Have you ever TRULY listened?

by Heena Modi on April 27, 2017

I suspect you might be thinking “What a strange thing to ask! Of course I’ve listened before!”

Defining listening

Listening can be defined as “to pay attention to someone or something in order to hear what is being said, sung, played, etc.” but what do I mean by truly listening?

Background noise

When you’re ‘listening’ to someone do you ever catch yourself wondering? The following list shows some of the forms that ‘wondering’ may take.

  1. “What will he say next?”
  2. “I knew that would happen!”
  3. “I wish she’d hurry up and tell me the bit I am actually interested in!”
  4. “Please talk quicker so I can share what I think. I’m worried that I’ll forget!”
  5. “Hurry up, so that I can ask you my questions.”

I can listen and think at the same time!

I have heard many people argue that they can listen and think at the same time. They can appreciate, be attentive and create a list of things they want to explore further, whilst actively listening. The belief is, that the ‘wondering’ doesn’t stop one listening.

Do you think it’s possible for the mind to be so noisy, and not have any impact on what we hear, or how we listen? Until recently, I would have said that there was no impact, but that was because I hadn’t consciously been involved in a conversation whilst my mind was silent. From what I recall, there was always some sort of nattering going on, whilst I was ‘listening’! I often wanted to take a step back, really listen, and NOT think or preempt what was coming next, but it was so difficult. The mind always won!

Listening completely, attentively, silently

Recently, someone who wanted to share some news with me, and also talk through the pros and cons of what they were considering. I found myself listening and that’s it! I was JUST listening! What an experience! I felt unbiased, light, calm, and like I’d truly helped.

I don’t think he was used to it, and so he tried to push me for an opinion about what he should do. The thing is…not only did I not have an opinion, but I didn’t want to have one. I was happy and content, to have actively heard him, trust that he’s already thought about it enough, and that he will get/has received, enough guidance from the other people who he’s spoken with so far.

What did truly listening mean in this instance?

In this specific scenario, it meant that…

  • I was impartial
  • I wasn’t thinking about how his decision would effect me
  • I didn’t make assumptions about how it might effect him
  • I didn’t imagine, assume or foresee the joy that might come of it, and get excited and convince him to do it
  • I didn’t see the possible damage that might be done, and try and put him off as a result
  • I didn’t judge him for thinking about it
  • I didn’t assume that I knew better
  • I let go of any expectations of what he should or shouldn’t do
  • I didn’t listen with the intent to hold him accountable to what he said
  • I remembered that I don’t behave consistently even when it’s about something that means a lot to me, so I can’t expect others to be any different

I feel heavy just thinking about all of this, I’m so glad I didn’t go through it while he was talking and I was listening!

A work in progress

It isn’t easy and it has taken me a while to get here, but it’s definitely achievable!

Here are some ways to help quieten that noisy mind, so that we truly listen

  • Meditate
  • Reflect on the times when you have experienced an uninterrupted focus, and the mind has been quiet; to remind yourself of what it’s like
  • Identify the situations when the mind is noisy and you can’t focus and try and work out what caused it
  • Acknowledge the types of things you were ‘wondering’, the last time you ‘listened’ with a noisy mind
  • Analyse those thoughts and try and figure out what the motivation was behind them
  • When you enter a conversation, tell yourself you’ll try and listen with a quiet mind, and don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t happen

Something happened to me recently. A series of events made me realise that my compassion for others shouldn’t depend on them going through a crisis of some sort!

Here’s what he did to ME!

So we moved home, and the following is a brief description of what happened within a few days of us moving!

  • he left lots of his belongings in the communal areas, which cost time and money to get removed
  • we nearly flooded the kitchen because the washing machine was broken
  • Suraj had to spend ages draining the washing machine
  • we had to have the washing machine replaced
  • I opened the dishwasher and the air filled with spores of mould
  • after several attempts to clean the dishwasher, we realised it was beyond repair
  • the code he gave us for the alarm was wrong
  • through fear of the alarm playing up and disturbing our new neighbours while we were away, we called a specialist to help us re-set the code and ensure the alarm was in working order
  • he didn’t handover all the keys after completion, so we got the locks changed
  • he left a TV bracket on the wall with lots of cables sticking out of it
  • the valves on the towel rails didn’t work and needed replacing
  • we moved the the wall thermostat, because where it was, resulted in one room being warm while the rest of the flat was cold

I blamed him and was livid!

I was so angry with him for giving us our new home in this state. All of the things above, plus others, as well as, having to find and deal with various contractors to remedy the situation made me so cross! I felt a lot of negativity and I didn’t think that anything would be able to remove it!

What changed?

I found out that both of his parents had died within one year or so, and that he had taken it very badly. I also heard that he had struggled with mental health issues for some time, and there was a list of things that had happened between him and other neighbours. Thus it wasn’t personal!

I don’t think I was aware that I thought it was personal, but I clearly did; because when I realised that others had endured negative experiences as a result of some kind of interaction with him, I felt a little relieved. I guess that told me that he was just like that, and that we weren’t a special target!

After finding out about his emotional struggles, I felt bad and hoped that he was well and cared for, wherever he was now. What a shift!

This made me wonder if me forgiving someone depended on them going through some sort of trauma. How ridiculous right? However, it is exactly that, which caused the shift in the way I saw him!

In the future, I’ll try and remember the follolwing, when I experience something that I feel I don’t deserve

  • Remember that life is sending me the boomerang, which I threw myself! I just don’t remember throwing it!
  • Focus on the fact that he/she is going through their own battle whether I can see it or not
  • Zoom in on what I have to be grateful for
  • Try and imagine how it could be worse, in order to see that it really isn’t that bad
  • Remember that I don’t behave in the best possible way all the time, so I should cut others some slack

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