To listen is to continually give up all expectation and to give our attention, completely and freshly, to what is before us, not really knowing what we will hear or what that will mean. In the practice of our days, to listen is to lean in, softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear. (Mark Nepo)
How often do you really listen to those you love?
I’m betting not as often as you would like to think. So frequently we are too busy judging the other person, considering how to respond, anticipating what we think someone else is going to say, and assuming how they’re feeling, that our minds are far too occupied to just…listen. Instead of quieting our own mind in order to make room for someone else’s thoughts and needs, we make our job as a listener ‘easier’ by switching off. How many times has a friend starting to speak about a familiar topic and you’ve just gone ‘oh, here we go again’, assuming you know what will be said? How many times has someone started to describe how they’re feeling and you’ve jumped in with ‘I know just how you feel. When I…’, instead of considering that they might be feeling something utterly different, if we just give them the time to explain? How many times have you nodded and said ‘uh huh’ when really, you’re a million miles away?
To really listen requires active concentration. We need to concentrate to make sure we are hearing what is being said, not what we assume will be said. We need to concentrate to set aside all our judgment and prejudices in order to provide space for another’s experience of the world.
Never underestimate the good that you can do by simply, really listening to a friend. Often there is no one ‘solution’ to life’s difficulties, and so often a friend isn’t looking for you to fix her problems or sort out his life. Most of us have been lucky to, on occasion, know that we have been heard, really and simply heard, without judgment or assumed understanding by someone who loves us. And we know that it can make a world of difference.
Next time a friend comes to you with a story or a problem or an experience, I challenge you to do just that. Lean in, softly, and listen.