Contemplative Practices with Prof. Judith Simmer-Brown, PhD
Insight Dialogue Practice
IntroductionThe Insight Dialogue Practice invites participants to access their inner voice and wisdom, develop their ability to listen deeply, and bring mindfulness into their relationship with another. As a training in being “on-the-spot,” the instruction is to speak without pre-meditation or planning, staying connected to the present moment. The listener, in turn, practices receptive, open listening that refrains from somatic or spoken feedback. In this way, dialogue partners can develop genuine intimacy and experience mixing their own wisdom with that of another. The practice can be a powerful journey of self-discovery and developing trust in oneself and another. This practice may be used in the classroom, during a faculty retreat, or at any gathering where you want to cultivate greater intimacy, connection and a deeper level of sharing.
Historical Background and LineageInsight Dialogue was developed by the Vipassana teacher Gregory Kramer. Judith Simmer-Brown has used the practice extensively, and further developed and refined it for use in a contemplative classroom.
About Judith Simmer-BrownTo hear Judith talk more on contemplative pedagogy, please view the following video:
Benefits of this Practice:
- Extends mindfulness to interpersonal relationship.
- Encourages authentic engagement with another person and creates genuine intimacy.
- Cultivates an ability to listen to others without judging or evaluating.
- Offers a unique opportunity to access and speak from our inner wisdom, without pre-meditation.
- Facilitates speaking “on-the-spot” with less self-doubt and inhibition.
- Invites the element of surprise in hearing ourselves and others speak from present-moment experience.
Preparations for Teaching
- Practice this exercise yourself with a partner several times and reflect or journal on what you have gained from it so that you can bring your personal experience to bear on the practice as you offer it in class.
- If you are offering this exercise within a class, consider where in your syllabus you want to situate the practice.
- Before leading the practice, create several prompts. These should be fairly general, so as to allow a more open creative response. Examples include:
- “What I notice right now is….”
- “What my heart knows is…”
- “What I learned from you is…”
- “The most valuable aspect of my educational (or professional) journey is…”
Steps for Teaching the Practice
- Create a positive, open atmosphere in which to offer this to students. If you have introduced contemplative learning in the classroom already, then you may not need to do as much (if any) setting of the context for this practice. But in general, participants respond better if they know ahead of time why they are doing something (see above for some of the benefits students have reported).
- Let the class know there will be a discussion and chance to talk about their experiences afterwards. We find this helps participants go deeper into their experience.
- Have students pair off into dyads and sit facing each other. Have a quick and easy way to choose who will go first, such as saying “the person with shortest hair will go first” (so as to avoid needing a discussion about who will go first).
- Begin by sitting silently with eyes closed for a brief period of time. We recommend 2-3 minutes.
- (Optional) Begin with a bow to each other
- After sitting silently, the leader rings a gong or bell. Have everyone open their eyes and make gentle eye contact with their partner.
- The leader then gives a sentence fragment, such as “The most valuable aspect of my educational journey is…”
- The first speaker has two minutes to speak. It can be helpful to have a timer on your phone handy.
- The person speaking has the entire time to express themselves. They can pause, check in with themselves, and practice speaking with freshness and genuineness.
- The other person practices just listening with an open, compassionate presence. The listener does not respond to what is being said, not even with body language. Many find not responding to be a challenging aspect of this practice.
- Ring the gong to mark the end of the first person’s turn.
- Give the second person the same prompt and begin timing two minutes.
- Be sure to give guidance and reminders, such as “while your partner talks, practice listening as fully as possible, without responding, allowing them to express what is true for them.”
- Move to your next sentence fragment and continue as above, giving two minutes to respond.
- At the end, have the partners thank each other and close with a bow (optional).
- Facilitate a discussion of the practice and let students share their experiences.
Closing Notes for the Teacher:
- For the discussion, guide students to notice any reactions they had to the exercise. What was noticed before, during, or just after the practice? Did something develop within them over the course of the practice? What was the experience of being a receptive listener? Was there a sense of surprise in what the partner said, or in what you said yourself? What did it feel like before you spoke and while you were speaking? What was it like to speak more spontaneously?
Additional Teaching Notes:
- It is important to mention before starting the practice that when it is your turn to speak, you are practicing speaking from the present moment. When you are listening, just listen and don’t worry or plan out what you are going to say when it is your turn. This practice is about learning to speak spontaneously from the present moment. When it is your turn to speak, it is like being on a “hot seat.”
- This “on-the-spot” training is a hallmark of Naropa University’s Contemplative Education, inviting students to align with and develop trust in their inner wisdom rather than to depend solely on memorized or rehearsed responses.
- Remind the participants that this is not about pleasing the other person and it is not for a grade. It is intended to be a powerful journey of self-discovery.
- This practice will deepen as you develop your own mindfulness practice. A formal contemplative practice will support the ability to be “on-the-spot” and to trust present-moment insight and experience.