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1 March 2024

Cultivating Deeper Connection Through Energetic Listening

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At the beginning of this year, I reviewed some of my notes from coaching conversations I facilitated throughout 2023. One of the things that stood out to me, besides my terrible handwriting, is the number of times I wrote the word “energy”. Over 2,000 times. I wrote things like “bring energy,” “took energy,” “build some energy,” “positive energy,” “curious energy,” “protein energy,” “developmental energy,” “high energy,” “nervous energy,” “low energy,” “magical energy,” “dreaming energy,” “chasing energy,”  and “energetic leadership.” 

All these references to energy were things my coaching clients said. About 20 of them. Here is the thing. Not once did I follow up with, “what do you mean by energy?” That’s odd for me, partly because I tend to ask those questions and largely because of my own interest in energy and the subtle realms of our engaging with each other. Like when we say, “That person’s energy feels off.” What exactly do we mean? How do we know? And what energetic information are we transmitting to others? 

Usually, when I talk about energy I am making reference to one of two things. The first, energy being the force that moves whatever we give attention to. I am giving energy to writing this blog right now. It’s an exciting and nervous energy. This energy keeps me generating ideas and more content to write. I love exploring this topic and this realm. The second thing I mean when I talk about energy is the subtler dimension of being and engaging (beyond the gross, material dimensions like our physical body and speech). Here is an example of what I mean by this, which is mostly what I’ll be writing about for the rest of this blog.

Not too long ago, I was in a coaching conversation with someone. This time, I was the coachee. I was concerned about not being present during the call because I needed to pause our conversation a couple of times to attend to some other things, or give energy to them. I expressed this concern to my coach, with some shame, guilt, and regret. The coach chuckled. Then said, “akasha, I signed up to be your coach, knowing and accepting all these things about you. Furthermore, it’s not a problem to me that you need to attend to the rest of your life while we talk.” I wanted to cry. I think I did. Just a little. We sat in silence for a while after that. I shared how accepted I felt in that moment. And then she said, “This level of acceptance is something I’ve been working on for over 10 years now. So, it means a lot to me that you acknowledged that. Thank you.” Then it seemed to me like she wanted to cry. What immediately followed this exchange is what I’m referring to as energetic listening.

In the silence that followed this acceptance by her and release of shame, guilt and regret by me, I saw and felt us being in a different place and time. The place was like a cave, deep inside the earth. We were sitting across from each other. Just looking. Just being. No words. Listening. Yet, much was expressed. We were seeing each other. Seeing into each other. Accepting each other. Acknowledging what mattered most to each other. We stayed like this for about 10 minutes. Literal minutes. In silence. I felt bigger. She seemed bigger to me. More than just her physical self and her words. I eventually returned to being aware of us, looking at each other from across our screens. When she spoke again, it was as though I could see the meaning, the energy, that powered her words. Her words seemed weightier. They moved beyond my ears to my heart, to my deepest self. When I spoke, I did so from the awareness of the cave – a place where subtle realities and bodies (emotional, energetic, thought) were more evident, connections came more alive, the feeling of love amplified, and my productivity increased (I experienced this after the conversation). I knew in that moment that nothing we could do or say to each other was outside of the intention of love. I could not hurt her and she could not hurt me. We could not hate or dislike each other. And we had no expectations or judgment of each other. It seemed to me that we were beyond our personalities, or identities, and into an alive awareness of our undeniable internal connection with each other. 

I mentioned productivity earlier, which could seem like a “one of these things don’t belong” kind of situation. The thing I noticed after this interaction with my coach was that I felt accepted, lighter, clearer (in my thinking), and I got more done than I planned on that day. I felt energized. It could be because the process helped me release some shame, guilt, and regret, which freed up my energy to be applied to other things. It could be that I felt so much love from her, which also energized me. It could also be unrelated to the conversation and this experience I shared with her. I don’t think so though. Our connection cultivated energy and productivity in me. The reverse is likely also true. The attention to our energy cultivated a deeper connection between us.

At Cultivating Leadership, we help leaders build capacity for paying attention to systems – to systems out there in the world AND in here in their own being. We hold that both are important and that they influence each other. So, when a leader walks into a senior leadership team meeting on Monday morning and learns that the company needs to cut costs and that their department will be affected, that will likely throw them off for a minute, for that day, or the rest of the year. This might impact how they show up with their team later and their family at home. Similarly, when a leader is aware of self-doubt and then tries to hide it, they might overpromise when meeting with shareholders or customers. Their internal system is impacting the outer system.

As coaches and facilitators, we are supporting leaders with cultivating awareness and the capacity to navigate these systems well. As a coach and facilitator, I am also practicing ways of paying attention to what happens in-between me and clients as well as what is happening through us as we work together. I also think this is an important practice for leaders. That is to say, to be aware of the shared context, shared presence, and shared aliveness between themselves and others. I see the space between self and others as an alive and active space with its own wisdom and data.

So, then, there is the system out there, the system in here, and the system of the energetic space between us that includes out there and in here. How do we build awareness of this energetic space between us? How do we engage with each other from this place? 

Here are the specific actions I recall taking and experiencing:

  1. Set an intention for connecting and relating openly
  2. Share vulnerably and authentically what is arising in the moment (not a story about yesterday or tomorrow)
  3. Acknowledge and appreciate each other and the things shared
  4. Extend awareness to include self, others, and the space between. Then deliberately focus your attention on only the space between, or the aliveness of the connection that’s present. Allow for spacious silence during this practice. Be quiet without trying to get somewhere. You’re not looking for anything in particular. Just looking. And being present.
  5. Listen to Be. Listen without any particular outcome (learning or seeing*). We listen for listening’s sake. We listen from a place of timelessness. 

These are the actions I have been practicing since that first experience with my coach. The resulting experiences of deeper connection have also been consistently similar to what I described in this blog. I suspect that some of you reading this blog have had similar experiences without taking these actions. I am curious about your practice and what you have discovered. Please share.

I recently facilitated a small group of senior leaders from the same organization who were participating in a program on leading in complexity. I usually start these sessions with a check-in. The check-in question for that session was something like, what is an important opportunity or challenge in your life that you don’t quite know how to address? All the leaders mentioned some variation of connecting and relating to others better. You’re likely thinking about what your response would be. Good. Many of us want to connect more deeply with others. One of the ways we can facilitate that is by cultivating awareness of the presence of our shared energetic body, or space. In summary, move out of your head. Expand the capacity of your heart to include more. Connect from the space in-between. And take your time.

Remember to share your experience with me.

* Listen to Be is distinct from and building on Listen to Learn that Jennifer Garvey Berger talks about as a way to cultivate empathy and allow for the flow of information in systems AND Listen to See that Vernice Jones and I taught as a part of the Leading Inclusively curriculum as a way to see ourselves, including our biases, prejudices, and assumptions; see others, their social identities and what matters to them; and see the context we share with them.

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