Recall a time when you felt heard, when your deepest thoughts and feelings were held reverently by another. Think of a time when you listened with all your heart and held a safe space for another to share openly. What was that like for you and the other person?
Listening is an art, something that can be learned, refined and practiced. A large part of my coaching training was about listening – not only recognizing and busting the habit of listening to another through a filter of my own “stuff”, but learning to hear what is said through the filter of faith, the heart.
I am reminded of the power of listening from faith. During a weekend retreat in November, participants shared how deeply moved they were by a powerful listening exercise. The group of 30 was paired for sharing periodically throughout the weekend. Sharing was timed for two minutes. Comments like “Wow, I realize how hard it is for me to listen without interrupting, nodding or making comments as my partner shared.” And “It felt great to be able to share for a specific amount of time and know that my partner would simply listen.” And even more “I realize how I don’t really listen anymore; I’m too busy with my own thoughts, getting annoyed or wanting approval, rehearsing what I’m going to say next.”
My intention for this year is to be conscious of the practice and gift of listening from my heart. I’ve been listening to the silence in the winter woods, breathing in the stillness; listening to my clients, consciously connecting to what is said and what is not said; listening to my husband, focusing intently as he describes a work project; listening to my son, feeling his concern about going back to college; listening to a friend, sharing her excitement of an upcoming vacation; listening to the voice inside my head that is sometimes obnoxious and judgmental, other times compassionate and loving; listening to the whisper of my heart’s desire and honoring that voice. Listening from the heart means that I am willing to be open, present and compassionate, even when I notice I’m not really listening!
Listening from the heart can be painful at times. As my son tries to explain what’s going on for him, I want to gloss over his feelings, jump right in and fix things. Wanting to fix it for him is old habit that still pops up. When I’m courageous enough listen with my heart to whatever he’s sharing, he feels better. There’s an old proverb that states: A problem shared is a problem halved. Sometimes that’s all I have to do, just listen.
When I listen with my heart, instead of in “fix-it” mode, I can see life through another’s eyes, hear with their ears and experience their pain or joy. Listen to what is said and what is not said. This kind of empathic listening, staying curious, accepting and silent until a response is desired or needed, if it is at all, allows the other person to share at the deepest level. No right or wrong, no good or bad, simply a flow of love, willingness and understanding. Listening from the heart to experience what it feels like to be in another’s shoes.
In To Kill a Mockingbird Atticus Finch says: If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you`ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.
Maybe all it takes is listening from the heart. Imagine — gentle people, peaceful world.