Monday, April 25, 2011


I was invited to speak to the Woman's Cancer Survivors Group at Celilo last Tuesday.  I kept telling people that I was not really planning on speaking---more like facilitating, but that word choice never really caught on. 

I sought out the opportunity through Nina, the  groovy Oncology Nurse with whom I have confided about all my various "alternative healing modalities" over the years and whose support for the same has been intelligent and steadfast.  She turned me on to Renee, whose title I never did catch, but who arranges for these speakers.   We talked about the importance of listening, about how little cancer patients have the chance to be heard, and about methods of helping people discover what it is they have to say that I've used in my work, and which I think might be of benefit to other people dealing with cancer.  

I got vetted by the social worker, and  was signed up as April's speaker.  I kept assuring everyone that it was really not about me speaking.  Quite the opposite in fact.  The irony was lost on most people.   

We have such a closed notion that learning or teaching or sharing is a kind of one-way street--  I give, you receive; one is active, the other passive.   This does not wash in theatre classrooms, where one of my most prized skills as a teacher is my ability to gently trip my students into having an experience, and then  bring their attention to the experience they just had-- before their ego can rub off any rough edges and put it all neatly away as right/wrong, good/bad.  Hmmm, I ask my students,  Let's see if we can examine just exactly what our human experience is like-- without judging it first.  

We could call this listening to ourselves.  And maybe in order to be open to truly listening to ourselves we have to recognize that we have something to say. In every writing class I've ever taught I hand out a page long quote from one of my heroes, Brenda Ueland, entitled, Everybody is Talented, Original and Has Something Important to Say.  Let's start there.  Let's start by assuming you are worthy of being heard, just as you are.

How often do we quiet our minds enough to listen to ourselves, let alone another person?  I think we can call mindfulness meditation a mode of listening to ourselves. It is a humble skill, largely unrecognized, unpracticed and undervalued in our society.  

As I wrote up some Rules for Listening for the support group, I became aware of how they could apply to how we listen to ourselves as well as others.  I think they are worth sharing with you.
Relax.  You can’t let anything in if you are tightened down.  Feel your breath; be present in your body.
Think of your body as a satellite dish (rather than a periscope); Be open all signals, verbal and otherwise.
Drop your agenda.  Don’t take notes in your head.  Don’t worry about “your turn.”
Be aware of any judgment arising in your mind.  Be aware that this judgement is about you-- not the person you are listening to.  Let it go.
Do not interrupt.
Do not ask questions or direct the conversation.  (Nodding and making affirmative sounds are okay.)
Understand that listening does not mean you approve or condone or endorse.  You are simply holding space for another person’s voice to be heard.
No advice.  Ever.  Period.
When listening to someone reading their writing:  You may keep SHORT notes repeating a specific word or phrase that moved you.  You may share those with the writer—without explanation or preamble.
In class we went through some brief introductions, and I explained my game plan:
Guided Meditation/Visualization, where I would ask them to get comfortable, close their eyes, and let me lead them through an exploration of the sensations in every part of their bodies.
Coloring the Body Scan, where I would ask them to color in a printed outline of a body shape in anyway that reflected what they found in the meditation they'd just done. 
Writing Practice, where they would write without pause on prompts I would give them, as further exploration of their meditation.
Sharing/Listening, where they would share some of their writings with one another.  

Of course, this was too ambitious for the hour we had to work within.  And we spent a lot of time doing  things I considered totally incidental to the work at hand ( ie, picking out crayolas).  We ran out of time before more then one brave soul  could share her writing at the end.  After that several people were eager to talk about the experience -- something I would never have allowed in one of my writing classes, but here I figured what-the-hell --we are past time and maybe the more important thing is that they are sharing with one another, not exactly what form that sharing takes.  (Although I still maintain that what happens from following the form of Writing Practice -- ie,  Everyone Writes/Everyone Reads, and again, and again, and again-- gets down much deeper to the heart of matters and is that much more healing because of it.)

But, hey, it is a foot in the door.  The women said they'd never done anything like it.  They seemed to enjoy it and felt like they got something out of it.  I said I would be happy to come back and do more.   Anytime.

No comments:

Post a Comment