Echo Listening

Updated 4/24/08

This portion of the Hawkeen Training centers on a key distinction in communication and change: speaking/listening. Speaking involves the creation and sending of messages. Listening involves the receiving and processing of messages. Both are necessary for communication to occur. Upon first consideration the speaking/listening distinction seems straightforward and simple.

We observe a conversation between two people -- say Michelle and Brad. Michelle speaks and Brad listens. Then Brad speaks and Michelle listens. Turn-taking back and forth. Sometimes while Michelle is still speaking Brad begins speaking and vice versa. We usually refer to the simultaneous speaking as interruptions. Both communicators are in a speaking (sending) mode. Often when interruptions occur one of the speakers fairly quickly quits speaking and begins to listen. At other times Michelle and Brad lapse into pauses and silence in their conversation. Both are in a listening (receptive) mode. Then one of them breaks the silence and we have speaking and listening once again. Upon deeper reflection, however, the speaking/listening distinction is not so clear-cut and straightforward. You are observing Michelle and Brad communicating. What is happening with you? Initially you are in a listening mode; you're paying attention to what they are saying. It isn't long, however, before you're doing more than listening to them. Internally you begin speaking, making comments about the conversation. "This is boring..." "That was a kind thing Brad said..." "Michelle is sincere..." "That doesn't make sense." You have moved listening from the external auditory (AEN) and visual(VEN) of Michelle and Brad to internally speaking (AIN) a commentary on the conversation and listening to your own commentary. You move back and forth between external and internal auditory experience, and sometimes lose the distinction between who is doing the speaking: Michelle and Brad, or your internal commentator. Equally important the distinction often is lost between where the listening is occurring: auditory external or auditory internal.

Similar complexities arise when we engage in conversation. For example, let's say that Michelle and you are conversing. Michelle speaks. You listen. You respond. Then Michelle speaks, and so on. Usually, however, while Michelle is speaking you move back and forth between listening to her and also listening to yourself speak internally about what you're going to say in response. And when Michelle is listening to you speak, she likely is also speaking and listening internally in preparing her response to what you're saying.

The Hawkeen are known for taking delight in paying attention to experience, and for developing greater understanding of experience. During a legendary gathering in the late 1990s as they were preparing to create interesting rituals for welcoming the new millennium, one of the Hawkeen who generally was known much more for his listening than his speaking, raised two intriguing questions: "How could we get clearer in experiencing the speaking/listening distinction? How could we better pay attention to the sources of speaking and listening while they are occurring?"

Amid much laughter, curiosity and excitement the gathered Hawkeen discussed and debated the questions. The Hawkeen observed that not only did the external and internal speaking/listening distinction create complexities worth noting, but also that there were many important distinctions in the realm of internal speaking/listening. For example, if one paid attention, internal speaking occurred in a variety of tonalities and "voices." For another example, with additional attention, one could notice that the internal speaking would come from different locations. A certain tonality or "voice" might speak from the right side of the head. Another tonality from the left side. Sometimes the internal speaking didn't even seem to be inside oneself, but came from behind, or was a speaking into the right ear or the left ear. Sometimes the speaking was a whisper. Other times it was yelling, shouting, or normal conversation volume. Sometimes the speaking had a critical tonality and vocabulary. Other speaking was encouraging and motivating.

The Hawkeen talked late into the night, and just as the first rays of dawn began to create a light and shadow show on the ripples of the mighty river that had drawn them together, they created The Echo Trance, an exercise that has become one of the Hawkeen's more cherished rituals.

The Echo Trance is a simple mechanism for more clearly experiencing and understanding the complexities of the speaking/listening distinction. To effectively employ The Echo Trance it is important to pay attention to the location and tonality of the internal speaking. From where is the sound coming? How loud or soft is the sound? Is the tone full and robust or thin and flat?

The Echo Trance works this way:

1. Find a location that is quiet and free of distractions.

2. Get into a physically comfortable and relaxed position.

3. Select a number, and say it once, silently, to yourself.

4. Notice the location and tonal quality of that number as you hear yourself speak it silently.

5. Relax and wait silently until you hear the echo of that number being spoken. Note any shifts in the location and tonality of that number.

6. Wait silently for the next echo of that number and note any shifts in location and tonality.

7. Wait silently for the third echo of that number and note any shifts in location and tonality.

8. Wait silently for the fourth echo of that number and note any shifts in location and tonality.

9. Now select the next lower number from what you chose in step three, and say it silently to yourself. Note location and tonal quality.

10. Repeat the process of listening for the four echoes of that number and notice their locations and tonality.

11. And go deeper to the next lower number, listening for the four echoes and notice locations and tonalities. . . . and then the next lower number, and the next, and the next, on down . . . that's right . . .

Regular employment of The Echo Trance on a daily basis for about a month appears to "hard wire" it into one's neurophysiology so that one develops the ability to have a clear focus on the speaking/listening that is occurring at any given time. Many Hawkeen have noted that this process has increased their effectiveness as both speakers and listeners.

A variation on The Echo Trance that Hawkeen find useful is to select a word or phrase of some importance, speak it silently and then listen for the four echoes while noticing locations and tonalities. For example, one important phrase in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech is, "the content of our character." You might be interested in discovering what happens when you take that phrase and take it through The Echo Trance. Find other important words that reflect your values and outcomes, speak them silently and attend to the echoes. Health. Abundance. Peace. Ecology. Delight. Love. Now.

Your task is to practice The Echo Trance until it becomes a natural and easy way of meta listening.

For further reading:

The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes.
Speaking (La Parolé)
by Georges Gusdorf