The Call to Hear the Other's Voice

Dialogue and Contemplation. Speech and Silence. Community and Individual. Each half needed to create the whole. In the Circles we try to practice this both/and approach. Dorothy Soelle in The Silent Cryreminds us that “Don’t speak! is an often repeated admonition found in the most diverse traditions of mysticism. At its most basic level, it calls for a preparation, a becoming silent so that a voice other than one’s own may be heard.”

To hear the “other’s voice” in contemplation or to hear the “other’s voice” in conversation is a challenge and requires practice. Dialogue is such a practice as it invites us to go beyond our usual responses. David Abram in his book, The Spell of the Sensuous, reminds us that “language, constituted as much by silence as by sounds is not an inert or static structure, but an evolving bodily field. It is like a vast living fabric continually being woven by those who speak…speech that merely repeats established formulas…is hardly “speech” at all. It does not really carry meaning in the weave of its words but relies solely on the memory of meanings that once lived there.”

Peter Senge writes this about dialogue in The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook. “Dialogue is not merely a set of techniques…During the dialogue process people learn how to think together—not just in the sense of analyzing a shared problem or creating new pieces of shared knowledge but in the sense of occupying a collective sensibility, which the thoughts, emotions and resulting actions belong not to just one individual, but to all of them together.” Something new is created. I believe that integrating communal contemplation with dialogue provides the possibility to engage creatively with each other regarding our experiences of impasse. To risk opening ourselves to new patterns of thinking and feeling. To experience the power of speech rooted in silence. Linda Sussman in her book, The Speech of the Grail, describes speaking that both heals and transforms. She writes, “Speaking is the particular gift, the special form of nourishment, that human beings alone can give to each other and to the earth….It transmits meaning and inspires change or movement by opening a space in which its recipients experience the freedom to choose, the freedom to create.”

It is our hope that coming to dialogue from a contemplative stance will deepen our insights and in turn invite us to an even greater letting go opening ourselves to new ways of thinking and being.

Written by Nancy Sylvester, IHM

© 2003-2019 Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue Reprint with permission

Further Reading

Abram, David. The Spell of the Sensuous.New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1996. Abram is an environmental activist and scholar and writes for both of these audiences. His premise is that we have lost contact with the non-human in our lives and therefore we are not experiencing our full humanity. In a style that is both mystic and scholarly Abram explores how in this technological world of ours humans need to regain contact with direct sensuous reality. Focusing on the sensual foundations of language he challenges us to remember and regain our capacity to be in relationship with all of our surroundings, where “every sound was a voice, every scrape or blunder was a meeting—with Thunder, with Oak, with Dragonfly. And from all of these relationships our collective sensibilities were nourished.” 

Senge, Peter, et al. The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook.New York: NY: Doubleday, 1994. This is a practical guide for creating “learning organizations” the theory Peter Senge developed in his revolutionary book, The Fifth Discipline. 

Soelle, Dorothee. The Silent Cry—Mysticism and Resistance.Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2001. This is an excellent book for anyone who is trying to integrate contemplation and action. Soelle draws from her experience as well as from many world leaders in mysticism and non-violent resistance. She explores how the religious impulse of mysticism, the “silent cry” is at the heart of all the world’s religions. Soelle argues for the importance of mysticism in countering the destructive aspects of ego, group bias, materialism, and violence. Religion in the third millennium, Soelle argues, will either be mystical or it will be dead. 

Sussman, Linda. Speech of the Grail: A Journey Toward Speaking That Heals and Transforms.Hudson, New York: Lindisfarne Press, 1995. Sussman tells the story of Parzival and the Quest for the Grail in a most remarkable way. The story itself comes alive but more importantly she is able to weave her insights as a storyteller and psychotherapist into the work. She sees the story not as something in the past but what can happen in the future. Her main emphasis is on showing how the story is an initiation for speaking. For Sussman the essential heroic deed is an act of speech.

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