Listen from the Heart

image credit: Mary R. Vogt

When we begin council we give these guidelines: what is said in council stays in council, be brief, be spontaneous, speak from the heart, and listen from the heart.

Council, the practice of sitting together with a group of people and listening/telling our personal stories, as they arise, can bring transformation to our lives.

In some ways what makes council so profound is that practicing it often means uncovering unexpected learnings about ourselves–even when we’re listening to others. Listening, which seems like a very passive experience, is not. It’s the most you can give someone who’s talking. And most of us don’t listen. In our own minds we’ve gone onto the next sentence, challenged the speaker, judged what they’ve said, and missed the plea in their voice, which was asking us to please, this time, get the kernel of what I’m saying. Did we hear anything besides the chatter of our own mind?

“Listening” and “hearing” are different experiences, although we use those words in similar ways: Did he hear you? Was he listening to you? Hearing is not considered as focused as listening. People hear with their ears, but listen with ear and heart. Listening to ourselves and others in council (or elsewhere for that matter) can provide opening for us.

When we really do that–really listen–we focus attentively and let go of the chatter in our own minds. Taking this practice of really listening beyond council can also be incredibly insightful.

Listening to the voices of others you can hear their concerns, fears, what they most love…even when they say very little. If you listen, you can suss out that their voice, and not their words, is trying to tell you something.

Listening to ourselves, both when we speak and when we’re quiet, we see our own obstacles more clearly, learn what we’re capable of, understand what we need to put down or where to go next, often we find out when we’re just fooling ourselves, judging ourselves, condemning ourselves instead of the other person. It’s funny, listening to ourselves is mostly about listening to our feelings, not our thoughts. Recognizing our intuition, not the analysis of some past action.

Here’s a quote from Grant Redhawk of the Blackfoot Nation about the power of council, a traditional Native American practice:

“When practiced devoutly in Native American Culture, council is an accessible spiritual process that can be a catalyst for transformation. It may take a while, but I’ve seen the practice of council bring important changes to participants for more than 12 years that I have been a leader. The changes are subtle at first, but clearly detectable. When council takes hold, one could say that decision-making and other interactive processes become more democratic in a more spiritual way. From a purely spiritual aspect, we are more confident of our path and more likely to flourish in it when we learn to take control of our own spiritual life.”

He reveals just how transformative council can be, how much connection and sustenance it can ultimately give us. So, don’t just hear, listen.


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