listening

Seeing Ear to Ear

Are you a good listener? Sometimes we give the appearance of listening through our silence, but we are actually busy generating potential responses to the speaker. The result is that we are not really present with the other person but rather with our own internal commentary.  Understanding and authentic connection evaporate. The next time someone shares something of importance with you, try this simple practice:

  • Allow the other person at least 5 minutes of uninterrupted time to speak.
  • Hold silence and withhold commentary, questions and any effort to fix, advise, top, sympathize with or augment what is said. Simply be silent and listen.
  • When the mind starts to generate the perfect response, let it go and return attention to what the person is saying in the present moment.
  • Listen to what is going on beneath the actual words. Often there is a more honest communication going on just beneath the surface of the content that is spoken.
  • When the person is complete (or when you've held your peace, truly silent peace, for at least 5 minutes), take a deep breath before responding. Give yourself a moment to integrate what has been said.
  • Respond from a deeper place than the typical surface banalities. Speak with openness, clear honesty, appreciation, and an an intention for mutual understanding.

Since we are not used to holding silence while another person speaks, some find it more comfortable to practice this kind of deep listening during a walk. When you have honed your ability to hold silence, internally and externally, take the next step and ask a companion to join you in the experiment. Each person gets 5-10 minutes of uninterrupted time to speak followed by an open discussion. Holding silence for each other prepares the soil for a fertile conversation.

The experience of being deeply listened is unusual and can be a profound gift for the listener as well as the speaker. Poet John Fox wrote:

When someone deeply listens to you it is like holding out a dented cup you have had since childhood and watching it fill up with cold fresh water.

When it balances on the top of the rim When it overflows and touches your skin you are loved.

When someone deeply listens to you the room where you stay starts a new life and the place where you wrote your first poem begins to glow in your mind’s eye. It’s as if gold has been discovered.

When someone deeply listens to you your bare feet are on the earth and the beloved land that seemed distant is now at home within you.