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The Hanged Man: The Art of Suspending in Dialogue
TS5205 Listening and Dialogue
Week 6 Writing Assignment 2
June 23, 2015
One of the biggest challenges in dialogue is to listen to another’s viewpoints and
experience without comparing them to our own. We are raised to believe that there are correct
and incorrect viewpoints. These become entwined with our very survival, especially when we
think we actually are our viewpoints and opinions. While some viewpoints do entail our safety
and survival, such as that one should look both ways before crossing the street, most of our
views are simply opinions that become beliefs as we think them over and over again. Because
we tend to forget that we are not our opinions and beliefs, we often listen from a need to defend
our viewpoint and correct or advise others. William Isaacs (1999) points out that we then gather
evidence that backs our views and discount evidence that does not.
Isaacs suggests that what is necessary to overcome this challenge is to “suspend our own
opinion” (1999, p. 134). In Are You Really Listening?, Paul Donoghue and Mary Siegel explain
that this calls for us to first notice our own thoughts, reactions and feelings in the moment, and
then put those on hold. This doesn’t mean, “you deny your feelings or suppress them”
(Donoghue & Siegel, 2005, p. 182). As we listen, we can put them aside rather than react aloud.
Isaacs (1999) describes the act of suspension as, “to change direction, stop, step back, see things
with new eyes” (p. 135), the “art of trying to see people in a different light” and “of finding the
‘order between’ the positions that people take” (p. 151). This includes seeing ourselves in a new
way, as we become aware of our opinions and thoughts and put them on hold. We become the
observer, in a challenging position of holding the energy of our opinions, judgments or criticism,
“neither suppressing this energy nor expressing it” (Isaacs, 1999, p. 140). Isaacs explains that
this can be uncomfortable yet also transformative and because it is filled with creative energy.
The act of suspending is much like the archetypal image of the Hanged Man in the tarot.
Suspended upside down, tied to a living branch of wood by one foot, the Hanged Man looks to
be in a meditative state of awareness. Arthur Edward Waite (, co-creator of the Rider-Waite
tarot deck noted in the Hanged Man card, “(1) that the tree of sacrifice is living wood, with
leaves thereon; (2) that the face expresses deep entrancement, not suffering; (3) that the figure, as
a whole, suggests life in suspension, but life and not death” (1911, para. 1). Waite (1911) felt
that the Hanged Man “expresses the relation, in one of its aspects, between the Divine and the
Universe” (para. 1). The act of suspension in dialogue is an expression of surrender to a greater
truth than our own opinions and a willingness to be in alert present moment awareness, “life and
not death” in that suspension. It may be intense and scary, but what is available in the void we
step into as we suspend, is a deeper connection, flow and understanding of the speaker, the
Divine and ourselves.
Isaacs (1999) explains that one of the best ways to practice the act of suspending is
through asking questions. First, we must understand that most of our questions are actually
opinions we already have answers for. We then ask open-ended questions that we don’t have an
automatic answer for. Isaacs describes this as “mining for questions,” meaning to “look for the
really important, hard questions that keep people up at night and go to the heart of our concerns”
(Isaacs, 1999, p.148). The fear or discomfort we might feel while holding the space of not
having an immediate answer can be thought of as creative tension, as something new and novel
is created in a thought, realization or understanding we have never had before. These questions
also generate the ability to become aware of ourselves and the “origins of thoughts themselves”
(Isaacs, 1999, p.144). Ultimately, we become responsible for all of our experiences, seeing that
we are the ones that think the thoughts and form the opinions, and that the “world participates in
us, and we in the world” (Isaacs, 1999, p. 144).
In my own experience, suspending my viewpoints is a key part of what is called for in
true dialogue. I’ve had the experience with my husband where I ask his opinions on subjects he
is not an expert in and he has responded by getting annoyed or agitated. He explained that this is
because he doesn’t have the answer to the question. It took us a while into our relationship for
me to understand that when I am pondering questions I don’t have answers to nor expect him to,
such as what happens after you die, and want to engage with him, it is important I let him know I
am not expecting him to have a correct answer. I see how this kind of discomfort comes in
many conversations for me, as if I am supposed to have the correct answer. I notice when I feel
“I don’t know”, which I am more and more living into (I experience that the more I learn, the
less I know), I can easily dismiss my own views, feeling insecure that I am “not an expert”
because I don’t feel there is a “correct answer”.
In the past few years, I have gone out of my way to engage in conversations with people
with very different viewpoints than me. There is not only the discomfort of suspending, but also
a feeling of loss, a death of sorts that occurs when I let go of my own rigid beliefs and views.
For example, I would describe myself in the past a new age hippy type, vegetarian, non-violent
activist, animal rights and environmental advocate. In recent years I have been more drawn to
understand others and their views and values. My husband and I are in an off-road drive club. I
was more of hiker while in nature, not a rock-crawler in the Jeep. Many members of our club
seem opposite to me, such as being not interested in spirituality, enjoying hunting, being anti-
Sierra Club and making fun of those who drive a Prius. By suspending my own opinions, I have
come to understand the values that drive those I’ve spoken with, the care they have for animals
and the planet, and the fears and insecurities they live with.
Recently we were out to dinner with a friend in the club, and I noticed how upset I began
to feel by his way of making fun of me. I suspended my opinion that this was hurtful and that he
should treat me differently. As a result, I got present to the love between us, noticed myself
smiling more, and understood that this was his habitual way of connecting with others. With my
husband, suspending my views allows for a freedom to truly understand him, to ask questions
that don’t offend him because they are not backed by my judgments or opinions, and to notice
the limits of my own perceptions as well as that I am not my perceptions.
Isaacs suggests looking for what we are missing, and I’ve found this practice to be
valuable. I have often practiced looking for what is different, opening then to what is new. I
have found that practicing looking for what I am missing is a gateway to deeper understanding of
others and also lightens the grip of my own opinion. I have a habit of wanting to fix or advise
others. Instead, I look to what I am not understanding or seeing a full picture of in what they are
saying. For example, my son is currently struggling with being in the position of holding one job
he enjoys and having available to him two new jobs to choose from that might be even better
than his current job. Rather than giving him my opinion, I have suspended my inclination to
advise and looked to what I am missing in his description and feelings about the situation. I then
can ask more questions, which has me understand him better and also has him be able to find his
Isaac’s proposes that listening to others from the stance that our opinions are correct and
must be imposed on others can be corrected by the act of suspending, which is based on the
principle of awareness. When taking a viewpoint or position, Isaacs explains that this polarizes.
We automatically cut ourselves off from seeing a bigger picture, likened to looking through the
lens of a telescope. To get a broader view when listening, we can suspend our own viewpoints
and look for something different, such as by asking questions. We put our attention on
something new, which then expands our own awareness. This kind of awareness lies in direct
experience, one that happens when we suspend our beliefs and opinions and are willing to be in
the discomfort of not knowing the answers in the moment.
Donoghue, P. & Siegel, M. (2005). Are you really listening? : Keys to successful
communication. Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books.
Isaacs, W. (1999). Dialogue and the art of thinking together: A pioneering approach to
communicating in business and life. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.
Waite, A.E. (1911). XII: The hanged man. In The pictorial key to the tarot. Retrieved from