We conducted listening circles at Jindal Global Law School (JGLS), after participating in an active listening training organized by Aaina.
There were 2 listening circles with 8 people each per circle. Each circle had 4 to 5 participants who were completely new to the space and felt satisfied after they left the circle. They said that their expectations were fulfilled, they felt restored and that they could breathe after a long time. Here, I share how I conducted this circle and what helped me end it successfully.
WHAT IS A LISTENING CIRCLE
A listening circle is a safe space where people congregate to hear and be heard, at its most basic level. It involves a different way of meeting each other than we are used to. The focus is on hearing each other and being heard, not achieving anything or finding solutions. Everyone sits around in a circle and takes turns speaking about anything at all they feel like talking about at the moment. We take turns by passing around a ‘talking object’ – a water bottle, a pillow, a pencil pouch. Whoever has the talking object speaks and passes it on to the next person when they are done. One does not necessarily have to speak when it’s their turn, one could choose to stay quiet. In the process of speaking and listening, we only attempt to validate each other’s experiences, if at all we want to respond to each other. The idea of a listening circle is to create a space free of judgment, advice and any negative consequences for speaking one’s truth.
WHAT I LEARNT AT THE WORKSHOP AND HOW IT GAVE ME THE COURAGE TO TAKE UP THIS INITIATIVE
I was able to build my capacity to listen. I learned that listening just means having the ability to be present and letting the other person feel whatever they are feeling. I felt capable to cultivate a safe space to enable myself and others to share and feel heard. I learned that there was more to listening than just saying something back and responding for the sake of it. I moved beyond that binary and realized silence could also be listening. The warmth and the aura you give away matters. I now know what to consciously do and not do. I felt empowered having met people so different to me and yet going through similar things. It gave me hope and I wanted to take this forward individually and collectively so more people get to feel this way. I now actively know what I have to look out for.
A participant said, “the first thing that I realized here was the beauty of listening. As too, how much power ‘listening’ can hold, how it makes you feel so wanted. And, with this same feeling, I want to build my capacity to listen even further. I learned how eye contacts can also talk and so can silence.”
Another participant said, “I feel motivated to continue this legacy. In this isolated law school, a place that can really make you feel inadequate and lonely, it’s really important for me to at least take a step to ensure that I can be someone’s listener and make them feel better.”
Another one said, “I learned that a conversation doesn’t always have to be two people speaking. Listening is actually more important because if you don’t know what the other person is saying, you can’t continue the conversation.”
WHAT I DO
Since, it is our college and our people, we know the environment they live in. Here, as soon as they come, we make them feel like they are in a different place which is completely separate from the world outside that room. They feel comfortable with themselves and the place. They feel like they belong and nobody would judge them. It is a place where one can let loose and forget about their inhibitions. There is no need to put up a strong face for the world. There is no need to impress the world.
I look into their eyes when they are speaking. I nod while listening to them. I keep remembering what I had learnt from the workshop that I was a part of. I remember the vibe of the conductor and try to deduce certain characteristics from that. If I get tired of listening and nodding, then – to come back to the present, I look into their eyes again. I disconnect from my thoughts and I cancel any other noises. It sounds like a lot of work, but while listening to them, I make us the same person. I give in to my body and let my heart take the lead. I give my body more importance than my mind.
HOW DO I KNOW THAT THEY FEEL THIS?
By ensuring that I feel this too. When I give off this aura, everybody around me feels the same. I feel that the person you are communicating with, reciprocates your vibe.
We know that one person treats another the same way they are being treated, consequently, I make sure I let loose of myself, for them to be able to relax and let themselves be vulnerable for that hour of their life.
ABOUT THE SMALL STEPS THAT ARE INVOLVED
Three S’s that I keep in mind are – speaking slowly, speaking warmly, speaking from the heart. It is important to keep in mind that one is not just a part of the circle, but also conducting it. I do this by giving directions and by being emotionally defenseless and unguarded. The point is to make the circle – a space where one can empathize.
During the session, we pass a talking object. But, we keep it slow. As a facilitator, I make certain that nobody feels obligated to talk. We are used to talking in law school, therefore silence is precious for us. At times, I sit silently with the talking object for a while, to make the environment calm.
The message that we send across is also drafted in a way that the recipients feel like they would want to come here to be in touch with themselves – to feel connected with themselves. This message helps them to be connected to a space which is important to them. This place is for them and they feel this through our approach towards it.
HOW DO I BECOME ‘THIS PERSON’ ALL THE TIME?
I keep myself in touch with these feelings and pointers by reading the posts that are put up by psychologists. I try to retain the importance of authenticity and I keep applying the principles of listening every day.
WHAT WOULD I SAY TO THOSE THAT CAUTION THAT ONLY EXPERTS CAN DO THIS
One might feel that they are not equipped to facilitate these circles as they are not trained, psychologists. They would not know what to do if a situation got exceptionally stern and the sharer needed medical support. For this, the facilitator should keep contact numbers of psychologists, who would be willing to help the participants of the circle. The facilitator can also make a list as per the fee that is charged by these psychologists, for the convenience of the participants. However, one should keep in mind that the aim of the listening circle is to be present for one another. A study conducted by Dr. Lissa Rankin shows that more people die of loneliness than drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes combined. Hence, being available to listen to another person is the objective.
The participants are also expecting to be heard and feel safe. One need not be a psychologist to lend a kind ear. A subreddit has also been started by Aaina, where it is creating a community – a healthy village if you will, in which no one’s invisible. The community watches out for each other.On this page too, the participants are from different backgrounds, unrelated to psychology. However, they feel comfortable and wish to authentically share on the platform because they know that they are being heard.They know that there is someone who will tell them that, “it is going to be okay”.
One of our participants said that she could “just be there and understand others without feeling the need to overtly object and speak for the sake of speaking”.
Another participant said, “listening is one skill we’ve all lost touch with. In this world, where everyone is eager to speak, to be loud enough, I found my safe space, in the listening circle. I was finally heard. My feelings, my beliefs, my opinions were finally listened too. And I didn’t feel like a burden on someone when I shared my story, as if people were forced to listen to me, instead I was made to feel like I can go on talking, for whatever it was that was bothering me, that of buried inside of me. Through this art of listening, I heard myself too, a voice that I never paid attention too.”
We are very thankful to everybody who shared and listened at our circles.
Sukirti is a student at the JGLS and a talented facilitator in the making.
Book an appointment with Aqseer at firstname.lastname@example.org. More on psychotherapy with her here.
Mary Robinson, ‘Don’t Go Exhausted Trying to Fix It All: Learning Boundaries As A “Fixer”’
To read more on non-judgement refer to ‘Grounded Spirituality’ by Jeff Brown
Karla McLaren, ‘The Gifts of Shame’
Filiz Telek, ‘Presence Sessions’ – http://http://www.filiztelek.com/presence-sessions
David Schwartz, ‘The Magic of Thinking Big’
Lissa Rankin, ‘Mind Over Medicine’; to get a summary of the experiment refer to ‘https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2hLhWSlOl0&list=LLBmjLxgqyOQG5iDlhf32DXw&index=4&t=0s’
Francis Weller, ‘The Wild Edge of Sorrow’
Jeff Brown, ‘An Uncommon Bond’