“There is a lot of talking going on in the world right now. There is not a whole lot of listening. If we switched it around – more listening and less talking – we would see miracles.” – Kay Lindahl
In a social zeitgeist that emphasizes talking, verbalizing, and presenting one’s self, Kay Lindahl has steadfastly worked to reverse this equation: since the early 1990s, she has been teaching people how to listen – a composite form of inner and outer listening with a deeply spiritual grain.
Kay’s mission began around 1991 when she founded The Alliance for Spiritual Community (ASC), a grassroots interfaith organization creating dialogue among people of diverse faiths, cultures, and spiritual practices. Having recently relocated to a new community with her husband, she started ASC from their living room to bring a “strong spiritual presence” to her new community.
Her decade-long work with ASC underscored for her that building peace and diversity in a true sense requires a reformation in how we communicate – beyond words, and through channels of our attention. And so unfolded the next chapter of her journey: supporting listening as a critical exercise not only across diverse faith, cultural, and other traditions but also as a sacred art in itself – a spiritual exercise that an individual undertakes in the interior of their being.
To Kay, the inner and outer pieces of listening incorporate each other into what she terms an embodied “listening presence”. This kind of listening is a multi-dimensional practice that operates through listening to one’s body, soul, silence, life, heart, mind, emotions, and the earth. “Listening encompasses more than words,” she says. “It is a way of being in the world.” To Kay, sacred listening is an interface, a conduit between community and faith in its diverse forms.
For the past twenty-four years, Kay has been working on stretching the collective and individual imagination about “listening” – what it offers when viewed as a spiritual art form, how it might re-shape community dialogue, and how best people might “prepare” to listen. This has been her marching orders, her living manifesto. In 1997, she started The Listening Center (TLC). She conducts workshops and retreats around the world on the art form of listening for religious, spiritual, community, campus, and business groups. Kay has authored several books including The Sacred Art of Listening, Practicing the Sacred Art of Listening and How Does God Listen?
The premise of her work and TLC is that listening is a creative force. It is at the heart of transforming relationships. Listening requires practice and teaching. But it goes beyond the mechanics and modalities. Listening is a form of “beingness” for Kay, an attuning with the present moment that arrives when space is prepared for it. This “listening presence” significantly differs from effective and performative types of listening – responsible, inter-cultural, productive, interdisciplinary types. Spiritual listening emerges from an inward-facing stillness and attentiveness that creates space from which we can listen across our differences. Listening is a choice. When one chooses to listen deeply, it sets in motion a recognition of the life force of another, and we find ourselves able to understand even those opining differently.
Born into a community-oriented family of Scandinavian immigrants, Kay’s hands-on exposure to paying attention to and heeding the calls of the world outside of her began from within her family. As a child she witnessed her father in community leadership roles in fraternal organizations, and later serving on the city council in Jamestown, New York. He also hosted a weekly radio program in Swedish, serving the local immigrant population. The founding elements of her work and way of life lay also in her deep spiritual grounding. “Ever since I was a little girl I have had this sense of knowing. I felt connected to something I couldn’t describe.”
The essence of her origin – a predisposition to serving and leading community – kept reappearing in myriad forms throughout her adult life. Her own journey has been a testament to her listening to the opportunities that showed up in her non-linear path. It took her from the role of a registered nurse, to running her own financial consultancy for seventeen years, to being a regional leader for La League Leche.
In 1993 she attended the Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago and heard theologian Hans Kung's statement – that there will be no peace among nations until there is peace among religions. She realized that there will be no peace among religions until there's dialogue among religions and that listening – to one another and to Source – is a key component of building a world of peace and harmony.
A long-time member of the Episcopal Church, Kay became an ordained interfaith minister and a board member of The Interfaith Observer, the Rumi Educational Center, and Women of Spirituality and Faith (to bring more female voices into the spiritual community). She is a past Ambassador for the Parliament of the World's Religions, a past (founding) trustee of the Global Council for the United Religions Initiative, and Past Chair of the North American Interfaith Network. She also is a member of the Forge Guild for Spiritual Leaders and The International Listening Association.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is expanding her own understanding and practice of spiritual listening. The isolation and enhanced need for connection put the sacredness of listening in a unique context for Kay. She sees the inability to gather in person as an extension of the ongoing need for “finding ways to communicate differently”. Even while recognizing the hardships of the pandemic, she views this struggle as a fountainhead of opportunity for “learning to tune in to the hive – where we connect telepathically, without depending on time and space”. This is “a season of not knowing” -- when the answer to so many questions is I don’t know. She believes new grounds are opening to practice being present in the moment, to listen with patience.
Kay lives in Long Beach, California, and enjoys keeping in touch with her seven children and ten grandchildren.
Please join us in conversation with this gifted practitioner of the creative force of listening.
Being fully present, connected to something beyond what I know, a sense of being in the flow; when I disappear and become at one with - there is no "other". This is a description of my experiences after they occur, there is a timelessness in the moment. Examples for me are as simple as connecting eyeball to eyeball with a squirrel on my morning walk; the awe of nature as in a magnificent sunrise, sunset, rainbow; generative conversations, whether one-on-one or in groups. Professionally I feel aliveness when I witness that moment when someone gets in touch with their own deep listening as part of a group exercise. There's a lightness of being and often takes my breath away.
About 25 years ago my life was rich and full with satisfying work as a financial planner and deeply involved in the interfaith movement. One morning, my spiritual mentor invited me to co-facilitate a weekend retreat for clergy. He wanted me to teach centering prayer, which has been my practice since 1991, and dialogue guidelines, which I had developed since founding a local interfaith group. Something deep inside had me saying yes. As we were preparing our time it occurred to me that there was a third aspect that wanted to be addressed, listening to self. I designed a plan with three experiential exercises, one of which I'd never done before. That weekend changed my life. The response to the exercises I developed with beyond anything I could have imagined. I knew that I was being called to share these experiences with others. Within the next few weeks I gradually closed my financial planning practice as The Listening Center came into being.
A remarkable example of kindness that stays in my mind happened in 2001 when the residents of Gander, Newfoundland opened their homes to thousands of stranded air passengers whose flights were diverted to land there on 9/11. Their kindness, generosity and hospitality modeled what love thy neighbor looks like.
At this point in my life, (I am 84) my bucket list has transformed into a spiritual practice. I listen for what wants to happen next and I am content to notice what flows into my space what kinds of opportunities present themselves and say yes to the ones that resonate.
Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference. Listen with wonder, curiosity and awe to the people in your life.