THE CENTRE FOR MEDITATIVE LISTENING - The Spirituality of Empathy Richard Foxcroft 2012


Empathy is the essence of our humanity.

meditative listening
the listening partnership
the listening circle
listening in everyday life
meditative communion
spiritual accompaniment
about the retreats
the long retreat 2013 - 2014
the short retreat 2013
focusing and music
listening fundamentals
listening apprenticeship
about lineage
about me

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Everybody needs empathy.

Everybody needs to receive empathy from others.
Everybody needs self-empathy.
Everybody needs to offer empathy to others.

Without empathy, we are nothing.

Our practice, then, must be quite simple – as simple as possible. All we have to do is sit down quietly and listen to our feelings. There is no practice more certain, more elevated or more human than this.

Little by little, as surface agitations die down, we touch our true feelings. Once we are aware of these deeper feelings, we are able to discern the feelings of others.

When you sit with your own feelings, I call it meditative communion. When you discern the feelings of others, I call it meditative listening.

Meditative listening may happen in many settings: in a listening partnership or a listening circle, at work or in everyday life.




It is easy to ask a friend to be your listening partner.

When you meet, you divide the time equally. For half the time you are the listener. Then your companion listens to you.

When it is your turn to be listened to, the time is for you. You use it however you like. You say whatever you want. You may say a lot or very little or nothing at all. For some things are private. You will not say them now, perhaps not ever.

The listener is always discreet and treats the things you say as confidential.

The listener is careful not to run ahead of you and makes no attempt to penetrate your reserve.

The listener is always on your side and accepts you just as you are.

There is a natural cycle of meditative listening: feeling and conveying, following and receiving – and so back to feeling.

At first you may be silent, closing your eyes, slowly becoming aware of what you are feeling.

You say things as they come to you, conveying small clusters of meaning in words or images, sounds or gestures.

The listener takes in each cluster, sensitive to the wordless feeling behind it.

The listener says the cluster back to you, plainly and accurately, perhaps in your own words. This invites you to turn back to your wordless feeling, to ask inwardly: “Do I feel heard?”

When you feel heard a silence falls.
In that silence more may come.
Often it is something deeper: you can feel it
just now forming at the edge of being.

Sometimes what comes is the next piece of the story.
Sometimes it is a feeling for the whole story.
Sometimes it is like grace, like a breath from another world.

Empathy is like a riverbed, shaped and re-shaped by the stream of listening, and in which it flows.

Listening is as old as the campfire, as old as the well.




It is easy to invite a few friends to form a listening circle.

You tell them that this will be a space for empathy and self-empathy. You agree where to meet and for how long. You will share expenses.

Then the day comes. You meet. And nobody can tell you how to do this. The time belongs to you all equally, to use in your own way.

The Listening Round.

In a listening round the time is divided equally.

One person speaks. The person next on the left or right offers meditative listening responses, exactly as in a listening partnership.

Each listener becomes the next to speak.

The Open Listening Circle.

The open listening circle is more subtle.

When you begin to speak in the open listening circle you may ask anybody present to offer listening responses. You can ask for the listening you need.

Or you can leave it open to anybody present to offer a meditative listening response – whoever feels moved to respond.

The cycle of meditative listening is the same in an open listening circle as in a listening partnership: feeling and conveying, following and receiving – and so back to feeling.

After a while you fall silent, feeling that enough has been said for now. And the circle is silent with you.

Everything depends upon these windows of silence. Silence is what makes this listening meditative.

In silence something heard can be received.
In silence something new can come.
In silence, somebody else prepares to speak.

The listening circle is many things. It is where we learn to be with our own feelings and the feelings of others. It is a place of love and tenderness, of friendship and community.




The practice of empathy can’t stay forever in private. We have to bring empathy and self-empathy into all our situations – to be aware of feelings, not only at special times, but throughout the day.

Very often I pause for a few moments, opening a little window through which I sense my feelings. And maybe something will bubble up which turns out to be just the thing I need.

I offer little bits of listening to others, for very often empathy is welcome.

And I notice that these actions are contagious. What one does, others soon catch on to.

We listen to ourselves in solitude, we listen to our friends, and we listen in everyday life.

We listen for the sake of others and for our own sakes. In the end, there is no difference.

Listening is born in silence, in awareness and acceptance. In coming to accept myself as I am, I come to accept others as they are.

The way of empathy is a way of silence and love.




I sit quietly with my feelings.

Day after day, I clear a little time to be alone, and I notice what I am feeling.

Nobody can tell me how to do this. I do it in my own time, in my own way. It is wholly individual.

What will happen, when I leave the silence free to work, I cannot say.

Little by little a sense of peace may come, a sense of stillness.

Once in a while there may be something more – a breath of healing, a moment of insight, a way forward.

It is like coming home.




Today we are surrounded by voices. Each voice has something to say about the emptiness, unease and uncertainty that fester in our hearts. Each voice urges upon us some road to happiness. Each voice calls us to some path, some answer.

The answers are not in any of this. They are not outside us. The answers lie within.

Yet it is hard to find them alone. Perhaps it can’t be done. And for this reason it may be helpful to find somebody who can offer you spiritual accompaniment.

What do I mean by the word “spiritual”? People use this word in many ways. I mean something like this.

When I join a group or community, taking my lead from its traditions and values, I call this the religious turn.

When I go to a doctor or psychologist, looking for a correct evaluation and for medical or pseudo-medical treatment, I call this the diagnostic turn.

When I look outwards, seeking to act in society or to build a better world, I call this the political turn.

There is value in all these.

But sooner or later it is borne in upon me that I am part of the problem. I begin to look into my heart. I call this the inward turn.

Now I ask hard questions, “Who am I? What am I like? What in myself am I hiding from?” I try to be truthful with myself about my own feelings. Whatever shares that inward truthfulness, I call “spiritual”.

What is spiritual accompaniment?

In spiritual accompaniment, somebody who is familiar with the landscape of feeling keeps somebody else company, whose feelings are clouded, narrowed or lost, who yearns for deeper understanding, struggles with a moral uncertainty, or trembles on the threshold of an unknown path.

Spiritual accompaniment is about listening with empathy and compassion, while somebody turns inwards to wait upon the wisdom of the heart.

Spiritual accompaniment invites us to shed our stories, and to feel directly what life is like.

Spiritual accompaniment frees us from the grip of false standards, and invites us to value the truly precious things in life.

Spiritual accompaniment is about accepting things as they are, and being at peace with change.

Spiritual accompaniment is profoundly relational. We are in this together. We walk side by side. And that is what is so helpful, that we share the inward turn.

I offer sessions of spiritual accompaniment, either here in Glasgow or over the phone. Please get in touch if you would like to know more.

Rob Foxcroft
The Centre for Meditative Listening
UK phone: 0141 943 1449
International: +44 141 943 1449




A retreat is time out of the world.

There is time to rest and time for the inner journey, time to look around, time to renew our sense of meaning, time to go more deeply into the heart.

There is time for meditative communion and meditative listening, time for the spiritual journey and time to offer one another spiritual accompaniment.

There is time to learn from each other, to hear what each one’s experience has been. There is time to touch the central stream of feeling in ourselves and one another.

We may spend a little time with lines of poetry or contemplative literature, with music or art. We may write or paint or practise authentic movement. We may go walking on the hills, in the woods or by the water in the valleys.

Typically, people learn more about empathy and self-empathy in this gentle environment than through any amount of traditional, formal schooling.

And nobody has to take part in anything. You join in as much or as little as you like.

There is time simply to be.

Details of forthcoming retreats are given below. Please get in touch if you would like to know more.

Rob Foxcroft
The Centre for Meditative Listening
UK phone: 0141 943 1449
International: +44 141 943 1449


THE LONG RETREAT 2013 - 2014


A residential retreat and advanced training in empathy

Summer Retreat in England

Facilitators – Rob Foxcroft, Suzanne Noël

2013 Venue – TO BE ANNOUNCED
2013 Dates – TO BE ANNOUNCED

2014 Venue – Glenthorne, Grasmere, English Lake District
2014 Dates – TO BE ANNOUNCED

The house (Glenthorne) is comfortable and welcoming. It is filled with the quietness of Quaker spirituality. The food is good. The setting is beautiful, in the valley of Easedale, a short walk from the pretty village of Grasmere.

Grasmere is a place made famous by the poems of William Wordsworth, who lived here. We may read some of his lines.

Please get in touch with us if you would like to know more about the 2014 Summer Retreat in England.

Rob Foxcroft and Suzanne Noël
The Centre for Meditative Listening
UK phone: 0141 943 1449
International: +44 141 943 1449




A residential retreat and advanced training in empathy

Orange Blossom Time Retreat in Spain

Facilitators – Vivien Stacey, Rob Foxcroft
Venue – Tormos, Valencia, Eastern Spain
Dates – February 7th – 12th 2013

The retreat will be held in a private house in a quiet, traditional village in the Spanish countryside, during the time of the orange blossom. The weather in Spain is already lovely, while it rains in England.

We will live together as a community, sharing the housework and cooking – it will not be much – and some meals will be made by local cooks.

We will spend some time meditating upon lines of mystical poetry, verses from the Spiritual Canticle of St John of the Cross.

Please get in touch with us if you would like to know more about the Orange-Blossom-Time Retreat in Spain.

Rob Foxcroft and Vivien Stacey
The Centre for Meditative Listening
UK phone: 0141 943 1449
International: +44 141 943 1449




A four-day workshop for people
who love to play music at any level

Facilitators – Jim Iberg, Rob Foxcroft




Listening Fundamentals is an introductory training in meditative listening. We meet for three hours a week for eight weeks, a total of twenty-four hours of face-to-face contact.

In addition, you will be asked:

  • To spend ten minutes every day in meditative communion
  • To form a weekly listening partnership (one hour a week)
  • To meet the other students in a listening circle (two meetings of two hours each)
  • To practise meditative listening in everyday life at home and work.

After the introductory training in meditative listening, participants receive a Certificate in Meditative Listening and a Certificate of Professional Development.




Meditative listening is for you and for the other person. It is always a personal matter, a matter of the spirit.

Meditative listening is designed to be simple. Everything likely to be troublesome has been patiently eliminated from the system. So you might practise year after year and never have occasion to turn to a professional for help.

Yet meditative listening is not only simple. It is refined and intuitive, subtle and single-minded.

So you may want to undergo training after all: to illuminate your inward life, or to deepen your empathy for others, or with a view to practising spiritual accompaniment, or to integrate meditative listening into your professional life, or maybe for all these reasons.

Most training is about learning skills, but this one is more subtle: it is about developing sensitivities. Sensitivity grows over time, through an accumulation of experience. The process can’t be hurried.

Recognising that we live in a world tightly guarded by forms of recognition, I offer various forms of acknowledgment of any training you do.

Each time you come to me for an hour of spiritual accompaniment, it counts as one hour of training in meditative listening.

The Short Retreat counts as thirty-five hours’ training in meditative listening.

The Long Retreat counts as fifty hours’ training in meditative listening.

Participants in a meditative listening retreat receive a Certificate in Meditative Listening and a Certificate of Professional Development.

The Diploma in Meditative Listening will be awarded when you have met all the following requirements:

  • You have received the Certificate in Meditative Listening.
  • You have been selected for training in meditative listening.
  • You have completed two hundred hours of face-to-face training in meditative listening.
  • You have attended the long retreat at least once (this counts as part of the two hundred hours of training).
  • You have made audio- or video-recordings of two half-hour sessions in which you are the listener; transcribed them fully; added line-by-line notes; and brought the transcripts and notes to the training group for discussion.
  • And you feel ready to receive the Diploma.

Please get in touch with The Centre for Meditative Listening if you would like to know more about training.

Rob Foxcroft
The Centre for Meditative Listening
UK phone: 0141 943 1449
International: +44 141 943 1449

I continue to act as a Focusing Co-ordinator for the Focusing Institute, training Certified Focusing Professionals and Focusing Co-ordinators; and I act as a Mentor for the British Focusing Teachers’ Association, training Focusing Practitioners, Teachers and Mentors. Training in meditative listening counts towards these programmes.




Meditative Listening is a project of pure empathy. It sits squarely within the Person-Centred Approach. It is deeply conservative in its loyalty to the classical principles of this school.

Meditative Listening is a form of Focusing. It relies on one’s willingness to let go of yesterday’s news; and instead, turning inwards, to wait upon the promptings of the heart.

Meditative Listening is a form of Experiential Listening. The listener does not only respond to the underlying feeling, but receives one by one each small cluster of feeling and meaning.

Meditative Listening unites Focusing and Experiential Listening in a single, continuous cycle.

Above all, Meditative Listening is idiodynamic. It is founded on the hypothesis that the movements of life in a human being are profoundly individual. Every soul is a unique eco-system.

Not only do people have thoughts and feelings, but in each person the processes of thinking and feeling move forward in their own way.

If we barge in with noise and interference, we will scare all the little animals and birds into hiding. The leaves will wither and the trees will fall. The soil will be blown to the four winds and washed into gullies by the winter rains. And when we have made a desert, perhaps we will call it peace. So we walk quietly and we sit very still.

This idiodynamic principle does not come from psychology or philosophy. It comes from the arts and humanities, from literature and especially from stories. For no story is about a type of person. Every story is about an individual, just this one and no other.

For this reason, Meditative Listening is a “no teaching, no guiding” school.

We do not guide the inner process. Instead, we follow along with sensitive, delicate alacrity. We do not teach this way of being. Instead, we aim to set up conditions in which learning will emerge by itself.

It follows that Meditative Listening is elusive to convey. Yet the living of it is peaceful.

You are here to listen, only to listen. When somebody feels deeply heard, the inner development arises by itself. It does not come from you. So listening is deeply peaceful.

Feeling heard, anybody falls silent. Silent because one thing has been heard. Silent because the next is not yet come. In silence, life moves forward.

What is this moving forward which sounds so mysterious? It is an abandonment of derivative thoughts, conventional emotions and helpless passivity. It is a movement towards independent thought, genuine feeling and free agency.

So this is the immediate lineage of Meditative Listening. It is one way within Focusing and the Person-Centred Approach. It is not the only way.




Rob Foxcroft
The Centre for Meditative Listening
UK phone: 0141 943 1449
International: +44 141 943 1449

I teach empathy and self-empathy.
I offer spiritual accompaniment and lead retreats.
I am a musician, a poet and a contemplative.

I live in Glasgow (Scotland) with my wife and family.
I play the piano – mostly Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert.
I love to be in wild nature, to walk on the hills or sit by the sea.
As a child I loved canoeing, and used to build drystone walls.

Diploma in Spiritual Accompaniment (The Norwich Centre)

Studying spiritual accompaniment with Brian Thorne, Caroline Kitcatt, Stephen de Brett and Chris Bulpitt

Founded the Centre for Meditative Listening

Created Focusing and the Power of Philosophy – five advanced weeklong seminars, with Kye Nelson, Campbell Purton, Barbara McGavin and Rob Parker

2000 - 2004
Reading philosophy under the guidance of Campbell Purton

BFTA Focusing Mentor

Co-founded the British Focusing Teachers’ Association

Certifying Co-ordinator (The Focusing Institute)

1989 - 1990
One year course in regression and integration with Anouk Grave and Mike Eales, leading to the Praxis Postgraduate Certificate in Regression and Integration

Focusing Trainer (The Focusing Institute)

Studying Focusing at the Focusing Institute in Chicago, with Ann Weiser Cornell and others, and in individual sessions with Gene Gendlin, Mary McGuire and Bebe Simon

Studying the Person-Centred Approach with Senga Blackie

Developing Creative Piano Playing, an approach to music-making through free composition and improvisation at the piano

Slowly evolving the meditative listening approach from many sources, partly through wide-ranging artistic, historical, psychological and spiritual explorations, but mainly through the experiences of ordinary life and whilst sitting beside a piano

Teaching the piano

BA (Music), Emmanuel College, Cambridge

Final year dissertation on the application of the idiodynamic principle to the understanding of works of music.

Made a commitment to bring the Person-Centred Approach into all aspects of my life, work and relationships

Read Virginia Axline’s book, Dibs in Search of Self

Studying musical composition with Philip Radcliffe

Ongoing experiential studies in comparative religion, including the Christian, Islamic, Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian traditions

Informal readings in philosophy: at first Susan Stebbing (my mother’s teacher); later Plato, Boethius, Spinoza, Hume, Frege, Moore, John Austin, Isaiah Berlin, Peter Strawson, Thomas Nagel, William James, John Dewey, Gene Gendlin, Martin Buber, Emmanuel Levinas, Hilary Putnam and others

Studying the piano with David Smith, Russell Lomas, Guy Jonson, Maisie Aldridge and Sulamita Aronovsky

Studying the cello with Bill Wildman and Paul Ward

Studying singing with Neil Chaffey and Susan Gorton

Began to compose music

Rob Foxcroft
The Centre for Meditative Listening
UK phone: 0141 943 1449
International: +44 141 943 1449

Rob Foxcroft
My first Website
Suzanne Noël
the Focusing Institute
British Focusing Teachers Association
the Norwich Centre
Contemplative Spirituality
Person Centred Approach
Emmy Parisi
Jim Iberg
Francesca Castaldi
Ann Weiser Cornell
Kye Nelson
Focusing for Life
Nada Lou


DESIGN by Ewan Foxcroft (2012)