Reason No. 2: The Awe of Listening / Amy Elizabeth Fox



About Amy Elizabeth Fox 

Amy Elizabeth Fox is the Co-founder and CEO of Mobius Executive Leadership, a premier transformational leadership and coaching firm. For the last eighteen years Amy has led immersive week long leadership programs for senior executives in both the private and public sectors.  She is considered a leading expert in transformational facilitation and a pioneer in introducing psycho-spiritual intelligence and trauma informed approaches into leadership programs.


Shai Tubali: So, hello, Amy.

Amy Fox: It is wonderful to be here with you, Shai.

Shai Tubali: Yes.  Yes.  It’s sheer joy to be together and to begin to explore the theme of awe meditatively and experientially together, and this is actually the very first interview and the very first reason for feeling awe that we’re going to introduce to our readers, listeners, and viewers, so that’s a tremendous source of delight.

Amy Fox: I’m honored to be the first and to join you in this gorgeous effort.

Shai Tubali: So you told me before that for you, it’s almost difficult to discern a particular phenomenon that would be a source of awe for you because, for you, this is a kind of continuous state. Right?  But still, I would start by asking you: if you had to choose for the sake of this interview, for the sake of this exploration, what would be one good reason for feeling awe? The one phenomenon that fills your heart with a sense of wonderment and that leaves you humbled by the world around you or the world within you? 

Amy Fox: Oh, yeah.  I mean, and maybe I’ll speak to the first and then to the specifics of your question. So, I was reflecting on awe and anticipating our interview, and I was thinking that, in some ways, awe is a choice one makes about how to relate to the dimensions of grace in their life. So if you, if you have a kind of orientation to recognize that everything you’ve been gifted is full of awe, is full of an expression of the divine presence, whether it’s music or the beauty of nature, or the intimacy of a moment with a friend in, you know, sharing the deep interiority of your life, or an opportunity to create something with someone, or, you know, just the simplest acts of travel, of dining, of cooking, of every day acts can be awe-filled, if that’s the stance you choose to meet them in.

So in some ways, I think it’s true that there’s awe available to us in many, many moments, and that the threshold for awe, meaning that I recognize this as a grace, I recognize this as an expression of beauty, I recognize this as an expression of love. That’s what I think one means by “awe,” to have that reverence. And I do feel like you can cultivate that reverence and mature it inside your heart. And as you know, I had cancer very young, and I think that early connection to the ephemeral nature of life, or the impermanence of life, seeded in me a kind of cultivation of gratitude—just the opportunity to engage with life, be met by life, be fed by life, and offer something to life—that has sort of an element of awe in it. But since you’re asking me to pick one, I think I’ll pick the awe I feel when I get to know another person’s story and see the unique beauty of somebody’s specific journey in life. I am over and over and over again touched by the qualities of the human soul, and I think that’s probably the thing that I find the most awe in. 

Shai Tubali: Yeah.  I see; that’s a very intriguing choice. Could you please guide us through some kind of journey because not all of us are able to be touched so deeply by another’s story, especially the meaning you ascribe to it as glimpsing into someone’s depth of soul? So, could you elaborate on that and make it clear why this is a source of awe? 

Amy Fox: Yeah.  Let me think for a second. Well, implicit in what you said is something maybe worth being explicit about, which is that in order to receive another story, I have to have done a certain amount of my own inner work to be capable of listening to anything, to be an invitation to share whatever they’ve walked. And since most people’s lives include a lot of pain or struggle, and that’s the journey most of us have been on, you have to have done enough of your own inner healing work to be able to encounter that pain with an open heart. So I think it’s true that the fact that I’ve walked my own inner development path for a long time makes it possible for people to share more of the truth of their lives than they would otherwise. I think there’s a second quality of receptivity that’s worth naming, which is being able to see that any encounter could be a fertile exchange.

So I have the privilege of having profound conversations in what would be seemingly ordinary and casual encounters because I don’t have the expectation that they will remain superficial. I really believe, because I bring a quality of awe and interest to those conversations, that if you just create a little more room and a little wider invitation, people are eager to share something of who they really are, what they value, what matters to them, what inspires them, what threatens them, and, you know, what they custodian inside themselves. So I guess part of the reason I find the process awesome is that I know that it’s a dance between me and the other person. How big is my on-ramp to the conversation and how, you know, wide is my embrace has something to do with what is then granted me by the other person. It’s not neutral how people meet me or how I meet them. It’s a co-creative act, so part of the awe is sort of making the implicit tacit consent to me to meet, to really encounter, and to emerge something together so that moment when there’s a spark of recognition, soul to soul, we can choose to step in here and really find each other. That’s a moment of awe, I think. And when somebody grants you that license, that’s a very blessed moment, so that’s the first thing I would say. I think the second is that I really believe that the purpose of the evolutionary journey of life is for each of us to learn. So what that would suggest is that listening to anyone’s story and the meaning they make of it is an education in getting wiser. It’s a chance to, through osmosis, absorption, fascination, and a willingness to be moved, the life they have journeyed can become a source for your own evolutionary consciousness, so there’s something very beautiful about the learning opportunity to meet someone.

I also think it’s a healing opportunity because we know that much of the difficulty in life comes from feeling alone in whatever your struggle is—feeling too isolated—sort of a separate sense of self that is identified with its own aloneness. So the alchemy out of that is relation. The alchemy that comes out of that is intimacy. The alchemy that comes out of that is to be cradled in your life experience. So when two people pause and take the time to really listen to each other, I think there’s something intrinsically powerfully healing in that. And that’s also awesome, you know, to just watch somebody’s fear start to melt, to watch somebody’s shield start to drop, to just watch somebody, you know, it’s almost like an hand reaching out to meet another hand and that point of connection, something both hands change. 

Shai Tubali: That’s absolutely wonderful. Thank you.  So I would perhaps suggest that you are finding awe in the experience of true dialogue. Is that right? 

Amy Fox: You Absolutely. 

Shai Tubali: Could you speak a little about what listening means to you and what dialogue means to you? 

Amy Fox: Sure, one of my teachers, Thomas Hübl, says that listening is listening as if you have eyes all over your body. And I really, really love that, and I think that’s, you know, a skill one has to learn and commit oneself to, but in fact, what it means is opening your entire energetic field to receive the other person. Because people transmit who they are and what they’ve done, not just verbally but paraverbally, energetically, esoterically, and psychically, when you can take somebody in, that’s the beginning of the dialogue. And I think the other part of that is being willing to share with people the things that in society we’re told are not welcome, to really say, “Here’s where my brokenness lives.” Here are the things that scare me: Here are the things that have really shattered me: Here are the things I long for: Here are the things I doubt about myself or about life. I’d like to share the terrain that has historically, in our society anyway, been privatized. To share that in more of the commons will, I think, rewire community in life. And I think, you know, the notion that it takes a village is true. We can’t heal alone; we have to start rewiring the ways that we create the social fabric of our connections, and that kind of dialogue where you tell me who you really are and what’s your cutting edge, and you take me into your inner life, and I offer that same vulnerability and willingness to be raw and truthful, I think it does create a kind of mutual space that is pregnant with life, pregnant with awe, and pregnant with the possibility of something new emerging between us, that is more than the just synergy of our lives. It’s the alchemy of that moment, connected to everything we bring to that moment. And, you know, I have the privilege of being a friend of yours, and I can say every moment I get to spend with you is quite like that moment. 

Shai Tubali: Thank you.  That is a completely shared experience. So because I indeed can appreciate the way you are listening and being so completely engaged, in an unfamiliar type of depth, in a state of conversation, in what sense does that open someone else’s doors? Because you’re talking about this therapeutic dimension of the dialogue, right? And how do people respond in a way that actually becomes a source of awe to you? 

Amy Fox: So, I have the privilege of running a lot of workshops for leaders. And in the workshops, it’s not unusual, Shai, that they come in on the opening night, very guarded, very exhausted, and very self-contained in a way you might describe it. And the invitation in these programs is really to help people stop the superficiality of their lives, stop referencing their meaning and goodness by their accomplishments, by the prestige of their roles, by the quality of their lifestyle, and start understanding their intrinsic worthiness from a much deeper place inside themselves. And as people turn from a life that’s really shaped by cultural assumptions, norms, and goals to much more of an inner-driven set of values, motivations, and, you know, increasing their self-contact, there are just some qualities of who they really are that are invisible on opening night that start to unfold in front of your eyes over the course of the week. Qualities of compassion, qualities of playfulness, qualities of creativity and whimsy, qualities of depth of emotion—you know, many, many facets of what’s gorgeous about the human being—that are literally covered over, like, they have like a grey veil over them by the way that we operate so much of the time. And when you put them in a contact field that says, “No, you know, you don’t have to be so buttoned up,” you could actually just unleash who you are and speak from a soulful place and dance from a soulful place and, you know, engage each other from a really, really gravity of what we’re here to discover, it’s literally awesome to watch people come alive. It’s like, “I don’t know.” That’s like they’re absorbing the liquid gold of love, and that love has potential. And, and I also would say that in that field of love, they start to be very articulate about things that are important, and in that heightened sense of coherence and trust and ease with each other, the whole quality of conversation and the quality of the sort of invisible points of connection that you can feel but you can’t quite see, the field becomes very different. It’s very, quite beautiful. It moved me to tears almost every time, actually.

And I know that they will go home and lead differently. They will lead their organizations with all of those qualities of kindness, presence, and accessibility. And perhaps much more importantly, they will be more responsible to their families, to their children, to their communities, and to the context in which they operate on a day-to-day basis. That aliveness is a permeated force field in the rest of their lives, in every context that they will walk into. So part of the awe is anticipatory awe, because I know that it’s setting in motion a river that will run for a long time. have many different tributaries of beauty. So it’s the awe of watching somebody come home. 

Shai Tubali: So would you say that you are simply allowing something to be revealed—something that is already there, that pre-exists, and you are just there? Would you say that, or is it something that is actually developed as a result of the interaction? 

Amy Fox: No, I think it’s more the former. I think, in fact, that we normally live in a state of grace, love, and wonder, but that it’s constrained by trauma, pain, and hurt that has been unattended to. And because we aren’t tending to that hurt, we do many things to numb ourselves or disconnect ourselves from our pain. And the reason that we don’t see a world that’s exploding with awe and wonder isn’t because we’re not hardwired for awe and wonder. It’s because there’s so much untreated pain and so many sorts of micro-behavioral hacks that keep us outside ourselves that that distance is the gap between me in a moment of awe and me in a moment of dullness. But no, I don’t think we’re adding anything. I think we’re creating a kind of permission for people to dwell in the depths of who they are naturally. 

Shai Tubali: And this is not obviously done through a technique or something intentional, or is it just some kind of result of pure interest? 

Amy Fox: I think I would answer that as an and, I do think the quality of imminence in the room, like just the level of attention we want to pay to each person, the level of intention we’re holding for how profound something is that could happen, All of that is part of the context in which the unfolding happens. And of course, there are practices—you teach many of them—that are doorways to that kind of aliveness or feeling of heartfeltness and awe. You could do a meditation on loving kindness. You could do a journaling of your life story and look for key moments and the sort of meaning that they had for you. You could talk to each other about your life journeys; you could dance; you could do martial arts; you could do mindfulness practice; you could listen to poetry; you could play music. We do all of those programs in beautiful settings, and nature does a great deal of the awe work, we could argue, so yeah, I mean, I think there are ways to devote yourself to practices that are alivening, illuminating, and useful. But at the end of the day, it’s really love. I mean, if we had to be simple about it, 

Shai Tubali: So it’s love that’s behind this type of listening. 

Amy Fox: Yes.  But it’s not love in a soft sense. It’s love in a quite precise sense. Meaning, it’s not just that I’m willing to theoretically have an open heart; it’s that, as a practitioner, I’ve done enough of my own work to be able to take that heart and extend it to you in a way that is not diluted by my natural judgments of myself or you, is not clouded by my own terror and my own fear in the moment that you bring me your story, and doesn’t need to make something happen or pressure you to move any faster than your heart is safe to open. That’s a very important one. I don’t take my success as whether or not you open, so I’m not invested in pushing past your defenses. I really honor people’s defenses, and I think that anything they’re doing to guard themselves is a really intelligent survival strategy that they learned earlier in life.

It’s just that this moment is an invitation to test: is that still needed? Is that still necessary, or is something else possible? but it’s very different to approach that defense with an understanding of how significantly lifesaving it was once upon a time to have that approach and not as something to be dismantled or something to be discarded. So there’s lots of nuance to what it means to be in a state of love and receptivity, and I think some of the problems in the craft of transformational changes are that too often people sort of simplify it. Love is actually an art form, or this kind of love is, anyway. 

Shai Tubali: And creating conditions. 

Amy Fox: Yeah.  Creating the right conditions Yes, there’s also something about helping people move from every-day time to eternal time. So a program like this really lives in a state of grace itself. You know, you invite people to pull out of their daily lives, to pull out of their to-do lists, to pull out of their day-to-day interactions, so you’re creating, as you said, the preconditions for something elevated to happen. 

Shai Tubali: That’s wonderful.  Now, could you lead us to a moment or moments that you have experienced in your processes of guidance or in your everyday life, to some moments, certain moments in which you, in which someone opened up in a way that filled you with this kind of awe and wonderment? 

Amy Fox: Sure. I’d be so happy to. Two came to mind immediately when you were speaking. So I had a gentleman come into my program about six months ago who was very cynical and for whom self-exploration was not a natural mode of hanging out, and the programs are often done on the floor, you know, sort of very casually comfortable to make people feel more at ease and less formal. And he walked in and saw us on the floor, and I saw the thought flash through his brain: “I’m out of here.” I thought, “Oh, it’s not obvious he’s going to stay,” and he didn’t sit on the floor for the opening night. He sat in the back, and he had his arms sort of crossed. You can see he was just sort of assessing: is this, you know, too weird for me? And then, overnight, I attribute some part of his deep yearning for truth and freedom to his making the choice to really give himself to the program. And Monday morning, he was deeply willing and activated to start the process of self-discovery. And on the third day, he raised his hand and asked me a question that I’ll never forget. It still gives me chills.

He said, “Amy, can I ask you something?” And I said, “Yes, yes, of course.” And he said, really from the center of his heart, “I’m a ruthless man.” I’m ruthless with my teams. I’m ruthless to my partner, and I’m ruthless to my children, and I’d like to know how to stop that. For me, a question like that is a moment of awe because that man, it came to be revealed, came from generations of clinical depression, alcoholism, or trauma after trauma after trauma and his lineage. And unless he ever asks that question, it will simply pass along to his children and their descendants and listen to time. But when he asks that question and gives me goosebumps to talk about, how do I stop? How do I make sure it ends in my generation? You rewrite the book of life. So that’s one such moment, and I’ve truly been honored to have many, many, many such moments in these programs. Like, you just literally see before your eyes somebody making a choice in that one generation to change the future for their entire family and also all the people they lead for sure.

A much more personal one: I was in Israel last week, and I was in a car from the taxi to the hotel, having a very casual-seeming encounter with the driver. And a few minutes into the conversation, he started talking to me about his teenage daughter, who’s very dangerously depressed, and I’m sure many of your listeners know there’s a pandemic now of adolescent self-harming, depression, and suicidality coming out of COVID. It’s something I’m very worried about, very alert to, and happen to have a lot of resources for. And so we spent the whole ride, you know, once he opened the door of that conversation, me getting a chance to better understand what she was struggling with, what was going on for her and for him in the family, and what resources they needed, and, you know, I was pretty swiftly able to put some things in place that I hope will be meaningful to her.

But the story is not awe-inspiring because I helped, I mean, there’s many, many chances all of us have all day to help. It’s awe-inspiring to me to see how little of an invitation he needed to talk about what really mattered to him, and that what could otherwise be seen as a transactional exchange. He drives me to the airport, I pay him some shekels, I get out from the airport. Right. Yeah. It doesn’t have to be that, it doesn’t have to be that any encounter, any encounter can be a soul encounter. And I find that awesome, really, you can taste life’s richness so much more fully than we give ourselves permission to or believe is even possible. So those would be two examples. 

Shai Tubali: I’m so touched by your profound faith in the inherent goodness of humans, right? Because I think that’s really a profound experience for you. Yes. A profound knowing. 

Amy Fox: Yes. And I think in part, it’s very beautiful that you named that Shai, because I want to unpack why that’s true.

When you’ve had the chances I have to do a lot of trauma healing work with people, you start to, the close connection between what looks like not goodness, right? The behaviors that we would traditionally call mean or a curt or disrespectful or, you know, patronizing, literally come from a childhood in which that was the inevitable byproduct. And once you see it in its full life cycle, it’s very hard to be in a judgement mode of those behaviors or to attribute to the behaviors that you’re seeing as dysfunctional and destructive as they are. I’m not saying they’re acceptable or that we shouldn’t challenge them or that we don’t need to address them. I’m saying quite the opposite. You can’t address them by judging them and scolding them and punishing them. You have to address them by going to the source. And you have to address them by saying, I really want to know why this is happening. I really care and know there’s something much brighter and much freer inside you that is not going to act this way when we access it.

So that deep faith is part of the medicine what you’re pointing to. It’s very important to name that. It’s a confidence in the intrinsic goodness and also a very strong firsthand knowledge of the extreme pervasive aftermath of trauma in people’s behavioral repertoires. If you connect the dots, then you have to, you equally have to be in awe of the beauty of the human spirit and also the strength, like what people live through and keep their moral compass or their desire to be connected and held intact in some part, in some place in their heart. They keep that intact and if you can just pour a little water to that place, a flower comes, it just inevitably comes. 

Shai Tubali: Thank you. Thank you for these words. Now for my last question, how can the rest of us, because this is so extremely natural for you. I know that it’s hard won, right? I know that is the result of a great deal of experience and also some traumas. But this is still, I think it is interestingly natural for you. So how can the rest of us tap into this type of profound sense of wonder? Could we take certain steps to become more deeply capable of listening to others and helping them to reveal this awesome dimension of their being? 

Amy Fox: Oh, I love that question. I’m going to give you a counterintuitive starting place. Find someone to listen to you. So many of us have untold stories and uncharted territory in our own hearts. And if we’ve never had the good fortune of being well received and well held, it’s very hard to offer that. You need to, you know, sort of offer that from a full cup of having been well heard. So I think the first step is actually to go look for someone who will accompany you in your own exploration of your life and your journey. And when that feels well fulfilled, it’s much more natural than to make the outstretched hand that you’re describing. I think the second thing is something you do very naturally – listen to be moved. You know, don’t listen from your mind. Don’t listen from behind a shield. Listen from an open heart, open body, open soul and you’ll notice that you hear much more, not just because you literally have more facets of listening turned on, but because that openness transmits to the other person as a wider invitation. That’s the second thing. I think the third thing is to be willing to say things that are unexpected and that you’ve never said before, because when you enter novel terrain, there’s a kind of electricity that brings fresh conversation. So even, you know, these wonderful questions that you’re asking me are producing answers in me that I’ve never explored before, that makes the conversation, I think have a certain kind of vitality or joy. So let it be unexpected. Let it, you know, enter the mystery together would be another practise. I would say, something super concrete would be make a list of five questions that intrigue you, so that you bring your own curiosity to the questions and your own cutting edge to the questions or questions that you’re grappling with in your own life that you’d like counsel and advice on. And ask those so that there’s, you know, you have some investment in having the conversation deepen and have texture. And I think the last one is, let there be silence. It’s very hard to have a conversation permeate you and the other person if the space is cluttered with words, it’s much more likely that it will soften into something luminous if you give it a little more space.

Shai Tubali: I find it’s so meaningful that the first reason for feeling awe that we are presenting in this project is dialogue itself, is this kind of encounter between two awe-struck people right?

Amy Fox: Absolutely.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Let’s experience together

1000 reasons for feeling awe one by one.

Join our monthly awe-letter now!