Reprinted from my monthly column in 110° Magazine
Virginia Beach, VA. 2002
One day, when my daughter was about three years old, she grabbed hold of my face with her two small hands, locked eyes with me, and urgently exclaimed, “Mama, listen to me.”
You see, I wasn’t really giving her my attention. I heard her speaking and perhaps thought I was listening but was only nodding toward her in agreement while thumbing through a recipe book and humming to a tune on the radio. Obviously she had queued into the façade and was determined to have my undivided attention. Isn’t being heard what we really want when speaking to another? Have you e been speaking to someone and you knew they weren’t listening? There’s a wise quote by Ram Dass, “When you know how to listen, everybody is the guru."
How would we know how to listen if we have not been formally taught this skill of active listening? We hear but do not necessarily listen. I once read that most people are listening only to respond. This means that most people are caught up in their head, planning and plotting what they will say next, anxiously awaiting their turn. What does it take to be an active listener? My three-year-old daughter knew. She needed me to be fully present with her. Like everything we do, listening occurs in the present moment, whether we’re aware of it or not. To listen well, we cannot ruminate about the past, worry about the future, or focus elsewhere–like getting lost in a recipe book. Being fully present in the moment is a requirement if understanding and appreciating another person is the goal.
Let’s explore how everyone becomes a guru if we know how to listen. Can you recall a time when you felt heard? A time when you felt someone giving you their full attention, nonjudgmentally allowing you a safe space to share. You walked away feeling loved, seen, and heard. The magic in this type of exchange is that when we are fully present and actively listening to another, we may hear things that are not even being said. Often the heart can hear beyond words–if we stay out of the chatter in our own heads. It is in this space of stillness that we may gain new awareness, glean insight, and hear the messages of the heart.
I consider active listening to be one of the utmost important keys to healthy human communication. As a life coach, I have been able to witness the results of active listening. When I initially began working with people and was concerned about being prepared and deeply desiring to offer the best guidance possible, I often got caught up in my head contemplating what would be the next best suggestion. Over time I began to trust in the power of active listening. I have learned to turn off the monkey mind, get quiet, and tune in with my client. I can now become fully engaged, and this is where the perfect words and guidance naturally emerge. What I discovered is multilayered.
Whether we call it active listening, deep listening, or empathetic listening, this is a skill we can cultivate. When we are fully present, it gives the other person an opportunity to hear themselves. Oftentimes, it helps us to gain clarity when we speak out loud. This is why we phone a friend when we have something weighing on us. When someone feels validated and supported, I have witnessed how the body softens, the tone changes, and the eyes glimmer, all a result of being heard. When we practice deep listening with others, we allow for their authenticity to emerge.
I once participated in a communication training course. I learned the rules of negotiation. One of the keys to being an effective negotiator is to listen more than one speaks. Many of us have heard the old adage, “You were born with one mouth and two ears for a reason.” At some level we understand the depth of this statement yet are easily distracted by life’s demands. It is a practice to effectively listen.
There is another piece to active listening; I am referring to that still small voice within. Have you ever had a “gut feeling” not to do something, only to ignore that intuition and later think, “I knew that wasn’t a good idea!” We must be fully present with ourselves to hear our own inner message. When we lack clarity and seek answers, instead of a Google search, we can quiet the mind and become present with ourselves, therein we discover our answers. When we listen to our inner voice, our authentic self has the platform to emerge.
In this day of much noise, media distraction, and ear buds, it takes effort to pay attention, to turn off the external chatter and focus on the subtle spirit messages from within. It requires conscious listening to hear the deeper message beyond what someone’s words may not be expressing. To deeply listen is one of the most valuable gifts we can offer ourselves and others. The invitation to listen deeply is ours. My daughter is now 21years old, and I am so grateful for that day when she took my face in her palms and taught me one of life’s great lessons.
If you're struggling with listening, being heard or any other challenge, I'm here for you. xo -a