March 16, 2013

How to Reconnect. ~ Olivia Coleman

Without fear of interruption or disengagement, my thoughts flowed and words emerged that surprised me.

Interwoven with your story are my expectations of the salad I ordered, worries about making it back to work on time and considerations of how your life relates to mine.

You move from narrative to grappling with a problem and I’m keen to help you solve it: I consider solutions, weigh pros and cons and reflect on similar situations I’ve experienced.

I’m not really listening.

My attention is divided, an internal dialog blaring. You’re accustomed to emotional multi-tasking, and take the non-sequiturs and wandering eyes in stride, simplifying the story and bridling your presence to match mine.

The salads touch down. We chew and check texts and talk a bit more, fragments of feelings making it across the great divide. We leave lunch and I miss you more than before.

“If you love someone, the greatest gift you can give them is your true presence.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

I sat with a stranger last weekend at the San Francisco Zen Center, and practiced a deep listening meditation. I first heard the meditation articulated by Thich Nhat Hanh.

The stranger sat silently, not even a nod of affirmation, as I told him my story.

Seven minutes of speaking in the light of his presence felt freeing. Without fear of interruption or disengagement, my thoughts flowed and words emerged that surprised me.

When it came time to switch I fidgeted. I wanted to help, show that I cared.

Then I remembered how it felt to be free.

I followed his words, witnessed as he worked through challenges of emotion and expression. For seven minutes I traveled with him through deep struggles and discoveries.

We (a 60-year-old Russian programmer and a 26-year-old American writer) became intimately invested in each other’s happiness. We also learned that despite our differences, we were in search of very similar things. After 15 minutes our interconnection was undeniable.

Deep listening truly is a gift.

Why don’t we give it to those we love most, more often?

Here’s the deep listening meditation I practiced last weekend:

>> Sit down with one partner in a quiet, comfortable space. Decide who will go first, and set a timer for seven minutes.

>> As Person 1 talks, Person 2 simply listens, avoiding reaction of any kind: nodding, smiling, speaking. If you are listening and your attention wanders, bring it back to the speaker’s voice with compassion for yourself.

>> When the timer sounds, allow for one minute of silence. Absorb the first half of the practice.

>> Begin again, and this time Person 2 will speak.


A born seeker, singer and stargazer, Olivia is happiest flowing in art, meditation or conversation. She blogs of her personal mindfulness journey on Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung’s website, Savor: Mindful Eating Mindful Life and loves to swap stories. Talk with her here.



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Assistant Ed: Stephanie V./Ed: Kate Bartolotta

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