Listen to Me
“Listening is being completely present to whatever is before us with all of who we are.”
Listening is perhaps the least respected of our sensual abilities. We are visually oriented. Some of our cliches demonstrate this: “Seeing is believing.” “What you see is what you get.” “Check it out, man.” “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” So, listening takes a backseat; and yet, it is probably the most important factor in real communication and true relationship.
Hearing and listening are two different things. I hear birds singing this morning—they provide a backdrop to my writing. But to listen, I would need to stop writing, and identify which bird makes each song. I would listen for variations in the song, in tone and timbre. I would make note of call and response. In other words, to listen, I would focus my whole attention on birdsong.
To truly listen, I would become invisible to myself, and one with the birds. Mark Nepo says, “The real value of listening is that it leads us outside ourselves and eventually back into who we are.” So often when we communicate with one another, we are dually focused. We hear what the other person is saying, but half our attention is on our own response to what they are saying, and what we want to say next. We don't allow the fullness of their meaning to penetrate our being enough to respond from the heart and not the head.
I recently had an experience of this in a clinic at UAB. I was asking for physical therapy for a painful condition in my hand. That request went completely unacknowledged because the Doctor had his own agenda for doing surgery to “fix it.” I felt marginalized and dismissed. When we don't listen to what someone is saying, and respond to them by being fully present, they come away feeling as though nothing of substance happened in that communication. They may as well have been talking to a signpost, or at best, a human-looking robot.
In this day of cell phone obsession, we must not forget meaningful human communication. Texting is not the same as listening and taking in the whole of a person's meaning. For that, we must leave our self-absorption and focus exclusively on them. It takes practice. This would be a good day to practice—even if only for ten minutes—being fully present, and listening to something other than one's own thoughts. Why not give it a try.
In the Spirit,