A 'professional listener' shares the forgotten art

Tampa Bay Times - A monk taught the art of listening during a recent visit.

Brother Curtis Almquist of the Society of St. John the Evangelist came at the invitation of the St. Petersburg Bar Association.

Lucas Fleming, a lawyer, attests that Almquist practices what he preaches.

"I have been amazed over the years (and it has been 15 that I have known Curtis) at how well Curtis remembers conversations we had 10 years ago," Fleming said in an email. "It really confirms for me that my time with Curtis is time that he takes seriously. Imagine if every client felt that way when they left our offices."

Besides lawyers, Almquist, who has been a monk for 25 years, also works with students, psychiatrists, psychologists, business professionals, teachers and clergy.

The self-described 1970s radical worked in international development and was a parish priest before joining the small Episcopal order, which has a monastery near Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass., and another, Emery House, in West Newbury, Mass.

Almquist answered a few questions about himself and the art of listening.

Q: How has your vocation prepared you to teach others about deep listening?

A: Monks have sometimes been called "professional listeners." Monks live under a vow of "obedience," which comes from the Latin, "obaudire," to "listen deeply." The monastic "default" is "silence," not because there's nothing to say, but because there's so much to be heard if we listen deeply. Listening is a learnable skill.

Q: Do you spend a certain amount of time daily in prayer and contemplation?

A: Yes, daily. We have a daily cadence of corporate prayer and worship; however, the real quest is to learn to "pray our lives," that is, to practice God's presence, not just when we worship, but as we work and walk, talk and listen.

Q: Is there a spiritual element to being a good listener?

A: Live in the "now." Be really present to life -- not the life you once had, or think you could or should have, but life on life's terms, now.

Q: Do our ubiquitous technological devices hinder good listening? Is there a solution?

A: There's the seduction to be "virtually present" in all kinds of places and platforms and thereby miss being really present in the moment. The presumed ability to "multitask" is greatly overrated; meanwhile, you miss the real deal of life. Doing one thing at a time -- at least, some of the time -- will help defrag your soul. Presuming that you must be available to others 24/7 is an invitation to get lost. Putting boundaries around your availability to your own self and your availability to others is crucial. You're worth it!

Q: Are you paid for your work, and does that conflict with your vow of poverty?

A: No, I do not receive any personal income.

(Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@tampabay.com.)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service www.scrippsnews.com)

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