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Contemplative Listening

The Three Goods

Much of my graphic recording work happens live, on the spot, with my listening and drawing keeping a steady pace with the room's conversation. And when the day is done, my maps are (barring the need to add some color or catch a mis-spelling!) done too. But every great now and again, an opportunity arises for me to work at a deeper level, engaging in what can only be described as contemplative listening. Last week was just such an occasion.

For the second year in a row, I was invited to participate as scribe for a residential immersion offered by Rigpa's Spiritual Care Programme called Accompanying the Dying - a training for End of Life practitioners hosted by Quality of Life Care. Death doulas, hospice workers and volunteers, doctors, body workers and healers of all kinds, all gathered to hone their skills in attending to the spiritual needs of the dying.

This material is deep, cutting right to the core of what it means to be a human, to live and die, and to cultivate compassion in how we do both of these things. Because the content and processes are so deeply personal, and the setting so intimate, rather than hover near the edges, lifting out threads and recording throughout, I participated wholly as a member of the circle. Listening, sketching in my notebook, adding my own voice to the room, walking the path with them. And then, in the breaks, in the evenings, in the wee hours, I drew - synthesizing the day's content down to its pith. Drawing the themes together, sifting them in my mind while we sat until one coherent image would emerge that could contain the whole.

This is not my typical way of working. It is not necessarily a sustainable way of working - after all, being 'on' all day and drawing all night doesn't leave much time for self-care, exercise, or sleep. But it is, perhaps, one of my favorite ways of working. And the kind of listening and distilling that I do here feeds the work I do elsewhere. It hones my ears. It sharpens my eyes. It opens my heart.

As participants learned and experienced firsthand in the retreat, much of the healing that we can bring to another being is accomplished simply by our being able, and available, to listen well. To listen fully. Listening, as the saying goes, is more than just waiting for your turn to speak. And as a scribe, it is also more than just waiting for my turn to get up and draw. In this environment, I wait for the concepts to become experiences, the theoretical to become a true feeling. The disparate threads to begin to weave themselves together in my mind. For what was said in the morning and what was said in the afternoon to sing together, in harmony, until one sentence, one line, can represent them both.

How else could I attempt to capture an entire day's (or more!) worth of content and process in a single 8' map? I could not. Last year, I created more maps at this training. Three 8' charts, and two smaller pieces. I didn't sleep. And by the end, I couldn't even see the paper to notice what was, or wasn't there. This year, with the priority of quality over quantity, and the lesson learned to feed my own needs in order to fuel the maps' creation, I didn't rush. I practiced patience. And I captured the main threads of the entire 4-plus days into just three maps. But when the participants saw them evolving each day, they said, repeatedly, it's all there. It's all there.



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