Tag Archives: Deep listening


Facing East, I’m calling the element Air into the circle, asking for the power of the sun, sharp precision and focus in my undertakings. I find peace through clarity, the innocence of the infant as the wind blows through the deepest valleys of my being. May purity and truth guide our inspiration and intuition in every moment, in every step.  

It is a miracle to walk on water. The Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh says that the real miracle is to walk on the earth. We all can do that, can’t we? But have we ever actually been present walking on the earth? How do the feet feel on the ground, the wind on our skin? Have we ever been aware of that… and appreciated it? Are we aware of the sensations that a smile brings to our bodies? Have we ever fully listened to one of our fellow human beings, our friends, our children? Have we ever eaten a tangerine?

Adding a handful of loving kindness and compassion to awareness gives us mindfulness – the Buddhist dharma of being lovingly present in every moment and in whatever we do. Visiting Buddhist temples inThailandandCambodiawe often encountered stair steps that are leading to the Buddha statues double or triple as high as the ones in a normal house. Why? I asked. It is not an easy walk to reach the highest, the Buddha, I was told – it is a walk done in full awareness and participation. Every step is a step in mindfulness as we climb the steps of realisation. Every step is of equal importance, is the next possible step, the present moment, … every step is peace.

Only in realising the universality, the interconnectedness of every step in life, only when we put our feet in front of each other in full awareness, in full participation, we’ve actually done a step.

In this way mindfulness is not an idea that is practiced in meditation alone – mindfulness is the tool that lets us be, that makes us live in every moment, that connects us to our surroundings, the world and the people. We can practice mindfulness in every moment: when we breathe, breathing in, I know I’m breathing in, breathing out, I know I’m breathing out; breathing in, I’m here in the present moment, breathing out, this is a wonderful moment. It is the breath that in a subtle way connects us to the outside world, from the moment we’re born until the moment our body passes away. We can practice mindfulness while walking: I’m breathing in and I’m breathing out, I have arrived and I am home, in the here and in the now, I’m breathing in and I’m breathing out.

When the Buddha explained the idea of mindfulness to a group of kids, he gave them a tangerine and made them feel it with their hands while peeling it, feeling the sensations on their tongues while eating it, every sensation in the mouth and through the body. How does it feel to eat a tangerine in full presence and participation?

Another way to practice mindfulness in the modern world is through listening – what Thich Nhat Hanh calls deep listening. Deep listening is practiced by his followers and others all around the world. In our modern world of distraction and individualism can we really deeply listen to each other? Are we able to hear what another person is telling us without building our personal opinion in our heads, already thinking of what we’ll say next? Can we hear what our friend says, can we hear what our bodies say, what the earth says with every movement she makes? To listen is to understand. Can we breathe in understanding, walk in understanding, be in understanding? Can we walk the earth in peace, reconciling with every step we make? Can we be in loving awareness, in full participation, in mindfulness?

Deep Listening and Action Learning

Splitting up into pairs for exercises on deep listening is one thing we’ve gone through a lot during the Ecovillage Design Education in Sieben Linden. Also as a Permaculture apprentice we go with people through this valuable process again and again when we do our action learning guilds. What does it mean deep listening and why do we do it?

The answer can be given through a little exercise that you can do with a friend or anyone who is up for it. Two people sit together when the First of them asks the Other “How are you today?” While the Other takes two full minutes to express his or her feelings or what he/she has done on that particular day, the First person does everything possible to show he/she is not listening: drawing or writing on a piece of paper, playing with the mobile or a dog that’s around, tying up the shoelaces, etc. After two minutes they change sides. After both sides had their turn, they can reflect on their experiences before going through the same question again, this time listening to each other with their full being.

Listening with one’s full being is deep listening. It is important in the second part of the exercise to look in the other person’s eyes and being fully present, empathic, listening without judging. This is a process of mutual giving.

It helps to reflect on what you experience in the process of listening and being listened to. This act of reflection is an important step for connecting with an experience and clarifying it for oneself, bringing it into being within oneself and learning from it. The concept of Action Learning draws the circle of Thinking or Learning, then Planning, Acting, Reflecting and back to Thinking and Learning anew. It is a circle of progressive learning. In the action learning guild we come together to answer four questions to someone who listens deeply to us:

1) What is going well, as a …. (permaculture apprentice, living being, wife, parent,…)

2) What is challenging as a …

3) What is my long term vision or goal?

4) What are my next achievable steps?

In doing so and being listed to while sharing our thoughts we create that connection between our internal processes and the outside world, the world of action. This connection is essential in learning that is directed towards action.

You have a set time in which you talk, normally a bit longer for the third question (ex. 5, 5, 7 and 5 minutes or 10, 10, 15 and 10 minutes). If you don’t have anything to say for most of the time you just sit with it and wait for things to emerge. The listener also sits quietly, fully present, not trying to judge or giving advice.

You can be aware of the qualities in this process. The listener is present, patient; the talker is reflecting and open for things to emerge from inside. Both are giving and receiving at the same time.