Chaplain Ginny Bonner provides spiritual-care services to patients and families at Tucson Heart Hospital and also coordinates their volunteer program. She holds master's degrees in nutrition and spiritual psychology, and has been trained in mindfulness-based stress reduction by author Jon Kabat-Zinn. Bonner has led more than 30 mindfulness-based courses and developed the "Art of Mindful Listening: The Basics of Spiritual Care" program three years ago at Tucson Heart Hospital. The eight-week program is open to the public and begins on Wednesday, March 23. Registration is required, and space is limited. The fee is $150; scholarships are available. Call 696-2339 for more information.

What is mindful listening?

It's a specific way of deeply listening. It is practicing being fully present moment to moment, dealing with whatever arises--without trying to change anything.

What is the advantage of learning mindful listening?

When you practice mindful listening and are fully present while listening to another, it allows you to really deeply hear what they are communicating. People don't often listen very well when they listen to each other, because we have a variety of things going on in our head. When you are listening to someone, often times, you'll be thinking about how you are going to respond or the next question you will ask. We have a variety of thoughts in our head that come up that prevent us from really fully listening. Mindfulness allows us a way to listen to ourselves and be with ourselves so that we can listen and be with someone else. So when you are practicing mindful listening, you are aware of these thoughts that come up, but you are able to notice them for what they are and let them go so you can come back to being fully present with the person as you are listening.

I see.

The formal practice (of mindfulness) is working with mindfulness mediation techniques--taking out 20 to 45 minutes a day of just practicing just being with whatever arises in your internal world, moment to moment, without trying to change anything. But what we are really doing is just being with each moment as it arises, just noticing whatever there is to notice. We aren't there to change it or fix it. So in the class, we work with sitting meditation, so we can be aware of how to be and listen to ourselves. So if you can be aware and listen to yourself, then you can be aware and listen to someone else without trying to change anything. When we are service to others through listening, we aren't there to fix anything. We are there to offer a listening ear.

"Being present in the moment" is a common expression these days. How do you define it?

Not being caught up in your thoughts. We spend a lot of time thinking about the past or the future. We tend to operate on automatic pilot. For example, when we do many activities in our daily life, we don't have to be fully present. We can be thinking about we think is important and still perform without being present. An example of that is driving down the highway, and you miss the exit. You are still driving and performing, but you're not fully present. We do many activities on automatic pilot. Many people live in this partially conscious mode. They are not fully in their life as they are living it. So mindfulness gives us a set of techniques or a way of beginning to be fully present wherever we are with whatever we are doing.

Explain the basics of the spiritual care part of the program.

Mindful listening is the basics of spiritual care. It's the formal practice of spiritual care. If you can offer a quality of attention and presence with someone who is in spiritual distress, then there is therapeutic movement that occurs. You don't have to fix or change anything. Sometimes, what people need when they are in spiritual distress is someone who can meet them where they are at and provide them with attention.

The class is geared toward the fundamentals of spiritual care. It's about learning to be with people when they are in crisis or distress.

How has mindful listening assisted you?

At the very heart of it, it helps me live life more fully. It keeps my work fresh and alive. It's an essential practice for me in order to offer the quality of spiritual care that I offer.

How can mindful listening help in everyday relationships?

Have you ever been deeply listened to? What does it feel like to really be heard? If your relationships and coworkers felt heard and supported, would that make a difference? ... I think that's for each individual to ascertain.

What will participants in your program walk away with?

Hopefully, if they practice the techniques for the entire session and fully participate, they will walk away with greater awareness and the ability to listen more deeply, and a sense of living life more fully.

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