Archive for September, 2014


‘Attending’ is rooted in the Latin ‘tendere’ – ‘to hold.’ Attending to another does not involve providing a solution to a problem. Attending is not providing advice to another. Attending is not providing reassurance or consolation. Attending is ‘accompaniment’ – it is ‘being with’ the other in his or her experience. It is seeking to ‘understand’ and ‘empathize’. It is ‘being with’ not ‘doing for’ the other.

Attending is a rare present of presence. Attending feeds the soul and nurtures the heart. As I think about this ‘attending’ I am aware that I experience being attended to when the other walks with me for a brief time while seeking to understand what the depth of my experience feels like. Attending is in a sense reciprocal for in receiving the gift of being attended to I provide a gift of acceptance to the one attending.

I had the opportunity last night to spend a few hours with my daughter; we don’t often have time together. Our agreement was that she would clean her house and I would move from room to room with her and we would talk. At one point she was telling me something and then she paused and asked: ‘What are you thinking about?’ I blinked and looked up and realized that I was not attending to her – I had, indeed, wondered off into my own thoughts. Her question called me back. In order to be attending I needed to let go of my internal distractions, I needed to silence my internal noise. This has, and continues to be, a challenge for me.

If I am paying attention I realize that each day presents me with opportunities to attend to another and if I am open I am able to discern the opportunity to attend. If, then, I am intentional and purpose-full I will then choose to attend.

Attending does not require taking much time (although it can); brief encounters can be attending encounters.

I am also aware, at times, of my resistance to attending. I can easily fall into the trap of offering the gift of solutions, advice, reassurance or even consolation rather than the gift of accompaniment. Attending is challenging and risky because it asks you/me/us to set aside our agendas and simple walk for a while with the other (again, this ‘walking with’ is rooted in seeking to understand and in empathy). The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you want them to do unto you’ leads me to ‘Attend to the other as you want to be attended to.’

For some, Jesus was the bringer of ‘good news.’ What if some of this good news is that we do not forsake others, nor are we forsaken; we can choose ‘attending’ and we can be open to being attended to. Now, this is Good News.

Read Full Post »

So far we have briefly explored ‘Reflection,’ ‘Listening,’ and ‘Questions/Inquiry.’ Today we -Skill is referred to in several ways: ‘Be Present,’ ‘Live in the Moment,’ and ‘Be in the Now’ are three of the common representations for this Skill.

It appears as if we are born with this Skill. New Borns and Infants seem to come into our world with this Skill well developed; it appears to be first-nature to them (at one time, then, to us). What matters to them is ‘NOW!’ – and they are truly good at letting us know that ‘NOW!’ is the way to go. As we develop this Skill actually devolves. The Past and the Future become the focus of our lives. We spend more and more time ruminating about the Past and anticipating the Future than we do living in the Present. New Borns, Infants and Toddlers experience the Present fully; they do not ruminate about the Past nor do they sit around anticipating the Future.

On 24 December, 2009, I wrote the following poem; it captures what the challenge that we non-new borns, non-infants, and non-toddlers face.


Children are in the now.

They now more fully than
most adults.
They now from the top
of their heads
through the tips
of their toes.
They don’t concern them-
selves with the past
or the future for they
are fully in the now.
Adults are in the know.

They know from the top
of their head to the tip
of their chins.
They are obsessed with
their past
and with their future
for they are fully
in the know.
They are wedded to the
the now has been replaced.

One small consonant keeps the
adults in the know so that
their now is hidden from them.

To know is to love.
To now is to be love.
To know is to remember,
and ruminate.
To now is to experience,
and savor.
To know is to plan,
and prognosticate.
To now is to play,
and immerse in.

What a challenge it is
for adults to shed the ‘k’
of know so that the
wonder of now becomes
available to them. –Richard W Smith, 24 December 2009

Gentle reader, there are many books, articles, chapters, and essays addressing the challenge of living in the Present and some provide the Disciplines one must integrate in order to develop one’s Capacity for ‘Now-ness.’ I invite you to find a source or two that resonates with you and then immerse yourself in it/them so that you can then keep the ‘k’ when needed and yet have the awareness and intentionality to know when to set the ‘k’ aside and then to have the Discipline and Capacity to do so. For me, I have eight ‘watch-words’ that help me discern when to keep the ‘k’ and when to set the ‘k’ aside. These eight ‘watch-words’: Being Awake, Being Aware, Being Intentional and Being Purpose-full.

So, do I have the ‘NEED’ to develop a Discipline and my Capacity in order to ‘Reflect,’ ‘Listen,’ ‘Inquire’ and to be in the ‘Now’ more fully? Excuse me, gentle reader, I will step aside and reflect upon this question (perhaps hold it), I will listen to what is emerging from deep within my heart, soul and intellect, I will frame some burning questions – some I will address soon after they emerge, some I will address in a bit and some I will also hold and live, and I will strive to engage these without ruminating about my Past or anticipating the Future – I will seek to be awake, aware, intentional and purpose-full ‘Now!’

Read Full Post »

What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question. – Jonas Salk

So, we have developed the Skill. Now we have to decide whether, and to what extent, we develop the Discipline and our Capacity for inquiry. Discipline and Capacity development are rooted in ‘Need.’ I might ‘want’ to inquire in a more disciplined manner and I might want to develop more fully my capacity to inquire or I might ‘wish’ to do so or I might ‘desire’ to do so. Sometimes a ‘want’ or a ‘wish’ or a ‘desire’ is motivation enough – my experience, personally and professionally, is that for most of us this motivation is not enough. Why? Consider that a ‘want’ or a ‘wish’ or a ‘desire’ is compromised when it encounters a ‘need.’ A ‘need’ generally wins out – ask any smoker who ‘wants’ or ‘wishes’ or ‘desires’ to quit smoking; the ‘need’ to smoke generally wins out.

Consider, then, that in order to Discipline one’s self in order to help develop his or her Capacity for inquiry that an identification of a ‘need’ is crucial. As we know – perhaps only too well – a Discipline requires time, energy, commitment, practice/repetition, support and ‘stamina’ (‘staying power’ if you will). If one engages the ‘right’ Discipline’ one begins to develop his or her Capacity for inquiry, for ‘framing and asking the question.’

In the late 1970s I had the privilege to help Family Practice Residents and Psychiatric Residents develop their inquiry Capacity. Those who identified a ‘need’ to do so progressed more rapidly than those who did not. We practiced when we met. They noted the questions they were asking during the day and when we met we examined their questions. They paid attention to others who demonstrated a high Capacity for inquiry. Developing the Discipline and the Capacity for inquiry was challenging for them because during medical school they were rewarded for ‘answers’ and were looked at negatively when they asked a question; asking a question was not a strength but a liability. Yet, it seems that we learn more from inquiry than we do from giving answers or from advocacy and still we tend to value ‘answer giving’ and advocacy more than inquiry. I am thinking of a wonderful Chinese proverb: He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question is a fool forever.

Like the previous Skills we briefly explored, once we cease to be disciplined when it comes to inquiry we begin to lose our Capacity. One of my disciplines is to each day be intentional and purpose-full and take the time to emerge at least five crucial, or ‘burning questions.’ My goal is to emerge them, not to respond to them. During the years I have compiled a long list of what I call ‘Essential Life Questions’ (now divided into subjects). Several times a year I will spend some time reflecting upon some of them (which helps me with my Discipline and Capacity for reflection). Many years ago I began with the following: ‘Why am I here?’ ‘Where did I come from?’ ‘Where am I choosing to go?’ ‘Why am I choosing to go there?’

Gentle reader, what are three or four ‘Essential Life Questions’ that you hold – and, as Rilke advised – and ‘live’?

Read Full Post »

Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers. – Voltaire

We have developed the Skill of asking questions early in life (perhaps we even have formed them prior to our ability to speak). For parents, the most frequently asked question posed by their children is: ‘WHY?’

Consider that in our culture we value ‘Advocacy’ more than ‘Inquiry.’ We give lip service to inquiry while we practice advocacy. I am curious and so I value inquiry more than advocacy. I seek to influence and so I value inquiry more than advocacy. It seems to me that if I want to coerce you – and have the leverage to do so – advocacy more than inquiry will work. It seems to me that if I want to persuade you, ‘rational advocacy’ will work more than inquiry (if I use inquiry when I am attempting to persuade you, you might well come to a different conclusion than the one I want). If, on the other hand, I want you to emerge your own position and emotionally own it then inquiry is more likely to help you than advocacy.

Consider that the most powerful questions, especially for leaders to ask, are questions from a place of not knowing. How often do we ask questions from a place of knowing? In the courtroom, lawyers seldom ask a question that they do not know the answer to and so do many leaders. Consider that in our culture we do not like our leaders to appear to be ignorant and in our culture when a leader asks a powerful question from a place of not knowing he/she is judged negatively and harshly (I think because his/her not knowing raises our anxiety and in order to get rid of our anxiety we put it back on the leader).

Consider that Inquiry is a gift that I give to the other(s). In order to give this gift I must have a belief, an attitude, and an assumption that the other(s) have the wisdom necessary to respond. Inquiry is also a major tap root that nurtures and sustains dialogue (dialogue = a verbal searching together).

Inquiry is also a major tap root that nurtures and sustains critical thinking – critical thinking is not ‘criticism’ or ‘cynicism’ (my apology to the Ancient Greek Philosophers who were ‘Cynics’ – I am not referring to you). In 1967 I taught a course in ‘Inquiry and Critical Thinking’ to high school freshman and sophomores. They learned how to critically inquire – one major result was a school full of anxious teachers and administrators: ‘What will they ask about now?’ After a year the course was discontinued.

When a question is offered we too often fall into a trap of believing that we must respond – now – to the question. Consider that there are questions that we can – perhaps must – respond to immediately. Then there are the questions that we need to reflect upon before we respond – this period of reflection can be minutes, hours or even days. Then there are the questions that we ‘hold.’ Generally, these are what I call ‘life questions.’ The great German Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, offers us great advice when it comes to these types of questions. In his ‘Letters to a Young Poet’ Rilke writes: Be patient. . .and try to love the questions themselves. . . Do not now seek the answers. . . the point is. . .to live the questions now. Perhaps you will then, some day, live into the answers.

More on ‘Questions’ and ‘Inquiry’ next time. . .

Read Full Post »

Consider that we are born with the ability to hear and then we are charged with developing the Skill to listen. We develop this skill within the first two years of our lives. We spend the remainder of our lives deciding to what extent we will Discipline our listening selves and develop our Capacity to listen. Here is the definition of ‘Listen’ that I like: Listen = to hear something with thoughtful attention; to hear in order to consider. . .

The great wisdom persons, ancient and more contemporary, admonish us to ‘Listen-First!’ What might this mean? Consider that I am charged to listen to what is emerging from ‘within’ myself. What are the words, emotions and physical signals coming to the fore as I listen? Consider that I am charged to listen to the other(s) before I speak (respond or react). I like Robert K. Greenleaf’s admonition: ‘Listen-first in order to understand!’ He also offers us a powerful question: ‘Why is there so little listening?’ He does not ask: ‘Why don’t we listen-first?’ He wonders why there is so little listening, period. I also like his book-end question: ‘When I speak how will that improve on the silence?’

How would one have to Discipline one’s self in order to more often Listen-first? How does one then develop his or her Capacity so that one will choose to be awake and aware and intentional and purpose-full when it comes to listening-first? What is a motivator for me? What will help me sustain a developmental process? What will I need to practice – the specifics if you will – that will enable me to develop my Capacity in a Disciplined manner? What do I have to ‘let go of’ – an old habit, an assumption, a prejudice, a stereotype, a judgment about, a belief, perhaps even a value? For any number of reasons, this ‘letting go of. . .’ can be a daunting challenge for us humans.

For me the ‘reason’ has been more important than the ‘how to’ – if I could define my ‘reason’ then I would figure out the ‘how to’. I decided, many years ago now, that I would develop more fully my Skill of Listening. My motivation was rooted in a need to be more caring of the other(s). I believed that if I offered the other(s) the gift of listening intently, with undefended receptivity, in order to more fully understand that I would be able to care more fully for the other(s). I found that this was the motivation that I needed. Throughout these many years I have been reinforced by the other(s) who have said to me: ‘I have never been listened with such care and consideration.’ ‘You really do understand me.’ In serving the other(s) I have also served myself. In giving this gift of listening-first to the other(s) I have given a gift to myself and I have received gifts from the other(s). One of the ways I learned to listen-first and more fully was to make sure that I was in relationship with a few who listened as I wanted to listen. I believe in the ancient Chinese wisdom: ‘When the student is ready the teacher will appear.’ I have been blessed with three powerful listeners in my life and I have learned from them.

Who are the powerful listeners-first in your own life, gentle reader? It is helpful to me to remember that the word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’ does. In 1980 Carl Rogers offered us these words that I offer us as I conclude this posting: We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know.”

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »