About the quality of listening

A single thunderstorm upended Gordon Hempton’s life. While on a cross-country road trip in his mid-twenties, he decided to pull over in a field to get some rest. As the storm rolled in, he simply laid back, listened, and began to hear things he’d never noticed before: chirping crickets and the way the thunder echoed across the valley.

The experience made him realize that his understanding of listening was all wrong. “I thought that listening meant focusing my attention on what was important even before I had heard it and screening out everything that was unimportant even before I had heard it,” he says. “But I really hadn’t been paying a lot of attention to what is all around me.”

Filled with the sense that he had been living his life “incredibly wrong,” Hempton dropped out of graduate school and became a bicycle messenger with one goal: Become a better listener. In this week’s On Being interview, Hempton talks about how he came to the field of “acoustic ecology” and describes his decades-long journey around the world collecting sounds.

Shifting from inattentive to deliberate listening can be a vulnerable act. Hempton’s definition of true listening reminded me of a line in The On Being’s Project’s Grounding Virtues — that it’s “more than being quiet while others have their say. It is about presence as much as receiving; it is about connection more than observing … It involves vulnerability — a willingness to be surprised, to let go of assumptions and take in ambiguity.”

What might come from this heightened attention and presence — whether with the natural world or with one another? If there’s any truth in Mary Oliver’s assertion that “attention is the beginning of devotion,” then listening — as Hempton articulates it — could offer us a new orientation to the world. I also like how Brené Brown thinks about presence — not as what’s possible between people, but “what’s true between people.”

To settle into the truth of the world can be life-changing — even if you decide to stay in school.

Kristin Lin
Editor, The On Being Project

A coach is a travel companion

Often taken the first step into being coached and accompanied in personal growth, feels scary. Will I be judged, pushed into looking at stuff I do not want to investigate, digging up old corpses, revisiting a youth that cannot be changed anymore anyhow. We look at the past only in as far as it still matters in the present. And we pay very much attention together to your boundaries, your desire and the coach is there only to accompany you as a travel guide, sometimes giving a map to the unknown territory, but you are the traveler and decide how fast, how slow, up to where and where not.

“Remember that you are facilitating another person’s process. It is not your process. Do not intrude. Do not control. Do not force your own needs and insights into the foreground. If you do not trust a person’s process, that person will not trust you. Imagine that you are a midwife; you are assisting at someone else’s birth. Do good without show or fuss. Facilitate what is happening rather than what you think ought to be happening.” From The Tao of Leadership by John Heider



"Intimate hours I spent with them have thought me more than I could imagine. Just as easily as everything worth defending can become defenceless, moments of absolute powerlessness can give you superpowers. Even I felt sorry for (my version of) Assad. In this universe without gravity, all we can hold on to is our vulnerability. This invisible wind makes our chest heavy, yet, mysteriously propels us back on our feet again. I have convinced myself it is the strongest weapon humankind possesses, way more powerful than the trail of power games, bomb craters and bullet holes in our collective memories. Vulnerability is a gift we should all celebrate."

From: The Vulnerability Series

© Abdalla Al Omari


The importance of thinking frames and psycho-education

Delfos, Martine. Unravelling Autism: Introduction to Autism with the Socioscheme (PICOWO Book 12) (Kindle Locations 1112-1114). SWP Publishing. Kindle Edition.


In the next paragraph we give an example of how a mature capacity can be stimulated into true development instead of trained behaviour. With development the child feels the display of the behaviour as his own accomplishment and with training as the accomplishment of the trainer. Internalisation of behaviour will occur naturally with development but not with training. If we want the child to perform the behaviour in all appropriate situations, he will have to understand what it is all about. The thinking frames Everything that ‘breaks’ the sequence of defect described above opens up the development, which is then already latent for such a long time. As a result, development often suddenly goes quickly because it was ready for the zone of actual development as Vygotsky (see p. 54) calls it. New thinking frames are being offered, realistic expectations arise and hope increases. One of the reasons for the sudden change in pace of development is that in the period before many experiences have already been ‘gathered’ which were considered apart from one another, but when offered a thinking frame these experiences come together in a kind of conclusion, and this opens up the behaviour. The following example is an illustration of the effect of offering such a thinking frame.

Gerald is seven years old. He has been diagnosed with classical autism. He has nearly no speech, no play, is extremely passive, and more or less lives like a big baby in diapers. The mother tells me her son suffers from severe epilepsy. He has medication for epilepsy. Because epilepsy can be so devastating, I focused on the epilepsy during the first meeting. I told the mother that perhaps it would be an idea to communicate with her son about the epilepsy. I said: “I think you could say that I think that he can feel the seizure coming.“ This was the most important intervention; the rest was listening to the mother speaking about her child. Three and a half days later I met the mother again, along with the father. The situation had totally changed. The little boy had thrown away his diapers saying that he could go to the toilet by himself. He did not want to be helped crossing the street anymore because he could cross by himself and, that weekend, when they went to a park, he walked over the moving bridge all by himself. He felt great, because his two-year-older sister was too scared to cross that bridge! What happened was probably that the boy recognised the idea of feeling a seizure taking time to build up before being expressed, because of his many own experiences. These experiences came together in the thinking frame: a seizure takes time to build up. He probably thought: “That is true!” Cleverly, this insight divided his world in two parts: the seizure and its building up on one hand, and the rest of the time on the other hand. Suddenly he had a lot of seizure-free time. Personally this made me realise that building up a seizure probably took a lot of time, because he dared cross the streets and the bridge. It was quite a change in his extreme passiveness! Much of his behaviour changed, which proved to be ‘autistic’ (in this case ABIM) and not ‘autism’. He was apathic because of the fear of a seizure. Whether this boy has autism remains to be seen. Much of the behaviour that suggested the diagnosis of ‘classical autism’ was caused by his own worries and probably even more by those of his family and professional carers around him.

You must give birth to your images.

You must give birth to your images.

They are the future waiting to be born. 

Fear not the strangeness you feel. 

The future must enter you long before it happens. 

Just wait for the birth, 

for the hour of new clarity.

Rainer Maria Rilke