Welcome to Training the Heart to Listen
An Experiential Conversation on How to Change the World
with Sabrina Sojourner
Beyond right and wrong, left and right, conservative and progressive, male and female, ‘Black and White’ there is a field. Here, I await you. Adapted from Rumi.
What is Training the Heart to Listen?
Training the Heart™ is an intentional conversation about how to move ourselves toward being the person we want to be. The kavanah (intention) is to be present to love, mindfulness, and justice:
Love: Bring to consciousness the collective and individual middot (values) that govern our lives and reflect on how language, assumptions and certitudes shape our reality to understand how we have choices, especially when we believe we do not.
Mindfulness: Examine the particulars of Jewish identity and our belonging in the discussion of diversity inviting our fears, anxieties, and vulnerabilities into the conversation such that we create a new sense of wholeness for ourselves and the world.
Justice: Increase our participation and effectiveness in public and private conversations on the infinite humanity of all people.
What informs your approach?
A number of things, starting with my personal and professional life experience. I've been intentional involved in the work regarding systems change since 1978 when I started teaching at San Francisco State University. I've incorporated my spiritual, professional, and life beliefs to create Guiding Assumptions for Training the Heart. They are:
Each and every one of us is part of the Oneness of Creation and entitled to respect.
Not one of us is perfect, yet we are all perfect for this time in our collective experience.
You are already a good, loving, and caring human being and this conversation wants you to own your goodness, own your loving, and own your caring such that you are ever expanding the bounds of your goodness, your loving, your caring, your humanity.
We are not responsible for the past actions of society and family. We are responsible for our responses to the consequences of said actions, including cracking and breaking the systemic ways in which consequences show up and how our participation or non-participation maintains the system that perpetuates the consequences.
Each of us lives with the paradox of being both a victim and a perpetrator of the wrongs that exist within our system. Some are to to blame, and everyone is responsible.
Can you say more about "Some are to blame, and everyone is responsible?"
Happy to! It's based on a quote from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book The Prophets:
"…the prophets sought to convey that morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible."
In my speaking - because I don't see our guilt or responsibility as either/or - I change that quote to some are guilty and all are responsible.
This all sounds good, but how do you get people to change? A lot of this is hard wired into us, don't you think?
Starting with your second question - no, I do not think or believe that bigotry is hardwired into us. I believe that we have been very carefully groomed over nearly a millennia to subscribe without thinking to White Supremacy, and it's baked into the DNA of the United States; or, as Dr. Ibram X Kendi says, it's Stamped from the Beginning.
As for getting people to change, I don't do that either. What I do, anticipating your next context, is create a safe environment that allows for self-reflection and exploration, allowing individuals to see anew or for the first time the values, ideals, and beliefs that call them to be alive and to experience that aliveness of being their true self. Then, I remind them of something they already know: that character is a practice, and for this work - the work of personal transformation for global transformation - there are three important practices:
The Practice of Character: Moving learning into our lives is the practice of character. The kavanah of this practice is to create and deepen inner peace and self-respect to enhance our ability to be peaceful and respectful of others, knowing that our behavior is not dependent on another’s behavior. Participants will learn what it means to live with an open heart, to live by the heart, and engage in lovingkindness, compassion, and self-care to enhance all relationships. The practice of character causes one to be conscious of enhancing skills as well as gaining tools to aid in the opening of our hearts, keeping them open, and after a period of withdrawal, finding the path to reopen our hearts.
The Practice of Conscious Mindfulness: Mindfulness is most often associated with meditation. Mindfulness is also active awareness of the present moment and is an ability we innately have. Take a moment and reflect on what you are experiencing reading this text: How/What are you feeling? Sensing? How has your breathing changed? How are you relating to your surroundings? Your thoughts? When we are mindful, we are fully present to the moment, the situation in which we find ourselves. We allow our mind to do whatever threat assessment, storytelling, complaining it wants to do AND we do not buy into the judgements, opinions, or assessments it makes. Mindfulness invites us to climb out of the story we have created to contain our lives so that we can discover and be present to the amazing journey of being.
The Practice of “I don’t know”: No one person is an expert on everything. Collectively, we have many experiences and much knowledge. Yet, even collectively, we do not know all there is to know. The practice of “I don’t know” provides us with the freedom to be always at ease, regardless of how another judges of us - that judgment is about them and not about us.