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A Tool for Compassionate Listening

Tuesday, April 28, 2020 1:08 PM | Wise Woman (Administrator)
A Tool for Compassionate Listening

by Linda Conroy




When I was introduced to the wise woman tradition, I was curious about the tenant of compassionate listening. I heard this as compassionately listening to the self, the plants, nature and others, yet was not sure how to apply this. As I have deepened my understanding of compassionate listening, I have found several tools that have assisted me in bringing this tangibly into my life.


One of these tools is a model of compassionate communication developed by Marshal Rosenberg. I was introduced to this model while participating in a residential herbal/wise woman apprenticeship at Ravencroft Gardens in Monroe, WA. I immediately felt like I had found home. This model seems simple yet as I dance in the spiral that is my life and incorporate self-empathy, I continually discover new aspects that contribute to my life. As part of the apprenticeship program that I now offer we learn and practice this model as we explore herbal wisdom and wise woman ways. Compassionate communication offers an intention that facilitates connecting deeply with the self, the green world as well as other people.


The aspect of this model that I encourage apprentices to focus on is that of self-empathy or compassionate listening to themselves, which ultimately leads to compassionate listening to the natural world as well as other people. In these difficult times I trust there would be a radical shift if we each simply focused on self-empathy. Much of what happens in our daily interactions starts with how we have learned to relate to ourselves.


The main goal of compassionate communication is connection: whether we are talking about ourselves, nature or other people. This is contrary to the goal of the communication many of us have learned. Many of us have learned to blame ourselves, blame others or disconnect from nature as a way to distract from our feelings and needs. The basis of compassionate communication is to focus on feelings and needs. Identifying our true feelings and needs is a large part of this journey and one that requires patience and diligence since many of us are not even sure what our feelings and needs are.


In the case of self-empathy, we can notice an internal dialogue and any self-effacing messages. Life for example the weeks when I forget to take my trash out and the can is full, I tell myself stupid I am to have forgotten once again. I can easily go down this road and continue giving myself a hard time. Of course this only leads to me feeling depressed every time I think about the trash.


Now I can turn this around using compassionate communication. I do this by changing my internal dialogue to one that focuses on my feelings and needs. I use the self-effecting message as a red flag that I have feelings and needs that not being attended to. I might say to myself instead: “I’m feeling disappointed that I forgot to take the trash out and my need for ease in the upcoming week is not met.” Here I can realize what my needs are, need for ease, and I can get my need met some other way. On one occasion when I forgot to take the trash out, I asked my neighbor if I could put a bag of trash in their can that week and they agreed.


Through this interaction I discovered that I could be creative and reduce my waste as well. Reducing my waste helps me to meet my need to contribute to the health of the planet. If I had kept beating myself up, I probably would have had an overflowing trash can and would not have embraced the opportunity to connect with my neighbor and to unfold a deeper need to contribute in other ways. This is one simple example of many that have led me to deepen my relationship with myself, the plants, other people and the earth.


Compassionate communication offers opportunities to cultivate relationships with others, as well as ourselves, that are life enhancing. The model developed by Marshall Rosenberg first invites us to make an observation that is judgment free: so, in the case of my trash, I would say to myself, I notice that I forgot to take out the trash. Then I would notice what feelings came up: I felt disappointed and frustrated. Next, I would identify the need: I want ease in my upcoming week, particularly in dealing with the waste that will accumulate. After I have offered myself empathy and/or understanding. I can choose whether an action is needed or if receiving understanding was the action. In the case of the trash I chose to make a request, which is the 4th part of compassionate communication (*the request is critical when dialoguing with others). I requested of myself that I ask for space in my neighbor’s trash can and that I conserve and try to create less waste. These things both brought life to the situation and turned it into something fun.


Compassionate communication has offered me opportunities like these to enjoy my own life more fully as well as to enjoy connecting with others. At times when things do not seem resolvable and I feel hopeless, sticking to my feelings and needs has led to miracles and connections that I could not have imagined. This resonates with the goal of the Wise Woman Tradition, which holds health in the form of unimaginable transformations. Taking the four steps identified above and applying them to interactions that occur in my daily life have revealed pearls in situations that seemed impossible.


This model can also be used to promote health. Compassionately listening to our bodies and asking the wise woman questions of how we can get our needs met. Many times, our wise bodies can offer keen insights.


Below is the four-part model that was described in this article. Have fun and play with these questions in your life, see if you can find a few hidden treasures.


Make an observation (without judgment)

Identify your feelings connected to the observation

Identify your needs connected to the feeling

Make a request of yourself or others (check to be sure you are making a request and not a demand)


For more information about nonviolent communication visit http://www.cnvc.org


Linda M. Conroy is an herbalist, community organizer and avid forager. She is the founder of The Midwest Women's Herbal Conference, Mycelium Mysteries: A Women's Mushroom Conference and Moonwise Herbs. In addition to her work as a community organizer and herbalist, she holds a Masters Degree in Social Work as well as Law and Social Policy. Her social work career included a position as a case manager for people living with AIDS in the eye of that epidemic. Her response to this current pandemic is influenced by the work she did at that time. In the interest of resilience she created a community virtual herbal hangout where people gather to share clear and current information in a supportive environment. These gatherings are in their 8th week and have provided a reliable space in uncertain times. In addition to her community organizing work, Linda continues to offer traditional skill workshops, herbal apprenticeship programs and is a mentor for an online medicine program offered through the WIse Woman University. She is most grateful to the plants who never fail to instil a sense of awe and wonder in her daily life.

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