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  1. 1. The Hanged Man: The Art of Suspending in Dialogue Julianne Kulosa TS5205 Listening and Dialogue Week 6 Writing Assignment 2 Nellie Deutsch June 23, 2015
  2. 2. 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
  3. 3. 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).
  4. 4. 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.
  5. 5. 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 own answers. 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
  6. 6. 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.
  7. 7. References 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 http://www.sacred-texts.com/tarot/pkt/pktar12.htm