Reflections on 2008 Advanced Training

Reflections on Advanced Training 2008
by Maria Cook

The Compassionate Listening Project’s Advanced Training consists of two four-day sessions at a beautiful retreat center, with three months in between for integration time. This coming year for the first time, participants may register for one or both sessions – see the information box at the end of this article to learn more. TCLP board-member, Maria Cook, interviewed recent participants to learn more about their experience.

John Gahn, of Saturna Island, B.C., was drawn to the Advanced Training after experiencing the Introductory Intensive as a part of his Hospice training. He recognized Compassionate Listening (CL) as an invaluable aspect of hospice work. “I wanted to deepen my practice, reconnect with a group, and be able to teach the practice to others, especially other hospice volunteers. Advanced training was the next step. CL has far more than just hospice application. It’s a spiritual practice. I am not sure exactly where I’m going but CL will be a huge part of it. As a hospice volunteer, I am committed to service. CL and the Advanced training have shown me the importance of doing personal work in order to really be of service and how much I need to implement that in every area of life.”

For Lori Saginaw of Ann Arbor, the CL Introductory Intensive was the third experimental workshop that she was trying out. “I had been trying to align my core beliefs on the inside with what I do outside. The disconnect has been major and I don’t have forever… I took Compassionate Listening and it was so simple! The intensive wakes you up but I wanted to go farther.“ She felt she owed it to herself to take the Advanced. Lori found herself changed by the training. “I experienced a level of communication that was so impactful, that it made superficial, normal communication unappealing. It set a bar. If I get into an old groove with someone who has not been part of the training, I recognize that it isn’t good enough anymore. “In the Advanced, everyone was willing to be with sadness and suffering, and that is a powerful thing. I realized how much empathy and connection it’s possible to feel with people who are different enough that I might have never interfaced with them. There was an awakening that happened, and it bonded us. “I learned that it’s possible and necessary to go through sadness and come out on the other side. I had started a project , interviewing my mother about her life. Things in her life are really painful. I had been putting off the interview and I realized that I could have this interview, listen and hear her, and we could both benefit. CL is the deepest kind of listening. After you do that, you don’t want to cheat yourself or others with anything less.”

Frida Furman, a professor at DePaul University in Chicago said, ”The Advanced Training has been a wonderful experience of joining with incredibly inspiring and loving people—facilitators and participants alike—in learning a practice that is changing how I am in the world. In my work—for example, in my Comparative Religion classes—I have been teaching for years the Buddhist view that change must start within before you can change the world. I finally get at a gut level what this is about, and I feel so blessed to have reached this level of authenticity. This is also changing my life, as I learn to listen more deeply and compassionately to my family and as I begin to change my life priorities in the direction of peace work, starting with the transformation of the self, and in the direction of healing across group divides by working on healing between people.“

Ilene Stark of Seattle was also deeply impacted by the training. “I was impacted on so many different levels, most powerfully in the heart. My heart cracked open in so many ways: to the depth of my own willingness to feel and to sit with others in despair; to look for the fair witness in even the most challenging situation; to my willingness to do the work on a personal level and to do the work in the world, even in challenging situations. To do that exploration in an extraordinary container, to be held in a field of great wisdom…I felt so encouraged as a human to see what is possible.” “I have been experiencing a lot of challenges at work and, as hard as its been, I have been able to get underneath more, to be compassionate with myself while taking in difficult messages, to hold off on judgment. I am more aware of when I’m reactive. Listening and speaking from the heart is happening more naturally.”

“The racism work was the highlight for me. We saw a film that cracked me open to so much grief, despair, and empathy about racism that I hadn’t even known I was feeling. Something happened physically that changed me forever. I got in touch with all that I am holding. I cried for more than an hour. It was unbelievable, what I was able to feel. How much we’re all carrying that we’re numb to! We usually don’t have the support or time to really be with it. I was forever changed by that. “The despair work and the speaking from the heart allowed us to be so human together. It was very good company to be in, very comforting. All these smart and wonderful people also have pain! I have been practicing speaking from the heart, pushing myself, sometimes afraid to speak my truth. If I am speaking from the heart, I am not really hurting anyone, there is nothing to fear, I can be more authentic.”

The Advanced Training is an important step in the certification track. Many of the participants plan to continue on towards certification. John Gahn has already begun teaching. “I did an evening presentation and I was so calm, I talked without any notes. It’s a part of who I am, I am sharing myself, I am coming from the heart. It’s so wonderful to share it, people come alive. Breaking into dyads, they don’t want to stop. “Can we do this at every volunteer meeting?” they ask. John continues, “The practice of CL is in relationships. I met my wife Sandra at a two-day intensive training last winter and we were married last summer. It’s communication from the heart that brings us so close.”

Ilene Stark’s message is clear: “If anyone is considering the Advanced Training,” she says, ”it will benefit every facet of life- professional, personal, and as an activist on the planet.”

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