“It was an honor, to be listened to closely, to be heard. One could honor someone without agreeing with them.” ― Meg Waite Clayton, The Last Train to London
“Are you even listening?” My husband used to complain about my hearing. I’d come home from work in the evenings and he’d accuse me of ignoring him.
I did not believe I had a hearing problem and blamed the constant background noise of the TV; I had to tune out his yelling during hockey, football, NASCAR, and the news. But when I started missing things my patients were saying, I decided to get checked out.
The results of my hearing test were normal. The audiologist explained the problem was that other parts of my brain were working overtime to interpret what I was hearing. Just like a muscle, the brain’s ability to process sound can fatigue.
“I see this in people who do a lot of active listening. What do you do for a living?” He was pleased when I answered psychiatrist. I fit his profile and this theory made sense—I could hear, but my brain was tired of listening.
Hearing and listening are not the same thing.
Listening requires presence and attention to the moment in addition to the ability to regulate one’s thoughts and feelings. Our brains are wired to react and fix things quickly to limit distress; the brain fires up a defense, making it difficult to appreciate someone else’s point of view.
With practice, your mind can hear what is being said and process it without the same cascade of emotions.
Listening is a gift.
Giving someone your undivided attention is rare in our busy world; it takes practice. Making time for mindfulness isn’t just self-care, it’s a way to respect others.
We can be more available for the people that need to be heard at the time they are ready to share.
Listening takes practice.
Listening exercises can be a simple as noticing the breath. Settle into a comfortable chair or sitting position and listen to the sound of your breath going in and out for one minute. Think of the breath as the internal GPS that reorients our nervous system.
When was the last time you just sat and listened to a whole song from beginning to end? Pick a song from the last live concert you attended and hit play. Tune out the world around you to focus on the sound. What did you notice? Repeat.
Listening to your body is a form of self-compassion. Before you get up, notice any discomfort or sensations in the body. Does your body need to rest or move?
Listening is active.
The next time you sit with someone, give them your full attention. I’m talking TV off and phone silenced. Resist the urge to interrupt or jump in when they are quiet for a few seconds. You may respond with short phrases to show interest like “Uh huh” or “I see”.
After the person finishes, repeat something they’ve said back to them. They will feel heard because you were listening.
Listening is brave.
Protesters across the county had a lot to say this week, marching together to not only raise their voice, but elevate awareness. For change to happen, the country must not only hear, but listen to the divide. There will be ongoing discussions in government offices, boardrooms, schools and homes. Are you ready to listen?
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