Listen. Please listen.

Stillness and quality listening go hand in hand. Good listeners are like searching for needles in haystacks these days. As a culture at large, we have lost the ability to get quiet inside. Because we are all so seemingly busy, listening well is a true struggle for many. I like to think of listening as an art form - one that we can become proficient in with practice, practice, practice. In order to become available to listen well, we need to clear ourselves of whatever is pressing on our minds. It is difficult to listen and attend to another when we are preoccupied with our own thoughts and needs. Letting someone know if we cannot be present and attentive is a kind thing to do. Being a half-listener is evident to most, and can often feel insulting. It’s hard to be talking, especially about something important, and have the person in front of us with no presence in their eye contact, or the kind that comes and goes as if to say, I am here, but, not. If someone is checking their phone, looking around or just seems unable to relax it becomes difficult to let go and really speak to them in an open way. Often we would prefer that someone just say, I am too preoccupied; I am sorry I cannot give you my full attention right now.

When we do find that we can sit still and begin to listen attentively, the next hurdle is stopping the mind chatter inwardly. Our judging mind may begin to jump in at different places in the person’s story, coming up with solutions to their problems, or beginning an inner stream of critical dialogue back that doesn’t necessarily come out. And although some thoughts may never materialize as words, the energy of any criticism comes across in body language, through facial expressions and is sensed as the general energy with which we are present. The speaking person will register this either consciously or sub-consciously. Once there is judgment present in any form, the outcome is that the speaker feels criticized.

To begin honing the listening skill, practice listening attentively in small doses. When you become aware that you are no longer listening without some distraction, internally or externally, then the brave and honest thing to do is to say, “I am sorry I can no longer give you my full attention. I feel distracted.” One of the ways to become a proficient listener is to spend time with one. It’s as if the skill gets transmitted spontaneously. An ideal way to become a useful listener is to find a person to practice with. Get a timer, and starting with small increments, take turns listening and speaking. Increase your time to as long as it feels right for both. Be sure to allow the same amount of time for each person, even if one speaker seems to have less to say. It is important to learn to sit quietly with another, without speaking happening. Sometimes we all need a space, a time to collect ourselves before the next thought comes. Without being offered that space, we find we might not get our thoughts and feelings out fully.

Over time the art of listening becomes a fascinating experience for everyone involved. After working through the sometimes-difficult process of learning to be quiet inwardly, what happens is we get in touch with our intuitive voice. This voice holds infinite wisdom. Rather than the mind made judging voice, the one that has a flat or edgy kind of feel to it, the intuitive voice feels soft, strong and kind. This voice is not experienced initially in the mind, but feels as if it emerges from a deeper place in the body. When I am offered a comment from someone who listens deeply, and then responds from an intuitive place, I feel grateful and I feel assisted. And when I offer a comment from my intuitive voice, my goal is to give whatever comes up inwardly as purely as I can. For instance, if a thought came suddenly, not necessarily making sense to me, I do not try to rationalize it. Instead I just say, “while you were speaking this happened for me.” I leave any interpretation or processing out.

Learning to discern our intuitive voice from inner mind-made voices happens as we practice being still inside. The voice of intuition comes more frequently as we learn to listen to it and respond to it. One of the best ways we can get in touch with our intuitive voice is to learn to quiet the mind chatter that often goes on relentlessly. Formal meditation is the most direct route for learning to listen inwardly, but engaging in creative process can also guide us to that quiet inward place that opens the door to intuition. Most often, our intuition feels clear when it comes spontaneously or when our mind is quiet or distracted by intense-focused activity. Creativity taps into our mind in a different way, holding our attention fully and we become one-focused. With this type of focus, our intuitive voice can be heard more readily and experienced in a purer condition so to speak. All the other mind-made chattering is not present, allowing that voice to be clearly experienced.

Listening intently to another is one of the most precious gifts we can give and receive in life. Just like a rare jewel, the attention of a loving and kind-hearted listener shines brightly for us. With this quality of listening and attention, we begin to feel our most compassionate self emerge, wanting also to give the gift of good attention. It is the most powerful healing tool I have ever used or experienced. What a wonderful gift to give this holiday season, and what a wonderful skill to feel we have acquired. With attentive listening everyone feels empowered and lighter, less alone or lonely. Now that’s a fabulous gift.