My mother counselled me on the merits of being a good listener, which was somewhat ironic, since she relished a good monologue more than anyone I know. Once she even followed me to the bathroom to continue her story through the closed door. But she was right: there is nothing quite so gratifying as knowing that you’ve been heard. So why, then, is it so difficult to listen, to hear?
Years ago, my friend Rakesh, a fellow Rebalancer, gave me a treatment that combined massage with hypnosis. He asked me before initiating the trance what I would like to accomplish from this treatment. After some consideration I told him that I wanted to talk less and listen more. I felt I had inherited my mother’s “gift of the gab” and I wanted to disinherit it, if I could. The desire to listen was there, but no matter how much I tried to hush my mind when others spoke, I rushed in with my take on the topic or my suggestion on how to fix it or how I had experienced that very thing…
During the session with Rakesh I felt lucid, conscious, wondered if I was one of those who couldn’t be hypnotized, but I followed his instructions to go “where the listener meets the talker” until it was as if I were two people and I met myselves face to face at something like a window. The listener and the talker came nose to nose and suddenly I understood something with such clarity that tears came. I talked and talked because I believed that if I really listened I would feel the pain of the talker and that I would not be able to withstand it. I cried because I knew that it wasn’t true, but I had been carrying this with me always, holding my hand up to all the mouths because their pain was unbearable. It was such a clear and profound release and I thought I could just open my mouth and speak it, but Rakesh was counting me out and I smiled inwardly, thinking, oh, I’m not in a trance, this isn’t necessary. But as the numbers got smaller it was as if an ice wind blew up from my feet. I was frozen in that mid-summer sunny room. Rakesh had to cover me with three blankets to warm me up.
It changed me, that session, that realization. I still talk too much, but I’m a better listener. What deeper respect can you give a friend or a client than empty listening? To come to the other with the intention of hearing what they have to say with an unassuming mind, a willingness to not know what they will tell you? To be willing to be surprised and informed. Teenagers often complain that they are given advice when all they really need is to be listened to. I think it holds true for all of us.
Harvill Hendrix has written several books on how to get the love you need. At the core of his method is active listening. Where one partner will speak while the other listens. When the speaker is finished, the listener then relates back to them what they heard. Then the speaker has the opportunity to clarify or explain what they meant. We listen through our own filters of experience, knowledge and fear and often miss what is actually being said.
The Amherst Writers and Artists Method (AWA) encourages that kind of listening and that’s why I love all the workshops I have done and do using that method. We write together, select a piece to share and read it, then the other writers are invited to respond to what they heard – what stayed with them, what was strong. It is so thrilling to hear back what the others have heard, because the writer knows they have been heard. Listened to and heard. No criticism, no advice, no judgement. Just simple quiet listening.