Listening in the Wake of Tragedy….

I am re-posting here, much what I wrote in my latest e-mail newsletter:

I’m reaching out here, to share some resources that may be of use… knowing that sometimes, the most helpful resource can be our own caring and vulnerability; being willing to let others know that we care, that we are deeply affected by the suffering, and that we want to connect, in the midst of the heartbreak…

And so, to my friends in Newtown, and to everyone who has been affected in one way or another…

I am here, and willing to listen…


As facilitators, as therapists, as ordinary human beings, we know how useful listening can be… Of course, when tragedies occur, we are not immune: we find ourselves feeling stretched by the magnitude of the pain involved. At the same time, we know the need for listening, for having a safe space in which to be heard, is especially acute during times like these.

One of the most helpful kinds of listening can be listening to our own feelings, and to one anothers’, as described so clearly in Coping with Traumatic Stress: Emotional Recovery After a Disaster.

Along similar lines, I was particularly moved by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ description of a simple yet powerful listening activity that we can use with young children…

“If you think your child is very upset, you can […] play a game… I’m going to ask you a question, and you paint/draw the answer. Give them crayons and paper and start small… what did you eat today? The child draws what they ate. What did you wear today? The child draws their clothing… or may veer off at any time in these innocuous questions into, symbolically or concretely drawing what they are worried about. In which case, just ask, what is the story in your drawing saying? And listen. And if child is not forthcoming, just know, often for young children, –and teens–and adults— it is enough to get ‘the inside feeling on the outside, down on the paper.’ ”

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, psychoanalyst, specialist in Critical Incident and Post Trauma Recovery, and well-loved author, offers helpful information and heart-warming inspiration on her Facebook page.


Now for another (related, yet different…) kind of listening:

Brené Brown’s recent blog post on the emotional reality of creating effective social change offers many gems. My favorite is the following quote by Harriet Lerner:

“Change requires listening with same level of passion that we feel when we speak.”

I’ve added the italics, because I found it to be such an awesome quote.
Here are some other gems from Brené’s post:

Blame is simply the discharging of pain and discomfort. It has nothing to do with accountability. Accountability requires long, difficult, respectful conversations. Blame fizzles out with rage, where accountability is in for the long haul.”


You can’t shame a nation into changing any more than you can shame a person into changing. Shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, violent behaviors than it is to be the cure. We need courage, vulnerability, hard work, empathy, integrity (and a little grace wouldn’t hurt).”


So, how do we do this? How do we help people listen effectively to one another? How do we listen together, for shared ways to move forward, for what we want to learn, for how we want to do things differently? The word “policy” can sound so uninspiring… yet what the conversation is really about, is how to create a shared social reality that works well for all of us.

Some of us have been doing this work for a long time — learning through practice, how to design, host, and facilitate conversational spaces where we can engage in difficult, respectful conversations, with empathy, courage, vulnerability, and hard work. And, we are still learning…

If you are wanting to learn more about this work, or wanting to deepen your own practice in this area, you may be interested in the following public workshops I’ll be teaching. You can also contact me through my website if you would like to sponsor an in-house workshop.

Here is the flyer for the March workshop in Ottawa; more details available here.

And here is the information for the July workshop in Germany.
This workshop will be offered in English, with translation available for German speakers.


Now, coming around full circle: if you are a facilitator, a therapist, a parent, or any other hard-working human being, you know how much we need self-care and self-nourishment in order to be there more effectively for others. Along these lines, I will be co-leading a retreat in Mexico in February, where we will be working with the Focusing practice of “listening inside” to our own selves. In this retreat, we will be specifically exploring the combination of Focusing and positive psychology… “listening inside” to the places where we feel most alive and connected with Source, in order to nourish and strengthen our ability to be there for others.


Well, that’s almost all, for now… I hope you’ve enjoyed some of the above links; Brené and Clarissa are two of my “heroines”, and it’s been a pleasure to share them with you. I’ll end with a closing poem, followed by my holiday wish for you.

“If allowed to, grief doesn’t just break the heart,
but breaks it open,
ultimately breaking us open to unbroken Being.”

“Huge heartache, huge hurt, huge opening —
carrying us through the deepest sorrow
into a spaciousness as naturally compassionate
as it is vast.”

“In such spaciousness,
such exquisitely raw openness,
there is, eventually, room for all.”

~ Robert Augustus Masters

May you be surrounded with the love of family and friends this holiday season, and may we all be well-nourished by the healing that comes from deep listening, listening with compassion and love to our own selves, and to one another.

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