Hearing versus Listening

“Are you listening to me?”

We were sitting at my desk getting ready for a cozy evening of movie watching on the iMac.

“Are you listening to me?”

I said, “Of course I’m listening to you.” And then proceeded to repeat in perfect order every word.

I wish. Truth is, while I heard Ben talking, I wasn’t listening. 

We don’t do it on purpose. Sometimes we’re distracted. Sometimes we’re thinking about answers to questions that haven’t been asked. Sometimes we’re thinking about lunch.

Whatever the reason, when we are hearing and not listening, we miss out on the benefits that being present and mindful offer. We lose our connection to the person speaking and all that implies, whether it’s a moment of empathy and support or a chance to laugh ourselves silly. 

So here is how I plan to practice listening:

  1. I’m going to back away from the keyboard in order to turn my gaze from the computer screen or cutting board or craft project to the person speaking.
  2. I’m going to look them in the eyes to make a connection – a silent affirmation to indicate ‘yes, what you have to say is important and I am listening to you’.
  3. I’m going to notice when my mind begins to act on the urge to form a response before the person who is speaking has finished – and then draw myself back to the present.
  4. I’m going to ask more questions. An enquiring mind is a listening mind.
  5. I’m not going to talk simply to hear myself speak because, in the end, I’ll learn more from listening to others.

Are You Listening?

thI was uncomfortable with the idea of my turning sixty, which is going to happen in late November.  

I have friends who are older than me who thought they were laughing with me when they saw what they considered feigned distress. “You’re a child,” they said. “Just wait until you’re my age.” 

I have friends who are younger and, with what I read as a patronizing tilt of the head told me, “You look great. Besides, age is just a number” (I’ll get back to them when they’re approaching sixty to find out if they’ve changed their opinion).

They believed they were offering support but I didn’t feel heard. Their words invalidated my complicated relationship with aging and I felt myself becoming invisible.

And then, one day after class, a student said to me, “You’re right – turning sixty is a big deal.” The moment those words landed in my heart I reclaimed my focus and returned to being sharp edged and filled with color. 

Someone listened not just to the words coming out of my mouth but the meaning behind those words. Someone heard me and I was no longer alone. It was time to celebrate.

Hearing is easy. Listening? Not so much. How often do we formulate a response before the person with whom we’re engaged in conversation has completed their thought? How often do we try to finish someone else’s sentence? How often do we interrupt?

I’m guilty of all three more often than not. What about you?

Listening can be part of our daily practice. We hear in a rush. When we listen we are mindful. 

Give this a try. Find a friend and a timer. Pour a cup of tea. And then choose someone to go first, set the timer for five minutes and begin. One person will talk about anything or nothing, the other will listen. No questions, no comments, no chatter in the mind. Just pure listening. When the five minutes are over, switch roles and practice again.