Photo by Eric Guth
Learning to be a better listener has become my primary personal and professional development goal.” ~ Jennifer Kingsley
The autumn leaves have fallen from the trees, but here on the west coast there is little sign of what I know of as winter; still strange for me having spent much of my life where the winters are long and cold. There are days when I pine for the smell of a snow covered forest, and the incredible quiet and beauty of snow falling gently in the night. I remember pausing during a walk in the forest on a frosty winter day. The cold in our fingers and toes encouraged us to keep moving, but the longer we stayed still, the more we came to hear the smallest and sweetest sounds – snow falling from a branch, the wings of a raven flying overhead, breath meeting cold air.
A mutual friend recently suggested I connect with Jennifer Kingsley from Meet the North. When I saw her beautiful photo on her website, I was filled with longing for winter – her bright, rosy face, fur lined parka hood, frost gathering on her collar, soft blue sky, snowy landscape. The above photo of Jennifer was taken in the Arctic by photographer Eric Guth. Jennifer travels throughout the Arctic listening to the people who live there and learning about the land through their stories.
Here is a bit of Jennifer’s story from our correspondence.
“I first traveled north as a paddling obsessed 25-year-old in search of whitewater and wildlife. I wanted to get away from people. I had the joy of traveling some of Canada’s sublime Arctic rivers, and it wasn’t until I settled back home in the south again that I realized what an opportunity I had missed. In all that I had learned about the north through its waterways, I hardly knew a single person who lived there. I didn’t yet see the north as a place that cannot be separated from its people. In 2015, I set out to learn about the land all over again from those that know it best. I created a project called Meet the North with the support of Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic. I have been traveling to Iceland, Greenland, Svalbard, and Nunavut with photographer Eric Guth. Our goal is simply to learn about the north from the people we meet and to find out what is most important to them. We are not reporting on any specific topic, and that point is very important to us. We ask people for recommendations on who to meet next, and most of all, we listen. Learning to be a better listener has become my primary personal and professional goal.”
While I’ve lived where the winter hits hard, I have never ventured very far north. The image I hold of the Arctic in my mind, as with many people from the south, is mostly of snow, ice, and wide open space. Most of us know so little of the north and the lives and experiences of the people who live there. Jennifer’s project comes out of her commitment to listening and learning – having face to face conversations, and being present for the rich and varied stories to be shared.
Listen deeply to every kind of sound, including the sound of pain from within and from without. When we know how to listen deeply, everything becomes clear and deep.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
On a cold wintery evening, a visitor may arrive at your door. You take their coat and hat, and find slippers to warm their feet. As the tea steeps, you place another log on the fire, and settle in together. You take their hands tenderly in yours as your visitor begins to empty their heart. With your own heart wide open, and your mind quiet and still, you come to a place of deep listening – without guiding, rescuing, reacting, or withdrawing. You are with them in their suffering and sorrow. Through your deep listening you hold a place of understanding and healing and acceptance – for your loved ones, your friends, your neighbours, and those you have never known. And one cold and wintery evening you may find yourself at that door – you warmly welcome yourself in, offer tea and comfort, and deeply and compassionately listen to what is in your heart. And through our deep listening, those spaces and places that once seemed desolate or unknown or frightening, in our hearts and in the world, become rich and precious and loved.
Thank you to Jennifer and all the deep listeners.
Learn more about Jennifer and Meet the North here.