Seeing Ear to Ear

Listeners at Meiji Temple

Are you a good listener? Sometimes we give the appearance of listening through our silence, but we are actually busy generating potential responses to the speaker. The result is that we are not really present with the other person but rather with our own internal commentary.  Understanding and authentic connection evaporate.

The next time someone shares something of importance with you, try this simple practice:

  • Allow the other person at least 5 minutes of uninterrupted time to speak.
  • Hold silence and withhold commentary, questions and any effort to fix, advise, top, sympathize with or augment what is said. Simply be silent and listen.
  • When the mind starts to generate the perfect response, let it go and return attention to what the person is saying in the present moment.
  • Listen to what is going on beneath the actual words. Often there is a more honest communication going on just beneath the surface of the content that is spoken.
  • When the person is complete (or when you’ve held your peace, truly silent peace, for at least 5 minutes), take a deep breath before responding. Give yourself a moment to integrate what has been said.
  • Respond from a deeper place than the typical surface banalities. Speak with openness, clear honesty, appreciation, and an an intention for mutual understanding.

Since we are not used to holding silence while another person speaks, some find it more comfortable to practice this kind of deep listening during a walk. When you have honed your ability to hold silence, internally and externally, take the next step and ask a companion to join you in the experiment. Each person gets 5-10 minutes of uninterrupted time to speak followed by an open discussion. Holding silence for each other prepares the soil for a fertile conversation.

The experience of being deeply listened is unusual and can be a profound gift for the listener as well as the speaker. Poet John Fox wrote:

When someone deeply listens to you
it is like holding out a dented cup
you have had since childhood
and watching it fill up with cold fresh water.

When it balances on the top of the rim
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’s as if gold has been discovered.

When someone deeply listens to you
your bare feet are on the earth
and the beloved land that seemed distant
is now at home within you.

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8 Responses to Seeing Ear to Ear

  1. Charles Saenz says:

    I enjoy listening, period. I find myself sitting on my back porch in the early morning or evening listening to the myriad birds, tree frogs, squirrels and gusts of wind that animate the greenbelt on which I live and for which I am grateful. I have found there is power in training yourself to hear what others cannot.

    • scott says:

      Charles, such a beautiful reflection on listening. Thank you! What a gift to listen for and be nurtured by those sounds that animate the greenbelt. I can imagine myself back in Austin listening to those sounds even as I enjoy sounds here like the buzz of the hummingbirds on our front porch.

  2. Loved the poem and your reflection. I have a contemplative morning with the theme ‘silence as a language of love’. Thanks for your reflection which will become part of ours!

    • scott says:

      Jean, I’m so glad you enjoyed it and even more grateful that it will be part of your contemplative morning reflection. Love and blessings, Scott

  3. Hannah says:

    This is a great reminder of the greatest gift to give one another to be a non anxious presence. Thank you for reminder.

    • scott says:

      Thank you Hannah for being a non-anxious presence in my life…with a dash of mischievous humor thrown in for good measure.

  4. Herb says:

    B E A U T I F U L!
    I going to work on this!

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