The Traumatic Stress Institute fosters the transformation of organizations and service systems to trauma-informed care (TIC) through the delivery of whole-system consultation, professional training, coaching, and research.

Mindful Listening for RC Treaters

June 7, 2022 / by John Engel, MA

Monthly RC Mindfulness: Come Fill Your Cup – June 2022 

This month, RC Trainers, Champions and staff participated in mindful listening practices. This blog offers a brief summary of the session and resources to support your own practice.  This practice may also be a good introduction to mindfulness practices for those who've not yet tried it.

Enjoy the read and remember that all staff, Champions, and Trainers at RC agencies are welcome to attend this free, monthly drop-in offering – share this registration link with your coworkers today.

Join us July 6th when we will introduce and experience a standing meditation practice. 

Session Summary

RC treaters experience endless opportunities to listen to colleagues and clients – and to listen even more when they return home each day. With all of that listening and the mental and emotional demands that accompany those sounds, our bodies often unconsciously "tune out" or "selectively hear" the voices of others as a protective response, and that can lead to disconnection. Mindful listening practices offer ways to cultivate intentional listening that supports connection to oneself and to others. In our recent session we experienced two mindful listening practices, one personal and one interpersonal.

Personal Listening Practice

Find a position of comfort – sitting, standing, or lying down – with eyes open, partially closed, or closed, as you prefer. Notice sounds that are produced outside of the room where you are located. Where there is an absence of such sounds, notice that quietness. When you notice your mind drifting to past or future events, simply (and without judgment) guide your attention back to sounds coming from outside of the room. Continue this for 1-2 minutes.

Next, using the same approach, now notice for another 1-2 minutes the sounds coming from inside the room you are in. Finally, repeat the practice by noticing sounds and sensations inside your own body.

This personal listening practice builds your attentional control by using sound as a support anchor in your environment and within your body, connecting you and your world. As with all mindfulness practices, noticing your mind when it drifts and gentling inviting your mind back to noticing your support anchor – sound in this case – is at the heart of mindfulness practice. By building the capacity to notice our experience during practice sessions – both our drifting mind and sounds around us – we are better equipped to notice our present moment experience as RC treaters.

Interpersonal Listening Practice

Form a triad of RC treaters for this 10-15 minute practice. Identify a speaker, listener, and an observer. Use a 2-3 minute centering activity of your choice – gentle movement, stretching, breathing, etc. Invite the speaker to share their thoughts in response to a prompt. Some possibilities:

  • "I had an unexpected moment of mindfulness once when..."
  • "In a recent mindfulness practice I…"
  •  "Lately, my mindfulness practice has..."
The speaker shares for 2 minutes, allowing for silent spaces as desired. The listener merely listens, demonstrating attentive body language, careful not to interrupt by asking questions or injecting a personal story. When the listener notices the mind drift, the listener gently guides the mind back to listening to the speaker. The observer notices the interaction and perhaps the felt experience of the speaker-listener exchange. And when the observer notices the mind drift, gently returns to noticing the speaker-listener interaction. Following the practice, all three participants engage in dialogue, sharing insights about what was noticed between the others and within one’s self. Again, all experiences are worthy, both the comfortable and uncomfortable.

Consider experimenting with the personal or interpersonal listening practice – or both. Discover times and places for practicing the personal listening practice (e.g., the start or end of your work day, a 5-minute break during your day, before a meeting or Zoom call, or when feeling the desire to slow down).  Consider using the interpersonal listening practice as a meeting opener or other group setting.

Resource and Reminders for Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness Practice

Tip #1: Scan your environment for safety. Practicing in a safe space (alone or with others) will help your survival brain perceive safety, so that you can access calm and focus. 

Tip #2:  During mindfulness practice, experiment with different internal support-anchors by focusing your attention on the bodily sensation of your feet contacting the ground, the movement of your arms or legs, or your head balancing on your neck and shoulders. When you notice your mind wandering, gently guide your attention back to one of these bodily sensations. 

Tip #3: Meditation is not recommended as a way to move from a highly dysregulated state to a place of calm, especially for trauma survivors. Rather, movement-based activities like gentle rhythmic motion, walking, yoga, and other forms of exercise better support nervous system regulation. Once regulated, mindfulness practice will be more available to you. 

Tip #4: If you are new to our Monthly RC Mindfulness (or simply wish to review prior sessions), feel free to explore mindfulness blogs on the TSI website. The posts with the image of a yellow cup are part of the Monthly RC Mindfulness series and there is a three-part series, too, from Summer/Fall 2020.

Tags: Mindfulness

John Engel, MA

Written by John Engel, MA

John Engel, Program Coordinator at the Traumatic Stress Institute of Klingberg Family Centers, where he serves as a trainer and consultant for agencies adopting whole-system change to trauma-informed care. John also facilitates strategic change initiatives and product development for TSI, including development and launch of the Online ARTIC Scale. John also leads mindfulness in the workplace initiatives, including design and delivery of a webinar entitled, ‘Mindfulness in the Workplace: Practices for Sustaining Trauma-Informed Care,’ a day-long virtual training event, ‘Mindfulness: The Inner Work of Racial Healing and Trauma-Informed Care, ‘Monthly RC Mindfulness’ pilot and a ‘30-Day RC Mindfulness Challenge.’ John is a Certified Workplace Mindfulness Facilitator (CWMF), is certified in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and has participated in virtual and in-person Mindfulness in the Workplace Summits by Mindful Leader.