Deep Listening

“Mom, do you have time for a visit?” my son said over the phone.  He is mostly home-bound, recovering from extensive lower-leg and foot surgery.  “Of course – what’s on your mind?” I replied.  He had been pondering his life journey, seeing in retrospect what could not be seen in the immediacy of events.  While using this surgical recovery time to thoughtfully sort through how his past brought him to where he is now, he had gained new perspective and clarity.  He wanted to share this with me.  All he wanted was for me to listen to what he had to say – no advice or lengthy comments – just listen.  He had my willing and undivided attention.  When he was done, he thanked me for treating what he had to say with openness and respect, and without judgement.  Knowing he was heard was the basis for his gratitude at the end of our conversation.  And I knew his heartfelt sharing was a bonding, healing gift for both of us.

If we want to listen on a deep level, we need to prepare by detaching from our own agenda.  Mark Nepo has this to say about deep listening: “Before we can truly listen, we must exhaust ourselves of our assumptions.  In truth, if we are ever to glimpse the world outside the stubborn certainty of our minds, we have to put down our ready answer to everything.”  This means resisting the impulse to dip into our storehouse of opinions to defend our point of view.  It means resisting the urge to finish someone else’s sentences, either silently or verbally, with what we think is appropriate.  With this in mind, we are now  ready to be fully engaged.

Offering a peaceful, loving, listening presence is one of the most meaningful ways to take care of our relationships.  Linda Popov puts it this way: “Our capacity to be fully present to each other in the moment is the single most powerful way to sustain love and show that we cherish one another.  It is the greatest gift we have to give anyone.  When we are present, we engage in each other’s lives, take each other seriously, and meet one another with full, focused attention, with discernment and understanding.”  If a listening presence is a conduit of love, then it is indeed powerful.

I suspect we have all had experiences of talking to someone and knowing their attention was somewhere else.  We know when it’s happening – no eye contact, flippant remarks, multitasking – and how it feels to be dismissed, as though we were unworthy of someone else’s time.  Relationships wither when we stop meaningful listening.

If we want to confirm our commitment to the people we love, we need to consciously practice undistracted attention, show interest, ask relevant questions, maintain eye contact, and affirm their importance.  Our compassion also shows when we listen in receptive silence, which creates a safe space for others to speak freely.  When we offer receptive, caring silence along with compassion, we affirm that we’re ready to hear someone else’s story.  Giving the gift of receptivity and nonjudgmental attention invites soul sharing.  Out of receptive silence can come an appropriate question or comment that also shows we are listening.  Author Rachel Naomi Remen says, “Telling stories can be healing.  We all have within us access to a greater wisdom, than we may not even know until we speak out loud.”

Being a caring listener does not include rescuing or fixing.  As women, we often take on the role of caregiver.  If we decide to become the Emotions Police we will take on the role of trying to keep everyone around us happy.  It’s an impossible task that results in frustration for all involved.  We can genuinely care by hearing their story without sliding into fixing the situation.  Here’s another insight from Linda Popov: “It is rare to have someone to talk to who will truly listen, in a way that allows us to see and hear ourselves.  Many women admit to not knowing how we feel until we hear ourselves tell a friend.  It is all too common to be surrounded by family and friends, and yet still be very lonely, for lack of someone willing and able to be intelligently and compassionately present.  Loneliness is our hunger to be met, not a need to be fixed.”

One of the many gifts that Friends After Diagnosis offers is the respect given to each person’s story – no matter how different it may be from our own.  It’s why we look forward to our time together at meetings and other activities.  And when an FAD friend asks “How are you?” it is a genuine inquiry.  It is a safe place to both listen and share.  The hugs easily given are an affirmation of how much we appreciate each other.  The gift of being a deep listener invites each of us to help the other in slowly unwrapping our cocoon, to release the beauty hidden within.  That is the power of deep listening!

Until Next Time – Sylvia

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