Listening is Seeing
A few years ago, I picked up a book while on a silent retreat. It’s entitled The Sacred Art of Listening. The author is Kay Lindahl, founder of The Listening Center. The book contains 40 short reflections along with questions to provoke more reflection. Each reflection is to aid us in practicing listening and each reflection seeks to direct our listening practice.
In her book, Kay recognizes that often when we think we are listening, we are really just waiting for the other person to stop talking so we can start sharing what is on our mind. That is not to say that we do not hear what others say but rather that we tend to not really listen to what is being communicated. Hearing is the act of recognizing the voice and words of another person. Listening is the act of acknowledging and understanding not only the vocal cues but also the physical cues from another person. A good therapist is a good listener because that person knows that not everything is communicated by words alone.
The reason Kay entitled the book the Sacred Art of Listening is because listening really is an art. Not everyone is open to listening but when we are open to truly listen, we encourage true conversation with one another – true dialogue.
The following principles were developed by Kay to facilitate healthy dialogue and deep listening in various situations and to create a safe space for meaningful conversation on all levels.
Number 1: When you are listening, suspend assumptions. All of us tend to make assumptions about people and about what they say. When we learn to recognize that we are making assumptions, we can set them aside and listen to understand the other.
Number 2: When you are speaking, express your personal response. A lot of times we tend to speak not for ourselves but with the voice of others. We need to express what is truly in our mind and in our heart.
Number 3: Listen without judgment. Remember that the purpose of dialogue is to come to an understanding of the other and not to determine whether they are good, bad, right, or wrong. If we let our minds drift to making judgments about what the other person is saying, we will end up having a conversation with ourselves and not listening to the speaker.
Number 4: Suspend status. Remember that everyone is equal in the dialogue. We need to approach one another in that way believing that each of us has something to contribute. We need to strive for insight and clarity.
Number 5: Honour confidentiality. Create a safe space for self-expression by not repeating stories or ideas with a name unless that person has expressly given you permission.
Number 6: Listen for understanding. You do not have to agree with or believe anything that is said. Focus on listening for understanding.
Number 7: Ask clarifying or open-minded questions. Explore the dialogue in ways that aid your comprehension.
Number 8: Honor silence and time for reflection. Sometimes words are not necessary for dialogue. Learn to listen with your eyes.
Number 9: One person speaks at a time. Giving one another the space to talk also helps give us the space to listen.
Now here are some reflections:
Listening is a creative force that teaches patience
Communication can happen without words
Create an environment that calls for listening in a new way
Notice the goal of your conversation
Give blessings, share joy, live in gratitude
Heart listening opens up what is sacred inside us, releasing love
Commitment, respect, and love make me feel safe to talk
The more we trust, the more our hearts open to love one another
Caring for another often expresses our listening in tangible ways
I discover that what I assumed is quite different from what the speaker intended
As listeners, we offer a space for others to feel free to be themselves
Superficial judgments about people keep us from seeing them for who they are
Creating relationships is making authentic connections with people
Our intentions can shape what happens
Practicing patience leads to moments of revelation that we might otherwise miss
Demonstrate listening by showing gratitude
The Sacred Art of Listening by Kay Lindahl
Skylight Paths Publishing