Speaking Circles International (R)

The Pleasure Principle

of Public Speaking


The Power of Essence Listening

By Lee Glickstein

Developmental psychologists point out that the range of expression available to a child depends on the nature of the listening in their immediate environment.

If the listening is receptive and respectfully curious, it evokes the full range of curiosity and wonder in the child. Open listening nourishes self-expression along with the capacity for adventure and discovery. The seeds of awareness emerge and bloom into full flower from the rich soil of expansive listening. This is a natural process.

The nature of consciousness is to reveal its multitudinous forms more fully when invited.

The relatively narrow listening available to us as children inhibited our potential, which still lives within us. Children of the nuclear family are limited in awareness and expression by the worldview of their parents and siblings, which informs what they are willing to hear. It is human for even the best listeners to have an unconscious agenda that subtly closes off wide avenues of receptivity.

For some of us, these closures were severe enough to make it dangerous to express at all. Into adulthood, any group we faced instantly morphed into our family and we were terrified. Speaking Circles® were originally conceived to provide support and guidance for a substitute experience to reverse this history, and have been extraordinarily successful to that end. But once any performance anxiety falls away, the realization comes that we have found a safe arena in which to have as much unexpressed potential “listened out” as serves us.

What is the nature of the “potential” I am talking about?

The notion that we were each born with limitless possibilities does not here refer to specific capacities to become, say, a brain surgeon or a mountain climber or an orator. Rather, I mean that our true nature encompasses the full spectrum of essential human qualities. For instance, we each have within us the capacity to wake up every day to a new world of wonder. We are each inherently bright as the sun, luminous as a star, deep as the ocean, solid as a redwood, spacious as the sky, and generous as the earth. We each come factory-equipped to embody the grace of an eagle, the melody of a lark and the heart of a lion. In essence we are cuddly as kittens, loyal as Lassie, tender as the night, courageous as Lance Armstrong, and peaceful as the Dalai Lama. And on and on…..

To allow the full spectrum of essential human qualities to be listened out so that we can be aware of and embody more of each of more of them is beyond the capacity of any nuclear family. It takes a village to listen an individual into full existence, and a Speaking Circle is that kind of village.

It is human nature to long for fulfillment of our potential, but the journey home often involves years of misdirection before we begin to recognize the realm in which that potential even exists. When we finally come to realize that true fulfillment lies in the realm of being our life rather than in the content and accomplishments of our days, we become available to reunite with our essential qualities. And we are ready to elevate sweet listening to its rightful priority on this path -- both in receiving it, and in becoming essence listeners for others on the journey.

Of course, it’s the cosmic joke that when being assumes top priority over having and doing, achievements manifest themselves naturally and irresistibly.

* * *

So there you are, standing in front of a Speaking Circle or sitting in a Listening Circle, and asked to put top priority on noticing the listening available to you, one person at a time. The others have been asked to softly “be with” you at all times in Relational Presence, as if with a natural wonder rather than a personality. Whoever your attention lands on is doing their best to make available for you a home in their eyes.

Perhaps it takes a few turns to be struck by the unexamined assumptions you bring to Listening itself. You may begin to notice nuances beyond what you could have imagined, and suspect that we should have as many words for listening as Eskimos have for snow.

From each individual you get “Essence Listening.” From the group you get what approaches “Full Spectrum Listening.” It’s as if your essential qualities are colors and different witnesses are evoking different hues until you become a human rainbow.

At times you’ll feel remarkably lucid and notice crystal clear listening coming through their eyes, and you might realize you are receiving “20/20 Listening.”

Over the months your relationship with listening itself deepens and widens, and you realize that this expansion and emergence need never end.

At some point a regular participant becomes keenly aware that a Speaking Circle or a Listening Circle is nothing less than an alchemical container in which transformation happens. When we can depend on the Facilitator to gently safeguard the integrity of the container, the process can work wonders every time.

And it is the grace and power of Essence Listening that makes it so.



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