The tools for preparing for a healthy dialogue can be found in many traditions. In this excerpt from Conversation – The Sacred Art, Diane Millis draws from Sufism and Buddhism to set the stage for engaging in self-inquiry and other-inquiry as a foundation for transformative conversations.
"Transformation can potentially occur if we are willing to go within and be present to our feelings of fear, disappointment, anger, and grief. The Sufis refer to this stance as trembling and believe that trembling has the potential to shake open our heart and connect it to Heart. Imam Jamal Rahman describes in his book, The Fragrance of Faith, what he learned from his grandfather about the importance of tending a trembling heart. He reminds us that not all experiences of trembling are beneficial; 'only when you take the trembling steps with compassion for yourself, does the trembling become sacred.' Rahman refers to this practice of tending a trembling heart as sacred holding.
" 'Sacred holding is a method for cultivating compassion for oneself. Like the Christian welcoming prayer… this practice invites us to notice, name, and nurture awareness of all our feelings, especially the negative ones, rather than impulsively express, repress, or obsess about them.
- 'Begin by allowing yourself to experience the feeling of disturbance and then to name it.
- 'After naming the feeling, try to locate where you are holding the feeling in your body. Encompass the physical sensations in your body with the embrace of your soul. From your heart, send love and mercy to this place in your body.
- 'Talk tenderly to yourself; cultivate a gentle rapport with yourself. Rahman suggests that you might want to tell yourself: “I’m sorry you feel this… . This is difficult… . Let me tenderly support you… .” Rather than trying to fix or analyze the sensations or the feelings, simply be present for as long as you want. This is the process of trembling. Focus gently on the holding in your body, inhale and exhale through that part of you. Allow divine breath to caress you there.'
"Compassionately tending our trembling hearts through sacred holding is a spiritual practice that invites us to pay attention to what disturbs us rather than to try to fix it. We are encouraged to cultivate compassion for ourselves rather than judge ourselves or analyze why we feel the way we do. Aside from the comfort and healing this practice can offer us personally, attending to and tending our own trembling hearts shows us a way of attending to and tending others.
"The practice of sacredly holding our own pain prepares us to practice holding a space of compassion for others. As Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us [in Together We Are One]: 'It doesn’t matter if we’ve had their experience. What matters is that we can listen, and that we can listen well enough that their experience can be healed and transformed. So a lot of it is about the power of simply listening and holding a space of compassion for people sharing their difficulties, their pain, their insights. A lot of that can be done without saying a word, just staying in touch with your own breathing and making sure your own heart stays open.' "