Reflections on 2010 Advanced Training

Reflections on Advanced Training 2010
by Bryn Patton and Cathy Keene Merchant

The Compassionate Listening Project’s Advanced Training consists of two four-day, stand alone courses at a beautiful retreat center near Seattle.

TCLP Board member, Bryn Patton, and TCLP Managing Director, Cathy Keene Merchant, interviewed recent participants to learn more about their experience.

David Pankratz, of Winnipeg, Canada, first came across Compassionate Listening in December 2003 through an Internet search about programs in the Middle East. “I had spent some time in the Mid-East and a variety of places. My wife and I wanted to make a donation to an organization that was working towards peace in the Middle East without overtly identifying a villain and a victim in the process, which is hard to do. When I noticed they did trainings, I immediately thought, ‘if I value this enough to send money, I should also value it enough to learn the skill.’ So, the initial interest – as a starting point – was working toward peace and understanding without identifying a villain and a victim in the process.”

As David began to learn more about CL and practice it in his personal life, he also realized that this work could benefit the refugees he works with, as the Director of the Institute for Community Peace Building at Canadian Mennonite University. Newcomers typically have to deal with four main areas of conflict upon arrival in a new country: the conflicts that “follow” them from their home country, those they experience in relation to other refugee or immigrant groups, those they experience in relation to the dominant group, and those they experience with one another (such as between parent and child, etc). David was especially attracted to the “listening with the heart” component of CL, as he believes it to be “a good starting skill for the refugees dealing with these issues. By learning to hear each other’s narratives, they will have a good start at finding a way through these difficulties.”

For this reason, in 2009, David and his team set up two highly successful Introductory CL Trainings in Winnipeg for the refugees in his area and members of the Institute. After several training participants later requested further instruction in CL, the Institute banded together to raise money for partial and full scholarships for eight members of the Winnipeg community to attend the May 2010 Advanced Training, Level 2 in Seabeck, WA, USA. David now says, “I use Compassionate Listening with my colleagues in our collaboration, and have had much better results with disagreements – whether entrenched or just in the normal course of events. By removing the violence of not being heard, they freely access their best self and, as Compassionate Listening predicts, they take a larger view of the situation and work to meet everyone’s needs, not just their own – which Desmond Tutu says we are ‘made for.’”

As a member of a culturally and spiritually diverse Compassionate Listening delegation to Israel and Palestine, Jewish American Betsy Fuchs, of Chicago, IL, traveled with TCLP in October 2008 in order to expand her knowledge of the situation and learn how to listen to people from both sides more fully. But within the first few days, she began to realize how challenging it could be just to listen. “On the delegation, it was very difficult to listen and not react to what we were hearing. Sometimes you want to leave the room. But this is the first step – the pre-step I needed before I could ever begin to practice Compassionate Listening.”

Upon her return to the US, Betsy decided to share these experiences with others in her local community by offering presentations about her trip. She calls the program, “Learning to Listen to Israeli and Palestinian Stories (and to each other),” which she has already presented at more than a dozen venues around Chicago. Meanwhile, she began to feel that she was ready to deepen her CL practice, so she signed up for the Advanced Training. “I took the 2010 Advanced Training and was introduced in depth to the principles of CL. The first two, Cultivating Compassion (for ourselves and others) and Developing the Fair Witness (quieting criticism about ourselves and others) started me on a new path. My second step has been to stop judging myself and others, which I don’t always get right, but that’s why it is called a ‘practice.’ The additional principles are coming slowly, but in the meantime, this is a start. I am still learning and intend to practice more and get better over time at this lifetime learning challenge.”

After completing the Compassionate Listening Introductory Training and Advanced Training, Level 1 in Winnipeg with the Institute for Community Peace Building group in 2009, Evasio Brandt-Murenzi knew he had to deepen his practice with the Advanced Training, Level 2 this past May. “I had done the first two trainings in Winnipeg last year, but I knew I needed to dig in and go deeper in order to get outside myself. The earlier practice had been more internal, but at some point you have to ask yourself how you can improve your listening and interactions with others, based on your self-understanding. I was really ready for that.”

Although he had really been excited to begin, once the training got underway, Evasio was surprised by the emotional intensity of some of the exercises. He was especially struck by his own reaction to one particular listening session, in which another participant became very triggered by an aspect of the training. “For me, this was the first time in North America that I saw somebody get publically angry, and it triggered so much for me – so much of what I had seen in the past – and that was scary. But at that moment, I knew this person really needed to be listened to. He needed to express his truth and know that he was being heard. If we had tried to shut him down or stop him, what would have been our purpose of being there? We were there for a reason – to learn to listen, really listen, to each other.”

Since returning to his home in Winnipeg, Canada, Evasio says he has continued deepening his practice and is integrating it into various aspects of his life, both personally and professionally. At work, he is able to use CL skills to improve communication between himself and his students, their parents, and the schools, as he acts as a bridge between new immigrants and the French-speaking school system. “When I ask students for an answer to a particular question now, I make sure to follow up for more meaning and more explanation so that I hear exactly what they are trying to say. And the students can really tell.” At home, Evasio is pleased to report that his new listening skills have been even more appreciated. “Do you know that every time I remember to apply CL to my life, it works? It’s true! In my romantic relationship, my partner told me the last time I listened to her, she felt heard. And it also works for my children. When I listen to them now, they feel heard and want to talk to me more. It’s wonderful! I would definitely recommend CL to anyone.”

For many years, Suzanne Schecker, of Easthampton, MA, has been doing work in the field of Jewish-German reconciliation. She holds a doctorate in Counseling Psychology, and her doctoral dissertation was on the psychological effects of the Holocaust on the children of both survivors and children of the Third Reich. She is a founding member of One by One, an organization created by children from both sides to create opportunities for dialogue and reconciliation between Germans and Jews. She sees Compassionate Listening as a curriculum or set of tools that can move and deepen the dialogue process to further reconciliation and healing.

This past spring, Suzanne attended the CL Advanced Training. “About this particular training, always in the past when I’ve done trainings like this, I’ve come up against parts of myself where – when things got too close – I’d need to walk away or I’d need some time alone. This is the first time in my life I didn’t do that. I felt totally comfortable and very much held by this particular group and it’s, for me, a very personal breakthrough. There was a tremendous level of safety and I think in myself, as much as in the group, that I reached a place of self-acceptance that is pretty permanent.”

Now that her Advanced Training is complete, Suzanne is in the process of becoming a certified facilitator of CL. She hopes to work with others in the community to bring more CL trainings to the East Coast and to expand its work with veterans and their families, as well as children of war. In addition, she hopes to help create a joint CL-One by One delegation to Germany to further the healing and reconciliation process. “I think CL is one of the most genuinely beautiful tools we have in the world for connecting hearts, building opportunities for peace and healing the wounds of conflict, war, genocide, and justice.“

Glenn Dickter, of Santa Fe, NM, serves on the board of the organization Creativity for Peace, whose vision is committed to developing the next generation of female leaders and peacemakers in Israel and Palestine. The mission of the organization is to nurture understanding and leadership in Palestinian and Israeli adolescent girls and women and to foster a learning and healing environment where participants create new and lasting relationships that cross religious and cultural boundaries.

After completing this year’s CL Advanced Training, Glenn has begun deepening his practice and is currently training to become a CL facilitator. “I want to do this practice in myself and that will model how I walk through the world with it, and then it will show up in the things I’m involved with. Subtly, I believe I’m more patient and less judgmental. I put less importance on trying to come up with the right answer and how it’s going to change someone’s life, and I’m more conscious of attempting to draw the other person out. I’ve always been comfortable with pregnant pauses; I’m just more comfortable with them now. I facilitated a group last night and was just noticing how many times I wanted to add sparkling, creative, “right” answers and chose not to. My desire was to have someone else say something similar; it would have been more powerful.”

Glenn also reflected on the impact CL has had on his business practice as a financial advisor. “I’m listening to my clients in a way that just lets them be. It’s harder for me to walk through the agenda and control things the way I have previously. As I get more comfortable with it, I think it will be very practical in work.”

The Advanced Training is the second step – after the introductory training – in the certification track. Currently, ten participants of current and past ATS trainings are in the process of becoming certified facilitators.

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