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“Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups and nations…” This is the fourth mindfulness training in the Buddhist tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh.

Last night my meditation group, the Washington Mindfulness Community, recited the Five Mindfulness Trainings, as we do every three weeks. I shared that our retreat at the beach was filled with even more silence than our usual life, in which we have a great deal of space for silence and meditation. The silence and immersion in nature allowed me to quiet my mind and ready me for hours of deep listening to friends last night and today.

As we let go of the visible ocean waves, we tried to carry them into our “work week routine.” My husband returned to his day job and I to tasks relating to the women’s meditation retreat I am organizing for early October. I enjoyed returning to my regular meeting schedule and to three appointments involving listening to women friends. This is one of the greatest gifts of my life – opportunities to listen deeply to others who are suffering from the death of a parent, a battle with alcohol, or simply the ever changing challenges of relationships. I love having the space in my life to listen to others, to work on my motherly instincts to “fix” or “help.” Just listen, Joann. Remember the waves, the clouds. They don’t always speak, respond, answer. They just flow gently. They ARE. Is that sometimes enough? The Diversity Workshop, a program I led for almost twenty years for high school students, taught me that just listening can often give great relief to the sufferer sharing her story.

One friend asked me what to do when other people won’t listen, when dearly beloved friends fight and can’t speak kindly to each other? When words have caused harm, how do we make amends? How do we restrain ourselves from making the communication more difficult by defending ourselves? How do we listen not only to the words that are said but also to the language of the eyes, the body, the tone of voice? Can we respond with our hearts to the fear of a dying parent who is saying hurtful things to us? I observe how much my heart opens when I can breathe three times, feel the suffering of the other person, seek to understand rather than be understood. Do I always do this? No. But it is my path to peace.

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