walking, deep listening, generative practice

The first iteration of this work took place at New Bridge Project, Newcastle in summer 2021. The second phase is currently underway as part of a year long 'artist-in-resonance' role with Dancing on the Edge, a festival of movement based in Amsterdam. Participants are invited into a year-long co-enquiry into deep listening as a transformative collective practice, using the guiding principle of ‘starting from where we find ourselves’.

This phrase emerges from writer, thinker and co-founder of Dark Mountain and A School Called Home, Dougald Hine’s response to a pilgrimage I recently completed (see The Book Of Visions project), describing it as ‘an act of weaving, stitching together the torn fabric, starting from where we find ourselves.’ The phrase calls us into dialogue with our surroundings and each other. It calls us to notice with whom or what we share space and time, to behold our relationships with tangible and intangible worlds, to act out of a sense of kinship. It calls us to hold space not just for positive futures and collective yearning, but also for the grief and trauma of our entangled realities, and for that which does not make sense right now.

Co-listening is an exploratory collective practice that focuses on transformative listening by freeing participants from the need to respond, a key principle of which is to listen for understanding rather than agreement. Anyone wishing to experience the practice can join a monthly session here

I am keeping an irregular journal of the practice as it develops. Here are some examples:


To use, the same rationale of the sessions, where I find myself in the process is in a space of both intimacy and spaciousness. Intimate because the sessions have been characterised by an uncommon openness that moves me every time, and spacious because they could develop in any direction. The beginning of the process was quite nerve-wracking, like any exploratory practice. Holding space for whatever emerges is not easy, especially the first time. As the sessions have gone on, I find it easier to let go, trying to become less like a facilitator. After the end of the second session, in which there was quite a bit of silence, my sense was that it hadn’t gone well. However, what followed when we closed the circle was an extremely rich conversation, in which I learned that silence does not equal disengagement. We decided in this conversation that sharing need not be in English, or even in verbal language. A sense of the process, I could even say ritual, carrying this loose collective of people who choose to be in this space, grows with each session.

I have been describing what we are doing as ‘deep listening as a transformative collective practice’ but inevitably this shortens to ‘deep listening’. For background, deep listening is a very well established practice initiated and developed by Pauline Oliveros until her death, and her work has been continued globally since. In May of this year, it would have been Pauline Oliveros’ 90th birthday, and to coincide, a new edition of her book ‘Quantum Listening’ was published. The book is described as a manifesto for listening as activism, foregrounding compassion and peace as the basis for our actions in the world, which resonates strongly with my own founding intentions for this space. I hope we can experiment with some of these exercises together in future sessions.


We listen to each other speaking and we listen to each other refrain from speaking. We listen together to sounds from our individual environments that punctuate our shared silence: children playing in Amsterdam, birds in a tree in Alexandria, a coffee being delivered to a cafe table in Palermo, the dusk falling in Paris, a laptop overheating in Sheffield. We listen to the silences that we build together, which have something of a healing quality for the knowing that we have built them together.

We have now been developing this practice together for six months, with new and now familiar faces arriving each time, and what I have been most struck by as the sessions have progressed, is how each time is so markedly different. The rhythm and feel of each session is distinct, held by the growing experience within the group, and also invigorated by those experiencing it for the first time.

I have been learning from the writing and thinking Pauline Oliveros, the founder of the deep listening movement, and noticed something that Pauline’s life partner Ione mentioned in her recollections about her experience of facilitating Pauline’s ‘Tuning meditation’, from her well-known work Sonic Meditations (1971). The instruction for the meditation is:

“Inhale deeply; exhale on the note of your choice; listen to the sounds around you, and match your next note to one of them; on your next breath make a note no one else is making; repeat. Call it listening out loud.”

Recalling facilitating this work with audiences, Ione recalls how, in the exercise of ‘listening to our listening’, as she describes it, ‘something special, something both old and new, occurred. Something healing’. Pauline herself once spoke about how practiced listening continues to evolve, consistently yielding new information, and there is something of this beginning to emerge out of our sessions.

One recent session began to feel like a magical séance, as multiple synchronicities curiously wove themselves through the fabric of our shared space, so that all we could do was to laugh together. The last session took place over dusk for many of the localities on the call, and as our windows darkened, we listened to each other speak in shared and native languages. For some this meant casting words into the void, not knowing if they were being understood, and for others it meant listening beyond language to what else is held in the voice.

We continue with our experiment.