Deep Listening

October 26, 2011 Leave a comment

The following is a post from my friend and colleague Danny Martin, that appeared on his web page on Monday, following our joint workshop at Connecting for Change, a Bioneers Conference.  Tomorrow I will extend this reflection with more details about our session and regenerative leadership practice.

So much to say this week but it all turns on the same theme of how to access the wisdom we need to move forward together into a more sustainable and just society. In a recent article about what he calls The New Economy Movement, Gar Alperovitz, a Professor of Political Economy in the University of Maryland, says that, instead of feeling confined to the binary paths of reforming the broken economic system or revolting to overthrow it, citizens are opting to create something new that will replace the current economic regime, making the old system obsolete in the process. He calls this third way ‘evolutionary reconstruction.’ In another article I sent you last week from the NY Times, the writer, Michael Kimmelman, spoke of ‘the architecture of consciousness’ and suggested that this is what the Occupy Wall Street movement is about: that the point right now is not to come up with a set of demands which would represent one of the binary paths but to stay with the process until the new consciousness that we need can surface. The encampment, Kimmelman concluded, is the point.

I agree with both writers and want to add what I think is a critical complementary component about how this new consciousness and the evolutionary reconstruction it will bring can be found, formed, and fostered. Last Monday I worked with a number of interfaith – secular as well as religious – leaders at the UN that a group of us had invited to be part of a consortium for an ecological civilization to bring what we are calling ‘a prophetic voice’ to the global conversation on ecological sustainability and justice. We are focused on next year’s 20th anniversary of the first UN Earth Summit in Rio, Brazil though we see this as simply a step, albeit an important one, in the process. We engaged the group in a process of ‘deep listening’ that would allow us to listen together FOR this prophetic voice in the form of a collective wisdom that might certainly be rooted in ancient traditions and inspired by recent documents like The Earth Charter, but would also be fresh, immediate and relevant to the situation being addressed. In a sense, we too were saying that the purpose at this stage is not another set of principles but a new consciousness, and that the point at this moment is the actual conversation. It was clear from the passion and focus that was palpable in the room that the participants grasped this idea as perhaps already the beginnings of a prophetic voice.

Yesterday I co-lead a workshop at the Bioneers Conference in New Bedford, MA with Curtis Ogden, a wonderful young colleague from the Interaction Institute for Social Change on what we called Belonging and Becoming which engaged almost 100 participants in a similar process that in 90 minutes brought a group of strangers into a sense of connectedness (belonging) that enabled them to surface amazingly creative ways of how we could live together (become) more sustainably and more justly. The focus was systems theory and living systems principles but the context was the movements for change that we are all experiencing. By deep listening to each other’s story/world, we learn how to belong – surface principles of belonging (ecological principles, if you like); by listening deeply to each other’s experience and understanding of these principles which are becoming self-evident truths (think ‘interdependence, biodiversity’, etc.), we discover and build a shared consciousness and a shared understanding of concrete practices.

People came away from the experience feeling that this was something they could do – that all of us could do: listen deeply to each other and listen deeply with each other for the collective wisdom that is there already to show us certainly a new way but also inspire and empower us to live it.

A statement of Margaret Mead captured the spirit:

‘For the human species to evolve, the conversation must deepen’

We deepen the conversation by deepening our listening. It is the way that our species has always discovered how to address the challenges of life: surfaced the consciousness and accessed the wisdom needed for a new situation. It is natural to us, in other words, but perhaps, in a world where individualism has fostered the illusion of separation and control we have forgotten this simple though profoundly important art and need to learn it again.

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