Mixed Methods


Generative Listening - Thomas McConkie, Mindfulness+

Thomas McConkie, has been practicing meditation for 20 years, studying developmental psychology for 10, is an author, fellow podcaster (Mindfulness+), and faculty member at Pacific Integral. His study and practice has allowed him to create safe spaces for what he calls generative listening. This type of listening actually allows individuals to generate and share experiences otherwise inaccessible. As a community often trying to do generative research, this is an invaluable skill.


Aryel Cianflone: I'm so excited today to have Thomas McConkie on the show. I originally met Thomas through a mindfulness course that he conducts. A friend had taken it and recommended it to me, and so I actually wanted to invite Thomas because I felt like I learned some things that were really beneficial for my practice as a UX researcher, and I thought we could start today just with a little bit of a brief introduction, Thomas of how you got into this. 

Thomas McConkie: Cool. Thanks, Aryel. Yeah. It's good to be here. As far as mindfulness goes, I remember being about 18 years old when I was a freshman in college, and I just showed up in my first dorm room and realized that I had no life skills, like I had no idea how to manage myself outside of my parents' house. It's crazy because I grew up in Salt Lake City, not a place that was considered to be a mecca of medication back in the '90s. I mean, it's pretty counter-cultural to do meditation here, and yet, I just gravitated towards like I have this intuition, meditation could help me calm down, it could help me with my anxiety, and as luck would have it, I actually was just two blocks away from the largest order of Zen Buddhism outside of Japan and the entire world. Two blocks from my college dorm room, so I had stumble into the Zen center, and pretty soon, I'm meditating, and it really changed my life. I've been doing it ever since for about the last 20 years.

Aryel Cianflone: Yeah. I mean, obviously, this isn't a podcast about meditation. 

Thomas McConkie: Right.

Aryel Cianflone: This is a podcast about user experience research, but you also have a background in developmental psychology, and there's so much from your practice and from your study that I think could be really beneficial to the kind of skills and the conversations and things that researchers are doing in the space, so maybe you could talk a little bit to your background with developmental psychology as well. 

Thomas McConkie: Yeah. I'll say a word about that. I had been practicing mindfulness for maybe 15 years when I was introduced to some psychologists and researchers at Pacific Integral. This is an institute based in Seattle that's done some really pioneering research in adult development, and they took me in and trained me as a developmental researcher, even though my background was in eastern contemplative practice, and it really changed the way that I looked at meditation. It changed the way that I work with human beings. 

Over time, spending a lot of time with the research and spending a lot of time with the people who participate in our research, I started to appreciate just how different the way different adult minds construct meaning and their experience of the world. We all as human beings, we have sense gates. This is a Buddhist term, but we see, we hear, and we feel. All right? That's basically the combination of see, hear, and feel. 

It interweaves to create this kind of a human matrix, this experience of human life. Right? What I learned is that there are very discreet stages that unfold sequentially throughout adulthood, and that we actually know a lot about these stages. We know a lot about, we could say the different minds that construct meaning from the raw experience of the see, hear, feel. The short of it is, for a long time, humanity, and for a long time, including myself, I would approach a student in meditation and just teach them the practice as I knew it. What developmental psychology has taught me to do is really adapt my teaching and adapt my style to a given student based on the way that they're processing experience, and what I find about developmental psychology is when you learn just enough about the stages, you really start to strengthen your intuition of how you can optimize your offering, whether it's technology that you're offering and you want the user to be able to engage with it and as satisfying and fulfilling a way is possible or if you're teaching meditation. It doesn't matter what you're doing, but just that sensitivity to the stages of development, it really polishes the way we interact with one another. It's really, it's fascinating. I mean, it's this field of research that has a huge evidence-base, and the implications for society are really significant, and it's just not quite at the point where popular society has absorbed it, but I think over the next few decades, we might be more of a thing that we consider with educational policy, politics, climate, all the wicked problems in the world. I think development really bears on them because development determines how we'll interpret problems, how we'll construct them in our minds, and you can't have a fully integrated conversation with different stakeholders unless you're aware of how they're constructing the problem in their own mind, and development is really good at bringing precision to how people make meaning. 

Aryel Cianflone: I mean, I would love to get more resources for people who want to read more into that as well.

Thomas McConkie: For sure. 

Aryel Cianflone: Yeah.

Thomas McConkie: A great place to start is pacificintegral.com. There's a wealth of information and new research on that website. That's a good place to start.

Aryel Cianflone: Yeah. I want to dive more into listening because I feel like that's a really unique skill that you have, but before we do that, I would love to just have you say a word about ...

Thomas McConkie: Yeah.

Aryel Cianflone: I think we're all familiar with the term 'Mindfulness', and we're familiar with the term 'Meditation', even if we have different interpretations, but you have Mindfulness+, even a podcast actually called 'Mindfulness+' with the plus sign inside the word plus right now. 

Thomas McConkie: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. Yeah. Mindfulness+.

Aryel Cianflone: I would love to have you just quickly say what's the thing that sets that apart? Why is there that plus?

Thomas McConkie: For sure. Mindfulness. I'll just assume people listening don't know exactly what mindfulness is. A lot of people don't. I'm still learning what mindfulness is 20 years later. I think about mindfulness as a practice, an art, and a science of paying attention to how we pay attention.

We're going to get into this when we talk about listening in a moment, but if you think about it, we're always paying attention to something. Right now in this moment, you're having a particular experience that has a particular composition and texture to it. You're attending to your life, and in one moment, you're listening to a podcast. In the next moment, you're cooking some pasta for dinner. The scene is always changing, but we're always attending.

Even when we're spaced out, we're attending to some daydream. Right? Mindfulness is just this exercise of paying attention to how we're paying attention, and when we pay attention to how we pay attention, a choicefulness arises, because we realize that we can actually choose to pay attention in different ways to different things. I can pay a lot of attention to a grudge. I've been nursing for 20 years, or I can pay attention to the positive attributes that this person has that challenges me, and maybe that gives rise to forgiveness. 

That's an example. That's mindfulness. That's the 60-second crash course on mindfulness.

Aryel Cianflone: Yeah. I'm so glad that we're having this conversation because this is something that you mentioned earlier, but I think that this study of developmental psychology will only become more important in the coming years. 

Thomas McConkie: There's a tremendous evidence-based for it. I've talked to different scientists. Amishi Jha is a good example. She's a neuroscientist, rockstar, who rubs elbows with the Dalai Lama, one of those types, and -

Aryel Cianflone: One of those types.

Thomas McConkie: One of those types, and I've talked to her about her neuroscience research, and she'll say that it takes a certain number of years for what we know in the laboratory, like the scientific evidence is really clear. It doesn't mean we know everything there is to know. We just know there's a there there, and that will take a certain number of years, decades even to trickle down into just popular consciousness. I think for me, I've been following developmental research for about 10 years, and seems not inevitable, but likely given the overwhelming evidence that adults develop throughout a life span. Adults do not reach physical maturity, and then just plateau. Right? 

We continue. We have the potential to develop cognitively, emotionally, interpersonally in increasingly complex ways throughout a life span, and development is the science that points us to like, "What are the patterns, and what can we learn about ourselves and about others by understanding these patterns?"

Aryel Cianflone: Yeah. Definitely. This is exactly ... I think I've already mentioned this, but this is exactly why I wanted to have this conversation because so many UX researchers spend their days interacting with strangers and trying to get really personal really quickly. Right? 

You're sitting, having this one-on-one conversation with someone that maybe you met five minutes ago, and you might be talking about buying a car as a decision, or you might be talking about a really personal family topic or something like that.

Thomas McConkie: Yeah.

Aryel Cianflone: I was I guess surprised when I took this mindfulness meditation class that I felt like there was this real element of listening, and I was surprised by how quickly you were able to create such a kind of environment of safety for a group of strangers where they were opening up and sharing things that were just so personal, some of them. I'm thinking of there was an elderly woman who was talking about with this group of strangers in a way that felt really sincere about sexual awakening, and you had other people talking about the death of a family member, and I would just love to talk about how you created that environment of safety for people.

Thomas McConkie: Yeah, I appreciate. That's a real compliment to hear that you felt safe in the environment and could feel the effects of what a high-quality attention does for the experience of being with another person or people, so thanks for that. An image comes to mind actually that's never occurred to me as you just say that. Imagine you're crossing a kind of rickety footbridge, and a hundred feet below is this raging Amazonian river, so it's precarious. 

Aryel Cianflone: Rocks over it. 

Thomas McConkie: Yeah. It's precarious, but you have to cross it, let's just say for the sake of argument, and the way you're going to do it is to really set your foot down really gently on a plank of wood and see like, "Can I trust my weight to this?" If it feels like you can, then you trust all of your weight to it. You lift your back foot, set it in front of the other, but you have to test the ground beneath you to see if you're held to see if it's safe. In a sense, listening, what we call at Pacific Integral 'Generative listening'. We call it 'Generative listening' because the very quality of your presence, and you're listening to the other. It gives them the experience of being safe, that the ground beneath them as it were will support them. My basic approach, the kind of ... I'm giving away my trade secrets here.

Aryel Cianflone: Please. 

Thomas McConkie: My basic approach to bringing a room full of strangers together and creating a lot of trust and intimacy in a short amount of time is to really just drive home the teaching, that the quality of your presence is it's not a passive act to listen to another person. It's a creative act that draws a person out of themselves. It allows people to express things they didn't know they could express, they didn't know they had to express if you're fully present. It's the opposite of casting pearls before swine, that on the other end of the spectrum, there's, "Here's my pearl, and I'm going to show it to you because I can tell how reverent you are towards it", and it actually feels really relieving to get to show this to somebody because in my heart of hearts, I long to share this part of me with somebody. 

Aryel Cianflone: Yeah. 

Thomas McConkie: That happens. What I've found is that adults are so game for that. If you give them an excuse to relate and get personal, we all really want it. We love intimacy. We love to be vulnerable, and we're terrified of it.

Aryel Cianflone: Yeah. I mean, yeah. It was almost shocking honestly. I can't remember the last time that I had an experience like that, where it was like you walked into this room, and all of a sudden, you were in this just completely different, just like the emotional vibe or something was so different, and I'm so happy to have you share your trade secret, and I would love to have you say more about, how do you actually do that? How do you actually become a generative listener? I love that term.

Thomas McConkie: Yeah. It's profound. Another teaching, and this gets back. We had spoke a moment ago about what mindfulness is. I talked about paying attention to how you're paying attention.

Metaphorically, we could say that in a given moment like right now as you're listening to me and right now as our listeners are listening in on this conversation, we bring a particular listening filter to the conversation, meaning that in a given moment, we might be listening with the kind of filter like, "Is this useful information to me? Is it not useful? Is it interesting? Is it not interesting? Is it true? Is it false?", and so on and so on.

We have countless filters, but there's a category. There's a class of filters. Again, this is metaphorical, but there's a class of filters we could say that's inherently defensive. It's distrustful, and I don't say that in a negative way because we need this filters to survive.

Sometimes, when someone approaches you, and they don't have totally trustworthy intentions, they don't have the best intentions in mind for you, then it's helpful to say like, "What's the scam? What's this all about?" What happens is we encounter so many of those situations in a given day that we become hardened, and those filters become our default. We forget that we're actually at a deep level. We're making a choice to listen that way. 

Generative listening comes in when we actually realize that, "Oh, I'm actually paying attention in a way that I'm actually trying to find what's wrong with this person. I'm listening to Thomas talk right now, and I'm wondering if he's totally full of it or if he might know what he's talking about." Then, we point that out. Never lose that skepticism. 

Aryel Cianflone: Still to be determined. No, I'm just kidding. 

Thomas McConkie: Totally. Never lose that. I warn my students, "Don't ever totally discount the possibility that I'm totally full of it", but in terms of generative listening, we'll give a different instruction like suppose that you sense a genius in this person, something great that wants to be expressed, and it just takes a proper audience. All this person needs is somebody to be present with them in order to put words to this beautiful possibility, or how would you attend to the Dalai Lama? If it were you and the Dalai Lama or some revered figure, whoever it is in your life, you're just one-on-one with them, let's say it's an ancestor, and they've come back from the dead to have a single conversation with you. 

Think of how attuned you would be to their expression. What kind of listening can you bring to that moment, and can you bring more of that quality of listening into just the Water Cooler?

Aryel Cianflone: Yeah. Totally. I think that resonates with me so much because I definitely have noticed that there are certain people ... I mean, we're different people with different people, and it's a lot of it is because of the way that they listen to us. 

Thomas McConkie: Yeah. 

Aryel Cianflone: Some people we know, we have more of an adversarial relationship, so we're going to tread lightly, and not say things that are as vulnerable or things that are closer to our hearts. 

Thomas McConkie: Yeah. Right.

Aryel Cianflone: I thought something that really stuck out to me in class and I think was the moment when I was like, "Oh, I've got to have Thomas on the show", was we were sitting and doing a group activity, which was something that I didn't really expect in a mindfulness meditation class was how often you had us actually do group activities. I had imagined like sitting cross-legged, like trying to not get distracted or whatever, but this one day, we were sitting, doing a group activity and we were supposed to share I think what we've been thinking of during our personal meditation, but you gave this very specific instruction to the other people in the conversation to listen as if it was the most precious thing that this person had to share.

Thomas McConkie: Right. 

Aryel Cianflone: I was just like, "Oh my gosh. What a different way to approach a conversation."

Thomas McConkie: Right.

Aryel Cianflone: "What a different assumption to be making", because I definitely agree with our default becomes the doubtful or the defensive or the skeptical, and it's just such a different place to start, and you get such a different response. 

Thomas McConkie: Yeah. Exactly. Consciousness is incredibly fluid, and mysteriously, we seem to have a great deal of control over how we modulate consciousness, attention moment to moment. It's an incredibly creative act just to be a human being, just to be sentient, and we start with that premise, and in a Mindfulness+ class, we start with that premise that every moment is a creative act that we're actively generating. 

Aryel Cianflone: Yeah. I would love to just pick your brain more, and this is probably a personality thing, but how? What are some of the specific things that people can do to become more that way? I think even that activity of just thinking, imagine if this was the most precious thing, but what are some of the other activities or resources that -

Thomas McConkie: Yeah. Something that comes to mind, this was maybe more specific than you're going for, there's a scripture in the Upanishads that says, "Where there is other, there is fear".

Aryel Cianflone: What is the Upanishads? 

Thomas McConkie: This is from the Hindu canon that predates Buddhism, so some of the oldest scripture we have on the planet.

Aryel Cianflone: Okay. Yeah.

Thomas McConkie: There's this phrase that echoes across time, "Where there is other, there is fear". I bring that up because as we talk about listening, every time we encounter the other, whoever it is, there's this sense of like "Not me", and there's this sense of, "I don't know what this person is about". There's a certain level of transparency I can read based on your nodding right now, and you're being polite, and I can tell you kind of ... Right? I have clues as to who you are, but there's a depth and an opacity to who you are, like I have to guess, and to the extent that I have to guess, there's a little bit of anxiety. 

There's a little bit of fear. I work a lot with just the fact that somewhere in our experience, it's subtle for some of us, and it's not as subtle for others. There's an element of fear in every single encounter. We can actually make use of that as an object of meditation. I can notice like, "What's the quality of my fear, my anxiety, my sense of ..." Social anxiety is a very common form of this fear that I'm speaking about.

Aryel Cianflone: Definitely.

Thomas McConkie: "How do I work with social anxiety in a skillful way that creates a creative encounter that can give rise to more creativity?", and so I have students attend to that social anxiety, attend to that fear, and allow it to be this invitation into trust, meaning ... This is a paradox that safety, fear and trust end up being deeply related to one another.

Aryel Cianflone: Yeah.

Thomas McConkie: You notice you're afraid. You notice you have social anxiety, but I also notice that I can take a risk here. I'm going to say something. I'm going to reveal something about myself to test this boundary with the other. What you notice is you get better at this. 

You notice there's just the really natural melting. As I come up to the point of contact with the other, I'm honest about the quality of fear, anxiety in the moment, and I take a step towads like a gesture of intimacy. People just melt.

Aryel Cianflone: I love that. Yeah. I love that phrase, that people just not ... No, and I think you're so right that when you recognize the fear as opposed to just a lot of times when we feel social anxiety, we just clam up, and we're like, "Oh, I just feel so uncomfortable", as opposed to thinking, "Oh, I feel a little bit of social anxiety because I'm afraid that this person is going to react negatively to me, and I'm going to be brave in this moment", as opposed to just being paralyzed in that fear.

Thomas McConkie: Yeah. We just brace. Yeah. Right. Exactly. 

Yeah. Exactly. Again, this is all a mindfulness practice. We notice we have social anxiety, the default response that is to just brace like, "Oh, crap. How do I get out of this conversation? Let me make some small talk", but we all have our patterns of contraction around this anxiety, but if we can make it an object of awareness, if I can notice that there's anxiety there, then all of a sudden, I can be creative with it. I notice I am paying attention in a new way, and I can say, "Oh, maybe this anxiety is an invitation to ground, just feel the ground beneath me, take a breath, take a risk". 

Aryel Cianflone: Yeah. 

Thomas McConkie: Really, everything I do, it starts on that basis, and they're dance steps that we are all actually remarkably intuitive, and there are really techniques and approaches that help us create greater intimacy and fulfillment in all of our relationships, whether that's with like a long-term life partner or it's with my client that I've just sat down with and I hardly know him, and it's not going that well right now. It's the whole gamut of human experience and relationship.

Aryel Cianflone: Yeah. I mean, for example, if we were sitting here and we had never met before and we were about to have a conversation about something intimate or important to that person, what would be maybe something that you would say to attend to that social anxiety and help us move past it?

Thomas McConkie: Yeah. It's a great question. One thing I often say to students on a lot of my exercises, I'll say, "Okay. There's a speaker and the rest are listeners, and give them two minutes uninterrupted", and without fail, five to 10% of the class at the end of the first round, their hands shoot up, they're just like, "I wanted to say something so bad and it just killed me". 

"Why wouldn't you let us say something? It felt so rude." They were sharing something personal, and I just want to tell them how much I cared about what they're saying and what I often tell students is that, "You can learn to trust just how potent your presence is". We think that we have to say something like, "Oh, I totally get what you're saying. It reminds me of this other ..." 

We have these ways of signaling to people that we're with them, but really, as you learn to deepen your presence and the quality of your awareness, you realize that so much of what we habitually say in an encounter is just habituated. It's not necessary. It's not serving intimacy. We do it just because it's habit, and the power of presence to just fully receive somebody, to just take them in, you realize that these interactions, they have an intelligence on their own and they just know where to go and they know how to deepen, and a lot of our practice is just learning how to stay out of our own way.

Aryel Cianflone: Yeah. It's just funny because I'm thinking of the first time that I came to class, and you're right. It wasn't necessarily something that you said, although, you did say a lot of things I think to put the class at ease, but there was a calmness to it, and you're right. I think the word is presence, and it's interesting to think about that especially at work, kind of bringing that because even just allowing yourself to be fully present in that way feels vulnerable or intimate, so I'm imagining being in a conference room and just being present with the stranger, and it makes me a little bit nervous.

Thomas McConkie: Exactly. Yeah. Totally. It's vulnerable. 

We have to really let our guard down and reveal our soft underbelly for this happen, but yeah. I mean, this is where the magic happens. Another image that comes to mind, just to help listeners really start to feel this in their bodies. I mean, what I'm describing here, it's not a concept. It's an embodied experience of being a human being and being in an intimate encounter. I think about an opera singer. Think about an opera singer who just has trained their voice for decades and they can just belt it out and fill an entire auditorium. 

Imagine that opera singer belting out their most beautiful note in a telephone booth. Right? It's like, "I don't want to belt it out on a telephone booth. This isn't the time or the place", but then, symphony opera hall where their voice just spreads to infinity. It's the most natural thing in the world to just fill the immensity of space with their voice. 

Our awareness can be that space for another. Our awareness actually, again, metaphorically, it has a shape to it, and sometimes, when we meet somebody, the shape of our awareness is like a telephone booth. We have 10 seconds for them to say what they need to say, and then we're not interested and we're moving on. Then, there's the quality of listening where it's that opera hall quality, and it's like this person just knows I can sing in this space.

Aryel Cianflone: Expansive. That's such a beautiful analogy. That might be the most beautiful thing that's ever been said in my podcast. 

Thomas McConkie: Sing to me, Aryel. 

Aryel Cianflone: As we've been talking about this, I had the thought I think there are so many things that we consciously or unconsciously do to be the telephone booth, and I'm wondering if you have any examples of maybe things that you can call up that we do that turn us into the telephone booth as opposed to the symphony hall just for people to be aware of, because I think we often fall into these little habits like we've been talking about.

Thomas McConkie: Yeah. For sure. I'm thinking about a lot of listeners will know Brene Brown. 

Aryel Cianflone: Of course.

Thomas McConkie: Cool. She came and spoke to us at a meeting a few months back. It's just the group of us back in Massachusetts, and she said something really beautiful that has stuck with me because she has a way of just saying something plain and insightful. 

Aryel Cianflone: With your Texas accent?

Thomas McConkie: We love you, Brene.

Aryel Cianflone: Yeah. We love you so much. 

Thomas McConkie: Yeah. If you're out there listening, Brene, we love you. Yeah. She said that in her research, the most compassionate people she's ever met and studied are the most boundaried. That's what the room did. We're like, "What does that mean?" She -

Aryel Cianflone: My eyebrows are definitely furrowed right now.

Thomas McConkie: Right. Right. Yeah. Back to your question, "What is it that creates a small telephone booth listening experience in us? Why do we collapse on ourselves and not listen as generously, not be as present as we're capable of?" One really simple practice on Brene Brown is to notice how much you actually have to give. To be really honest about, this is how much space I have right now. These are my boundaries, and I can love you fully through these boundaries. If I pretend like I have more to give than I do, I will exhaust myself and I will resent you for it, and I'll start to get surly. 

Aryel Cianflone: Yeah.

Thomas McConkie: To just be really honest like when you're with a client, when you've worked a long day and you're suddenly drawn into this new conversation that doesn't seem to be letting up, to just do a quick mindfulness scan, like, "How much energy and attention do I truly have to bring to this moment?" If something like, "I don't have that much" is coming up, then you find a very polite way to say, "You know what? I want to be really present to what you're saying, and I'm just done for the day. Can we find the time where we have enough space?" I say this to people all the time, like, "I want to hear what you're saying, and I feel like we need a little more time and space to do it properly. Can we do that?" 

Simultaneously, I'm taking care of my boundaries and I'm letting them know that what they're saying is really important. What we often do, I do this a lot and I know this teaching just by having not done it a million times, but I tell myself, "Oh, I can power through this", "Oh, I can show up for my friend", like "I just had a long day at work and they had an even worse day and now, they want to talk to me about their bad day. I can show up for them, but I really can't", so I pretend that I have more space, more energy, more stamina than I do, and that's when my listening actually gets really small and reactive. That's one hygiene practice we can do to take care of our listening, and it's okay if we're a telephone booth. The teaching is not that you for the rest of your life, Aryel, now that you've taken my class, you need to attend to every person's expression as if they were they Dalai Lama, because people take that [inaudible 00:30:40] -

Aryel Cianflone: Yeah. It's exhausting to listen to that. 

Thomas McConkie: Yeah. You can, but the point is we have a choice. We can actually modulate through. We can transition through countless filters and we get to choose creatively as artists which filter is the most appropriate in a given moment for a given interaction.

Aryel Cianflone: Yeah.

Thomas McConkie: That's incredible.

Aryel Cianflone: Yeah. I mean, first of all, it resonates with me because it's Brene Brown, and we all love her. It's interesting because you're right. It's counter-intuitive. When I heard boundaries, it seems like the exact opposite of intimacy, but, yeah, it's interesting to call out that you can't have one without the other at least, not genuinely.

Thomas McConkie: Yeah. Exactly. Right. Exactly. Just like fear leads to deeper trust. 

Boundaries leads to deeper compassion. They're these paradoxes that we find in these practice. Mindfulness is, it's a practice of paradoxes. You realize they're all over the place. 

Aryel Cianflone: Are there any other things that ... I mean, not such a good one, but are there any other -

Thomas McConkie: Right. You got anything. I don't know.

Aryel Cianflone: I'm like, "Do you have anything else though?" Yeah. No. I'm just like, "Wow, that was so good. Is there more?" We just like speaker phone call Brene Brown. I'm wondering is there any other little things that ...

Thomas McConkie: Countless. I mean, we're riffing here, and I'm just free-associating with the basics. I'm interesting on this show in communicating some very basic practices. You do not have to shave your head and retreat to the misty mountaintops of China or Japan to learn mindfulness so that you can finally be a generative listener. I want to share some practices, like we actually all know how to just take inventory in a given moment and notice, "How present am I?" 

If I'm not that present, let me show the other person I care by saying, "I can be totally present with you. Let's do it another time." 

Aryel Cianflone: Yeah. 

Thomas McConkie: It's a really basic practice, and we all are really intuitive about ... The moment I used the metaphor listening filters, people are like, "Oh, that's my favorite listening filter, to find the flaw in what someone is saying". 

Aryel Cianflone: Totally.

Thomas McConkie: Right? Then, the moment I suggested there's a generative possibility where you can just actually treat someone's expression as something precious with some reverence.

Aryel Cianflone: Yeah. 

Thomas McConkie: Everyone knows exactly how they go to that place.

Aryel Cianflone: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it reminds me of Edward de Bono's Thinking Hats, and I like how he does this thing where he makes it physical, where he's like, "When you're wearing a yellow hat, you're thinking in this. What you're thinking, really positively and just riffing on everything and saying yes to everything, and you're wearing a black hat and you're approaching everything in a really negative way, so I love that we're seeing this same patterns of thought and approaching conversation from you and from these different places, and I think it's because you're right. They really resonate with people, and they hear filters, and they're like, "Oh, I'm totally doing that myself as well". 

Thomas McConkie: Yeah. Right. That's something I really stress in a mindfulness practice. It's easy to believe that when you hear the word 'Mindfulness', you're like, "Oh, I don't know what that is", or "I've heard what it is, but I don't do it". Mindfulness in its essence is who we already are. Right? 

We're this aware presence, and it's a choiceful awareness. We can be creative with our awareness. That's all mindfulness is. We're all at our very hearts. Mindful, and we just need some reminding.

Aryel Cianflone: Yeah. For people who are listening to this and they're like, "Oh my gosh. This is totally ..." I keep saying 'Resonating', but give me a different word. Anyway, for people who are listening and feeling like this really is resonating with them, what would be a next step or article or a book or something that you feel like is really helpful and progressing that path or developing those generative listening skills?

Thomas McConkie: Yeah. There's a wealth of resources out there. One thing I tell people is to be discerning. There are a lot of teachings out there, a lot of different schools and styles of practicing mindfulness. 

I encourage people to really be discerning, and if they don't resonate with a particular teaching, that's okay. I mean, after 20 years, there have been teachers that I study with for an hour. I go to a single class, a single talk, and I take it in, and I move on, and then there are teachers that I've been studying with for almost 20 years, and it's just a bottomless well and I sense there's something in it for me. For people who feel like, "Yes. What this guy is saying right now, it's landing in me. I know it means something and I want to pay more attention to it", I would say to just follow your nose, and reserve this right of refusal. 

If one teaching isn't resonating, feel free to move to the next, and I promise over time, you'll come across something. It's like, "Woah. I need to spend a little bit of time here", and that's a really satisfying thing to come into that relationship with a teacher or with the teaching. 

Aryel Cianflone: Yeah. Thank you so much for taking the time, Thomas. I mean, every time I sit down with you, I just feel like, "Wow. I really did learn some things that's meaningful and that's beneficial."  I mean, even also when I'm listening to your podcast every time, it's like a moment to just breathe out and be calm, and yeah, pay attention to how we pay attention.

Thomas McConkie: Thank you, Aryel. Yeah. I appreciate that. Yeah. Mindfulness+, it's a podcast.

Like I said, there's a lot of good mindfulness teaching out there. Mindfulness+ incorporates more of the developmental components, so that's something that I'm really passionate about and I love to share on the podcast, so you can check that out.

Aryel Cianflone: Thank you so much.

Thomas McConkie: Yeah. Thanks, Aryel. It's good to be with you.


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