I’ve been invited recently to develop a pilot “Big Questions, Deep Listening Project” by a campus ministry that serves a major public university in the Upper Midwest.  One of the project’s major goals is to equip and challenge students to change the world one conversation at a time, without waiting for “the authorities” (whoever they might be) to give them permission to do so, or without waiting for someone else to pose the questions that are “big enough” to energize their potential on behalf of a better world.

“Big Questions” might make intuitive sense at a college or university – exploring big questions is what they do, after all (or at least one can hope so).  But why “deep listening?”  That’s maybe not so obvious, if only because it’s become so rare in our society.   While at first it might seem hard to describe or explain what is is and how it’s done, my guess is that “you know it when you see it,” since it’s so different from what we’re used to.  How many times a day, for example, do you have the “How ya doin’? / Good, thanks” exchange?  Sure, it’s a social convention, a harmless pleasantry.  But it’s also symptomatic of a larger “numbing” or practiced “absence” from one another, from our lives, and from the world around us. 

Too often, we’re just not really “here.”  We tend to skim across the surface, our Mayfly attention flitting from one thing to the next.  Even in a one-on-one conversation, how often do we know that we’re really being seen and heard by the person we’re with?  When it happens, we know it – and it’s a true Gift.


Last week, I facilitated the opening Big Questions, Deep Listening Project “training” workshop for staff and students who, in the coming months, will introduce the project across the campus.  To help set the stage, we named a few things to keep in mind (and heart):

  • Deep Listening takes practice.  Be patient with yourself, stretch and exercise the mental, emotional, and behavioral muscles that are involved, and keep at it.
  • Pay attention to things like body language and eye contact: how are you letting the person you’re with know that you’re really with them?  Is your posture conveying presence and interest, or boredom and distraction?
  • Check (and re-check) your mindset. What’s the mental and emotional “posture” you bring?  Trust the group.  Trust the process.  Trust the silence (you might even think of it as another member of the circle, with something important to offer).  Disagreement isn’t necessarily bad.
  • As with many important things in life, deep listening is primarily a matter of who you are – the person who shows up as a deep listening — and not necessarily primarily a matter of what you do – any particular techniques or strategies, tricks or tips (as helpful as they may be.)


In the facilitator handbook I crafted for the Big Questions, Deep Listening Project, I wrote:  “This project is about sorting through the loud jumble of voices out there that are telling you who to be so that you can, as the Quaker phrase goes, ‘let your life speak.’  It’s about pushing past the often superficial clutter of our loud and fast-paced lives, and ‘listening one another into existence.’  It’s about discovering and living into our primary calling, to become our truest and best selves for the sake of a world that needs us.”

So, a few Big Questions (to ponder on your own, or better yet in a deep listening conversation with someone else):


What are among your earliest memories of listening?  Of being really listened to?  What do you remember those experiences to be like?   What was it about them that have caused them to stay with you?  What insights or lessons about listening do you think you learned from those experiences?

What’s an experience you’ve had of NOT being listened to, of NOT being seen or heard, of NOT being taken seriously?  What happened?  What was that like?  What have been among the lasting or lingering effects of that experience for you, if any?  What did you learn from the experience?

In general, what do you think are among people’s greatest concerns, worries, or even fears about asking meaningful or “big” questions?  What seems to get in the way, or keep us from asking them?  And how about  for yourself:  What obstacles or challenges do you face when it comes to asking big questions?  What might help you to move past that?

Tell me about someone you know who seems to be able to be mindful and present in the moment, who seems to know how to really pay attention, to listen, how to “slow down to the speed of Life?”  What do you think enables them to be that way?  What might you learn from their example?

Who are you when you’re showing up as a deep listener?  Who are you invited to become when someone deeply listens to you?


Heaven knows, with all the noise, clamor, and political/cultural shouting going on these days, a little deep listening could go a long way.

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