Class 2: Deep Listening- Standing on Holy Ground

“Take the shoes from off your feet, for the place

where you are standing is holy ground” –Exodus 3:5 

Intention for the Second Class

The topic for tonight is DEEP LISTENING. It is about “taking the shoes from off our feet” which means developing the skills and attitudes that are necessary in order to listen deeply to God and to our partner. When we are invited into someone’s inner world, we need to tread gently, striving to understand deeply and to listen compassionately. This is holy ground.

Spiritual Foundation

The commandment, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy,” invites us to rest our bodies, renew our minds, and restore our souls. It is a time to reconnect with God through reading and meditating on Sacred Scripture, and opening ourselves to God’s presence in our lives. It is a time to focus on things that are higher than the race to achieve our worldly goals or satisfy our worldly ambitions. The Sabbath is a time to rest in God, to spiritually “take off our shoes,” and to listen for God’s voice. 

The Sabbath commandment asks us to rise above the desire to have “our will” be done so that God’s will may be done. But in order to know God’s will, we need to stop and listen. We need to clear our minds of the concerns of our ego and become fully present. We need to take off our shoes, open our spiritual senses, and listen deeply for God’s “still small voice.” Whenever we do so, we will find that we are standing on holy ground.

Last week we asked you to identify false gods (resentment, self-pity, anger, etc.) and pray for the qualities that you were lacking (understanding, patience, compassion, etc.). We said that this is what it means to call upon “the name” of the Lord, this is what it means to not take “His name” in vain, and this is what it means when we say “hallowed be Thy name.” This week we are asking you to “complete the communication cycle” with God. In other words, we want you to listen for God’s response.

We understand that the response will seldom come in terms of a clearly articulated voice in your head.  More often it comes through a passage of scripture that God brings to your remembrance, or the lyrics of a song, or the glory of a sunrise, or the sweet words of an innocent child. When we learn how to listen, we begin to hear God’s voice more often. It’s not because God is speaking louder; it’s because we are listening better.

As we listen for that divine direction, we discover that God is answering our prayers and filling our needs—our need for greater patience; our need for greater understanding; our need for greater forgiveness; our need for greater compassion, etc. Gradually, we discover that these deepest needs are being met in wonderful ways.  

If we don’t have a spiritual base, however, we will expect other people or other things to fulfill our needs—especially our partner. Our relationship becomes “need-based” rather than “faith-based.”

If we develop our spiritual base—our individual relationship with God—then we can invite our spouse to be our true helpmate and not the one who is responsible for filling all of our unmet needs. As helpmates, we can see one another as God intends us to be, and help each other to get there. We can support and encourage one another on the journey of reaching our highest spiritual potential.

To summarize, the inner meaning of the Sabbath is about:
     Quieting our self will so that God’s will may become active in us.

     Letting go of ego concerns (take the shoes from off our feet).

     Meditating on sacred scripture to keep our minds centered on higher things.

     Listening for the still small voice.

     Acting from a God-centered Sabbath state.

Psychological Foundations

Often when we think of communication, we think of speaking and conveying our own message. Our focus is on how effectively and convincingly we can express ourselves. But we also know that there is another aspect of communication that is equally important and is a real gift to our partner. And that is, learning to listen.  In fact, one of the greatest gifts that we can give is the gift of listening.

All good marriage education programs recognize the importance of developing both speaking and listening skills. This is usually called “couple communication.” Originally developed by David and Vera Mace over fifty years ago and called the “Couple Dialogue,” variations of this skill now appear in a number of marriage education programs under different names. It is sometimes called “Active Listening,” “Couple Sharing,”  “Speaker-Listener Technique,” and “Couple Disclosure.”          

The couple communication skill that we would like to focus on this evening comes from the Imago Education work of psychologists Harville Hendrix and his wife, Helen LaKelly Hunt. They call it the “Couple’s Dialogue.” It refines and further develops the original work by the Maces. 

According to Hendrix, most people come into marriage with unmet childhood needs. He further points out that there are three stages of every marriage. In stage one of a marriage, we hope that these needs will be met. This generates Romantic Love. After the wedding, the expectation of need satisfaction rises exponentially. This leads to stage two, when we shift from hoping our needs will be met, to expecting that our needs will be met. This generates a Power Struggle. If stage two is navigated properly using Imago skills, the couple will enter stage three: the Conscious Marriage.

The key Imago skill is the Couples’ Dialogue. It begins with one partner speaking and the other receiving. The receiver acts as a flat mirror who reflects back what they have heard. The person who is mirroring simply repeats what they heard, and asks, “Did I get it?”  The speaker can then say either, “Yes, you got it” or “No, not exactly,” in which case the speaker clarifies what was said or what the listener missed. When the speaker is satisfied that they have been accurately heard, the listener then asks, “Is there more?”  This gives the speaker a chance to go deeper until he or she is able to touch those areas of deepest need.

The listener then does three things:

1. Summarizes what they have heard— “So, the gist of what I am hearing is . . .

2. Validates—“It makes sense to me that you would think that because . . .” and

3. Empathizes—“It must hurt . . .”  “It must feel sad . . .”

Here are some specific guidelines for doing this process:
For the Sender:
1) Remember that deep listening is holy ground for both the receiver and the sender.
2) Your intention as sender is to communicate your thoughts and feelings without attacking, blaming or criticizing your partner.
3) Give small blocks of information so that they can be easily understood and mirrored.

4) Remember that this is simply a time to disclose your thoughts and feelings so that you can be understood—not to win an argument (Note: We will be discussing healthy communication skills in detail in a future class.)

For the Receiver:
1) Mirror:

 Repeat back what your partner is saying. But do not simply “parrot back.” You can paraphrase or use different wording. Say things like:      

         What I heard you say was . . .   Did I get it?  Is there more?

2) Summarize:

 When your partner gets to the point where he or she feels that all the important aspects of the situation have been verbalized and accurately mirrored, you offer a summary. Say things like:

            The gist of what I heard is . . .

            To summarize, what you said was . .

3) Validate: See the information from your partner’s point of view. Validation is not about agreeing with your partner; it’s about understanding your partner’s point of view. Say things like:

            What you say makes sense because . . .

            I can see that because . . .

            It makes sense that you would think that because . . .

            I can understand that because . . . 

4) Empathize: Name the feeling the sender is experiencing about the situation being reported. It may involve you making some sensitive guesses about what your partner is feeling. Say things like:

            I can imagine you must feel _____________ when I do that. Is that what you feel?

            It must feel sad when . . .     It must hurt . . .     Is that what you feel? 

Putting it together

The commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” invites us to take a Sabbath break.  We are invited to rest our bodies, renew our minds, and restore our souls. This is the time to reconnect with God through reading and meditating on Sacred Scripture, and opening ourselves to God’s presence in our lives. Most deeply, the Sabbath is the state of mind in which our self-will becomes passive so that God’s will may become active in us. When we listen deeply, we can receive divine inspiration and guidance. 

In your marriage, practice deep listening with one another. Free your mind of all judgments and concerns so that your spirit may come to rest. Listen deeply to what your spouse is saying. This is not the time to deal with “hot topics” in your relationship. This week, keep the focus positive. Share your hopes, dreams, and visions for your marriage. As you do this, remember to include the God-like qualities that you would like to magnify in your relationship. The qualities that you focus on will expand.

Gradually, as you become more proficient at listening with understanding and empathy, you will be ready to enter into more sensitive or difficult areas. Spiritually, you will be taking “the shoes from off your feet” as you enter this holy ground.

The Assignment

Deep Listening: Standing on Holy Ground

 “Take the shoes from off your feet, for the place

where you are standing is holy ground” –Exodus 3:5

Practice deep listening: Listen deeply to God who speaks to you through scripture and in other ways. Similarly, listen deeply to your partner as you “take the shoes from off your feet” and enter this hallowed ground.

Practice the exercise of Deep Listening so that you each have two opportunities to be the sender and two opportunities to be the receiver.  Remember to mirror, summarize, validate, and empathize.

Prepare one journal entry to turn in at the beginning of next week’s class. This will be your reflection on keeping the assignment. What did you learn? What came up for you? What was difficult? What was rewarding? What breakthroughs did you have?