Listening may seem simple, but most of the time we are only hearing - waiting to respond, waiting to give advice or opinion, or feeling triggered and unable to stay in the present moment. Learning to truly listen and not just hear, to others and to ourselves, can be a powerful and meaningful form of connection and communication that is worth exploring.
(photo by Lucas Boekhout)
There are many ways to listen and things to listen to...listen to music, listen to the news, listen to your heart, listen to reason, listen to a friend tell you their problems, listen to your intuition. Let's look at some of the different ways we listen, how we might be responding, and whether we're aware or not of our responses.
When we are listening to something like the news, a class, a webinar, or other information that is being relayed to us, we may find ourselves hearing it in certain ways, trusting it's validity or not, dissecting it for believability, determining it's impact on our lives, it's impact on other people's lives, considering whether or not it deserves our attention at all. We tend to listen to this kind of communication from our thinking mind, sometimes with our ego mind, from which we attempt to sort out what we think about the information pulling (consciously or unconsciously) from our past experiences and our thought knowledge. Sometimes we listen with our intuitive sense or our gut feeling and either trust it or don't trust it depending on what we decide. This kind of listening to information can be interesting to experiment with, to see if we use our thinking/ego mind more or if we determine the "truth" of information through our intuitive/gut voice more. We all have the ability to use both, some of us are more tuned in to our intuitive guidance, and some of us rely more heavily on the intellectual part of us. Both have their place and usefulness and taking time to be present and notice which one is being used can give us some insight into how we listen and then process information we receive.
Another way we listen is to listen to other people talk about themselves or share their lives with us, be it their problems, their good news, etc. When listening in this way, we are often waiting to hear something that we can relate to and respond to so that we can tell our problems and good news to them as well. We also might be listening for some way that we could help with advice or insight from our own experience. These are wonderful ways to connect with other people, get to know people and share our lives with each other. Here too, we can practice noticing how we listen and consider experimenting a little bit. Are we listening with just our thinking mind? Can we try listening with our heart? Or with our spirit? When we make space for others to just share what's on their minds, without thinking too much about how to respond, it can sometimes take our listening to a deeper place. It can give more room to the person being listened to to feel safe and to actually feel heard. It can give us the opportunity to sense more than just their words, gauge their energetic state, and understand what they're saying from a different perspective. This way of listening is not necessarily easy and takes some practice, but it can be another powerful way of interacting with others in a meaningful way.
"It is hard to listen when you are talking, or when you are thinking of a response!"
Oftentimes when we are listening to someone, or trying to listen to them, we might feel "triggered" by what they are saying. It might be in relationship to someone we're close to or someone we've known for a long time, and the patterns of how they speak or what they say just always "rub us the wrong way". Or we might hear someone say something that sounds in stark opposition to what we believe and we have an immediate negative response. Sometimes when we feel triggered, we keep it to ourselves and just endure how it makes us feels because we are "use to it" or we don't want to argue with them. And sometimes we can't help it, our reaction just comes out of us and before we even realize it we are enraged at the television or in a heated argument (once again) with a loved one. Or, we go the opposite way and the trigger moves us to "shut down" for a time until the feeling passes. However we react to being triggered, one thing for certain is that the trigger is pulling us out of the present moment and throwing us into a reactionary state that makes it difficult to keep listening. Listening is always a choice, so we might decide to remove ourselves, to stop listening, or to respond. But the deeper journey of acknowledging and working through our triggers is a whole other process that if we decide to embark upon can help to improve our listening skills.
We may also take time to listen to just our own inner guidance about our lives. This way of listening is outside of our "thinking/analytical mind" completely, as it is done by focusing internally to make space for the Universal Source or Divine Spirit to "chime in". Prayer and meditation are some common ways people make this internal connection so that they are open to receiving guidance from a higher source. When we meditate, we start with a quiet space where we can be undisturbed. Then we focus on our breath and find our way to a relaxed state in body and mind. Once we have found a meditative state, we can 'listen' through our senses as we may 'hear' things as words, images, feelings, or colors. One simple practice is to ask a question, and not try to answer it, but just stay focused on the breath as we put the question in the hands of the Universe and see what comes back to us. It's quite different than trying to figure out an answer.
Yoga can be used as a precursor to meditation, to connect with and relax the physical body, through breath and movement, starting to quiet the mind, and prepare for meditation. It can also be used as a moving meditation, focusing on our question or intention as we connect with our breath and move through our physical and energetic space. It is another way to 'listen' to your physical, emotional, and mental state and check in with yourself. A yoga class could be a form a guided meditation. Guided meditation can be a great way to get connected as well. Sometimes the energy of the teacher or leader of a group can actually help us shift our energy and find that stillness we need to connect and be able to listen to what our inner guidance is telling us.
This week, try experimenting with how you listen...to information, to other people, to yourself. Are you open to listening with your heart and your gut instead of just your head? Are you able to distinguish between your ego and your intuitive voice? What are any triggers that come up in certain situations? Listening is a skill that can be learned and improved with regular practice and insight. It is also a path of self exploration that can open us up to a larger view of the world and the Universe. Are you ready for the journey?