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
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