Deep Listening

I recently went out to dinner with a group of friends.  During the evening’s turn of events, I witnessed a phenomenon in which it did not appear as though any of my friends were really interested in hearing anything anyone else had to say, as each person took turns either interrupting the one who was speaking, or being interrupted while attempting to complete a sentence.   Since then, I’ve noticed that most people really don’t listen as they interrupt each other or space out while another person is speaking!

I like to listen.  I have learned a great deal from listening carefully.  Most people never listen.  – Ernest Hemingway

So, what’s going on?  For over a year now, I’ve made the conscious decision to incorporate Deep Listening as part of my daily practice. This practice has  been one of the most challenging, rewarding and life-altering mindfulness activities I’ve engaged in, to date.

This past week, during Asheville Insight Meditation’s event, our group explored “Deep Listening”.  Most of the members vividly recalled past events when another being deeply listened to them, and the positive emotions they experienced by being heard this way.

Deep listening is miraculous for both listener and speaker. When someone receives us with open-hearted, non-judging, intensely interested listening, our spirits expand.   – Sue Patton Thoele

Roadblocks to Listening Deeply

Most of us rarely listen well for very long.  Once we start paying close attention to our mind’s process of listening, we soon see roadblocks to our complete listening attention in the forms of intrusions, such as:  constant commentary, discursive thinking , planning, agendas, evaluating, judging, controlling, preconceptions,  interpretations and/or fear of some unpleasant results.    I’m sure we can add to this list.

So, what to do?  First, to engage in deep listening, we need to increase our awareness of our mind’s activities, while we are intending to be listening.  Are we completely present with and aware of what the other person is saying?  If not, we then practice letting go of our mind’s meanderings and re-set our intention to bring our fully engaged presence back to listening…..hearing what this precious being is saying and/or not saying.

Mindset to Support Deep Listening

The following suggestions can help us cultivate the space of pure presence with the mindset that best supports deep listening:

  • The Buddha said that everything rests on the tip of intention.  Repeatedly set our intention to engage in deep listening.
  • Adopt the attitude that listening deeply is important – it matters!
  • Practicing empathy, by imagining putting ourselves in other people’s shoes.
  • See our relationships as part of our spiritual practice:  Treating each person as a sacred being, deserving of our utmost respect!
  • Maintain a curiosity that seeks to understand others.

St. Benedict referred to Deep Listening as listening with the ears of the heart.

  • Lead from the heart by caring deeply about others.
  • Engage in the sacred pause, wherein nothing is more important at this moment then stopping to be actively present with this human being.
  • Practice, practice and practice!

I would be remiss in failing to mention some other great opportunities for deep listening, such as the calming and healing effects from listening deeply to nature.  One can even experience greater depths in one’s spiritual practice by listening to – silence.

I doubt that many of us were taught how to engage in deep listening by our parents or educators.  So, let’s be fair and patient with ourselves,as we slowly and gradually improve.

When we choose to adopt a commitment to deep listening , we will be actually cultivating an open and receptive awareness, in which deep listening is a natural and effortless process.

As most of us already know, it is impossible to give to others what we don’t first give to ourselves.  So let’s also practice listening deeply to our own hearts, with a seeking to understand ourselves.  May be hold ourselves with the gentle love and appreciation that supports the freedom of letting go, genuine connection and compassion for ourselves and others.

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2 Responses to Deep Listening

  1. Roger says:

    “The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing, and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” – Henri Nouwen

  2. Pingback: Listening and Hearing Are Related And Different « James R. Eberts

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