Listen As An Honored Guest

It is the province of knowledge to speak. And it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.
— Oliver Wendell Holmes

When we accept the invitation to visit another’s home if we have any social grace at all, we go with gratitude, appreciating whatever hospitality our host may offer. We go with a willingness to adapt ourselves as best we can to the conditions and culture of the house. 

While there, we consider our host’s preferences and needs. We mind our manners and mind our own business. We clean up after ourselves and help out as best we can. We try not to offend or break anything. Upon our departure, we try to leave everything better than when we found it and remember to thank our host for opening her home to us. 

Being a good listener is a lot like being a good houseguest. 

When others trust us with their thoughts and feelings, they are inviting us into the home of their experience of themselves and the world. They are sharing some of their most cherished possessions—their beliefs, values, hopes, dreams, and concerns—inherited and gathered along the way to living as they are.

Just because we may prefer other furnishings doesn’t give us license to redecorate the place. Yet, that is precisely what many of us do without thinking when others invite us to listen. We enter the sacred space of another’s heart and mind with less consideration than a self-important, albeit well-intending, interior designer at a dinner party—interrupting, evaluating, and advising our host about what she should do with her most cherished possessions with little regard for her experience.  

Our responses sometimes sound something like, “Oh, those ideas won’t do—they don’t go together at all! And that overstuffed feeling? You should just get rid of it. I think that you’ll find it much more comfortable if you used more muted tones. I’m happy to change your mind.”

Even when we think that we are listening, we are often racing ahead in our minds, reaching premature conclusions, and seizing upon every pause as an opportunity to speak. Because thoughts move about four times as fast as speech, we are able to listen, think about what we are hearing and reach some understanding in the midst of conversing with others. Unfortunately, this means that we are also easily distracted by our responses to what we are hearing as our attention shifts from listening to the other person to listening to our own internal experience of what is being said. 

Often, we are listening only to ourselves without realizing it. We’re thinking, daydreaming, judging, or planning what we want to say before the other person has even finished speaking.  But listening is not about making eye contact, nodding along, and waiting for our turn to speak.  

Listening is an attitude of the heart, a genuine desire to be with another which both attracts and heals.
— J. Isham

Listening is actually conscious hearing—intentionally directing our attention—tuning in and becoming attuned —to what we hear. When we listen consciously, we open our bodies, hearts, and minds to what is being expressed. Every cell of our being participates in listening, linking the world within to the world around us. We become attuned to each other and ourselves in a way that facilitates resonance and rapport; we understand and experience the essence of what is being expressed. 

We listen not only to content, but also to volume, tone, pitch, pace, and pauses—the sounds of our voices, and the sounds of our silences, our thoughts, our heartbeats, our breathing, the fluttering of our eyelashes, the swallowing in our throats, the shifting in our seats, the rustling of leaves—the entire field of sound in which we interact.  

The first duty of love is to listen.
— Paul Tillich

Genuine listening can only happen with love. Only when we are willing to love ourselves, can we hear our own truth. Only when we are willing to love others, can we hear their truth. Only when we love the world, can we hear the truth of the world.

When we listen with love, we create a safe space for people to speak from the heart about what truly matters to them. Even if we don't like what it being said or the manner in which it is expressed, or who is speaking, we can listen respectfully, kindly, lovingly. We can seek to understand the context beyond the words and tone—the underlying conditions, needs, and intentions being expressed. We can choose to remember that we are honored guests, and respect the state of another's internal home even when it's messy...especially when it's messy.

We all need to experience the gift of being heard. Let's find it in our hearts to listen to each other.

Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.
— David Augsburger

Practice Listening Within

  1. Hushlisten…attune to this moment…simply let yourself be listening…
  2. Turn off the devices and tune in to the sound of silence…open your body, heart and mind to hearing whatever is present…
  3. Listen to your body—notice the sound of your breath…the fluttering of your eyelashes…the swallowing in your throat…
  4. Listen to your heart…notice the sound of your heart beating…notice how you feel as you listen…where there is contraction…where there is expansion…
  5. Listen to the sound of your voice…your inner voice if you are silent…your outer voice if you are speaking or humming or singing or making any sound at all… Notice the tone and pitch, the rhythm and pace…the spaces and the pauses… Is it deep and resonant?  Breathless and racing? What are the qualities that you hear and feel as you listen? What are you saying?  How are you hearing what you say?  
  6. Listen to any words or images that arise…what are they saying? How are you hearing what is said? Notice how the sounds…the words or images move through you…where they stick…where they flow… where there is discord…where there is resonance…
  7. Listen beyond the sounds you hear…

Practice Listening to Others

  1. Hushlisten…attune to this moment…simply let yourself be listening…
  2. Turn off the devices and tune in to the conversation…open your body, heart and mind to hearing whatever is present…
  3. Listen to your bodies—notice the sounds of breathing…movement…
  4. Listen as one heart…listen with your heart to the heart of what matters…notice how you feel as you listen…where there is contraction…where there is expansion…
  5. Listen to the sound of the voice of the person who is speaking… Notice the tone and pitch, the rhythm and pace…the spaces and the pauses… Is it deep and resonant? Breathless and racing? What are the qualities that you hear and feel as you listen? What is being spoken?  How are you hearing what is said?  
  6. Listen to any words or images that arise…what are they saying? How are you hearing what is said? Notice how the sounds…the words or images move through you…where they stick…where they flow… where there is discord…where there is resonance…
  7. Listen beyond the sounds you hear…Listen as if everything you hear in this moment is essential in this moment…Listen as if offering your ears to the last sounds on Earth. Listen as someone with an intimate understanding of the instrument.