In Sweet Company

The word ‘love’ is so bandied about today, but love is the most powerful energy in the world. It’s so important to unleash it. To be present to the dignity of the forgotten, to recognize the beauty of the scarred and maimed, draws forth their goodness and self-respect in a way that nothing else can.” — Sister Helen Prejean, IN SWEET COMPANY: CONVERSATIONS WITH EXTRAORDINARY WOMEN ABOUT LIVING A SPIRITUAL LIFE

Like many of us, Kay Lindhal’s professional path — her work writing articles and books and leading retreats on sacred listening — was something she happened upon, something that called to her from the depths of her personal experience and said “I know your name.” ( Her mother’s death and the birth of a grandson within days of each other opened her to the value of listening, the power and the joy of being present to another body, mind and soul. 

Recent research tells us that the average attention span for adults — when listening to information — is less than twenty seconds, that we retain less than 50% of what we’ve heard minutes after we hear it and less than 20% of what we hear within a few hours. Listening, as Kay describes it, is a whole different order than hearing or even paying attention. When you are really listened to you may not remember everything that was said, but you do not forget how you felt — about yourself, the other, the world and your place in it. If you have once been listened to in this way, you know it’s merit, the deep sense of acknowledgment and validation it fosters. The gratitude. If you have listened to another in this way, if you have given another the opportunity to be truly heard, a grace enfolds you, an expression of Divine appreciation at having served as God’s ears and heart in the world of man.

Kay’s books, The Sacred Art of Listening, and Practicing The Sacred Art of Listening, Kay provide a cornucopia of approaches and practices to enhance your listening skills including listening for meaning, for content, for clarity, for guidance; listening to access your stillpoint; listening to the holy, listening for the silence, listening through prayer. Each approach is paired with a mandala, personal anecdotes and stories drawn from the world’s sacred traditions designed to take us deeper into our understanding of each practice. Her “Principles for Dialogue — Nine Guidelines for Listening to Others,” create a safe space for meaningful dialogue and sacred listening to occur.

In The Sacred Art of Listening, Kay tells a beautiful story that provides both a simple technique to improve our listening skills and, deeper still, bears witness to the value of listening: Thich Nhat Hahn has trained the monks at his retreat in France to take two slow, deep breaths before they answer the phone. With the first breath they detach themselves from what they were doing; with the second, they center themselves in the peace within. This simple technique allows them to be fully present to the caller. 

As Kay says, “Scientific research has taught us almost unbelievable things about our world. The problem is, it doesn’t seem to have made much difference in how we treat each other. … our job at this point in history is in the world of communications, listening. relationships, and love. Teilhard de Chardin wrote of this many years ago. ‘Someday, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.'”

Two breaths. Two simple breaths. A way to harness the energies of love. And rediscover fire. Imagine that.

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