Littoral Listening 2021-2022: in practice, an archive

In 2021 the FEELed Lab started a semi-regular, online convening of interested folks from different and same time zones. The idea was to have a reading group that would prioritize listening and ask little preparation of participants. We named this gathering Littoral Listening, calling on the land/water transition space for inspiration. Each time we chose a theme (in case you wanted to save the planet…, we, rest, sex ecologies, etc.) around which to muster and selected a reading or two to share. The structure of the ensuing conversations was inspired by meetings of Al-Anon and AA that I have attended with various family members over the years. These meetings use a method of relational and experience exchange called “no crosstalk,” explained in the introduction below.

We are calling this gathering Littoral Listening. The littoral is a habitat of land and water, at each of their edges they meet, ebb, flow, and articulate their mutual inextricability. These gatherings exist in a space between reading and listening, similarly inextricable.

This is framed as a listening group because we feel we would like to attend to the practice of listening in ways many of us have not been taught. We would like to center listening as praxis and practice together here.

After we read and listen to today’s selections we will go around the zoom room and ask each of you to take the floor for two minutes. If you wish to share your reflections on the readings, the rest of us will listen. If you wish to share a memory that the readings brought up for you, the rest of us will listen. And if you wish to remain silent, we will listen together to the silence, and perhaps find that in each of our places, it’s not so silent after all.

We would like to acknowledge that this format might be uncomfortable. We would like to acknowledge that discomfort, embrace it, and hold it in community, uncomfortable together.

Some community sharing spaces use a protocol called “no crosstalk.” Crosstalk is any verbal or physical response to another person’s sharing. Interrupting, questioning, and offering advice, are all considered to be crosstalk. No crosstalk creates an environment in which we can begin to open up to others without fear of being interrupted, misinterpreted, or judged. We listen without comment to what others share. We give the person sharing our full, uncritical attention.

After the listening round we will open the floor for a discussion.”

In the first AA meeting I attended with my grandmother, listening without response felt impossible. I found it difficult to imagine being in conversation without responding, not even with expressive gestures or facial expressions. What I didn’t understand is that these aren’t conversation spaces; these are spaces of witnessing.

May the littoral witnessing, exchanges, and discussions continue.

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