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The Talking Stick for healthy communication

By Neva Howell

One of the most valuable tools for honoring close relationships and for learning respect, honor, and listening skills is The Talking Stick. The Talking Stick (Native-American in origin) is simply a Tree Person branch that has been so dedicated as a Talking Stick to be used for creating more open and sincere dialog. Individual indigenious groups have more specific information and ritual. I don't represent myself as any kind of authority of Native ways -- that is the work of the Elders within each of the Native Peoples -- but only share the value I've received thru use of this communication tool.

First, there must be total agreement between the two parties that, when The Talking Stick is present, the rules of the ritual will be honored by both. The rules are simple.

When one wishes to be allowed to speak fully, freely, and without interruption, they pick up The Talking Stick. While it is being held, the other person listens ONLY. The other person doesn't interrupt or insert. The other person attempts, to the best of their ability, not to interject vocal, or even physical responses to what is being shared but to ONLY listen with an open and unjudgmental ear. When the one who is talking is finished, The Talking Stick is laid down and the other person then has the opportunity to pick up the Stick and to speak openly and freely.

One of the great values of this tool, from my own perspective and experience, is that you may begin to realize how much of what you started to say was only reaction. By the time the stick is passed to you, something has shifted. In the waiting, there has been a change.

There is a new attentiveness, and less of the need to defend or put in your "two cents worth" after every sentence your partner says. Somehow, this simple yet profound process teaches us how to ferret out what is most important within all that is said by our partner, and we learn to respond to what is most important. A lot drops away, and loses importance, when we are forced to only listen.

Eventually, the mind lets go of all the various things it thinks it wants to say, since it begins to understand that it cannot speak just yet. In that mental release, new understanding is possible. I learned about the Talking Stick through Lakota friends. I am deeply grateful for this knowledge, and feel the use of this Sacred Tool has enriched my life.

If you really want to gain the fullest benefit from the relationships you have chosen at this time, make a Talking Stick and use it. You can find a special stick in the woods, use a length of cane, or any other natural item. Personalize it with spiritual medicine that represents both you and your partner (and children, if you have any--they should be in family circles and listened to as closely as you will be learning to listen to each other). You can add feathers, crystals, stones, sprigs of sage, etc. If you'd like further guidance, in creating the Talking Stick according to Native-American tradition, seek the guidance of a teacher of Native-American ancestry.

Though it may be challenging at first, to let someone speak without the need to interrupt or respond, you will find that it becomes more and more a way of communicating, even when the stick is not present. The more you use it, the more you will learn about patience and the more you will discover about those closest to you and also, about yourself.

I've often thought that it would be a perfect world if we could all walk as if each person, at all times, carried a Talking Stick.


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