I speak at schools, businesses, retreat centers, social justice advocacy groups, and community organizations—in short, wherever communities gather to tell stories, investigate the human experience, heal, evolve, and crowdsource wisdom.

Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time

At 23—freshly graduated, unemployed, and burning with questions—I walked out my mom’s back door in suburban Pennsylvania with a backpack, an audio recorder, and a sign that read “Walking to Listen.” Nearly one year later, I made it to the Pacific Ocean outside San Francisco. This talk explores what happened in between, on foot across the highways of America: stories, insights, and the voices of the people themselves. The questions that fueled my walk, and that fuel this talk: What is coming of age and how is it happening, or not happening, in America today? How do we find unity in our diversity as global citizens? What is fear and how do we engage it, both in ourselves and when we perceive it in others? How do we gracefully navigate this human journey, or at least stumble through it mindfully? What is healing? What is listening? What are these troubling times asking of us?

This talk is a continuation of my transcontinental listening walk: an opportunity to wander together in wonder at this shared experience of being human.

Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time

At 23—freshly graduated, unemployed, and burning with questions—I walked out my mom’s back door in suburban Pennsylvania with a backpack, an audio recorder, and a sign that read “Walking to Listen.” Nearly one year later, I made it to the Pacific Ocean outside San Francisco. This talk explores what happened in between, on foot across the highways of America: stories, insights, and the voices of the people themselves. The questions that fueled my walk, and that fuel this talk: What is coming of age and how is it happening, or not happening, in America today? How do we find unity in our diversity as global citizens? What is fear and how do we engage it, both in ourselves and when we perceive it in others? How do we gracefully navigate this human journey, or at least stumble through it mindfully? What is healing? What is listening? What are these troubling times asking of us?

This talk is a continuation of my transcontinental listening walk: an opportunity to wander together in wonder at this shared experience of being human.

Dr. Dan O’Connell, teacher at St. Andrew’s School, Middletown, DE

“I have seen dozens of renowned authors and lecturers attempt to engage our students. None succeeded more completely than Andrew Forsthoefel last Sunday. After an hour of funny and soulful stories, our students were hungry for much more. Andrew’s writing and speaking are wonderful, however, his greatest talent is his ability to catalyze concern, self-awareness and community.”

Ellie Moore, teacher at Alzar School, Cascade, ID

“It is rare for young people—perhaps all of us—to feel truly listened to, respected, and considered as powerful equals. As I watched my students engage with Andrew, I saw them begin to adopt some of the ease and grace with which he listens, questions, and speaks. He softened their adolescent edges by acknowledging the dignity they each carried in their own stories.”

 

Dr. Laura Rossi-Le, Vice President and Dean of the Undergraduate College, Endicott College, Beverly, MA

“Andrew’s talk and workshop focused on the act of close and meaningful listening and helped students plan and implement their own walks to listen. They have come away with a better understanding of themselves as a result of the connections they have made with others. Walking to listen puts us in close touch with our shared humanity.”

 

Listening: A Path to Peace

What if listening weren’t a natural function that everyone was born with, nor a rare, God-given talent? What if listening was, in fact, a learned art, in the way that dancing is an art, and a practice, in the way that meditation is a practice? What if listening required an apprenticeship from which there wasn’t a single moment’s rest? What if it was a tool? A vehicle? A fundamental paradigm shift? The movement from fear and its compulsions—to dominate, possess, control, divide, and hate—toward a more receptive, inclusive approach to reality motivated by the desire to learn and understand, to touch and be touched, to sustain, support, and nourish? What if listening was the source of wisdom? Listening, the healing medicine? Listening, a catalyst for transformation? Listening, a path to peace?

But what even is listening? And assuming it doesn’t just happen on its own, what are the causes and conditions of its arising? What are its constituent parts? What would become of us if no one understood and practiced this most essential act? And, on the other hand, who would we become if we all listened first?

Without earnest, faithful listening practiced by both the individual and the collective, there can be no penetrating understanding of self, other, and everything that flows between the two: no meaningful progress, no true healing, no balance, no peace.

This talk explores this thesis and the questions that create it. It’s a long look at the practice of listening: as a function on the spiritual path, as a tool for social justice, as the cohesive agent for the building of a better world, inside and out.

Listening: A Path to Peace

What if listening weren’t a natural function that everyone was born with, nor a rare, God-given talent? What if listening was, in fact, a learned art, in the way that dancing is an art, and a practice, in the way that meditation is a practice? What if listening required an apprenticeship from which there wasn’t a single moment’s rest? What if it was a tool? A vehicle? A fundamental paradigm shift? The movement from fear and its compulsions—to dominate, possess, control, divide, and hate—toward a more receptive, inclusive approach to reality motivated by the desire to learn and understand, to touch and be touched, to sustain, support, and nourish? What if listening was the source of wisdom? Listening, the healing medicine? Listening, a catalyst for transformation? Listening, a path to peace?

But what even is listening? And assuming it doesn’t just happen on its own, what are the causes and conditions of its arising? What are its constituent parts? What would become of us if no one understood and practiced this most essential act? And, on the other hand, who would we become if we all listened first?

Without earnest, faithful listening practiced by both the individual and the collective, there can be no penetrating understanding of self, other, and everything that flows between the two: no meaningful progress, no true healing, no balance, no peace.

This talk explores this thesis and the questions that create it. It’s a long look at the practice of listening: as a function on the spiritual path, as a tool for social justice, as the cohesive agent for the building of a better world, inside and out.

What if listening was the source of wisdom? Listening, the healing medicine? Listening, a catalyst for transformation? Listening, a path to peace?

Coming of Age, Coming Home

In order to understand coming of age, we must first understand adulthood. What qualities make an adult an adult? What if body hair, increased physical strength, improved intellect, or the quantity and quality of sexual experiences or violent encounters were not the measures of true adulthood?

What is an adult? The hypothesis: an adult is one who no longer needs to be the center of the universe, who lives with the paradox of their insignificant tininess and the simultaneous import of their every thought, word, and deed.

How are such human beings made? It doesn’t just happen. Becoming an adult requires proper mentorship, study, ritual, trial, and community. Without a wisely framed and supported coming-of-age, children face an often insurmountable array of obstacles in the journey of coming home to themselves. They are left instead to wander homelessly throughout their years, looking for themselves in their lovers or partners, their bosses or gurus or therapists, their work, their achievements, violence, sexuality, political movements, religious ideologies, self-help retreats—a spiritual hamster wheel.

As adults, what do we owe our children? How can we assist them in their journey home? And how do we traverse a cultural terrain bereft of meaningful initiation—in which the military, corporations, and even educational institutions exploit (perhaps unknowingly, perhaps not) the motivating impulse that necessitates a coming-of-age rooted in community: the impulse to be seen and heard, to be validated and loved, to belong?

The invitation for those of us who did not inherit a resonant coming of age tradition from our ancestors is to create a new way. This talk is a contribution to that creation.

Coming of Age, Coming Home

In order to understand coming of age, we must first understand adulthood. What qualities make an adult an adult? What if body hair, increased physical strength, improved intellect, or the quantity and quality of sexual experiences or violent encounters were not the measures of true adulthood?

What is an adult? The hypothesis: an adult is one who no longer needs to be the center of the universe, who lives with the paradox of their insignificant tininess and the simultaneous import of their every thought, word, and deed.

How are such human beings made? It doesn’t just happen. Becoming an adult requires proper mentorship, study, ritual, trial, and community. Without a wisely framed and supported coming-of-age, children face an often insurmountable array of obstacles in the journey of coming home to themselves. They are left instead to wander homelessly throughout their years, looking for themselves in their lovers or partners, their bosses or gurus or therapists, their work, their achievements, violence, sexuality, political movements, religious ideologies, self-help retreats—a spiritual hamster wheel.

As adults, what do we owe our children? How can we assist them in their journey home? And how do we traverse a cultural terrain bereft of meaningful initiation—in which the military, corporations, and even educational institutions exploit (perhaps unknowingly, perhaps not) the motivating impulse that necessitates a coming-of-age rooted in community: the impulse to be seen and heard, to be validated and loved, to belong?

The invitation for those of us who did not inherit a resonant coming of age tradition from our ancestors is to create a new way. This talk is a contribution to that creation.

Cam, student at St. Andrew’s School, Middletown, DE

“I think one of Andrew’s most valuable points was that sometimes you just need to shut up and listen. To not have your own agenda in each conversation, and to be open to the stories of others. His talk left me feeling more empathetic, engaged, and aware. The workshop was like a slap to the face, reminding me of the impossible breadth and depth of the world all around me, and our unique opportunity to explore it.”

Marion, student at St. Andrew’s School, Middletown, DE

“The silence that we shared at the beginning of the workshop allowed a personal connection to form between everyone in the room. It helped me realize that silence can be as much if not more powerful than words. Hearing other people’s stories and questions helped me get to know another side of them. I feel more comfortable being in a vulnerable state, for that vulnerability plays a part in allowing us to connect with other people.”

 

Lauren, student at Endicott College, Beverly, MA

“The thing that I know will stay with me forever is not only what I learned about other people and how one topic can impact them differently, it’s the things I learned about myself in the process that I would have never realized if it weren’t for this walk.”

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