Archive for the 'Blog post' Category

Honor the Season

Happy Belated New Year! If you haven’t seen my New Year’s card, you might want to now……It is an animated drawing of the phrase “Honor the Season”.

A few months ago, I realized that I really do believe that “To everything, there is a season.” And that we would do well to honor that notion. Sometimes the season mirrors the seasons of the natural world and sometimes it does not. For instance, winter is often a time of rest and reflection, mirroring the hibernation and underground growth of the natural world. But sometimes, as in the past couple of winters for me, winter is a very busy time, even though my body seems to prefer the rest and reflection suggested by the natural world.

Continue reading ‘Honor the Season’

A Brave and Startling Truth

Happy New Year to all! This post focuses on an excerpt from the stunning poem by Maya Angelou called “A Brave and Startling Truth.” If you haven’t seen my card, you might want to look at it now……

I am always moved to tears when I read this poem or hear it read. I chose it this year because of its magnitude and profundity.

Over time, it has seemed to me that acts of hate arise from fear. We are fearful of people and practices and beliefs that are unfamiliar. Differences pose a threat to our accustomed way of life; differences challenge us to examine our beliefs and values and/or cause us to question ourselves or our upbringing. Continue reading ‘A Brave and Startling Truth’

Listening Well Can Repair the World

Happy New Year to all! This post focuses on the quotations that are the basis of this year’s New Year’s e-card and animation: a series of quotes about “listening.” If you haven’t seen my card, you might want to now

Why quotes about “listening”? I wrote a blog post last year about listening called “Listen as if Your Life Depended on it.” Why another? Because I have continued to ponder the subtleties and challenges of listening well. And because I really think that if we listen well, with love, we can repair the world.

We so often have multiple things going on simultaneously that require our attention. What does it take to focus our attention and to be really present in order to listen deeply? And what is the benefit?

Well, let’s take Dave Isay’s quote: “Listening is an act of love.” If you have not heard Story Corps, I suggest you visit the StoryCorps website, tune into a StoryCorps broadcast on NPR, or go to their YouTube channel and watch a few videos. What I love about Story Corps is that people take the risk to talk to one another about experiences and feelings that really matter to them. I am often brought to tears when I listen. These short conversations are between people of different ages, cultures, places, experiences, all speaking wholeheartedly and allowing themselves to be vulnerable. All of a sudden, they and we are connecting about the stuff of life that really matters. Imagine if more of us had that experience more of the time… Continue reading ‘Listening Well Can Repair the World’

Question for the End of Summer

Drawing by Martha Lask

The full poem by Mary Oliver is no longer available at an authorized online source.

Amazing Peace

Happy New Year to all! This post focuses on the poem excerpt that is the basis of my New Year’s e-card and animation: a poem by Maya Angelou called “Amazing Peace“ written in 2007. If you haven’t seen my card, you might want to now. If you would like to read the full poem, click here.

I chose this poem excerpt this year for two reasons: One: to honor Maya Angelou, who died this year; Two: because the hope of PEACE feels poignantly urgent to me this year. Continue reading ‘Amazing Peace’

Listen as if Your Life Depended on It

July 3, 2014

Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force.  The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward.  When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” 

-Karl Menninger, MD

One of the most important services I provide as a consultant is to really, really listen to people and to support them in learning how to listen deeply to themselves and to others. Is listening enough? Does it in fact create and expand us?

I have noticed that when people have an opportunity to speak about something important to them, it takes them a while to be sure that it is OK to do that … they are embarrassed to be talking about themselves. How else can we forge connections, get to know each other, have meaningful dialogue and create empowered organizations, if not by speaking what it is in our minds, hearts and souls?

For the last year, I have been studying “listening.” Theory U, developed by Otto Scharmer, is a theory of change that describes Four Levels of Listening. The theory promotes listening so deeply, with all of our senses, and opening our minds, hearts and even suspending our will, to the point where we transform ourselves to become part of the whole community, the “social body.” That depth and breadth of listening, as described by Scharmer, is really the only way that transformative change can happen – when we move from the me to the we, or in Scharmer’s terms, from “ego to eco.” For more information see the website of the Presencing Institute.

Inspired by my study of theory U, I have also learned a little about Pauline Oliveros’ 40 years of pioneering work called “Deep Listening.” For more information, see the Deep Listening website and Pauline Oliveros’ website. From the first link, Pauline Oliveros describes Deep Listening as “a way of listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what you are doing.  Such intense listening includes the sounds of daily life, of nature, of one’s own thoughts as well as musical sounds.” She is Distinguished Research Professor of Music at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY. Oliveros makes a compelling distinction between “exclusive listening” where we choose one thing to listen to in the wide range of possible stimuli and we listen to it to its nth degree; and “inclusive listening” where we actively listen to absolutely everything that comes into our awareness. Try both of these and you will be amazed, and look into her work and workshops.

When we focus our attention and listen deeply to another person, we hear the words, the feelings under the words, the subtleties of tone of voice and we “hear” the body language. This requires paying attention both inside ourselves and outside ourselves. And then, the focus and attention continue as we make meaning of what we’ve heard and engage in dialogue with others. Sometimes others make the same meaning as we do, sometimes not.

What propelled me to write this post was a piece by Mark Brady, The Naked Confessions of a Listening Warrior. Mark says that after experimenting with several different religious practices, he follows one called “Listening Practice.” And he says that it is really challenging. When we really, really listen, it is inevitable that, at some point we’ll become totally derailed – someone says something that is so amazing and wise and beautiful and transformative or is so darn scary and reactionary that you can’t believe that your ears haven’t closed up on their own accord. Or, we say something that we immediately wish we hadn’t. Staying with all of it no matter what it is, is Listening Practice, according to Brady. And that is what makes it so challenging.

In my experience, listening really deeply, to myself and to others, with my whole body – skin, cells, ears, heart, open mind, open heart, soft belly – is a gift of life. It is the essence of being alive, in relationship and in the present. And, it is hard to stay in relationship with myself and the other person when I feel impatient or bored or scared or mesmerized, or trapped.

I believe that one of the jobs of a leader is to create a culture where listening deeply, with compassion, is common practice and it is a goal. There are several parts to this in my mind:

  • Taking the time to listening deeply to ourselves so we know where we stand and what we feel.
  • Suspending what we know as “truth” in order to be open to what others have to say.
  • Working hard to stay in relationship with others, even if we don’t like what they are saying, in order to create space for diverging voices, for the benefit of the whole group or system.
  • Deep compassionate listening does not mean that we stay in a particular conversation that feels unnecessarily aggressive, but it does mean circling back to the person to learn more about what that was about.

Leaders have the opportunity to foster meaningful, transformative dialogue by creating a culture of deep listening. True dialogue can promote understanding across divisions and divides. Business improves because people are inspired and empowered.

Is it worth the work and the courage it takes? Well, I’m not sure what else there is, really, if we are to open ourselves to others in our organizations, stay in community and preserve this planet.

Listen as if your life depended on it … it does. 

TED talk: “The way we think about charity is dead wrong”

Back in July, I heard a very provocative TED talk: “The Way We Think about Charity is Dead Wrong.” (Click the image below to watch the video.)

It’s well worth watching. Dan Pallotta gives an impassioned pitch for totally shifting the way we think about non-profits in this country. He describes in a clear and interesting way how, if non-profits tried to invest the kind of time in marketing, revenue raising and innovation that the private sector does, they’d be shut down in a minute for misuse of funds, or percentage of funds being spent on “overhead.”

This piece resonated with me, reminding me of my job as Executive Director of a non-profit and my current job of consulting and coaching dozens of Executive Directors.

Continue reading ‘TED talk: “The way we think about charity is dead wrong”’

The Ponds, by Mary Oliver

Happy New Year! It’s hard to believe that I have been writing blog posts on a monthly to quarterly basis for two years. I have a few more started that I simply have not had the time to finish. Stay tuned…

This post focuses again on the poem that is the basis of my New Year’s e-card and animation: “The Ponds” by Mary Oliver. If you haven’t read it, you might want to now……click to open the e-card in a new window.

There are a few precious and poignant messages that I draw from “The Ponds.”

Continue reading ‘The Ponds, by Mary Oliver’

Staying on Top of It = Power

Three different experiences and conversations – seemingly unrelated – have led me to muse about the concept captured by the title of this post:

  1. Staying ahead of the pain. 
    After a surgery or an injury, they tell you to stay ahead of the pain. I never really understood that until a minor surgery gave me that experience.  I am a fairly stoic person when it comes to physical discomfort and I try not to take strong pharmaceuticals. However, I learned how much sense it made to “stay ahead of the pain.” To take a few painkillers when the pain would likely be worst meant that the rest of my body could relax. Instead of fighting the pain, my body could concentrate on healing. Otherwise there would be a moment when I’d cross a line and then, not only would I feel really bad, but healing would have become harder because my body would have been weakened by struggling against pain and discomfort.
  2. Continue reading ‘Staying on Top of It = Power’


I am interested in the notion of “happiness” as a goal or as an ideal state. “The History of Happiness”, by Peter N. Stearns” (Harvard Business Review, January-February 2012), traces prevailing attitudes towards happiness, in the west, as well as cultural differences. A quote I found interesting, and the one that begins the article is this: “A modern Russian adage holds that ‘a person who smiles a lot is either a fool or an American’.” (page 104).

In my disconsolate teenage years, a close relative, not an American, said to me: “Well, who said you were going to be happy all the time? Where did you get that idea?” Well, I guess that I got the idea somehow; I certainly did not make it up. Continue reading ‘Happiness’

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Martha Lask’s Blog

Occasional musings about books, articles or tools that might be of interest; I welcome your comments.

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