“When we talk about understanding, surely it takes place only when the mind listens completely—the mind being your heart, your nerves, your ears—when you give your whole attention to it.” Jiddu Krishnamurti
In conversations, do you wait with irritation when a person talks too long or are you able to sit, quiet within, and really listen? Which do you value more, listening or speaking?
Speaker or Listener?
I’ve always been a big talker. I love discussions. But recently, something has shifted in a deep way. In fact, it shifted gradually over the years, but I’m just now really understanding the value of this change. There was a time when, during a conversation, my attention was mainly on getting my chance to speak as if speaking my thoughts out loud gave validity to them that just thinking did not have. I suspect I even fidgeted a lot waiting for my turn. I can even remember composing what I was going to say rather than listening and reflecting on the words of the person speaking.
Perhaps part of this was my need as a teenager and young adult to overcome my childhood shyness and conditioning that a woman was supposed to defer to others. It made me nervous to speak during a discussion, and when I finally became comfortable with it, my ego probably enjoyed being the speaker too much. With time, though, and experience as a teacher who had to listen to her students, I came to value listening more. As I progressed on my spiritual journey, attending workshops and reading, I began to listen more to my interior self instead of my ego.
Telling Our Stories Creates Loving Bonds
In the South, where I live and grew up, passing our stories on to the next generation is a way of life. Perhaps that’s why we have had so many incredible southern writers. As I child, I often sat at my parents’ or grandparents’ feet listening for hours to their stories. I captured a sense of these times in my poem “Mysteries.” Those stories were how I learned about my own heritage and how people lived before me. The telling and listening created a loving bond between the generations. I was taught that listening to others was a form of respect.
Ego Cares Only About Itself
When we are unwilling to listen to others, it is often because our ego has another agenda. We judge the speaker as someone whose words won’t be helpful to us. One time I was facilitating a very large group discussion, and one man, fidgeting with impatience, decided I was allowing a woman to talk too long. He suddenly announced to the group that there were too many people not getting to talk, took over my role, and called on someone he wanted to hear. Despite his perception, we still had plenty of time left for everyone to speak. I was shocked by his behavior, but before long I slipped back into my role as facilitator without confronting him.
Listening Enhances Our Spiritual Journey
I’ve recently joined a spiritual discussion group where most of the members are excellent listeners and also are deep thinkers. We use a process where we each speak a couple of minutes in response to a question, and we do this for two rounds. Then we may ask each other questions and respond to what another has said. This orderly process works well because it allows each person an opportunity to speak and be heard and allows for spontaneity. Each person feels respected. Because we are only allowed to speak once during the two rounds, it forces us to be listeners for most of time. It gives us time to really process what we are hearing and reflect on what may be helpful to us. As a result, I’ve found others ideas illuminating and stimulating new ideas that enhance my spiritual journey.
Listening Expands Us
Dr. Karl Menninger said, “Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” When I read this, I realized how true this is in my life. The people who are my friends really listen and, in turn, offer their perspectives to whatever I share with them. Because they are really listening, I feel valued by them, and I value their friendship by listening closely to them when they speak. We learn and grow and expand together.
As a result of meditation and other spiritual practices, I have now reached a point where I listen more carefully and patiently to others. When someone goes on too long from my point of view, I try to recenter to continue listening to them. If I am really not interested in what they are saying, I remind myself that they deserve to be treated respectfully regardless of what they are saying. My ego may protest this choice, but my heart and spirit know this is the one I need to choose. I go within and try to listen from my heart.
Listening Increases Understanding
By listening, I am often able to understand others who seem quite different from me. I may not agree with their philosophy of life and how they handle situations, but understanding why they are different helps me to accept them. Refusing to listen to those who have different views only creates a polarization—the kind that is now destroying our world. When we allow our egos to control what we hear, we shut out any idea with which we don’t agree, but when we listen from our hearts, we are able to hear humanity speaking and remember that we are all One.
© 2012 Georganne Spruce ZQT4PQ5ZN7F5