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Experiment in Listening

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s no accident that I gave one of my sons the middle name of Emerson.

The feedback I got from the experiment I tried on the first Sunday – a new kind of meditation, suited for Ethical Culture, that involves talking and listening to another person – was overwhelmingly positive, and I’ll likely be trying that again.  I loved hearing what people found valuable in the interchange. It was different for different people.

What would it mean if we took more time in our lives to really listen to another person? Took some time to deliberately and mindfully practice listening to another, seeing the person in the “now” as we listen, not through a lens of all that we know of the person from the past, not through a lens of what we expect that person to say or do?

And what would it mean if we had others take the time to really listen to us?  Took some time to deliberately and mindfully practice listening to us, seeing us as the person we are in the “now,” not who we’ve been or what they’ve come to expect us to say or do?

For me, this gets to the basic Ethical Culture commitment of attributing human worth to every person we meet — those we know well, those we meet for the first time, those we have never met but have expectations of, been primed by preconceptions (culture? media? experience with others “like” them?).

Some of you who were there said that the question was particularly intriguing.  ”What is something that excites you?”  I chose it for exactly the same reason some of you said you liked it: it’s not something we normally ask ourselves, but it is a question that helps us see what’s really important to us, where we’d like to spend more of our time.

Those of you who weren’t there might try focusing on that for a minute or two, for some self-connection, and then maybe asking a friend if they’d be willing to listen to you for a minute or two — then ask them the same question.

And so I’ll be trying the Ethical Culture “meditation” practice again.  I’d recommend taking the risk of talking to different people each time we try this together — getting to practice talking about something important to you, and listening to what’s important to another person — with a variety of people.  If you find yourself bored or bothered connecting like this with a particular person (I am guessing this is more likely in our imaginations than reality), remember that it’s only a couple of minutes — worth the risk, I think, of even talking to someone you might normally avoid.  Most likely, you’ll be surprised!

And it’s an experiment. If it doesn’t work for a whole lot of people, we can drop it.  If it doesn’t work for you, I invite you to look around and see whether it’s worth letting it work for a whole lot of others, worth your discomfort for a few minutes because it does bring something to all those others.  And if it does work for you — I hope you’ll really enjoy it!

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