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Give the Gift of Listening

By  Patricia Omoqui
This week I reached a clear growth point.   A friend (and learning partner) of mine said she needed to talk with me.  She told me she felt hurt by something I had done.

As she spoke, I found myself struggling to stay quiet and hear her.  I wanted to defend myself, to convince her that her interpretation of my words and actions was “wrong.” After all, it was not what I had intended.

That conversation was a wake-up call.  It showed me that I need to improve my listening skills.  A Cuban proverb says it right, “Listening looks easy, but it’s not simple.  Every head is a world.” As my friend was speaking, my head was at work, busy “moving dirt”, generating my own world of meaning to counter the views she was expressing.

A few days before this interaction, I had picked up a book at the library, Kay Lindahl’s The Sacred Art of Listening.   How is that I am always given what I don’t even know I’m going to need?  Isn’t it delightful that the Universe is always a step ahead of us, supporting our inner development?

In her book, Lindahl points out the importance of practicing personal silence on a daily basis as a foundation for listening.  If we set an intention to be silent, to harness the power of our minds each day, we will be able to use silence “on-demand” to remain calm.  I spend a few moments here and there throughout the day to breathe, center myself and quiet my thoughts.  It helps.  This week I realized that I need to apply that practice when I am interacting with others.

Quieting our minds opens up space for our true nature to shine through.  It is also vital for creating and maintaining harmony in our relationships.  If we don’t learn to control our self-talk when we are alone, we can expect our mental commentary to increase when we interact with others.  Then, when we find ourselves in intense conversations with parties who hold diverging viewpoints, we may become flooded by our own mental defenses.

Most of us can relate to the feeling of being with someone in body while our mind travels to a totally different place.  If we are honest, we will admit that when others talk we often feel bored, trapped, or even threatened.  What are you thinking about when the other person is speaking?  Do you ever review your to-do list?  Do you revisit past experiences?  Are you analyzing and judging?

Are you already framing the next comment you want to make?  This mental activity keeps us from deeply hearing what the other person is seeking to share.

Practicing silence helps us to slow down our thoughts.  Gradually we find that we can direct our minds.  We can turn our attention to what is happening in the present moment.  We can decide to listen, to fully take in what is being said rather than allowing our thoughts to run wild.

Each of us longs to be truly heard, deeply understood, and respected, even-perhaps especially-when our views contrast with those of the listener.  In fact, our desire to be seen and heard as persons of value is a basic human need.  Through listening we can give this gift of respect.  Through listening we can receive the gift of opening our minds to broader perspectives.

Through listening we can build relationships of mutual understanding.  We do not need to agree with others but we can learn to make room for their viewpoints.  It is often from the honest discussion of disagreements that bright new solutions for the future emerge.
True listening leads to cooperation and appreciation.  It can be life-changing.

Don’t underestimate the power of sincere listening.  Is there someone in your life who has listened to you express your feelings as you worked through a personal crisis?  If so, you know that having a sounding board is invaluable.  Having a listener can be a catalyst to transforming your whole life view.  Having just one person in our life who values us enough to let us express our deepest thoughts and feelings, honestly listening and letting us process our experiences, gives us courage to be more of ourselves and have confidence to take the next step on our journey.

Imagine what would happen in the world if only one percent more people became true listeners.  Conflict would decrease.  Understanding would grow.  People would feel valued and gain clarity.

Those who received the gift of listening might in turn begin to offer it to others.  Who knows what significant change might begin to flow through families, communities and even nations.Let’s take time this week to find out what kind of listeners we are.

Here are suggestions to get started
1Commit to spending at least a minute or two each day in silence.  Focus on your breath.  Simply notice your mental chatter.  Understand the vitality of each thought.  You might want to look at them as prowling tigers and appreciate their strength and beauty as they parade across the screen of your mind.  Try not to engage them.  Simply let them pass.  Return your focus to your breath.  If you find yourself tempted to play with the tigers, you might be in for a tussle.  That’s okay.  It’s natural.  Just smile and go back to breathing.  First practice this silence on your own.  Then, when you find yourself in conversation, practice silence again.  Quiet your mind and choose to focus on the other person’s words.  Let your own thoughts pass by.

2 Observe yourself while in conversation.  Are you able to stay focused while someone is talking to you or does your mental activity take over?  Just notice.  Don’t judge yourself.  Become aware of the opportunity you have to grow your listening skills.  Set an intention:  I desire to become an attentive listener.

3To increase your self-awareness, do a daily listening review each evening.  How many times did you truly listen?  How many times were you bored or uneasy?  How many times did your mind take over?  If your mind took over, where did it go?  Here are some possibilities:  To your own activities?  To the past?  To a criticism of the other person?  To self-defense?  Let this practice of detached self-evaluation help you grow.
Use this week to observe your listening skills and notice your listening habits.  I’ll do the same.


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.