One of the greatest gifts of love that we can give to people is to listen to them when they need us to. It is a deeply healing gift that transforms a conflicted soul, and assists it in its journey to wholeness.
Our ideas of what listening is, is a very curious thing. We all think we know how to do it, and imagine that we do it all the time. Yet when we examine closely what this deeply spiritual activity entails (and yes, it IS a deeply spiritual activity) we often find ourselves wanting.
Hearing someone speak is not the same as listening. Listening is an act of Zen, or if you prefer to use a different terminology, a true act of religious piety. It means that you forget your own identity, your own wants and needs, your viewpoints and your soapbox speeches. What I term Zen Listening means to become the other person and look at life through their eyes. When we engage in Zen Listening, we communicate to the other person that they are important to us, that their thoughts and feelings are valid and that they have a human right to feel the way that they do. Zen Listening means doing so even when the other person’s thinking processes are radically different from ours. It is recognition that we have something to learn in what we hear, and that by listening carefully we get to hear the things that are not said. Through Zen Listening, we get a glimpse into a person’s soul and for a moment we touch something divine. When we listen in this holy way, we communicate to someone that they are worthy of being heard and in this act we fortify the spirit.
We are positioned to listen when people come to us with a problem, or when we are trying to resolve conflict between us and another individual. It may be a beloved family member, a friend or work associate. Whoever the person is, it is worthwhile to remember that whatever our differences, we all have these basic human needs in common: a need for love, a need to be heard, a need to be valued, a need to be respected and a need to feel safe. When these basic needs are met, we feel secure in the other person’s presence.
So let’s examine what it means to show our deepest love; to engage in Zen Listening:
Make time to focus solely on the person speaking. Let them know that by sitting with them in a space where you cannot be interrupted, you care about what they have to say. Put away your cell phone, switch off the TV. Give your child, your spouse, your colleague, your full attention.
Put yourself in the shoes of the other; forget who you are and what you think. Suspend your own beliefs for a while and become the person you are listening to. If you cannot do this, it means you cannot listen. The truth is, though you might believe otherwise, you do not respect the person’s right to their own feelings and opinions and their basic need to be heard. All you are able to hear is your own inner voice. Your presence will not serve the person before you.
Listen. Keep your focus on what the person is saying, and how they feel. Do not interrupt. When you interrupt someone, it is clear you are NOT listening to them, but listening to YOU. When you interrupt to argue a point, it means you are imposing your views on them. Just listen. Let them feel and express. If you want to know someone to the level of their soul, listen because the contents will pour from that source. When you interrupt with your imposing thoughts, you block the flow, and worse, you never get to know the person before you. That person could be a beloved spouse, a cherished child, a revered parent, and you never truly get to know them because you are unable to, just for a moment, suspend your own self-importance.
Keep your expression neutral. Try not to look shocked, angry, irritated. By showing what you feel, you hinder the other person’s flow of words. They will know that your feelings about an issue are more important to you than hearing what they have to say. Often, if we are dealing with children or a spouse, they already know how we will react. They know what our feelings and opinions about things are. To listen without an apparent sense of judgement sends the message that we care that they have a life, we respect that they might think differently to us, and that we love them enough to suspend judgment until the discussion is over.
Do not mentally forage about for an answer to the person’s problems, even if that is what they ask you for. The answer will reveal itself in the exchange between you both. When you are searching for a solution, you are not listening. You are missing what may be UN-said, the unspoken meaning between the words the person has chosen. Drop your self-importance. You do not have to be the Keeper of Solutions to All of Life’s Problems. Just listen. All truth is hidden by our fears, and when our fears come pouring forth, it opens us up to the answers.
If you are trying to resolve conflict with someone, don’t try to make a point of being right. When you enter a discussion with this intent, you will be on the defensive. You will not listen to anything being said by the other person. Instead, you will be forming arguments in your head while the other is speaking. People pick up on this quickly. It sends the message to them that you do not respect their right to be heard and do not value anything they have to say. Love, friendship and lasting relationships are not built on such weak foundations.
Listen with your whole being. Sometimes people do not choose their words well. Their body language will speak to you naturally. Sometimes the words people choose carry so much more meaning than you realise. If you listen well, you will hear more than words, you will hear the soul speak.
When the person before you is not articulating themselves well, ask them to clarify certain points. Re-phrase what they have said to ensure you have understood what they are saying. Give them an opportunity, with your help, to express themselves clearly. Ask questions. Do not make assumptions about what they are saying. You may misunderstand them completely if you do.
Leave all your advice or opinions until they are clearly finished speaking. Thank them for confiding their feelings in you, and where they have different views to you, express gratitude to them for allowing you to see things through their eyes. This is indeed a gift, whether or not we hold completely different ideas. It helps us understand how people think. Zen Listening also helps us to see why they think the way they do. If they have harmful beliefs, your listening will aid you in choosing a good route for counselling, advice or in some cases more intensive assistance.
Listening is a holy act of love. In my own life, I received this learning with a heart full of gratitude, and in practicing it to the best of my ability it has opened me to experience a level of love that is truly indescribable. This post is for those who seek to open their hearts more and more. It is for those who have the courage to love others in every possible way. It is for those ready to drop their self-importance, let down their defenses and allow the diversity of human life to be as it is.
With love, until tomorrow…