Your quarterly inspiration - May 2019
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News & Events
Deep Listening
  • What is it?
  • Why do we need it?
  • Why is it so hard?
  • Deep Listening as teaching
  • Deep Listening begins within
  • Poem by Lao Tzu
  • Deep Listening as subtle activism
  • Deep Listening with death
Book review
Closing Poem
Dear friends,

As promised in the last issue of The Communicator , we are devoting each of the next ten issues to one of the “Qualities of a Sage in Service” identified years ago by Sage-ing International leaders. We begin at the top of the list, with Deep Listening – perhaps, when we think about it, the cornerstone for all of the virtues. As you’ll see, this issue was created with the contributions of a number of Sage-ing leaders and members.

The August 2019 issue will be devoted to Compassion. If you wish to submit a suggestion for the issue, or a brief article, poem, or useful resource, please contact me .

-- Theresa Reid, Editor
News & Events
Leadership Retreat: SI leaders are holding a retreat, “Engaging Our Leadership Wisdom,” May 13-15 near Minneapolis. This hard-working group will consider SI’s current focus in the conscious aging movement, envision our future as a growing organization, and begin collaborative, creative planning toward our 2020 conference.

Committees: Meantime, SI committees are working to revamp the website, energize our social media presence, develop new online educational programs, establish a YouTube channel to host our videos, strengthen SI’s financial footing, and more. If you are interested in participating in any of this planning, please contact Coordinating Circle co-chairs Marilyn Loy Every and Jerome Kerner . We can always use more help to enhance SI’s thriving.

Your Feedback: More broadly, we would love to hear from you about your experience of SI. As a member of SI, what about Si works for you, what is missing? Have you introduced a friend or neighbor to Sage-ing lately? If not, why not? Let us know how we can help you create or energize an already existing elder community in your area.
New Educational Offerings: After 2 years of planning, SI is launching its YouTube channel! Over a dozen classic Sage-ing videos are ready for you now, for free. Soon, more than two years’ worth of our Elder Forum webinar recordings will also be available. Click here to view all the offerings, and please subscribe to help us get to the magic number (250) that takes us global.

In addition to the YouTube channel, SI has many programs, ideas and opportunities for continued learning and service. The best source of information about SI educational and social events is the  SI Bulletin , published monthly, and the  SI website .
Deep Listening
Thank you to CSL Nancy Gray-Hemstock for this image
What is it?
Deep Listening means listening with a fully open heart and mind, without judgment or expectation. It means listening to learn, without preparing for our next step in conversation – how to be clever, how to be relevant, how even to be helpful. Just taking in words and feeling, creating for the speaker clear, unjudging space for self-expression and self-discovery, while leaving ourselves open to change. As Thich Nhat Hanh says in this beautiful meditation on deep listening (which he sometimes calls compassionate listening), “You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her empty his heart. And if you remember that you are helping him or her to suffer less, then even if he says things full of wrong perception, full of bitterness, you are still capable to continue to listen with compassion. Because you know by listening like that, with compassion, you give him or her a chance to suffer less.”
Why do we need it?
Thich Nhat Hanh explicitly connects deep listening and world peace, stressing the urgency of our learning to listen to each other, world-wide. We in the U.S. have never needed it more. As a culture, we have been screaming at each other nonstop for at least two decades. Perhaps not since the Civil War has listening so failed us – or we it. Confronted with the prospect of deep listening, many Americans today would think, “Who has time? We have to get the word out! I have to get my word in !” Listening – especially Deep Listening – means being vulnerable. We feel too armored up for deep listening, which is one of the truest signs of how desperately we need it.
Why is it so hard?
Deep Listening is hard now not just because of our pernicious political culture, but because it means slowing down, way down, and we all have so much to do ! After all, in this culture our value is measured by how much we accomplish, so who has time to really listen? We have so much to produce, to read, to watch, to follow! We’re constantly pushed to become “human doings,” rather than devote time to becoming human beings .

As Buddhist teacher and psychologist Tara Brach points out in this beautiful talk, “The Sacred Art of Listening,” our ability to listen deeply might also be blocked by quiet grief about never having been heard ourselves. If we have grown up or older without being deeply listened to—and many of us have, in this culture so anxiously focused on productive doing —our own creative flow might be stifled.

Sage-ing leader and retired child and family psychologist Don Adams reflects on this stifling “doing-speech” in his essay, “ The Choice of Deep Listening .” Adams writes, “Adults speaking to children rarely use Deep Speech, ingraining in very young children that the main purpose of speech is to direct behavior in the material world. Beginning when our children are toddlers, most of our talk toward them expresses demands, controls, and descriptions. Such ego-based “Doing Speech” is focused on the instrumental doing world.” As his title suggests, both Deep Speech and Deep Listening can be chosen, and the necessary skills can be learned. However, we might be yearning so deeply to be heard ourselves that we have little emotional space to listen to others. In her perceptive and practical essay, “ Stop. LISTEN. Wait ,” Sage-ing member and master coach, Minx Boren, writes, “As compassionate human beings, what is ours to do is to attend to what someone is attempting to say and to help them to say it by listening well and by asking clarifying questions when necessary.” Boren quotes Mark Twain to great effect: “What most people really need is a good listening to.”
Deep Listening as teaching
As usual, a quip from Mark Twain carries more wisdom than many books. Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi (fondly known as Reb Zalman), whose book, From Age-ing to Sage-ing, is the foundational text for SI , devotes much of his Chapter 8, on mentoring, to the value of listening. Initially this might seem curious, since mentoring is often understood as imparting wisdom to a willing student, rather than being especially receptive.

But Reb Zalman takes as his models the teachers at the heart of the 1984 movie, “The Karate Kid,” and Herman Hesse’s 1922 novel, Siddhartha . The humble and enigmatic teacher in “The Karate Kid,” Mr. Miyagi, says virtually nothing to the bullied boy protagonist. Instead, he sets the boy highly repetitive, seemingly mundane tasks, through which the boy learns to pay attention inwardly, discovering and developing his own inner strengths.

Likewise in Siddhartha , the greatest gift of the ferryman is simple listening: “It was one of the ferryman’s greatest virtues that, like few people, he knew how to listen. . . . He did not await anything with impatience and gave neither praise nor blame—he only listened. Siddhartha felt how wonderful it was to have such a listener who could be absorbed in another person’s life, his striving, his sorrows.” Such generous, deep listening enables Siddhartha to reveal himself fully, to himself as well as to the ferryman.

In Reb Zalman’s examples, as well as in Don Adams’s and Minx Boren’s, above, silence is a key component of Deep Listening. Sage-ing leader Lorri Danzig’s essay, “ The Language of Silence ,” conveys the power of silent, listening presence with her mother, whose encroaching dementia is leaving her marooned. Jerome Kerner, co-leader of Sage-ing’s Coordinating Circle, writes, “To me Deep Listening occurs when I can create stillness within and allow the experience of the moment to take over my senses.” He quotes poet John O’Donohue (in Anam Cara ) saying, "When you listen with your soul, you come into rhythm and unity with the music of the universe. Deep Listening brings us in touch even with that which is unsaid and unsayable. Thus the distinction between listening and hearing.”
Deep Listening begins within
To be able to listen deeply to others, we have to nurture the ability to listen deeply to ourselves. In the magazine, Mindful , David Rome and Hope Martin provide a fascinating discussion of three self-facing aspects of deep listening: mindful awareness of our existence in the present moment; attunement to how our typical ways of holding our body affect our mood and mental state; and focusing on how our often-inchoate “felt senses” affect our feeling of well-being without our knowledge.

This deep self-listening nourishes the self as it prepares us to be fully present with another. Ram Dass stresses this in his book with Mirabai Bush , Walking Each Other Home : “We really can’t listen deeply to others until we are able to listen deeply to ourselves. We have to be able to trust that we’ll be listened to, that our own needs will be met, in order to quiet enough to listen to others. And listening to each other is essential to healing and connection and understanding. This is why all the wisdom traditions urge self-knowledge and inner listening as a core principle.”

It’s a virtuous circle: being fully present with ourselves allows us to be fully present with others, which deepens our ability to be fully present with ourselves, and so on.

Lao Tzu’s poem, “Always We Hope Someone Else Has the Answer” precisely addresses the irreducible necessity of starting our listening within.

Always We Hope Someone Else Has the Answer

Always we hope
Someone else has the answer,
Some other place will be better,
Some other time it will all turn out.

This is it.
No one else has the answer,
No other place will be better,
And it has already turned out.

At the center of your being
You have the answer;
You know who you are
And you know what you want.

There is no need
To run outside
For better seeing.

Nor to peer from a window.

Rather abide at the center of your being;
For the more you leave it, the less you learn.

Search your heart
And see
The way to do
Is to be .

Deep Listening as subtle activism
As we think about it, we begin to understand that Deep Listening, to oneself and others, is the necessary grounding for effective social action. No matter how righteous our beliefs, if we launch ourselves at the problem without deep self-knowledge and sustained empathic engagement with others – both allies and “opponents” – we will fail. Just listening is a form of “subtle activism” that can change the world, invisibly at first, by thawing hearts frozen in opposition. Some very fine people in North Carolina have built a model practice of listening across our cultural divides, which they call The Listening Project.

Further, having the courage to listen to our own hearts for breakage is how we discover our own activist path. Speaking about sacred activism, Andrew Harvey says, “Identify the issues that break your heart, and take action.” In a wide-ranging interview with Krista Tippett , environmental activist and teacher, Joanna Macy , urges listeners not to run from the pain they discover within when they listen closely to themselves. “Our difficulty in looking at what we’re doing to our world stems not from callous indifference or ignorance so much as it stems from fear of pain. . . .But when we look at [our pain], when we take it in our hands, when we can just be with it and keep breathing, then it turns. It turns to reveal its other face, and the other face of our pain for the world is our love for the world, our absolutely inseparable connectedness with all life.”
Deep Listening with death
Of course, we Westerners fear death more than just about anything else in this life. But death holds secrets to life we can only glean by listening deeply.

Elizabeth Bell, a Certified Sage-ing Leader, shares with us this profound conversation with Buddhist teacher Frank Ostaseski, founder of the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco. One of the central questions of this moving interview is, “What do the living have to learn from the dying?” Frank Ostaseski’s answer: “Love as hard as you can.” Toward the end of this interview, he continues: “Living and dying – they’re one thing. A central theme of our lives is that everything is coming and going. How can we be with ourselves and each other in a world of constant change? How can we not see it as a threat to this life? But how can it help us to appreciate its preciousness? And then to embrace it fully and completely and not waste a moment of it?”

What greater fruit of Deep Listening could there be than this wisdom, gained from listening deeply to death?
Book Review
Finish Strong: Putting Your Priorities First at Life’s End (2019)
Written by Barbara Coombs Lee.
Reviewed by Theresa Reid and Laura E. Kelly

Listening deeply to yourself about the end of your life – and making sure others are listening deeply to you – is a major life task. Frank Ostaseski’s call to embrace life “fully and completely and not waste a moment of it” extends to the last breaths we take. How and where and in whose presence we die is in our hands only if we have the courage to listen to our own hearts about how we want to leave this world, and the determination to ensure that medical personnel and loved ones listen to our desires on this most difficult topic.
Barbara Coombs Lee – nurse, physician assistant, lawyer, and president of Compassion & Choices , the leading organization in America’s end-of-life choice movement – has written an indispensable, nuts-and-bolts guide to taking charge of your end-of-life medical care. The book and the Compassion & Choices website are filled with warm guidance and concrete tools to help us navigate the labyrinth of decision-making and communication involved. You’ll find action steps on these topics and more:

  • Finding a partner-doctor well-suited to your values and beliefs who exhibits humanity, deference, and frankness.
  • Countering “I don’t want to think about it!” objections from loved ones.
  • Staying off the “overtreatment conveyor belt” when hope for cure is gone.
  • Identifying what matters most as advancing illness takes its toll. (Coombs Lee’s chapter on dementia is an unflinching guide helping us discover within ourselves the answer to the jarring question, “Are you willing to become another person?”)
  • Having meaningful conversations with medical personnel and loved ones about expectations and wishes for life’s last precious months.
  • Knowing when “slow medicine” is the best option to maintain quality of life.
  • Navigating home hospice, and the crucial differences between hospice and hospital-based palliative care.
  • Creating and distributing your end-of-life choice video so your loved ones and medical personnel know clearly what you want, and the values that underlie your choices. (Coombs Lee stresses that DNR orders and “advance directives” are grossly inadequate in their detail and very often ignored.)
  • Crafting your farewell gathering, should you desire such an event.
Coombs Lee writes, “I think of this work as sacred work, work we were born to do, work that, when neglected, will keep us from achieving the joy in life and sense of completion at death that are our birthright.” Her tireless legislative advocacy and that of Compassion & Choices has made “this work” – the process of choosing and communicating clearly how we want our last days to play out – a matter of personal choice in more parts of the U.S. than when they began. Nevertheless, religious and legal authorities continue to make end-of-life choice far more difficult than it should be in large swaths of the country. Coombs Lee opens and closes Finish Strong with a call to baby boomers to transform how we die as thoroughly as we’ve transformed how Americans live.

“A life coming to closure can provide a profound and sacred lesson in how to live,” Coombs Lee writes. Finish Strong is the best practical guide I know to help us learn and leave the lesson we choose.
In addition to those scattered throughout, here are some sources for deep thinking on deep listening.
  • A superb source of support for a beginning or ongoing mindfulness practice is the site, It was developed and is maintained by Dave Potter, a certified instructor of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.
  • Author, poet, and spiritual teacher Mark Nepo wrote what he calls “a spiritual memoir,” Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, which offers a variety of deep perspectives on Deep Listening.
  • Listening Well: The Art of Empathic Understanding, by psychologist William R. Miller, is an excellent, practical primer on how to learn to listen.
  • Tara Brach’s meditation, Listening to Life,” is lovely and broad, urging us to listen to life within our bodies and without
  • Pauline Oliveros, an American composer and musician, pioneered a practice of attunement to extremely subtle sounds that pre-exist language. As we know, some of the most profound messages, from ourselves and others, are carried in great subtlety of voice, facial expression, and movement. Oliveros’s highly influential work generated, among other reflections, this fascinating set of essays that in places border, appropriately, on metaphysics.
  • For children (and adults with Beginner’s Mind), you can find no greater teaching about the life-and-death importance of listening closely than Dr. Seuss’s classic parable, Horton Hears a Who.
Thank you to the following Sage-ing leaders and members who contributed to this issue of The Communicator: Don Adams, Minx Boren, Lorri Danzig, Judith Helburn, Nancy Gray Hemstock, Marilyn Loy Every, Laura Kelly, and Jerome Kerner .

A list of the organization's leaders  and of  Certified Sage-ing Leaders  can be found on the Sage-ing International website. For this issue of The Communicator , Theresa Reid was the editor, Anna Wisehart was the designer and techie, and Jerome Kerner and Mary Anne Ingenthron provided editorial guidance.
Closing Poem
Thank you to CSL Judith Helburn for submitting this poem, so perfect for our Deep Listening theme, and for Spring.

The Circle of Life

How quietly the earth breathes forth new life.
How eagerly the sun bleeds forth the spring.
I am listening .
I am listening to seeds breaking open,
to roots growing strong beneath the ground,
to green shoots rising up from winter wombs.
I am listening to thorns blossoming,
to barren branches laughing out new growth,
to wildflowers dancing through the meadows.
I am listening
I am listening to the forest filling up with song.
I am listening to the earth filling up with life.
I am listening to trees filling up with leaves.
I am listening
Sage-ing International
Coordinating Circle
Marilyn Loy Every
Jerome Kerner
Georgeanna Tryban
Nancy Gray-Hemstock
Bob Coulson
Don Adams
Elizabeth Bell
Gary Carlson
Gayle Dee
Mary Anne Ingenthron
Brian McCaffrey
Cindy Siemers
Rains Cohen
Sage-ing International
Program Leaders
Rosemary Cox
     Education Coordinator
Jeanne Marsh
   Certification Coordinator
Alan Rider
   Tech-Webinar Coordinator
Karen Clementi
Administrative Coordinator
Anna Wisehart
  Website Assistant
Theresa Reid
Penny Clark
Editor, The BULLETIN

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