Cultivating Integrity [4 of 10]
Cultivating Humility [6 of 10]
Understanding is a bi-directional activity comprised of four components: to listening deeply to another person; to want to hear and understand the other person, to want to share with another, and to want to be understood by the other person.
In order to offer understanding and listen to another, we must first be able to hear ourselves. Cultivating the capacity to listen to oneself is not something that we are taught to do; it requires not only the capacity to quiet the noise in our head, it also invites us to understand the noise in our head. If we can cultivate the capacity to hear the noise in our head and to see it – we can inquire what is this feeling? what does it want? what is it grasping? or craving? This way we increase our awareness about what motivates our actions and we may release the feeling for what it is – a fleeting thought.  Developing the capacity to understand the underlying motives of our thoughts may help us to catch habits early and to transform them. For example, if we see that we keep thinking about an event that created a lot of anger, we might inquire to that memory, why do I choose to return to this moment of being angry? Is it really anger or something else? What in that situation caused me to feel angry? What was I craving or grasping before I felt this kind of anger? I might discover, I wanted to receive approval, and I didn’t receive it, so I became angry. The next time, I experience this sensation of anger, I might ask myself, was there something here that suggests that I wanted approval. If it is a different cause, then I can repeat the previous exercise to deepen my awareness. If it is the same grasping for approval, then rather than dwell on the new experience, I can release it very quickly and not get stuck on it. Some people have the capacity to release the emotion, to see it for what it is and let it go. Others may feel stuck in a struggle to shake feelings of anger, hurt, or despair; self-empathy can be a tool to overcome this kind of ‘stuckness.’ Using the non-violent communication model, one can seek to understand the need underlying the feeling, then ask oneself what one can do for oneself to meet that need. Having the capacity to hear, understand, and manage one’s own noise enables one to be fully present with oneself, greatly facilitating the capacity to be present to understand another.
To cultivate the capacity to understand another, one must desire both to hear and to understand the other person. Listening deeply assumes that one has the capacity to be present for the other person with a quiet mind. For those who do not yet have the capacity to be fully present in deep listening, one can begin with a practice of listening for the layers- the layers of content, emotion, and identity. For example, John shared he had worked for many years in social justice (content), he expressed his anger and hurt (emotion), he sees himself as a ‘good guy’ and ‘fighter against injustice’ (identity). To be shown a mirror that reflected that he acted in a non-inclusive manner threatened John’s identity prompting his emotional response of anger and hurt. These are the layers that Jack hears and responds to in his final comment to John.
When one listens to another, it is easy to assume that we understand what the other is saying based upon our own experience, but when we are listening to understand, we make an effort to clarify to hear what the speaker tells us about his experience. When John says “I’m not an archer”, John silences Jack’s perspective. A response from a listener who seeks to understand might be, “would you share more about your experience?” Likewise, John’s response “I worked my whole life in social justice” denies the opportunity to understand Jack’s experience and assumes John and Jack have the same vision of social justice. Jack seeks inclusion of people suffering under social injustice and those who support them; John seeks a comfortable retreat place and chooses whom to include based upon his preference.
When we cultivate the capacity to understand, we prepare to engage in sensemaking. Sense making assumes that we must “make sense without complete instruction in a reality, which is in flux and requires continued sense making”. Sense making emphasizes the importance of “reaching out to the sense made by others, in order to understand what insights it may provide into our continuing human dilemma.” Sensemaking is not rooted (as most calls for understanding difference are) only in a relativistic epistemology but rather in the assumption that humans must muddle through together and that their usual tools assuming a wholly ordered reality are inadequate for making sense of all their experiences in a world that is both ordered and chaotic.”
Cultivating understanding asks us to understand ourselves sufficiently to embark on a journey of understanding others as a bi-directional, dynamic and changing process that happens in the present moment. We realize that our lens on life is imperfect and incomplete, and we embark on a journey with the enthusiasm of a traveler exploring a new world.
 With gratitude for hearing a “U” to my insightful, inspired colleague and friend Rhonda McGee, Esq., Professor, University of San Francisco School of Law, San Francisco, CA.
 Informed by Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism Without Beliefs. Riverhead Books.
 Workshop on NVC for Diversity: Race, Class, Gender 2005. Non-violent Communication, Marshal Rosenberg, Puddledance Press, 2005.
 Stone D, Patton, B., Heen, S. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. Penguin Books 2000.
 Dervin, B. Chaos, Order, and Sense-Making: A Proposed Theory for Information Design. in Information Design. ed. Jacobsen, R. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA 1999.
 Now let us shift… the path of conocimiento... inner work, public acts by Gloria E. Anzaldua