When Someone Deeply Listens to You
By John Fox
When someone deeply listens to you
it is like holding out a dented cup
you’ve had since childhood
and watching it fill up with
cold, fresh water.
When it balances on top of the brim,
you are understood.
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 is as if gold has been discovered!
When someone deeply listens to you
your bare feet are on the earth
and a beloved land that seemed distant
is now at home within you.
This beautiful poem expresses so much of what most people long and yearn for. It is a gift simply to feel heard by another. Feeling heard is more than hearing the sounds and syllables pronounced by another to you. It is engaging the presence of another and comprehending the meaning of the spoken word. Listening is so powerful, yet such an elusive skill. Some experts have said that 85% of all learning is acquired through listening, yet they suggest that 75% of the time we are distracted from what we hear. It is believed by some that only 20% of a lecture is remembered less than one hour afterward. Some believe that human beings attain only 25% efficiency of the capacity of our listening possibilities and that our current span of attention is but only 8 seconds. All this said there remains great potential in the resource of listening to self and another.
Our society fosters a poor listening environment. We are blitzed every day with massive doses of technology to our brain. We are constantly triggered to shift our attention from one thing to another. Algorithms are designed to influence what you listen to determined by what triggered your interest in past sites visited on the internet. There is constant competition for your attention which lessens your capability to listen to yourself and others around you. Some studies suggest that spending more time in front of a computer screen lessens your ability to concentrate because of the influence of distractions to your brain. The challenge to listen is not new. Over 100 years ago William James wrote that there is “a ceaseless frenzy always thinking we should always be doing something else”. There is the urge to do, to declare, to sleep, or do anything other than the work of listening to another. The airwaves are full of talking heads. Seldom do warring countries sit down and listen to each other. It is always for peace talks.
In today’s world, media often distorts what has been spoken. There’s the little boy who thought he was repeating a well-known prayer translated by what he heard grown-ups share numerous times. He began “Our Father who does art in heaven. Harold is his name.” I recall as a young boy listening to public prayers in church. My dad would verbally declare “Grant it Lord” indicating his support of another’s verbal request. As a young boy, I always thought that my dad was comparing God to a piece of granite rock. It is easy to carelessly distort what others say.
Here are some points to remember:
Without developing listening skills you will lose sight of the sacred in life. Addicts must cultivate heart listening. This requires quieting the soul to uncover true yearnings of mind and spirit. There is a constant clamor of distractions that addicts must learn to sort and sift in order to listen to the heart and discover true aspirations. Addicts approach recovery not knowing how to listen to their heart. Rather than seek understanding, an addict is driven to numb pain and avoid discomfort. Yet, the sacred is uncovered when you listen to your truth. Some people like to think that written texts provide a way to know truth without listening to their heart. Through religion, they seek truth packed in sacred texts like the Bible, the Koran, or Bhagavad Gita. But truth is discovered in your heart with assistance from sacred texts like a Big Book in 12-step recovery, etc. There is no understanding without listening to your heart. Addicts must cultivate the capacity to recognize needs that must be met in healthy ways through the identification of their feelings. Breathwork helps to slow inner distraction and to notice feelings. Being able to recognize feelings provides a vehicle to meet legitimate needs in mature and healthy ways. Addicts transform the curse of feeling addictive craving into the blessing of intimacy through meeting needs in a healthy manner by listening to their heart.
Less talk and more listening cultivates understanding that relieves frustration and suffering in others who feel injustice and misunderstanding. Compassionate listening helps to calm reactivity in others. Fear is born from a wrong perception. Trying to correct misperceptions before carefully listening and understanding only fuels debate. As you listen, think about what is behind the words. What does the person want you to know and what meaning is behind the words? It takes courage to listen to someone who is espousing a belief that you do not believe in. Lean into the possibility that you might be changed by what you hear.
Become aware of your “wanting” agenda. Be conscious of your wanting the person’s approval, wanting the conversation to go a certain direction, your desire to fix the person, etc. All of these impact your listening skills. Can you recognize your agenda and let it go? Can you simply seek to understand? Can you stop planning your response while listening to another? Can you wait to express your thoughts and feelings and focus on another? Maybe not even address the misperception until later. It is difficult to listen without speaking when you feel threatened or offended. It is difficult to attend to the spirit of another when aversion arises. We want to control the conversation.
Practice becoming a receptive open presence. Conditioning your mind to listen began with inner listening to yourself without judgment. This requires ongoing training. You then extend your receptive open presence to another. It takes meditation and practice to listen to another without judgment and to attune to their spirit. You will need to anchor with your breath and give yourself care while attempting to do the work of listening to another. Telling another that you have not understood their suffering and that it is not your intention to make them suffer more relieves suffering and struggle. Telling them you are eager to hear more about their suffering heals the greatest divides the world knows. It impacts your significant relationships and offers healing to those who hate you and despise what you stand for.
In a world of divergent interests, pejorative perceptions, and unfriendly resistance toward others who are unlike you, practice becoming a receptive open presence. As you sit with your family and friends during the next holiday, courageously listen to another’s passion and frustration. Practice extreme listening. Find common ground. Always know that when the other person feels heard it is the beginning of trust which heals hate and hurt perpetrated throughout the world by those who choose not to deeply listen.