Transformational Listening; Turning Base Interaction Into Precious Golden Insight

Transformational listening is far from being a passive reception of what’s being said, waiting for a turn to speak; it is an active, engaged, and present state. It turns base interaction into precious golden insight into ourselves.

Transformational listening is far from being a passive reception of what’s being said, waiting for a turn to speak; it is an active, engaged, and present state. It turns base interaction into precious golden insight into ourselves.

One Sunday afternoon recently I found myself in a converted stable behind the back of a pub, giving a talk. After all the questions were asked and answered I was privileged to be signing books, and I asked the next person in front of me, a woman my age, if she wanted the book dedicated to anyone?

She stood in silence, looking at me.

The funny thing about silence is that if you hold that space it creates a safe bubble for someone to unfurl. A silence between two people is so much more than a conversation, it is a commitment. A promise of confidentiality. Any conversation that follows is given the same space to be honest.

She said she really wanted the book for her son, who had agreed to walk 100km with her.

“That’s a beautiful thing.” I said, and I meant it.

“The thing is he’s said he would, but I have to choose where we go …” and she talked around her frustration with what she felt to be a lack of commitment from her son, and so it went.

The thing about transformational listening is that it is far from being a passive reception of what’s being said, waiting for a turn to speak; it is an active, engaged, and present state.

Really listening to someone and their intonation, the rhythm of hesitation and fluency, the far from random choices of words, and gestures and inflection is like being gifted a lucid map to their very core.

Any act of speaking is an invitation to someone else, to someone listening, to glimpse the startling, fractal perfection of that person’s raw complexity.

Actually listening is to slowly, gently, form a connection; one that shapes the journey, a journey that can travel deeply in the inner landscapes of another human being.

Until the rhythmic pulse of listening and talking become the same thing; that constant, delicate, intricate throbbing becomes a profound and expanding exposure of life itself.

Transformational Listening becomes an intimate bubble, the most significantly human space, for a magical alchemy; it turns the base interaction into precious golden insight into ourselves.

The woman paused for a minute, looking to me for understanding.

However, I have found, any time we honestly search for answers from within a conversation, simple listening holds a space in which those answers inside ourselves can be heard; in being heard we risk exposure but, in asking we uncover revelation.

This beautiful woman, who made herself vulnerable, realised that actually the answer lay with her.

“My son is waiting for me!”

She said; “He is ready, HE is waiting for ME.”

That was it. She realised, if someone could do 800km, she could do 100km. More importantly she was going to, no excuses.

Travel is the Kintsugi Art of Life, It’s How The Gold Gets In

Travel does more than heal the wounds, it expands you, it’s kintsugi – it’s how the gold gets in.

I have long been fascinated by Kintsugi, meaning “golden joinery”, it is the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with powdered gold and other precious metals. It’s a soothing philosophy of embracing damage and repair, and making something more beautiful for having been broken.

When I was asked to write a piece for Wanderlust about travelling with my children across America in response to my father dying, I thought of travel as the Kintsugi art of life.

People travel not so much to get away as to come home, to themselves. In the slipstream of the unknown you become aware of every detail, in the intense ferment of new stimulation you awaken, and in being flayed by the tumult of unfamiliar all that has made you who you have become is stripped away to reveal who you are, flaws, and defacement, and scars and all.

For us, from LA to New York over seven weeks, the gold dust added to the restorative sap of wandering, the flecks of pure ore, were the people we met; in a random, chance encounter you feel the touch of humanity, in the hand that is extended grows trust, in a stranger’s smile is acceptance.

I carried all the broken pieces of myself outside and held them out to America wordlessly, and the serendipity, generosity and kindness on the road taught us that nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. And, we were still OK.

Travel does more than heal the wounds, it expands you, it’s kintsugi – it’s how the gold gets in.

Almost as if we need to break in order to expand. Then this gorgeous sculpture by British artist, Paige Bradley, whispered its message of expansion from the deep reaches of my memory. Paige Bradley broke a wax sculpture she spent 6 months making, cast the broken pieces in bronze, then reassembled them with a lighting engineer to produce this startling sculpture; with a hint of Kintsugi light shining through the cracks.

She says, “I want to advocate healing and empowerment for people around the world. I want my art to be a forceful voice to help those who suffer from illness, repression or exploitation. My sculptures express a depth and variety of the physical, emotional and spiritual that we search for as a human race. Simultaneously, I want to provoke us to feel painful truths we keep bottled up inside. I want us to remember we are all the same. And, it is this understanding that can heal us all.”

And so I wrote this month’s piece .. please go and read my article on Wanderlust here

Please see this work, Expansion, on Paige Bradley’s website

“From the moment we are born, the world tends to have a container already built for us to fit inside: A social security number, a gender, a race, a profession or an I.Q. I ponder if we are more defined by the container we are in, rather than what we are inside. Would we recognize ourselves if we could expand beyond our bodies? Would we still be able to exist if we were authentically ‘un-contained’?

“Art is not entertainment. Art is not luxury goods. Art is culture. It is you and me.”  – Paige Bradley

What The Mushrooms Had to Teach

Sometimes the blocked way is a guide. Whether we like it or not, we are committed to the human endeavour and we have to keep going; the way we go may turn us away, and we may not go in the direction we want, but as long as we are moving, we are creating alternatives and possibilities, and there is magic at our feet.

In the middle of a couple of rough days where nothing seems to be working and I have to think again about a big pitch that has been rejected, I was between mundane places and parked to take a photograph of the Autumn trees on a hillside in the early morning light.

However, as I walked the clouds overtook me and the life drained out of the moment. I stood in the middle of a muddy field, in cowpats and trampled, soggy hay, as the black crows flew over, and let go.

Pretty much giving up on pulling myself out of the mood, I turned back trying to accept it sometimes goes like that, yet still stalking the gaps in hope.

Then I ran out of time on my parking ticket and found my way to the car was cordoned off; I had to cut across a scrappy patch of grass, and worm casts, and mulching leaves, and I will not tell a lie I felt almost despondent; I couldn’t believe I couldn’t find something exquisitely beautiful somewhere, and then I nearly stepped in these…

Hallucines and Madmen

I never set out to go mushroom hunting but I felt the rush, the excitement and the wonder at the dew drops and glistening caps and, if a leaf of grass is no less than “the journey-work of the stars” as Walt Whitman said, what then are daisies and coy mushrooms but stories woven by magic.

I knew nothing about mushrooms except that they are all edible, at least once. But an hour with these creatures and I now know they are omnivores, feeding off plant and animal matter, they breath and have their own immune system, they are as different from plants as plants are from animals and that we do not yet know how mushrooms use sunlight; only that they do. I know the difference between a morel and a toadstool and that I don’t know enough, but I am in awe.

Every obstacle, disappointment, and frustration led to the discovery of these gorgeous beauties.

And there’s the learning, sometimes the blocked way is a guide. Whether we like it or not, we are committed to the human endeavour and we have to keep going; the way we go may turn us away, and we may not go in the direction we want, but as long as we are moving, we are creating alternatives and possibilities, and there is magic at our feet.

The Marilyn Monroe of English Mushrooms

A Tedx Talk About An Extraordinary Journey

This talk was given at a local TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences. An extraordinary journey undertaken by a mother and her two sons which transformed each of them. Pilgrimage in action.

I tuned into Twitter at about 1 o’clock in the morning to find a Tweet from a professor at the University of Nevada who said he was showing my TEDx Talk to his students studying leadership that day, and that’s how I found out it was online.

I thought it was the most wonderful way to discover it was out there, and now I can tell you more about the event; I was utterly privileged to take part on a TEDx run by a school, that was only the second one to gain a TED license worldwide.

Sir William Perkins School run the event with the full inclusion of their students; the girls work on the event, presentation and technical side, recording all the video and audio and then editing every talk. I am so proud school children put my TEDx Talk video together, I hope you agree they are amazing.

For me to give my first TED Talk about the walk I led as a parent, with my sons, to an audience of parents and children was just fitting. To know the students were gaining so much experience directly involved in the production was so pertinent.

I am also incredibly proud it was first seen in a classroom all the way across the world from me, in Reno, Nevada. A class led by Bret Simmons, Nevada Management Professor, to his MBA class as an example of the book they’re working on, “Building the Bridge As You Walk On It: A Guide for Leading Change”, by Robert E. Quinn, the Margaret Elliot Tracey Collegiate Professorship at the University of Michigan.

This talk was given at a TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences. An extraordinary journey undertaken by a mother and her two sons which transformed each of them. Pilgrimage in action.

Imagine What Could Change If We Give Our Children The Space To Decide What Kind Of Adults They Want To Be

This was the last time I saw my boys.
The next time I saw them, they were men.

This scene of two boys walking off down an ordinary backstreet in the middle of nowhere in particular seems unremarkable, but it holds the story of a life-changing moment.

Six kilometres out from Carrión de los Condes, down a side street in Villalcázar de Sigra, we stopped in a little bar for a much-needed drink. I felt like I had been walking since the 13th century; we had been getting up at 4.30am every day for me to sew the blisters on my feet, leaving the thread in to drain the fluid during the day, and setting off before the dawn to cover 30km before the midday heat.

I was grateful for a break. When I stood up to get back on the road again, there was a searing pain in my knee so sharp I sat right back down again.

Next to our table was an advertising board with a taxi number on it. Harry looked at me sideways and said, “Maybe it’s a sign.”

Amused that he used this to his advantage, I gave in and agreed we’d take a taxi. Both my sons turned to me and said: “No, you’re taking a taxi, we’re walking.”

This was the last time I saw my boys.

The next time I saw them, they were men.

Eighteen months ago, on that ordinary Tuesday night when we sat down with a plate of sausage and mash with gravy in front of a DVD and 123 minutes later the boys stood up and said they wanted to walk 800km to Santiago de Compostela, this is what I wanted to make happen for them.

That night we had put on The Way, a film by Martin Sheen that is essentially about a handful of middle-aged people walking and talking.

It is a fictionalized account of a man who walks this 9th century pilgrimage, known as The Camino, after his son dies in the attempt; and the stories of those he meets on the journey. As the end credits rolled both boys just knew they wanted to walk it, and we had to do it together. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced that before, where you’ve just had to do something. No reasons why and no rational explanation, you just want to do it.

Watching them walk away, I realised that this was why I had walked all this way.

Nothing quite prepares you for watching your sons grow up in front of your eyes; knowing you will never quite be the same person again.

I could never have imagined I would watch them do it. When I woke up that morning there was no indication that this would be the day. As I bought three bottles of soft drink from the bar, it never crossed my mind that it was going to happen right then.

It’s extraordinary how some significant moments are so quiet you would hardly know they were there.

As a parent, we want to conjure a wind underneath our children’s wings, not so they can fly but for them to soar high with passion and joy. I have no end of failings as a mother but in walking away they showed me I had done all right, and I understood that this was the reason I had come on this walk. I was truly at my happiest.

When they left me in that bar to set off for a town, they had no more information than the name of a refuge I would try and get us into. The town wasn’t an easy one, it was moderately large and our accommodation was off the main street, tucked down a side road. I resisted the temptation to tell everyone to keep a look out for them and decided to let them figure it out…
And they did.

singing nuns of Carrion de los Condas, Walking With Angels, by Melanie Gow

That evening we met up again in the simple reception of the convent refuge, with the singing Augustinian nuns, the gorgeous singing nuns from Columbia. Strangely moving and yet absurd. When they sang Amazing Grace, even the strongest cynic would have folded.

After this the guys went to sit outside a bar in the sun and called my sons over to join them. They had their first boys’ night out with the best men, from a dozen different backgrounds, men with values and a sense of wonder and fun, who treated my sons as equals.

You don’t get your first boys’ night out again, so I left them to enjoy the banter and the sangria they were being bought and wandered off to the church, as I had heard it was worth visiting.

It turned out there was a service for the feast day of The Assumption, a significant day in the Catholic calendar celebrating the belief that Mary was taken into heaven without having to live out her natural life, because she was the mother of Christ.

The priest gave a sermon that I could understand every word of for some reason, about the importance of mothers and the grace of the relationship between mother and child.

This sermon on this day was a powerful coincidence.

By the time the softly-spoken, Columbian nun accompanied herself on an acoustic guitar, singing, “Everything Changes Except Love”, I was in tears.

When that sweetly-smiling nun went on to give a speech about Hope and started handing out little paper stars the sisters had cut out and coloured in while praying for us, I gave in and cried – for the next three days. With pride for my sons, gratitude, joy, relief, a feeling of coming home to myself.

Imagine what could change if we give our children the space to decide what kind of adults they want to be; because nothing will ever be the same again.

SAMSUNG CSC

The Confession

The Confession: any time I spend with this picture reminds me of the man who dared to be vulnerable.

The Confession, I asked the man from Barcelona if he'd had his moment? He said no. "I am dry", he said.

I met a man; a young and handsome man from Barcelona. It was the day after the singing nuns, and my public display of weeping, and he was amused by me.

He was cool and sophisticated, shaped by the cynicism of the world. Hardened by real life, doubtful of possibility, distrustful of sincerity.

He asked me to explain why I had cried.

Endearingly, when I finished telling him he simply replied that he hoped to have such a moment.

I met him again at the Cruz de Ferro (the Iron Cross), one of The Camino’s most emblematic points. It is where you place your stone traditionally and leave all it represents behind. Many leave something meaningful at its base with their deepest wishes. People watch the sun rise, go through the rituals, and turn and hug those they know, hoping their wishes come true for them.

He was supposed to leave at León after five days, but he stayed on the road and I met him again here in the church at the top of the highest peak before the descent into Santiago.

We happened to be standing by the confessional box under a small window set in the deep, protective walls, when I asked him if he’d had his moment?

He said, “No. I am dry.”

His yearning created a special place in my heart. I didn’t know how to respond and simply said, “Interesting”.

He said, “I don’t think it’s interesting, I think it’s sad.”

His yearning created a special place in my heart. We caught sight of each other along the road occasionally, and I saw his face grow softer and his eyes sparkle more each day.

He arrived in Santiago the same morning we did. I came down the stairs of the pilgrim’s office and saw him below me in the line for his certificate of completion, the Compostela. I stepped up to him.

It was all there between us in that moment, unsaid.

He burst into tears.

We hugged for the longest time!

For me this very small story describes the big picture… perhaps.