussion.

I wonder what new associations these three enigmatic little monkeys will acquire in the future? I will smile as I place the little monkeys next to the hot water kettle before guests arrive to share tea in my hut.

Signs of Our Times

Signs are sprouting up everywhere in my neighborhood near Boston. The presidential election is coming up soon and that would certainly inspire signs. However many serious issues concern us these days. I have never seen so many signs on my morning walks.

This noble and often charming clamoring includes statements of appreciation. It reminds me to never take for granted our precious right to speak what is on our minds.

Insight Dialogue

09 Sept ME

Most of us have experienced relaxed conversations that just seem to flow, perhaps in a setting where nature is on view like the one in the photo or around the kitchen table. Peace descends and we feel whole and seen.

Often, however, we lose track of that potential. Avoiding getting stuck cycling on issues that concern us can be difficult enough when we are on our own. Maintaining calm awareness while interacting with others can be particularly challenging.

Insight Dialogue provides support to bring tranquil awareness to the interpersonal domain. First one person speaks on a designated topic while the other listens silently without commenting and then the roles are reversed. There may be an additional timed period with no separate speaker and no separate listener. Pausing allows time to discern what would be beneficial to say as well as time to take in and gain new understanding from what is said.

The Insight Dialogue’s guidelines create the safety needed for evolving trust and authentic sharing from the heart: Pause, Relax, Open, Attune to Emergence, Listen Deeply and Speak the Truth. It becomes clear we are all vulnerable and that we also have great power to support each other just by how we listen.

This video of Phyllis Hicks facilitating an Insight Dialogue practice shows this supportive energy. You can see the openness, authenticity and caring connection in the responsive body language of the participants. More of Jeff Klein’s sensitive videography can be seen at his website.

Gregory Kramer developed Insight Dialogue. his website, InsightDialogue.org, includes information on each of the Insight Dialogue guidelines as well as opportunities to experience it yourself.

The Insight Dialogue guidelines honor dignity; attentive listening meets disclosure for all participants. That makes it easier to truly show up and pay attention to what is said including by oneself. Participants are better able to perceive the preciousness of our sensitivity to each other and learn how to bring greater compassion to all interaction.

Because of the vulnerable investigation of experience, difficult emotions may arise at times. David Treleaven provides guidance for recognizing and addressing adverse reactions that can arise with any form of mindfulness practice.

In my experience, most of those who try Insight Dialogue appreciate the careful attending that goes well beyond the rushed and distracted quality of much everyday interaction. With practice, I found I could bring that same supportive energy to any conversation, and that brought a whole new ease to my life.