Healing power of active listening

June 10, 2004, vol. 30, no. 4
By Julie Ovenell-Carter

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Meg Zuccaro first learned the healing power of active listening in her late teens, when she worked for two years as a caregiver to elderly men and women.

“So much of my time was spent simply listening,” recalls the Coquitlam mother of three who recently completed a masters in education. “I learned early on that deeply listening is an act of hospitality. It is the greatest gift we can offer to another human being.”

Fast forward to 2000, and the 44-year-old Zuccaro was again listening: this time to her own “inner whispers that led to a new direction in my life.”

Picking up the threads of an undergraduate academic career abandoned years earlier, she decided to enroll at SFU to explore more deeply “the art of listening,” and the notion that “the world must be experienced not only with the eyes, but also with the ear of the heart.”

It is testimony to Zucarro's maturity and scholarly commitment that she was encouraged by her professors to begin her graduate studies without first completing an undergraduate degree. Her resulting thesis, Into listening presence: the heart of contemplative phenomenology, examines “the cultivation of a contemplative listening practice” in daily life, and how prayer, meditation and contemplation serve to strengthen intimate relationships, deepen spiritual practice, and open “the interior terrain of the heart.”

Zuccaro's advisor, education professor Celeste Snowber, described the thesis as “stellar, both academically rigorous and a piece of art.”

Zuccaro chose to stage her oral defence in SFU's museum of archaelology, where she explained the highlights of her research to more than 40 people - including friends, family, academic advisors and students from her education 100 class - while leading them on a meditative walk through the tranquil space. To reinforce her messages, she used items such as candles, a bouquet of red tulips and a Tibetan singing bowl, which resonates with an eerie and mysterious song when played.

“I wanted to evoke a sense of listening presence,” she says, “with the hope that everyone present would be able to hear something in my work that would help them to walk whatever path they've chosen - to perhaps awaken the hidden monk that lives in all of this.”

Zuccaro hopes to continue her work as a doctoral student while developing practical workshops from her research to benefit educators, students, health care practitioners and their patients.

“I think there is an enormous value in understanding how the element of listening can make a profound difference to mental, physical and spiritual health.”

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